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.

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!

Book Series that we love (Chapter books): Extraordinary Losers

Over here at Owls Well, we have a soft spot for homegrown Singaporean authors and I am so glad to tell you all about the Extraordinary Losers chapter book series by Jessica Alejandro! These are good entry-level chapter books for encouraging reluctant readers who are looking to graduate from Early Reader books but need some pictures to break up the wall of words.

This book series follows the adventures of four primary school kids, Darryl De, Janice, Mundi and Clandestino, each of whom are considered class misfits for various shallow physical reasons (e.g. too ugly, too messy, too fat, too Indian etc). However, they also have incredible hidden talents that are overlooked by their peers who often underestimate their abilities. Fuelled by courage and junk food, the four kids find themselves banding together to solve mysteries within their school and find their self-worth, whilst dealing with the problems of class bullies, cyber-predators and of course, the all-encompassing villain of Primary School life, the dreaded PSLE!

I really appreciate the straightforward way that the book deals with bullying and being unique, encouraging the reader to look for the extraordinary gifts that lie within themselves instead of striving for conformity.

Right now, there are four books in the series (you can check out the titles in the picture above), and they are pretty engaging to read. The book also features funny illustrations by artist Cherryn Yap, as well as the occasional hand-scrawled cheeky poem by the book’s main POV character, Darryl De.

I have been told that the book series has gotten so popular that our local kid’s channel, Okto, is now looking to cast actors and actresses for an ExLosers TV series!

Open auditions are this Sunday 3rd July 2016 from 11am -6pm (registration closes at 4pm), so if you’ve got a budding thespian on your hands (or if you know one), do bring them along to the Suntec Convention Centre Level 3 Concourse.

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A extraspecial surprise for Owls Well Readers: The fine folk over at Bubbly Books have kindly agreed to sponsor a giveaway of the full set of Extraordinary Losers books by Jessica Alejandro to ONE lucky Owls Well reader! Thanks Bubbly Books!

To take part in this giveaway please complete the following:

  1. Leave me a comment below telling me about an extraordinary talent that you have (or your child has) that is often overlooked or underappreciated or how you personally dealt with bullying in school – don’t forget to 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)
  2. For extra entries, share this post on any social media platform and leave a comment below with the link!

(This giveaway is open to anyone with a Singapore mailing address and closes on 15 July 2016. Winners will be picked via Random.org.)

Buyer’s note: I received a set of the Extraordinary Losers books from Bubbly Books for this review. If you’d like to get the books for an extraordinary kid in your like, you can find Extraordinary Losers and other books by local authors here.

For more news and information about the Extraordinary Losers books, check out their Facebook page here.

Author Showcase: Satoshi Kitamura

We at Owls Well are completely unapologetic about receiving hand-me-downs, especially when those hand-me-downs include awesome books by awesome authors!

Satoshi Kitamura is a Japanese author-illustrator and his bright and bold, incredibly detailed watercolour pictures are sure to captivate even the youngest reader in the household.

I particularly love his quirky stories featuring funny animal characters presented in a comic-book style. It also has interactive components that oftentimes cannot be reproduced on other forms of media!

For example, the book, What’s Wrong With My Hair?, features cutouts that make for tons of fun when reading it with the little ones. This is one of Thumper’s current favourites and we take turns sticking our faces through the holes in the book! He laughs like mad and sometimes tries to talk to the picture on the facing page.

satioshi-kitamura-book-kids-cutout

Can your Kindle do this?

It is this very book that inspired J to make his own cardboard cutout Photo Booth years ago.  I think it’s a great way to get kids crafting on their own using recycled materials.

I also really enjoy reading this kooky story about a boy who wakes up one morning and has switched bodies with his pet cat. Elijah Wood does a brilliant job of reading this hilarious book on Storyline Online (where you can find hundreds of other videos of celebrities reading great storybooks)

If you’re looking for a really fun book for a little one that you know, check out the links below!

Get Me and My Cat? by Satoshi Kitamura here

Get What’s Wrong With My Hair? by Satoshi Kitamura here

Find books by Satoshi Kitamura on Amazon

Find books by Satoshi Kitamura on The Groovy Giraffe 

(Amazon and The Groovy Giraffe are our favourite online bookstores for buying children’s board books! Thank you for supporting the sponsors that make Owls Well possible.)

Midweek Break: A Writer’s Workshop & A Book Giveaway!

If you saw our post on Peranakan culture earlier this week, you might remember that I mentioned the book Stacey goes to the Peranakan Museum‘ by Lianne Ong, which is part of an ongoing books series published in partnership with Singapore’s National Heritage Board.

Lianne Ong, the author of the Stacey & the Museums book series, is actually going to be doing a very special writer’s workshop aimed at kids aged 7-10 years old at the upcoming Singapore Writer’s Festival held at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

The workshop, Create A Stacey@ACM Adventure, will have kids exploring the galleries at the museum and coming up with their own Stacey story under Lianne’s guidance. Additionally, James Tan, the illustrator of the books, will be there to teach children how to draw Stacey and accompany their story with pictures.

I am a big fan of creative writing, so I think this workshop sounds like a whole load of fun and a great experience for kids. At $5 for a 90 min masterclass with a published children’s book author, it is a real bargain!

The workshop will take place on 8 November (Saturday) at 11:00am-12:30pm at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Tickets to the workshop and more information available here.

If you already own a Stacey book, you ought to bring it with you and I am sure both Lianne Ong and James Tan will oblige you with an autograph if you ask nicely.

