Weekend Special: Our 2013 Advent Calendar

SONY DSC

The kids are finally in bed so I’ve mounted this year’s advent calendar on the door of their room. I’m so excited – can’t wait to see their little faces tomorrow morning when they discover it and see what’s inside.

Each little envelope has little cards with a Christmas-themed activity on it and coupons that they can exchange for sweeties and little treats! I printed out these envelopes or ‘treat bags’ from Yellow Bliss Road and they didn’t take very long to assemble at all. Just print, cut out and glue together (or use tape!) and it’s all done!

I’ve arranged the cards in the shape of a Christmas tree using some blutack, with a little paper star on the top. Not bad for a last minute Christmas craft!

P.S. Check out my suggestions for Christmas crafts, printables and ideas.

The Good, The Bad and The Variable of Boarding School

A while back, I wrote about my childhood experiences with the Singaporean educational system.  I compared my experiences somewhat unfavorably with my experience living and studying in an Australian boarding school.  I have since been inundated with questions about boarding school and thought it prudent to write a little about my experiences.

I’ve noticed that many people tend to have romanticised view of boarding schools as structured and wholesome environments in which children are encouraged to learn independence.  Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, for instance, gives a portrayal of boarders as supportive of each other, helping to grow and hone the personalities of their peers.  The famous Harry Potter series has a slightly different take on the whole situation, but Hogwarts still sounds like a pretty fun (albeit slightly dangerous) place to stay.  These books are not wholly inaccurate, boarding school can be a fun and supportive environment.  It can also be like this:

Before you pack your child off to a boarding school, watch St Trinians or Summer Heights High.  St Trinians has a ridiculously over-the-top heist plot, but does touch a little on the kinds of things that go on behind closed doors in boarding school.  Summer Heights High may be a complete mockumentary, but is still an accurate, if only slightly exaggerated representation of the attitudes and the culture of the disaffected youth of Australia.

Here are some things to think about, based on my personal experiences.  Please bear in mind that I studied in one of the most prestigious Christian-affiliated All Girls’ school in Australia.

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35 Simple Christmas Craft Tutorials and Free Printables

If you are looking to make something special for the Christmas season (and you want to get your kids involved), here are a bunch of super-awesome, super-easy craft tutorials and printables from all over the web!

These crafts are simple and pretty, and they don’t require complicated materials, so they are perfect to do together with the little ones.

If you’ve got an awesome Christmas-themed craft that you’d like to share – feel free to link to it in the comments section below!

free-christmas-crafts-kids

Awesome Advent Calendars – Free printables and tutorials

1. Welcome to Christmas Street! Printable by Mr Printables

2. Advent activity calendar by Whaddayalookingat

3. Advent Calendar icecream stick tree with origami boxes  by Crafty Nest

4. Snowflake activity advent by Eighteen25

5. Bunting Advent Activity Calendar by Lily Jane

Free printable Christmas cards, templates and tutorials

Free printable Christmas cards, templates and tutorials

6. Reindeer Christmas Card by Stephanie Locsei

7. Hand Drawn Christmas Card by Mufninc

8. Two Turtle Doves by Slug & Bull

9. Easy and Elegant DIY Christmas Tree Card by Rita Shehan

10. DIY geometric Christmas tree card by How About Orange

11. Pressed Christmas Print by Pressed in Brooklyn

12. Printable Christmas Card Kit by Shery K Designs

13. Customisable Christmas Photo Card by my.craft.affair

14. Last Minute Angel by Kirsty Neale

15. Joyeux Noel by Super Nattura

Free printable Christmas gift tags and labels

Free printable Christmas gift tags and labels

16. Yuletide Christmas Gift Tags by Kelli Murray

17. Letterpress tags by Shanty 2 Chic

18. Customisable Gift Tags from The Celebration Shoppe

19. Christmas gift tag printables from myheartcreative

20. Fine Print Holly Jolly gift tags by Avalon

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Nativity Craft Tutorials and Printables

