Easy Listening (Part 2): Debs G’s Podcast Favourites

ABC, I hear you about listening to podcasts during recuperation from the dreaded lergy.

I often suffer from migraines which means that I need sit in a completely dark room, and podcasts are extremely comforting to me. I also enjoy listening to them when I’m doing housework – they just make time fly!

Here are four podcasts that help me to relax:
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1. A Prairie Home Companion by American Public Media

I have talked about this radio show in passing before, and it is one of the favourites in the Owls Well household. The Prairie Home Companion is a radio variety show featuring American folk music alongside comedy sketches (complete with sound effects) and musical interludes from fictional sponsors. This show never fails to put a smile on my face and I often find myself tuning into it when I need a pick-me-up.

Producer and show runner Garrison Keillor, he of the golden radio voice, has now retired and his mantle has fallen upon musician and songwriter, Chris Thile. Chris Thile may not have the same deep and smooth timbre as his predecessor, but the man does sing like a nightingale and he’s also very, very funny, so he is forgiven.

(For those of you who, like myself, miss Garrison Keillor, he is to be found and heard on The Writer’s Almanac where he reads a poem every day and tells stories about significant events in literary history.)

2. Welcome to Night Vale by Night Vale Presents 1424727845212

Written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, this podcast features the mellifluous bass tones of Cecil Baldwin. The fictional desert town of Night Vale is a strange place where all the conspiracy theories are real and the Night Vale radio show host, Cecil, reports on the local weather including the large cloud that glows in many colours (ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY GLOW CLOUD), various cultural events, and announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police.

On evenings when The Barn Owl is on call, I often play an episode from Welcome to Night Vale and fall asleep. I find that afterwards I get the most interesting and psychedelic dreams.

11312636_10101329805815525_5002516714209367793_o.jpg3. Astronomy Cast by Fraser Cain and Pamela Gay

This is an educational podcast that discusses various topics in the field of astronomy through the form of a light-hearted conversation between co-hosts Frasier Cain (editor of the space and astronomy news site Universe Today) and Dr Pamela Gay (Professor of Astronomy at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville).

I love listening and learning, and letting Dr Pamela Gay’s soothing warm alto tones wash over my ears as I’m pottering about the house.

17971953_448676435476708_6086957621977028490_o4. Story Not Story by Chyna & Craig

This is a super cute podcast that is great for unwinding at the end of the day! Story Not Story features a married couple, Chyna and Craig, relaxing together and telling each other bedtime stories. I enjoy hearing Craig and Chyna banter with each other – they are sweet and funny and just adorable.

The fun part for me is trying to guess where each story is going to go and I am usually very pleasantly surprised. You’ll definitely be a butter person for hearing them!

(And you can also see more of Craig and Chyna over at the Youtube channel, Wheezy Waiter.)

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The Barn Owl Plates Food (again)

So I found this great recipe for pork and apple burger patties, and I decided to make homemade burgers for dinner as a special treat at the end of a long busy week.

After frying up the patties, I was feeling sweaty and sticky, so I headed for the shower. The Barn Owl was in charge of burger assembly – mayo on the bread buns, salad, burger patty, then sliced tomato and cheese on top, with fresh strawberries and blueberries on the side.

Here’s what he made:

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Hello!

Not playing with my food, honest!

Contemporary Art for Kids – National Gallery Singapore

Last year, when J was attending a holiday creative writing camp at the Arts House, I decided to take Little E to visit the nearby National Gallery Singapore.

The National Gallery Singapore is housed in the former Supreme Court and City Hall, and is home to the largest public collection of modern art in Singapore and Southeast Asia, with a special interest in showcasing local and Southeast Asian artists.

Within the National Gallery is the Keppel Centre for Art Education, which is a dedicated art facility designed to inspire children and encourage creativity. Within each room are art pieces which the children can interact with or observe in detail, as well as related activities to fuel their imagination.

In one of the Project Galleries is a massive, highly detailed cityscape created from clay and acrylic, painstakingly built in great detail by teen artist Xandyr Quek when he was 13 years old.

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Little E is inspired by City In The Works (2015), Xandyr Quek

Xandyr, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is fascinated by maps and street directories, and would ask his parents to take him to certain roads and streets so that he could spend time memorising the buildings and other public infrastructure. At home, he built many clay sculptures based on his observations. He conceptualised and created this tiny city modelled on northern Singapore which is now housed in a protective glass case (as he doesn’t like his work being handled or touched).

After spending a few moments looking at the tiny city, Little E then spent a happy half hour drawing and populating her own small city. Whilst she was doing this, I noticed that there were other activity sheets available in the room which would suit a variety of learning levels and interests, so there would be something to inspire every child.

