Mother to five, parent in progress and occasional kitchenista cookerella

Category: Frugal Living Page 1 of 2

Is there any room this Christmas?

We have just returned from our holiday in Penang two weeks back. We had planned for 4 days in Penang before taking a domestic flight to KL for the next 4 days.

Despite the big family logistics, all went well for our trip until the 4th day when we received news that MFA had just issued a travel advisory for all Singaporeans to cancel all unessential travel to KL in preparation for potential security/safety threats as a result of a convergence of about 300,000 Malaysians in the city centre for a political protest/rally.

After some research, we realised roads would be closed and our accommodation was barely 1km away from the rally site.

With thoughts of travelling into a potentially dangerous and hazardous situation the next day, with 5 young children and while expecting, it soon became clear that we were not prepared to take the risk. We decided to stay in Penang and change our plans.

Happy holidays busted?

The next few hours was a mad scramble of trying to book a returning flight home for 7 without much access to the internet and without OTP access to verify any legitimate credit card transaction. This led to several failed attempts to secure plane tickets at a favorable price.

As the hours ticked by, the calm dissolved into stress. We had checked with the hotel if we could extend a night but due to peak season traffic, they couldn’t accommodate us and it was hard to find room within our budget that fulfilled either of two criteria: a whole apartment with enough room or two interconnecting rooms that could accommodate 7. We called a few hotels to hear they were full. The other hotels, were selling their rooms at a high premium we couldn’t afford.

Hours turned to minutes and by 10pm we had barely resolved our air tickets nor accommodation for the next day. I remember my feelings then:

Frustration: Why did this have to happen, at this time, and to us? What a terrible holiday…

Loss: Our insurance policy stated that unless the rally turned violent and became a riot, we would not be able to claim anything much. We had lost a few thousand dollars in a few days.

Fatigue: Tiredness and stress had chaffed off every remaining bit of good humour, patience and calm over the situation.

Fear: The reality had sunk in; the next few hours were uncertain and we were not sure where we would lay our heads the next day.

As I lay in bed wrestling with all these negative thoughts, selfish emotions and praying to God for a solution, something within prompted me to consider the familiarity of my “circumstance” with the birth of Jesus.

A pregnant Mary and Joseph were in a rather familiar situation with us. I had only begun to realize how much more muted our condition was. As I closed my eyes to contemplate Mary’s journey to deliver Jesus’s birth, my heart became flooded with the grace to accept the things that were not within our control.

The Saving Journey of Faith

(Flickr: Jeff Weese, CC BY 2.0)

Like us, Mary and Joseph too had to prepare for long travel due to Ceasar Augustus’s decree for a census registration in the whole of the Roman world.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Unlike us, this couple had no luxury of modern travel comforts, and made arduous journey on a donkey or possibly on a caravan with other travelers, returning for the census for the safety and companionship of traveling in numbers.

We don’t know exactly what route they took—it was certain though that they had to climb up mountains and on foot through the Jordan River Valley. Regardless of the route, the approximately 100-mile trip would have taken them 8-10 long days of walking. This must have been a scary journey for young, pregnant Mary.

Like us, she too, was rejected with no room to stay. The innkeeper, not knowing, could only tell the tired and hungry couple that they were sold out and offer her a hay stable for smooth delivery.

In our modern equivalent, even Airbnb had failed her; no clean linens or freshly laundered towels, possibly not much opportunity for a bath or to freshen up.

It was a lower than one-star treatment for the baby that was destined to bring Hope to the world. The “room” that welcomed the Son of Man and the Saviour King was but an animal stable; not a sanitized hospital nor a warm home. His first smells would have been of the rancid odours of a filthy stable. Anyone on Trip Advisor would have given it an awful review.

In exchange, however, the world was infiltrated with the heavenly aroma of Peace, Hope and Salvation.

God, despite being God, had not prepared an easy journey for His own son’s inauguration nor reserved special treatment with the best service and accommodation to lay his head.

2000 over years apart with seemingly similar plights within our own contexts; yet devastatingly stark was how our family without a doubt, had fell upon immeasurably more grace.

Because this couple has pressed in and pressed on, it enabled our fates to be lovingly exchanged. Love came down for us; travelled long and hard; delivered us from eternal peril through a divine exchange at a humble stable.

It was only the beginning of Jesus’s arduous journey of bringing those who would be willing, to everlasting joy and redemption.

Immanuel means God with us.

On the night Jesus was born, that had finally became a reality.

It suddenly became a reality to us on that stressful night and gave us the Grace and Help through beloved friends and family who came alongside to help us resolve the situation; making calls, booking tickets. Bonus: we managed to find a nice, new cozy accommodation that fit us all at 2am for the rest of our days in Penang!

It’s still a reality today. God is still with us- for every heart that’s willing to open and embrace His presence.

The Christmas spirit is synonymous with Giving. But the real Christmas gift didn’t come prettily packaged as we would have liked to imagine in the midst of our merry making.

God came down to be WITH us despite being on the sour end of a very sucky gift exchange. In His sorrow, we exchanged Joy, in His trouble, we gained Peace, in His brokenness, we became whole. In his death, we became forgiven and reconciled.