21. Colour-in printable Nativity by Scrapbookscrapbook

22. Print and Build Nativity Set by Marloes Devee

23. Ice-cream stick Nativity Craft by MamaScientist

24. DIY Minimalist Nativity Set by Curbly

25. DIY Nativity felt puppets and printables by Pretty Prudent

recycled-upcycled-christmas-craft-kids-decoration-decor

DIY Christmas Wreath Tutorials

26. Easy Christmas Ribbon Wreath Tutorial by Shelterness

27. Toilet Roll Holly and Berry Wreath Tutorial by Lavender Girl (Website in Hungarian!)

28. Paper Loop Christmas Wreath Tutorial by Crafts ‘n Coffee

29. Newspaper Scroll Christmas wreath by EcoEmpire

30. Vintage Paper Leaf Wreath by Emily Morris

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Easy DIY Christmas decorations – tutorials and printables

31.DIY Modern Paper Ornaments by Design*Sponge

32. Macaroni Snowflakes from Katy Elliott

33. Printable Christmas Bunting by Love Mae

34. Happy Christmas Party Flag Bunting by Team Kitten

35. Christmas star garland by Activity Bucket

P.S. If you’re looking for something more in the ready-made-with-heart variety for Christmas (or for any other special occasion), check out these gorgeous handmade paper cards from Little Blue Bottle! Every cent will go directly to charity and you can even have them personalised!

1st year of a Preemie

This is a video recording the first year of Ward Miles, born at around 25 weeks gestation, about 3 and a half months early.

The most moving part of this video, for me at least, was right in the beginning, when his mother gets to cuddle him for the first time. You can see the emotional turmoil on her face as she holds her baby to her. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. 

A premature baby at 24 or 25 weeks gestation is born at the limit of viability, with a very low chance of survival – a mere 50% – and a large number who do survive may have long lasting disabilities. Bearing all this in mind, very few babies born this early will live to see their first birthday, so it’s no wonder that Benjamin Miller, his dad, made this video to celebrate. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful to see this tiny little guy fighting to overcome all the obstacles surrounding his birth, and it’s amazing that we now have the technology available to support this (although the family must have suffered a hefty financial burden if the bills were not covered by medical insurance).

My Godson was born earlier this year and he arrived a few weeks early too (although not as early as little Ward Miles!). He had to be kept in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit soon after he was born, so it was nearly four days before his mummy was able to cuddle him in her arms for the first time. When my friend told me this, there were tears behind her smile as she recalled the moment, and when I thought about it at home, it made me cry too. I remember how much I wanted to be near my first child after he was born – whenever the nurses had to take him to the nursery, I felt so sad and anxious. I cannot imagine how terrible it must feel to not be able to pick up and hold your baby.

My maternal grandfather, who was a physician in China many decades ago, told me about a woman in his village whose husband was killed and the shock of this tragedy caused her to go into early labour.

The baby was so tiny that it fit into the palm of her hand, with skin so translucent that you could see his little heart pulsing. At that time, there were no machines to supply oxygen or parenteral nutrition, so she fed her baby with a solution of sugar water and expressed milk, drop by drop with her little finger. She was afraid that the rats would attack the baby, so she wrapped him up and kept him in a drawer at night. Amazingly, the child survived and grew to adulthood, eventually becoming a university professor.

My grandfather used to say that children like these who are able to survive such odds and emerge unscathed, would be strong, spirited and highly intelligent!

P.S. If you have a preemie baby and you need support and assistance, or if you would like more information on how to help families of premature infants, check out Club Rainbow (Singapore).

Weekend Special: Celebrate the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary!

I’m counting down the hours until the simulcast of the BBC’s 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who. *confetti* The kids are spending the weekend with the Aged Ps, so my friends and I are getting together to have a party and watch Dr Who because I do theme parties now. Theme parties are cool.

If you’re a Who-vian too, here is a collection of the most awesome Dr Who tributes on the web Youtube to get you all revved and ready! Just click the “continue reading” button below to enjoy all the awesome (or click here for the entire Youtube Playlist on OwlsWellVlogs )

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Noms on Wheels: The Nighthawk Diner

I work in an out of the way place and while I do bring my own lunch box to work everyday, I do occasionally crave food that I’m unable to make at home.  Thus, I’m very appreciative of the recent increase in the quality and quantity of mobile food trucks in the greater Sydney area.