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Home-a-Sapiens by Tan Wee Lit

In another project gallery, the ceiling and walls are covered in fantastical future dwelling spaces. A nomadic bus with laundry on bamboo poles floats alongside a series of airy blimps, while the walls have models of underground houses built beneath the roots of trees, even some of the shelves and cupboards were disguised to look like houses.

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Designing her underground living space

Little E was inspired by the underground homes and she decided to make her own cone-shaped house to add to the installation. There were also some very nice pre-fabricated craft kits available (for a suggested donation of SGD$4) which would make a great take-home souvenir.

Little E also liked the Who’s In The Woods interactive area, where she could create and customise her own forest creature using digital painting, then see it come alive on the wall and play with other animals in the forest! That was pretty cool!

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Little E’s found a new friend in the woods

By far the most exciting area was the Art Playscape, which is a labyrinth and playhouse that is literally covered from floor to ceiling in elaborate, intricate drawings, so that you really feel like you have entered a painting into a magical realm.

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The Enchanted Tree House by Sandra Lee

In this room, Fynn the Fish-On-Sticks and his forest friends wander the world in search of adventure, encountering all sorts of familiar creatures from fairy-tales and nursery rhymes. Little E had fun running all over the room trying to find Fynn, and identifying all the storybook characters (and finding familiar mystical creatures like our Merlion hiding in plain sight).

Mummy tip #1: The floor in the Art Playscape has a very smooth finish, so bring along non-slip socks if you have a wobbly toddler or a clumsy child!

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Taking a break with Fynn the Fish-On-Sticks

I liked the Keppel Centre for Art Education so much, that we returned during the mid-year holidays this year, as soon as Thumper was able to walk around on his own.

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Building together

I was very pleased to see that some of the interactive activities had changed!

There was room filled with different types of building blocks for making giant fortresses and tabletop sculptures. There was also a wall filled with magnetic shapes which Thumper enjoyed messing around with.

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Playing with the walls

Within the National Gallery itself were huge wall murals and freestanding art pieces which visitors could pose with and become part of the artwork as well.

We also had the opportunity to go on a free guided tour which took us through the gallery, giving us some insight into the design and architecture of the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings as well as some of its the history and hidden secrets!

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On the Building Highlights Tour – held at 11am and 3pm daily

The docent who took us around was very knowledgeable and was able to engage both children and adults during the tour. The docent even thoughtfully changed her route to accommodate our stroller so that we could use lifts instead of stairs and escalators – although we felt really bad slowing the whole group down!

Mummy Tip #2: If you’re planning to take your kids on the guided tour, park your stroller at the visitor’s desk and bring out your baby carrier instead.

National Gallery Singapore
1 St. Andrew’s Rd, Singapore 178957

Opening Hours: 
Sun–Thu and Public Holidays: 10am–7pm
Fri–Sat, Eve of Public Holidays: 10am–10pm

Admission is free for Singaporeans and PRs, as well as for students, teachers, children under 6 years old, persons with disabilities and their carers.

For more information about the National Gallery Singapore click here

For more information about the free guided tours click here

For more information about Keppel Centre for Art Education click here

Building a world of fun together (ft. Miclik)

Months ago, Thumper was reaching the stage where he was starting to push himself around the house. He grabbed everything in sight and the first thing he’d do is shove it into his mouth. He was so excited to learn about the world, he just crawled everywhere with his little tongue hanging out of his mouth like a puppy.

Of course, this meant that it was time to put all the Legos away, as the tiny pieces are all potential choking hazards. I also had to put away our beloved Citiblocs away as prolonged chewing and sucking on the porous wooden pieces would probably ruin them. I brought out our trusty set of Duplo blocks, hoping that this would appease J and Little E, who complained loudly and at length as I put away their favourite construction toys.

Unfortunately, the Duplos no longer interested them (I mean, once you start on Legos and Citiblocs, it’s really hard to go back!) so I started looking out for toys that would be fun for my 8 year old, challenge my 5 year old but still be safe for my little crawler.

This is when local enrichment center, Explorer Junior (not to be confused with Junior Explorers Singapore) , introduced me to the wonderful world of Miclik – and I’m glad to say that it’s a toy that all my three kids can play with together.

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I find Miclik to be such an elegant and innovative toy. Really, I expect nothing less from a building toy that is created in Barcelona, one of the leading centres of architecture and design. Marc Castelló, the founder and designer behind the boutique toy company, Mitoi, aims to spark children’s imagination and creativity through his unique and ingenious toys, and I really think that he has succeeded in doing so!