And if you don’t own a Stacey book yet, well, here’s a Special Something for Owls Well Readers: Armour Publishing has very kindly agreed to sponsor a giveaway of a copy of the book “Stacey Goes to the Peranakan Museum” to ONE lucky Owls Well Reader! Huzzah! 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. Share this giveaway on your Facebook Page (set to public), tagging @Owls Well as well as at least three friends
  3. Visit my Peranakan Peregrination post and leave a comment there telling me about one thing that you know or appreciate about Peranakan culture! 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)

(Giveaway is open to anyone with a Singapore address and will end on 10th October 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete all 3 easy steps!)

P.S. If you still aren’t convinced of how great this book series is, check out my review of the first book in the Stacey & the Museums series here – we liked it so much, we made our own book trailer!

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

A Peranakan Peregrination: A Cultural Day Out with Kids

Recently, I convinced the Aged Ps to take the kids for a Peranakan Day Out, so that they can learn more about Peranakan culture and what it means to be a Baba or a Nyonya.

Here’s how you can enjoy your own Peranakan Day Out in 10 easy steps!

Video Footnotes:

This is a really great book that not only introduces the Peranakan Museum and it’s highlights, but gives some easy to read information about Peranakan culture. In the book, Stacey visits the museum and has an adventure with a mysterious girl who takes her on a personal tour!

I really love the detailed illustrations by James Tan, and it really is such a treat to be able to read the book to the kids, and then see their reaction once they reach the museum and recognise the things that they see in the pictures.

I was very fortunate to have received a copy of this book from Armour Publishing for review, but you can get your own copy from the Peranakan Museum shop or direct from the Armour Publishing website. The book is part of the Stacey & the Museum series by Lianne Ong – here’s a review and book trailer that I made for the first book in the series, Stacey Goes to the National Museum.

The Peranakan Museum is a wonderful little museum installed in the former Tao Nan Chinese School, and has a beautiful and extensive collection of Peranakan objects, wonderfully curated in a manner that illustrates the tradition and distinctive artistic style of the Peranakan community.

There are many interactive components for children within the museum, some on large computer touch screens, and others requiring and encouraging children to touch and handle vintage objects. J and Little E enjoyed running around the museum completing a little treasure hunt – the activity sheet can be collected at the information counter.

We visited the museum with the Aged P, who is of course a true Peranakan but there are guided tours conducted daily by volunteers (most of whom are also Peranakan or are scholars of Southeast Asian culture) are more than happy to regale you with personal stories about Peranakan traditions!

The Peranakan Museum is open daily from 10am – 7pm (extended hours to 9pm on Fridays) and is located on 39 Armenian Street, Singapore 179941. Admission is free for Singaporean Citizens and PRs, as well as for children under 6 years old.

At the Peranakan Museum and Daisy's Dream Kitchen

At the Peranakan Museum and Daisy’s Dream Kitchen

  • Peranakan Food in Singapore

We ate at Daisy’s Dream Kitchen, which is a small little family-run eatery over in the West Coast serving Peranakan food as well as a selection of other local dishes.

The food is delicious and reasonably priced, with a lovely home cooked flavour and the Aged Ps deem it ‘Cheap and Good’ (which by their standards, is very good indeed). Peranakan food tends to be very rich, so I was surprised and glad to see that the dishes served were not swimming in grease, but were low in salt and oil with no loss to the fullness of flavour. We even met Daisy’s kids and grandkids, who had dropped in for lunch, the little 5 year old grandson even coming to our table to thank us for visiting! What a little charmer.

Daisy’s Dream Kitchen is open from Tues-Sun from 11am-3pm and 6pm-10pm at Block 517 West Coast Road, #01-571, S(120517), Tel: 6779 1781

If you are looking for a fancier Peranakan restaurant with a larger range of traditional dishes, prepared and displayed in a traditional manner, the Aged Ps recommend The Blue Ginger Restaurant, which is where they like to bring out-of-towners when they want to truly impress.

To get a true taste of Peranakan culture, the Aged Ps recommend that you try the Nyonya-style Ngoh Hiang, the Bakwan Kepiting soup, the Babi Ponteh stewed pork and the Ayam Buah Keluak stuffed blacknut when you are visiting a Peranakan Restaurant.

  • Peranakan music

Peranakans are known for their involvement in Dondang Sayang (Love ballad) and Keroncong (Malay-style ukelele band) forms of music.

The Aged Ps were very insistent that I chose the correct kind of music to accompany this video, and so I have gone for the Dondang Sayang style of Peranakan music. The Dondang Sayang style is exemplified by the exchange of lighthearted and cheeky malay poetry (or ‘pantun‘) between two singers.

The song that I use in this video, Rasa Sayang, is a very popular local folk song in the traditional Dondang Sayang form and the chorus goes:

Rasa sayang, hey! (Loving feelings, hey!)
Rasa sayang-sayang hey, (Lots of loving feelings, hey!)
Lihat nona dari jauh (Admiring a pretty girl from afar)
Rasa sayang-sayang, hey (Lots of loving feelings, hey!)

(Ironically, the version of Rasa Sayang  that I used is recorded by a Japanese artiste, Lisa Ono!)

  • Peranakan Fashions
Little Nyonya proudly wearing her kebaya!

Little Nyonya proudly wearing her kebaya!

We didn’t include a visit to a dressmaker to try out fancy Peranakan fashions and learn how to tie a sarong in the traditional way, but that would be a fun way to round off the day with an impromptu fashion show, especially if you have kids who love dressing up.

We love Toko Aljunied for their beautiful kebayas and batik shirts – you can find out more about this wonderful purveyor of fine Peranakan fashions for kids and adults here.