Totally embarrassed to be photographed

Al and Jim chat inside Queen Latifah’s generous kitchen

The Nighthawk Diner mobile dining car is a delicious example of just such a convenience, providing food to hungry office workers and tourists from Queen Latifah, a gorgeously refurbished 1959 International Harvester Scout.

The diner is owned by Al and Jim, a pair of young chefs with experience in French-style fine dining.  Sick of being faced with the same kitchens day in and day out with no contact with customers, Al and Jim decided to get a change of scenery and took to the roads in order to meet new people and serve basically whatever the heck they wanted to.

GIT IN MAH BELLEH!

Philly Cheese Steak Sub with accoutrements

And their food is absolutely delicious.  I chanced upon the Nighthawk Diner on the way home from work one evening and was ate a recommended Philly Cheese Steak sub meal, which came with a bean salad, potato crisps and a large green pickle.  Al and Jim are fairly confident in their culinary skills, so every part of the meal from the pickle to the bun is made from scratch.  I had the pleasure of watching them finely slice, then fry the potato crisps onsite before plating it up for me.  The prices on Nighthawk Diner are a little steep for a regular food truck, but the size of the portions more than make up for the expense.  They were generous enough for Lacey and I to share a single meal, though it must be said that we were both a little full from Jaffle eating at the time (more on this later).

$14 for a meal

The Menu of Awesome Deliciousness

The food is served up at just the right temperature for immediate consumption.  The summer bean salad was an absolute delight, with the subtle flavour of the French green beans infused into the rest of the salad and given just the right amount of zing through the addition of green chillies.  The crisps were not over salty.  And the Philly Cheese Steak was so good that despite being fairly replete after having eaten my share, it still took every little dollop of self-control I had not to push Lacey over and steal her half!

The Nighthawk Diner tends to drive around all over Sydney, but you can find out where they’re stopping each day online.  Alternatively, you can catch Al and Jim monthly at Food Trucks United.  I’ve also been given to understand that they have a slightly more permanent arm at the Nighthawk Underground in Surry Hills.

Me, I’m looking forward to seeing them again and maybe I’ll get one of their Vanilla and Maple milkshakes next time.

A Spoiler-free Movie Review of Disney’s FROZEN (2013)

Frozen-movie-poster-disneyThis past week, my family and I were invited to watch a preview of Walt Disney Animation Studio’s 53rd feature, FROZEN, this year’s highly anticipated animated film inspired by Hans Christian Andersen‘s fairytale The Snow Queen and brought to life under the watchful eye of directors Jennifer Lee (the first female director in Disney Animation feature history and screenwriter of “Wreck-It Ralph“) and Chris Buck (Disney Animation veteran).

I initially had my reservations about the film, as I thought that this might be a throwaway cartoon wholly dependent on its wintry environment (and TWO new Disney princesses who both resembled Rapunzel from ‘Tangled’) to carry it through the Christmas holiday season…but I am pleased to say that I was wrong wrong wrong and THIS. MOVIE. IS. AWESOME[1]! There’s something in it for everyone: boys and girls and even jaded grownups too.

The Story and Characters

I'm not Rapunzel, no, I'm entirely a Different Girl.

I’m not Rapunzel, no, I’m entirely a Different Girl.

Frozen tells the story of Elsa (voiced by Tony award-winning Broadway star Idina Menzel) who is blessed/cursed with awesome cryokinetic powers, and her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell) who are heirs to the fictional Norwegian kingdom of Arendelle. Princess Anna is adventurous and carefree but immature, whilst Queen Elsa’s[2] life is complicated by her magical powers, forcing her into miserable isolation.

The relationship between the two leading ladies is the crux of the film and as their two personalities are complete opposites, this leaves room for the audience to relate to one or the other. It’s wonderful watching the emotional journey of both girls, who break free from the traditional Disney Princess stereotypes.

