Giselle by Teatro di San Carlo

Last evening, Little E and I were very privileged to have been invited to the opening performance of the ballet, Giselle, performed by the oldest ballet company in the world, the Teatro di San Carlo from Naples, Italy.

Giselle Teatro di San Carlo Marina Bay Sands

Little E is excited about the ballet!

It was a truly magical performance.

The dancers were such a joy to watch, with their expressive faces and gestures keeping all of us – Little E included – completely mesmerised. I was especially entranced the ghostly Wilis who were absolutely ethereal, drifting across the stage in their veils, each as light as a feather.

I wondered at first if the ballet would touch on themes that were too difficult for Little E to understand, but through the storytelling of the dancers, she was actually more than able to follow the complex storyline of love and betrayal.

Giselle Teatro di San Carlo

The Wilis (Photo credit: Francesco Squeglia)

In order to prepare 6 year old Little E for the performance, I borrowed Ballet Stories by Margaret Hargreaves from our public library and read her the tragic tale of Giselle.

Giselle, a beautiful but sickly peasant girl falls in love with Albrecht, a nobleman who disguises himself as a farmer in order to gain her affections. He promises to marry her, and she shares her excitement with a visiting noblewoman who is also celebrating her engagement. Unfortunately, it turns out that Albrecht is engaged to the noblewoman, and Giselle goes insane with grief, dancing until her heart gives out and she dies. Giselle becomes one of the Wilis, shades of women who died from unrequited love, but instead of exacting her revenge on Albrecht by dooming him to dance to his death, she pleads with the Wilis Queen and saves his life.

Little E and I had some very good conversations about the story of Giselle (especially in the light of this recent event), but it’s a very good cautionary tale about how important it is to choose potential suitors wisely and to listen to the counsel of friends and relatives who care for you.

Owls Well recommends: This ballet is 2 hours long with a short interval, so make sure you bring your little one to the bathroom before the start of the performance, and bring some sugar-free sweets to help them focus quietly!

P.S. Giselle is playing in Singapore until the 29 April 2017, so go watch it before it’s too late! Get tickets to Giselle here.

P.P.S. Find Ballet Stories by Margaret Hargreaves here.

Life Science in a Jar: Caterpillars

Whilst J was busy rearing mealworms, Little E asked me if she could also keep a pet. It just so happened that one of my old schoolmates is a primary school science teacher (henceforth referred to in this post as Mrs Great), and she had access to some caterpillars. She offered to give Little E a few of them and I was so excited to have another opportunity to study some more little creatures up close!

The very next day, Mrs Great rocked up with a clear tupperware that had four spiky black caterpillars, each about a centimetre long, happily nibbling away on spray of lime leaves. I don’t have a lime plant at home, so I was a little bit worried about having enough leaves for all the caterpillars – but Mrs Great assured me that there were probably enough leaves to last the caterpillars about two weeks.

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Some Very Hungry Caterpillars in different stages of maturity

The next day, about half the leaves were gone, and the little black caterpillars had doubled in size, developing streaks of bright green. There were also little dry balls of caterpillar poo rolling about the bottom of the tupperware, which I emptied out into a flower pot on my balcony. This wasn’t a particularly nasty job as everything smelled pleasantly of lime juice.

On the third day, one of the caterpillars had turned a bright green and was the size of my little finger. It was eating up the lime leaves at an alarming rate. I sent a text message to my friend Mrs Great, who was kind enough to drop by with a bunch of lime leaves, but I knew that at the rate the caterpillars were going, I would definitely need to find more lime leaves before the end of the week.

Sure enough, by the start of the fifth day, it was clear that I would need to find more lime leaves for the caterpillars or they would certainly starve.

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Running out of leaves!

Unfortunately, I went to three different supermarkets and three different wet markets and nobody had any lime leaves for sale! By this time, Little E was nearly in tears, upset that her caterpillars might starve to death.

However, as I was driving home, I passed by my local community garden. I stopped by, hoping against hope that I would find the leaves that I needed.

