Australia (2008): Thoughts from the Couch (Potato)

Australia movie posterA British aristocrat, Lady Sarah, inherits a cattle ranch and unwillingly engages the help of an Australian cattle drover (cunningly named ‘Drover’) to protect her property.

Usual love story ensues.

This takes place around WW2 and is cleverly interwoven with the mystical story of Nullah, a half aboriginal boy who is trying with some success to avoid being separated from his tribe and sent to Mission Island to join the rest of the ‘Stolen Generation’.

This film is beautifully rendered with the usual breathtaking cinematography that is associated with Baz Luhrmann. There are plentiful scenes of Hugh Jackman doing all sorts of sexy things in slow motion (walking, riding, getting doused in water/dust/mud, gazing thoughtfully into the horizon etc etc).

In comparison, there are precious few beauty shots of Nicole Kidman, though. Very few closeups. She may be over 40 in this film but she is still gorgeous and it would been nice to see her beauty celebrated just a teensy weensy bit, Mr Luhrmann!

Debs G recommends: Watch this movie with Moulin Rouge! for more beauty shots of Nicole Kidman to balance out your Baz Luhrmann evening!

P.S. Get Australia here

P.P.S. Check out the rest of the Couch Potato series here.

Hairspray (2007): Thoughts from the Couch (Potato)

HairsprayMoviePosterI must admit that I was very reluctant to watch this musical, simply because the title sounds vapid (Hairspray? Really?) and because I am utterly resistant to the charms of Zac Efron.[1]

However, John Travolta, James Marsden AND Christopher Walken in a musical together? DANCING?

THIS IS MOVIE GOLD!

And yes, Movie Gold it is indeed. Apart from the catchy tunes and snazzy dance numbers and the fact that John Travolta looks fetching in a dress, the storyline is both relevant and uplifting.

(And…Christopher Walken totally rocks.)


[1]During my first pregnancy, I was rather sickly, so The Barn Owl, in an ill-conceived attempt to alleviate my symptoms, borrowed High School Musical from the local video library. Needless to say, I spent most of that day staring down the U-bend.

P.S. Get Hairspray (2007) here

P.P.S. Check out the rest of the Couch Potato series here

 

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!

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.

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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

Queen of Clean Konmari Challenge: The Book Reviews

Okay, so following the success of the Happy Family Plan, one of my cousins bought me Konmari’s books, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising“and “Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up“, as gifts for Christmas.

Now, I actually put these books on my Christmas wish list because I had come across Marie Kondo‘s home organisation technique whilst completing the Happy Family Plan. I mean, if you google ‘decluttering’ or ‘tidying’, you will eventually come across her books sooner or later.

My idea of tidying was to put all the mess out of sight as quickly as possible, which is only a short term measure of keeping things neat and organised.  Soon, the cupboards and drawers were beginning to spill over all over the house again. In fact, when I was completing my Happy Family Plan, I realised halfway through that I was becoming fatigued and overwhelmed. This was because I was trying to do everything all at once and it wasn’t working for me.

For example, I really wanted to reorganise my cupboards, so I started out reorganising the Craft Cupboard, and soon this expanded to ‘reorganisation of the Games Cupboard’ which led to the ‘reorganisation of the Mementos Cupboard and Household Tools Cupboard’.  I ended up with a bunch of half-organised, half-full cupboards, and a bunch of half-organised, overflowing cupboards. At one point, I found myself spending a whole hour just emptying and repacking the same things into different cupboards like a crazy person.

Eventually, I decided to call a stop to the reorganisation of the cupboards and just move on with the rest of the Happy Family Plan.

I wanted to read Marie Kondo’s books because she claims to have a ‘ONCE AND FOR ALL TIME’ plan. You complete her method ONCE AND FOR ALL TIME and never return to your previous state of disorganisation and mess. And because I am an inherently lazy person, I like the idea of doing things only once.