The Miclik toy is a modular construction toy that basically consists of colourful flat hexagons of firm plastic. Each hexagon is hinged in the middle allowing the pieces to be bent back and forth like butterfly wings. It is this very flexibility that the key to opening up a vast world of creative opportunity.

The pieces snap together quickly and easily, and my kids quickly immersed themselves in creating elaborate 3-dimensional structures and wearables for role-play. Best of all, the Miclik toys have undergone rigorous lab-testing to ensure that they are safe and non-toxic – so I don’t have to worry if Thumper uses them as chew toys!

I brought these toys out during a party and they were a real hit with all the children present, who were completely engrossed in making crowns, bracelets and swords, even a pair of handcuffs!

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I have never had another construction toy that was so quickly used for interactive, imaginative play.

This is now our toy of choice in the living room, and I often peek in on the three kids to find them on another Miclik adventure. Sometimes they are wearing helmets and defending Thumper with swords and shields, other times they are making hiking boots or snowshoes for expeditions across the Arctic, sometimes I stumble across a herd of Miclik cows and chickens. It’s amazing where this toy has taken them!

Buyer’s Note: Explorer Junior is currently the sole distributor of Miclik toys in Singapore (click here to go to their online store). They may seem pricey at SGD$49.90 (for 48 pcs) or SGD$79.90 (for 96pcs) but they are worth it. I would be very cautious in purchasing cheap imitations as they will not be certified non-toxic or made from the same durable materials.

P.S. Explorer Junior is very kindly offering an exclusive discount code for all Owls Well readers! From now until 15th June 2016, just enter the code OWLS10 at checkout to take 10% off your order! Thanks Explorer Junior!

Don’t just take my word for it – check out these other reviews over at Mum in the Making and Mum’s Calling and see what their Miclik creations!

Midweek Break: Chris Haughton is coming to town!

Island of Dreams Cloud Banner

As I said earlier this week, I am really stoked about the family-friendly events coming up over the next two weekends at the Singapore Writers Festival – and I am especially excited that Chris Haughton, author-illustrator of one of our favourite children’s books, A Bit Lost, will be in town and conducting workshops during the festival!

Chris Haughton is conducting a grand total of four workshops, and two of these are ticketed events aimed at families with children between 4-6 years and 7-9 years of age.

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It’s Chris Haughton! *Fan girl squeeeeeeeeeee*

The first workshop, Animation On A Phone, is for families with children ages 7-9 years old. During this workshop, Chris Haughton will go through some basic illustration steps and teach kids how to create a stop-motion animation creation with help from the Vine App and a smartphone. This event takes place on 31 Oct 2015 (Saturday) from 10am-1130am at the Learning Gallery in the Asian Civilisations Museum.

The second workshop, A Little Bit Lost, is aimed at children between 4-6 years old and is a hands-on handicraft workshop where Christ Haughton will guide kids in the art of illustration, using characters from his book, A Bit Lost. This parent-child event will be held on 1st Nov 2015 (Sunday) from 11am-12noon at the Learning Gallery in the Asian Civilisations Museum.

Tickets to both events are a trifling SGD$5 (cheap as free!) and are available through the Singapore Writers Festival website. They are selling out pretty fast, so be sure to book early!

A little special something for Owls Well Readers: Singapore Writers Festival is kindly sponsoring a giveaway of one pair of tickets to Animation on a Phone and one pair of tickets to A Little Bit Lost! Thanks guys!

To 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 three friends
  3. Comment below telling me which of the workshops you would like to attend . 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 at noon 29th October 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete all 3 easy steps!)

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

Cut, Shake, Roll with the Singapore Writers Festival 2015

This past weekend, we were invited to a sneak preview of one of the many family-friendly workshops organised by the Singapore Writers Festival!

This year, the Singapore Writers Festival, which will be taking place from 30th Oct – 8 Nov 2015 will be catering not only for serious aspiring writers but for all ages with an incredible line up of free and ticketed events with the theme ‘Island of Dreams’. SWF3 (or rather, SWF For Families) has a whopping 51 programmes spanning a wide range of topics from storytelling to illustration to music to creative writing workshops catering to the different age ranges.

Some of the workshops for children will be run by award winning international authors such as Chris Haughton (who just so happens to be the author of one of Little E’s favourite books, A Bit Lost.) and local authors such as Lianne Ong, whilst others will cater to special needs children with dyslexia and visual impairment.

We were very privileged to attend a creative storytelling workshop, ‘Cut, Shake, Roll’, run by professional storyteller-guide, Chuah Ai Lin.