I didn’t think I’d be able to identify a lime plant without it’s signature green fruit, so I ran around taking pictures of various little plants and sending them to Mrs Great for identification. Fortunately, one of the pot plants had a tiny little green lime hanging on the one of the stems! Hooray! Community gardens save the day!

I plucked off a spray of leaves and triumphantly brought it to Little E who was waiting in the car for me.

The Aged P also went to talk to the security guard of her flat who keeps a variety of plants in his little guard outpost – and he so happened to have a lime kaffir plant that he was carefully cultivating. She managed to convince him to part with a few leaves which I kept in a cup of water to keep them fresh.

I was almost down to the last spray of lime kaffir leaves when we noticed that the caterpillars had stopped eating and were curling up on themselves, wiggling very slowly. One by one, they each moulted one last time, forming chrysalids that were securely fastened to the sides of the tupperware by silken threads.

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The Chrysalid and the Lime Butterfly

About a week later, the first butterfly emerged from it’s chrysalis! Little E was so excited, watching it pump it’s wings to fully inflate them and dry them out. We released it on our balcony and it rested there for a few hours before fluttering off.

As for the other three chrysalids, we noticed that all three had turned translucent one morning – we could see the black and white butterfly wings folded up beneath the surface of each chrysalis – so I told Little E to bring the tupperware to her kindergarten and share the magic of the butterfly with her classmates.

Sure enough the butterflies emerged from their chrysalids midway through her class time, much to the delight of everyone present. The teachers gently picked them up and released them into the school’s eco-garden, with Little E and all her classmates waving and yelling “Goodbye! Goodbye!”

Friday Break: GISELLE by Teatro San Carlo giveaway

 

Giselle_510x720Hi Owls Well Readers,

I have got a real special treat for you guys today!

One lucky Owls Well reader will make away with a pair of highly-coveted tickets to the opening night performance of GISELLE by Teatro Di San Carlo worth SGD$290.

This is all thanks to the fine folks over at Base Entertainment Asia! Thank you guys for sponsoring this awesome giveaway!

 

If you’d like to join me in watching the wonderful prima ballerina Ekaterina Oleynik dancing with the Teatro Di San Carlo ballet company on 26 April 2017, 8pm, here’s how you can take part in this giveaway:

  1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page
  2. Share this giveaway on your Facebook Page (set to public), tagging @Owls Well as well as at least two friends
  3. Make a comment below telling me who you’ll be bringing with you to the ballet if you win! Don’t forget to tell me the name of your Facebook account that you used to share this giveaway and include your email address! (If you would like to send me the email address privately, leave a comment for the other answers, then email me at 4owlswell [at] gmail [dot] com)

(This giveaway is open to anyone with a Singapore mailing address and closes at noon on Monday 25th April 2017. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete all 3 easy steps!)

P.S. Find tickets to GISELLE here

UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed – Peishan is our winner! Thanks for playing!

Video Game Family Time: Overcooked

Sometimes, sitting down to play with your kids can also include playing video games together with them, especially if it’s a lazy rainy weekend afternoon!

Here at Owls Well, we don’t see video games as a way for kids to isolate themselves but as a way for families and siblings to bond with each other over a shared experience.

In this Video Game Family Time series, I’ll be talking about some video games that we like to play together as a family and some rules that we have to keep everyone playing together nicely.

Here’s another game that is a lot of fun for a rainy afternoon: Overcooked!

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Picture Source: Ghost Town Games

Overcooked is a hilariously chaotic co-operative game by the two person team over at indie game studio, Ghost Town Games. It’s a real fun game that is guaranteed to have the whole family either working together like a well oiled machine or (much more likely) rolling on the floor cackling with glee as everything goes berserk.

In this game, players control cute little chefs who have to work together fulfil as many customer orders as possible (by preparing ingredients, cooking, plating and serving), whilst dodging hazards and obstacles, all within a fixed time limit. Each level is roughly 3-5 minutes long, and it usually takes about 2-3 rounds before everyone figures out how to work together to beat the level, so it’s a good game to play if you’re trying to keep game time really short.