So, I have read both of her books, and I have come to the conclusion that:

  1. Yes, they are very useful because they set down a very clear and logical framework that you can follow.
  2. Yes, if you really want to follow her plan, buy both books.
  3. The Konmari method works especially well if you are the sort of person who tends to procrastinate, if you are constantly looking for good storage solutions and if you feel guilt about your messy house but you are not a tidy person by nature.

And now, my thoughts on each book:

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

Okay, the biggest criticism that this book has is that it uses some flower child hippie descriptive language. I mean, there is literally a whole paragraph in the book dedicated to examining the inner feelings of socks and the horror and abuse that is balling your socks up in the drawer.

Well, the first thing to remember is that this book is written primarily for a Japanese audience, and that culturally, all objects in Japan are described as having a spiritual nature. So in order to reach the heart of her audience, Konmari very cleverly appeals to the Japanese innate appreciation of objects as well as for all things cute and cuddly, in order to achieve to change in psychological mindset.

If you strip away all of that, what you are left with is a very concise and logical method of managing the task of curating and organising personal possessions as well as household items. Marie Kondo explains the development process behind her method, and understanding the theory does help you focus on tackling the problem of household mess in a positive and manageable way. Additionally, I think that following her advice on how to store or display items (or fold clothes) will actually help you to prolong the lifespan of your treasured possessions. She also has some very useful advice on what to do with items that have outlived their usefulness, things that you are holding onto out of guilt or some other emotional reason, or that you are keeping in store for a rainy day.

Conclusion: This book is very useful if you do not like tidying, and you need some help getting started.

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

I think that this book is only helpful if you have already started to tidy your house via the Konmari method, or if you have read the first book and you have more questions.

This book is written as a companion to the first one. It already assumes that you have read Marie Kondo’s book, and so it proceeds to explain everything in much more detail. It covers her entire method in a very thorough and detailed manner – with pictures, descriptions and very practical, helpful tips to help you along if you start feeling discouraged.

However, if you don’t understand the theory behind the Konmari method or if you have an obsessive personality, this book will hinder more than it helps as the amount of information it contains will be too overwhelming.

Conclusion: This book is immensely helpful as a quick reference guide for people who are already committed to the Konmari method.

So, Meimei, now I have completed reviewing the Konmari books as per the Queen of Clean challenge. Haha!

The Happy Family Plan

As you may know, I recently hosted Christmas Dinner for the Owls Well family at my house as a response to the baking challenge that A Becky C set me in the beginning of the year.

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Challenge completed!

The most difficult thing about hosting the Christmas ‘Everything Baked’ Dinner at the my place, was not actually the cooking, but that I had to get myself to a place where I felt like I could invite people (specifically family) round to my house without feeling too upset and stressed about it.

I actually started planning for the Christmas Dinner at my place WAY back in October. I called this my “Happy Family Plan“. The goal of my plan was to be able to have the Outlaws stay at my house and invite the Aged Ps round for dinner at the same time. This was a 4 stage plan, as follows:

 Stage 1:  Reorganise/declutter children’s toys and schedules. 

This was so that we could spend more time at home and that we would also enjoy spending more time at home as the living room area would be more presentable. I felt quite stressed about being at home sometimes as I found myself getting upset with the kids and very unhappy when their toys seemed to be everywhere, even after putting the toys away.

Result: I donated many bags of toys to families who would appreciate them more than we would. Spending more time at home was relaxing too.

Stage 2: Reorganise the cupboards 

Our dining table and counter tops were overflowing with things, as was my desk area. The cupboards had been stuffed willy-nilly to keep everything away from prying eyes but it was reaching the stage where I felt bad about how ugly the cupboards were on the inside and couldn’t even bear to open them to put more things away.

Result: I reorganised the children’s clothing cupboards, our craft cupboard and two of our miscellaneous cupboards, and gave away some of the clothes that I knew I would never wear again (i.e. all my maternity and nursing gear, and my pre-pregnancy work wear). I wasn’t able to go through all the cupboards as I didn’t have enough time, this being an emergency plan, but I did manage to find space to make sure the dining table was clear and that the countertops were not overly cluttered.