Kristoff

He’s a bit of a Fixer-Upper

Hans and Kristoff, the ‘Prince Charming’ characters, are both strong male leads and it was intriguing to see their behaviour and motivations change and unfold throughout the film.

The rest of the supporting cast are extremely well-developed, funny and like-able, without taking anything away from the main cast. I particularly liked Alan Tudyk’s hilarious portrayal of the devious Duke of Weselton [3] who has what I consider to be the funniest line in the film:

I dance, like a chicken with a face of a monkey! – Duke of Weselton

Ah, that Alan Tudyk. He cracks me up every time.

I even (reluctantly) became rather fond of the animated snowclownman, Olaf (Josh Gad). Although he is featured heavily in the trailers, this is not his film and he is around just enough to keep things lighthearted without becoming trite. The little ones in the audience will love this sweet little guy who loves warm hugs (and summer!).

Love me love me say that you love me

Love me love me say that you love me

Mommy Warning: There are a couple of very tense moments, and some scary chase scenes, so if you have sensitive children, you might want to prep them for the film by showing them the movie trailer first.

My personal favourite character (also J and Little E’s favourite [4]) is Queen Elsa, but this might be because she has the prettiest dress I’ve ever seen onscreen – a glamorous, glittering creation inspired by traditional Norwegian rosemaling, crowned with a 12-foot cape of ice crystals. Yes, that must be it. I’m shallow like that.

Vogue!

Lady with an attitude.

Seriously, though, Queen Elsa has the distinction of not only having the best song in the film, but also the most spectacular visual set piece. Which leads me to…

The Music and Visuals

I don’t often say this about films, but Frozen is DEFINITELY one of those movies that you will want to see in Glorious, Glorious 3-D!

The visuals in this movie are truly stunning and it’s obvious that the art direction was geared towards making full use of 3D special effects when rendering the film’s shots in both the intimate interior moments to the spectacular sweeping landscapes. There were so many moments when both my children stretched out their hands to try and touch the snowflakes! The keen attention to detail really makes the whole movie just beautiful to look at. You can really tell that the artists did a lot of research on Scandinavian architecture and aesthetics to create a unique look for the setting of the film.

Pack an extra jumper

Pack an extra jumper – you’ll need it.

The snow and ice was a great challenge for the animation team, who had to invent new software technology (appropriately called ‘Matterhorn‘) in order to create the varied textures of snow, frost and ice. The result? Absolutely breathtaking.

But what really sets the tone for the movie is the soundtrack. The music for Frozen is composed by Christophe Beck who incorporated Norwegian folk music (like kulning, a Scandinavian herding call similar to the Alpine yodel) into the soundtrack.

The eight original songs in the score are written by award-winning Broadway composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the latter being the genius behind “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon“, so the songs have that very big, dynamic, stage-musical feel. In fact, The Husband predicts that the movie will be made into a Broadway musical within a year, and I won’t be at all surprised if the power ballad ‘Let It Go‘ wins an award next year.

Apart from some weak moments in the dialogue and a few cringe-worthy cheap jokes, the movie as a whole is dazzling and strongly appealing. It was a real hit with my whole family!

Debs G rates Frozen: 9 out of 10 stars!

Oh, and if you catch the movie in theatres, you’ll have the added benefit of watching the new Mickey Mouse short ‘Get a Horse!‘, which absolutely MUST be viewed in 3D! It even features Walt Disney’s own voice (painstakingly assembled from archival voice track recordings) and is a brilliant hybrid of different animation styles.

P.S. Don’t forget to catch the Disney’s Princess Film Festival which is on now until the premiere of FROZEN on 28 November 2013. 

P.P.S. Check out Princess Dana’s Diaries for some Frozen-inspired activities, printables and crafts!


1.Honestly, I should have had more faith – after all, the Executive Producer of the film is the Pixar Genius, John Lasseter! ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY JOHN LASSETER.

2.FINALLY, a Disney Queen that is young, beautiful and GOOD.

3.Not pronounced ‘Weasel-town’. Of course not. I would never.

4.J likes her because she has superpowers. Little E likes her because she gets to wear that awesome gown.