This game has both a co-operative mode for up to four players as well as a competitive multiplayer mode where you can divide up into two teams. The controls are very straightforward so it’s good for beginners who are still working on their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, and the graphics are crisp and cute.

 

Whilst playing, we’d often find ourselves shouting out orders and instructions to each other, laughing our heads off whilst our little chefs crash into each other, burn the soup or accidentally fall out of the kitchen! I love the way that the game emphasises the importance of close communication between players, encouraging us to work together as a family to improve efficiency in our virtual kitchen!

We also like to take turns to designate a ‘head chef’ for each round, who will assign jobs and call out the orders as they come through!

When we are playing together in Overcooked, there are certain rules that we insist the children have to observe:

  1. We are kind to each other – no intentionally sabotaging the game or being nasty with our words
  2. We are helpful – we are partners and work together towards a common goal
  3. We remember to maintain our sense of humour – this is a game that involves some yelling and giving orders, but that doesn’t mean we get angry or upset with each other!
  4. When Mummy and Daddy say that game time is over, everyone puts their controllers down immediately with no fuss or bargaining.

If there’s a video game that you think is great fun for families – share it with me in the comments!

Life Science in a Jar: Mealworms

J came home one day and asked for a disposable tupperware for school. His Science teacher wanted each child to bring home a mealworm to rear over the March school holidays.

I didn’t know anything about mealworms so whilst he was in school, I did a little bit of research and found out that they are quite easy to rear – all they need for food and bedding is dry oatmeal. They get enough water from their food, so it isn’t necessary to provide a water bowl, which acts more like a death trap for unsuspecting mealworms.

Of course, when J brought the mealworms home, both the mealworms were lying in a small puddle of water. It had been a hot day and J thought they might need a drink – all living things need water to survive, right?

WRONG.

Neither of the mealworms appeared to be moving, so I told J that he might have accidentally drowned both of them. Poor J was crestfallen.

“Poor innocent mealworms,” he moaned, peering at the motionless creatures, “They were so active before and now they’re just lying on their backs! They look so stiff.”

Just then, A Becky C happened to phone up for a chat. Well, I remembered all of a sudden that she used to rear mealworms in an old pencil case! Ah ha! Help has arrived!

“DEBS!!!! I have something important to tell you!” she chirped in my ear.

“NONONONO WAIT WAIT LISTEN LISTEN THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!” I shrieked back. “I THINK THE MEALWORMS HAVE DROWNED!”

A Becky C laughed at me, then said “Okay calm down. If they aren’t swimming around in water, they might still be okay. Just dry them off with a tissue. Mealworms are very stupid. Sometimes they get so stressed that they think that they’re dead, but they aren’t. The only way to tell that they are actually dead is if they start to curl up and decompose. Then you’ll know that they’re dead.”

So J dried the mealworms off with a tissue and sure enough, after a few minutes, one of the mealworms started to twitch it’s legs ever so slightly. Then it seemed to wake up and start crawling around again. The other mealworm just lay quietly but every so often it would twitch and shudder, as if remembering it’s watery ordeal.

I transferred the mealworms into a dry container with a nice layer of dried oatmeal, and both the mealworms immediately buried themselves in the meal.

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Three stages of the mealworm’s lifecycle

By the next day, one of the mealworms was fully revived and was running laps around the perimeter of the container. The other worm was very lethargic. It moved so little that we were convinced that it was dead.

Turns out, the blessed creature was busy pupating – it eventually shed its skin and turned into greyish-white pupa. A week or so later, the pupa split open and a white beetle crawled out, which turned brown, then black.

J and Little E took turns feeding the mealworm and darkling beetle. Occasionally, if they were eating a piece of fruit, they’d drop a small piece in as a treat to the beetles.

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Keeping an eye on things

Of course, Thumper was most fascinated by the little creatures and would check on them many times an hour. I had to teach him to stop picking up the container and shaking it around, which would send both the mealworm and darkling beetle into spasms. Eventually, he learned to grip the edge of the table instead and just bring his head down to the table surface to peek at the insects. I’m so glad that he’s learned how to respect small creatures!