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Chuah Ai Lin weaving her magic

During the workshop, Ms Chuah showed us several different ways that we can encourage and work together with our children in order to tap into their imagination and create stories together. She started out by showing us how to brainstorm for story ingredients, randomly combining words to create a platform from which children can begin crafting their stories. Afterwards, she showed us how to use paper-cutting and tear-and-tell techniques in storytelling.

J and Little E were spellbound by her stories, and she was able to gently encourage all the kids present to participate in discussion and build on each other’s ideas. We also broke into our own little groups to craft stories, with J and Little E each coming up with their own simple tales with some guidance from yours truly.

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J shares his story with all the participants of the workshop

Ai Lin was able to create such a safe environment, that J felt comfortable enough to do a little bit of storytelling in front of the group! I thought that was pretty awesome.

So, if you’re wondering what to do with the kids over the next few weekends (especially now during these hazy days), or you have a love for all things literary, take part in the shenanigans over at the Singapore Writers Festival! I’m planning to be there and I hope to listen in on some panel discussions and bring the kids to meet some popular kid’s authors!

For more information, click here.

Citiblocs are GREAT!

I love wooden building blocks so much that I’ve amassed a rather sizeable collection. I just love the tactile feel of the wood beneath my fingers and the scope for creativity that building blocks have (and the fact that I can build and disassemble structures without pain). However, J and Little E have moved on from wooden building blocks to Legos quite a long time ago, as the sort of creations that they could make with building blocks were limited by the fact that their creations kept breaking apart or toppling over. The blocks have been in storage for quite a while now, waiting for Thumper to get old enough to play with them.

When my friend, Pamela (from Tan Family Chronicles) asked if I would be interested in checking out the Citiblocs range from the My First Games webstore, I was not sure if my kids would even play with them, and I told her so.

Pamela immediately whipping out her mobile phone, saying “Ok Debs, I know you have a ton of blocks at home, but can your building blocks make this?”

And she played me this video:

I gaped at her.

“No. My blocks can’t build any structures remotely NEAR that scale. I mean, that is…that is just…the level of precision…the structural stability…so architectural…”, I blustered finally, struggled to find the words to describe what I had seen.

“SOLD!” I gurgled, finally.

Pamela nodded and patted me on the shoulder.

Anyhow, I was completely sold on Citiblocs. I knew that if I showed J and Little E what they could build with these blocks, they would LOVE it.

The Citiblocs are made from Radiata pine wood from a sustainable source in New Zealand and are certified safe and non-toxic. They are sold in different colour combinations – Natural (original pine with no wood stain), Cool (red and yellow tones), Hot (blue and green tones) and Camo (green and brown tones). Pamela was kind enough to give me one box of each colour combination to try out.

Each block is exactly the same size, shape and weight, and the surfaces of the blocks are straight and flat, whilst being textured just enough to increase the friction between the blocks (but not so much that it creates splinters). This precise cut and uniformity of the blocks is what makes them so special After playing with them with my kids, I understand why these blocks have won so many toy industry awards!

This is what happened when I first opened the Citiblocs at home:

A building competition ensues

A building competition ensues

The Barn Owl, who was recovering on the couch after working through the night, lazily started building a spiral staircase. J started on his own Tower of Babel, with the tower stretching far beyond what we would expect from any of our other building blocks, and Little E even discovered how to make a simple cantilever design.

There was a little booklet inside the boxes filled with pictures and ideas for some basic designs and some more complicated ones – no stepwise instructions needed.

Here’s what the kids were making together during their second session with their Citiblocs:

Building with the power of Physics

Building with the power of Physics

Impressive, right? These blocks are really much more fun than my other building blocks and they do encourage kids to be more creative, whilst instilling in them a rudimentary understanding of physics. The more precisely the blocks are placed, the more complex structures can be built – what a way to train fine motor skills! Additionally, since there are no snaps or screws involved, large creations are easily dismantled and put away at the end of the day (as you can tell from our Guide to Citiblocs video below).

And the best part of all this is that they keep my kids quietly occupied for hours. Which is the main point.

I was so excited about these blocks, I decided to buy some more block sets as gifts for my nephews and nieces, as well as a set of CitiBlocs Little Builder Rattle Blocs (for when Thumper is old enough) which won the Oppenheim Platinum Award…after all, Christmas is just round the corner, and My First Games is holding a special Citiblocs promotion!

CitiBlocs sale at My First Games

CitiBlocs sale at My First Games

Just enter the coupon code: CTBTHIRTY at checkout to enjoy 30% off the entire CitiBlocs range at My First Games! (And you get an extra 50 blocks if you spend about $200!) What a bargain!

I am seriously considering getting more Citiblocs to add to our collection so as to challenge J and Little E to build even more complicated structures!