Stage 3: Reclaim my bedroom space and the spare room space.

The spare room was being used as a temporary holding area (i.e. storage room) and that needed to change if I was going to put the Outlaws up in there. My bedroom space was only being used as a place to sleep and not a place to relax and that needed to change.

Result: This involved getting rid of large furniture items in my bedroom which were being used as glorified clothes horses. I also moved Thumper out of our bedroom and into the children’s room. This led to both myself and the Barn Owl experiencing better sleep and less guilt for not using furniture as intended. I also felt less upset about the state of the spare bedroom (although still a little embarrassed about the cupboards in there!)

Stage 4: Host guests in the house

Obviously, I wanted to feel proud about where we lived, proud enough to show it off to other people. I didn’t want to worry about whether the Aged Ps would leave my house feeling sad at the state of it.

If you look to the top right of the picture above, you can see that I still had laundry hanging up in my dining room – it was raining so it couldn’t go outside – and whilst I was quite embarrassed that I didn’t have anywhere else to put it, at least I felt okay enough to have people come and visit the house.

And look how happy everyone is!

Happy Family Plan Completed!

Notes on the Happy Family Plan:

I set aside Thumper’s 2 hour morning nap time to devote to the decluttering and tidying portion Happy Family Plan, which was the most time-consuming part of this whole event. I would spend only one hour diligently working, then decompress for half an hour with crisps, a cold drink and Youtube. If I felt good enough, I’d do a little bit more during the afternoon, but not more than half an hour as I didn’t want to burn myself out.

I toyed with the idea of selling all my preloved things, even to the point of opening a Carousell account, but in the end I realised that it was more important for me to get the clutter out of sight quickly. Additionally, I decided that my family is fortunate enough to be in a position where we can afford to be charitable. So, I listed everything on various Freecycle sites as I decluttered, so that these things would go to people who wanted or needed them enough to come and collect them from me. Reducing World Suck whilst accomplishing the Happy Family Plan was a huge bonus, and some days I felt a little bit like Santa Claus!

For Stage 3 of the Happy Family Plan, I had to take into account the fact that there might possibly be a difficult transition period whilst J, Little E and Thumper adjust to the new sleeping arrangements, and I didn’t want this to affect J as he was preparing for his year end exams. So I waited until J had completed his last paper before moving Thumper out of our bedroom.

It was surprisingly easy – the 3 kids did take longer to get to sleep at first as they would play with Thumper after lights out, but there was a lot less fuss from Thumper than I’d envisioned. This was because Little E instantly took over the job of comforting Thumper if he woke her up at night and she managed it a lot better than I normally do! Her secret? “I just tell him to lie down and go to sleep”, says she. I must say I was very proud of all of them, especially Little E, who really had a chance to flex her big sister muscles!

Concluding thoughts:

I’m pleased to say that I am really proud of myself for managing to complete the Happy Family Plan within a short time frame and despite the fact that I only had an hour a day to spend on it! Yay for me!

Whilst completing the Happy Family Plan, I went on my personal social media site and asked for advice for how to declutter and organise my cupboards.

This eventually led to one of my family giving me a set of Marie Kondo‘s books for Christmas! I’ll let you know how I feel about it once I finish reading them.

A 2016 Christmas Party Playlist

This year, I’m really looking forward to the Christmas Weekend and all the games, music and storytelling that we’ve got planned over here in the Owls Well household!

If you are hosting or throwing a Christmas party this year, here is the Owls Well Christmas 2016 playlist, with all of my handpicked favourite videos from Youtube! I’ve tried to feature more local artistes this year too. This playlist is roughly an hour long, so it’s a good one to put in the background when everyone is eating their Christmas Dinner, or stick on for the kiddies to watch whilst everyone is busy with preparations!

P.S. If you are looking for a much longer playlist to encompass all of party time, check out the Owls Well Christmas 2013 Playlist here.