Both of J’s mealworms have completed their life cycles and are now darkling beetles, and J is hoping that they will start breeding soon. (Also, Little E is complaining that she doesn’t have a pet. So let’s see what we can do about that.)

Queen of Konmari Challenge: Stage 2 – Books

Well, I thought that sorting out the books would be a piece of cake, but it turns out I was so, so wrong. Putting my books through the Konmari wringer was very difficult for me, basically because it was just so labour-intensive!

I started off by walking around the house, just picking up every single stray book and putting them on the spare room bed. This took me about half an hour, and as you can see from the picture below, I hadn’t even emptied my book shelves before the bed was completely covered in books.

Once I started emptying my bookshelves, that’s when I started feeling nauseous and lightheaded. My thoughts were all over the place. How could I possible get rid of any of these precious books?! It was unthinkable! What am I doing? WHY am I doing this? THESE ARE BOOKS!! Also, why have I put random bits of paper and all sorts of rubbish around my books?

I was almost going to stop, but I decided to press on. I broke out into a cold sweat and started retching whilst trying to get all the books out of the cupboard and into stacks as quickly as possible. I also managed to gather together a bag of garbage, mostly half written notes, receipts or grocery lists, even junk mail that had somehow found their way into the pages of my books.

It took me a whole hour to get all my books together.

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On left: All the books from around the house. On Right: All the books.

After I emptied my bookshelves, I had so many books stacked on the floor and on the bed, that I had essentially blocked off my exit from the spare bedroom! Additionally, the books on the bed weren’t staying in neat stacks but had started to slide all over the place, and I risked knocking the whole lot onto the floor.

This is probably why Konmari advises one to lay everything out on the floor. It’s much easier to step around piles on the floor to get things that are out of arms’ reach, and if anything starts to tip over, at least it won’t fall too far! I shall keep this in mind once I reach the part where I have to handle breakables.

Fortunately, the spare room is connected to the children’s room by a balcony, so I had the kids let me in through their balcony (you can see how this could have gone VERY wrong, huh?).

I shut the spare room door and told the kids not to enter, then I went to get a drink of water and sit down for a few minutes to calm down. Then, I threw away the bag of rubbish that I accumulated. That was where I decided to stop for the day, because I knew I didn’t have the emotional strength in me to start sorting through the books as well.

The next morning, I was feeling slightly better, so I started out by going through the children’s books first. I slowly took out books that I never really liked, completed books that the kids would be unlikely to read again, or books that were repeats (surprisingly we had many of these). I kept all the books that I loved and that I loved to read to the kids, or books that I loved to see the children reading on their own.

Then, I went back and looked through the stack of children’s books that I didn’t like, and removed all of the ones that I knew that the children loved.

Then I sorted the ‘keepers’ into piles using my Volcano Method. This is when I pile stuff of the same category together until they form a chain of volcanos. Eventually, things start to flow down the sides to form new islands of interrelated topics. You can see in the picture below, the neat stacks of book volcanoes on the far left.

sorting-books-giveaway-marie-kondo

Sorting the books using the Volcano Method

At the end of the second hour-long tidying session, I had a tall stack of children’s books that I (and the children – I let them eyeball the books first) had decided not to keep but could be donated or given away (you can see them in the pictures above), some random textbooks that could probably be given away, and a bunch of books that needed to be returned to my friends! I also kept finding random brochures and magazines which totalled TWELVE plastic bags! I threw all of those into the recycling bin.

I spent the third session just putting all the children’s books back into the cupboards. By this time, the cupboards had been well aired out, and I’d also replaced the dehumidifiers to keep the books from getting musty.

I organised the books by reading level, and I’d also tried to arrange them vaguely by height, putting the taller books to the right of the cupboard. I put books that I wanted the kids to read at their eye level – that is, picture books right at the bottom for 1 year old Thumper, early readers and easy chapter books for 5 year old Little E on the bottom and middle shelves, advanced books on the top shelf for 8 year old J.

The next two sessions were spent sorting through and organising our collection of novels and reference books. I took all the books that I wasn’t terribly interested in and showed them to the Barn Owl, and he decided which ones he still wanted to keep. I got rid of all our outdated textbooks and manuals. I listed all the novels that we didn’t want (and weren’t worth keeping for the kids) to be given away on a freecycling website – and someone picked them up at the end of the week.

I put all our books back into the cupboards, making sure that our favourite books were at eye-level, and putting darker coloured books or book series towards the left, lighter coloured books towards the right.

Here’s what our shelves looks like now:

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Tidy and organised!

I have to find some props to hold the books up so that they don’t fall over, but the best thing about all this is that I’ve now got some space for more lovely books! YAY!

I’m really glad that I kept the books that were the kid’s favourites, even if they weren’t my favourites. They were so happy to see their beloved books displayed neatly on the shelves, it was totally worth it.

P.S. Why am I doing this? Here’s why.

P.P.S. Check out the rest of the Queen of Konmari series here.

If you haven’t read the books already, you can get them here:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

Upcycling for Kids (Using Teeshirts) Part 4: No-Sew Braided Rug

Perhaps you have got a few Teeshirts that are very worn out and not even worth giving away. You could rip them up and use them as cleaning rags, or you can try extending their usefulness by braiding them into a nifty rug, old-school style!

I actually tried making a similar rug earlier this year using old towels, but sewing the towel braid together hurt my fingers – and the rug didn’t hold together as well as I liked.

Using old teeshirts for this braided rug worked better for me, because the braid was easier to work with, and I could weave the rug together – no fussing about with needles and other pointy hurty things. This craft turned out to be straightforward enough for Little E to do it on her own! We ended up with a lovely, soft rug which made a great bathmat – and it’s washable too.

In this tutorial, I use a four strand braided technique (like a ‘fishtail’ braid), because I feel this gives a wider and flatter weave, but you can use a three stranded braid if you feel that a puffier rug works for you.

How to make an Old-School Braided Rug from Old Teeshirts

Materials:

  1. Old Teeshirts (I used about 3 large men’s tees to make a round floormatbut you can use more if you want a bigger rug)
  2. Scissors

Instructions:

tee-shirt-rug-braid-fishtail

  1. Cut the tees into 1.5-2 inch strips widthwise so that you end up with a bunch of loops
  2. Stretch the loops as far as they will go until the fabric rolls in on itself
  3. Cut the loops open on one end so that you are left with long strings
  4. Choose 4 strings and knot them together. I decided to go with 2 strings of contrasting colours to get a nice chevron pattern.fishtail-braid-four-strand-rug-tee-shirt
  5. Cross the outer (green in the picture above) strings over each other, right string over the left to form an X.
  6. Take the next set of outer strings (dark blue in the picture above). Cross them over the centre of the braid, right over left, to form a second X.
  7. Take the following set of outer strings (green) and cross them in the centre again, right string over left, to form a third X. You are now back to your original position, having done three layers of braiding!
  8. After you have done about 4-5 inches of braid, roll the braid into a spiral, with the original knot in the spiral centre. Now you can weave the free braid together to form the rug.
  9. Take the string that is closest to the centre of the spiral and pass it through one of the loops of braid that it is nearest to it (see the picture below).
  10. Pull the string tight to secure the free section to the rest of the rug.
  11. Continue to braid, securing each section every 1.5-2 inches.braided-teeshirt-rug-upcycle-recycle
  12. When the lengths of string become too short to braid, you can add another string to it by knotting the ends together. To make a less bulky knot, snip a small hole about 0.5 inches from the end of both strings that you wish to join together.
  13. Pass the end of the old string through the hole in the new string.
  14. Then, push the other end of the new string through the hole in the old string
  15. Pull tight and it should form a small, tight knot!
  16. Continue braiding your rug until it reaches a size that you are happy with
  17. To finish off the rug, knot the ends of the free braid to one of the loops from the braid next to it, securing the end of the braid to the rest of the rug. You can then trim off any excess string or tuck the strings into the rest of the rug to make them neat.
  18. Enjoy your soft new floormat!

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    Left: Eleanor braiding using two sets of contrasting colours to form chevrons, Right: Another rug that we made using four different colours