There was little revelry, feasting nor merry making on the night Jesus was born.

It was shrouded in the silent and holy love of the Father and the glorious promise of his infant Son.

Angelic voices penetrated the hearts of those who knew Him.

It was a miracle in the highest that is still unfolding today.

My prayer this Christmas is that many other Christmas miracles will continue to unravel; that many other hearts, including ours, prepare Him room and receive the miracle of Immanuel with us ❤️.

Getting The Kids Involved at Home – A Labour Day Post!

It’s Labour Day today and I really had no intention of timing this follow-up post specially to coincide with it. However, since Labour Day is the only day this harried mama enjoys some downtime to expound on how we do chores in this family—it’s probably a sign that the heavens are in agreement!

I used to cringe at home management. For someone organizationally and administratively challenged like me, I genuinely shuddered at the thought of setting up a spreadsheet for everyone’s chores…AND maintaining it.

It sounded like I was setting myself up for failure: when things are put in a box within a scheduled time and you didn’t manage to put a check on it, it just wears you down slowly but surely and soon you’ll discover that you’re in a rut.

Because of that, I literally dumped the idea of having a chore roster and chose to implement chores  according to the flow of what we were doing that day:  whether our day was a fluid one (running groceries, after-school activities) or a structured one (lots of seatwork), we tried to impress on the children to render help where it was needed. The idea was to simply invite the children to be involved in age-appropriate tasks/ chores as we went along. It went with the grain of simply encouraging them to be helpful! If you’re organizationally-phobic like me, there’s hope! 

I discussed my chore philosophy in this earlier post but to sum it up, we felt teaching children to become cooperative members of a household is one of the best ways to teach them responsibility that would naturally lead to them being caring and considerate adults. 

So how do we go about the process of assigning chores? 


Firstly, hubby and I believe that girls and boys alike should do chores. There’s not really a need for differentiation at this point.

 Essentially, boys who learn to help at home and do household jobs will eventually grow into men who contribute actively in the household and ready to partner their wives through seasons of life—which goes a long way into making marriages work! All moms say “Yes!” Their future wives will thank you! 

Boys need not be taught to do only typically “manly” tasks such as “cutting grass, and taking out the garbage.” Author Anne Roiphe puts it in more dramatic terms: If we raise boys to know that diapers need to be changed and refrigerators need to be cleaned, there’s hope for the next generation.”


While learning the alphabet and learning to read are important, knowing how to run the laundry, make the bed, dusting and basic kitchen work are also skills sets that are equally laudable. 

The former are milestones while the latter are not  milestones per se but habits of the mind! Unlike milestones, which focus on achieving a certain skill,  good habits need to be cultivated and reinforced through time and practiced over and over till they stick.


It may be surprising to some parents but many young children can do lots of helping around the house.  As Jean Ross Peterson observes: “Chores begin when your child can pick it up, put it away, fold, sort it, or carry it out the door.”

The picture above is a guide so don’t feel restricted if you haven’t got this started. Expectations as to what jobs children can do will depend on family circumstances, numbers and ages of children and whether both parents work outside of the home. Whatever the circumstances, set aside time to train them in appropriate tasks. Give them space and communicate the expectation that they will soon grow into it! 

My then 3 year old used to whine and cry when she was made to pack her toys. She used to take books off the shelves and throw them all over the floor. She found it difficult to return the books back on the original shelf as she couldn’t manage the load of the other books while trying to slot the one she had in. 

The easy way was to pick up after her. But we reminded her each time to keep trying, offered some help and left her on her own. Slowly she realized how to lean the books one way and to put books in with their spines facing out. She still litters the floor today but doesn’t whine when told to pick up. It’s clear she’s acquired some confidence in this and she knows she’s expected to take care of her “library”.

Just like we take time to master any given skill and to be good at it, giving our children room and sufficient grace to grow into the rhythm of help, takes the pressure off them. 

A few months should do the trick and select one or two skills to reinforce at any given time so there will be focus. 


Most children at a school-going age are eager to participate in doing things around the house. They are usually capable helpers and you can scale up adequately with some  harder chores.

In our home, when grandpa goes on holidays, he assigns the 7 & 10yo  to help him water the plants in his garden while he’s out of the country. 

This includes the front garden, the back garden, and two balcony patios and feeding the fish in the small pond. They were taught the specific methodology of watering : which species needed less, and which more(my dad is Mr Green Fingers: plants are as important as grandchildren hehe.)

When they first started out, there were a few plants that were “slain” in the process and starved of water but slowly the kids got better. Given the ownership and responsibility, they surprised us one day by figuring out how to unlock and lock the padlock to the back door.

Incidental learning is one of the great plus points of doing chores too…they end up picking up more than you intended to teach.


This charm of helping out may last for a spell. To be honest, I have faced resistance  from older children in doing chores especially when they are NOT as eager to please and there’s competition with school activities, homework, and time with friends. During transitional phases like these, enforced schedules may not work. 

According to Fred Gosman’s “How to Be a Happy Parent”, kids can come up with ingenious ideas for avoiding their chores.  One teenager whose job was to make sure there was always toilet paper in the bathroom piled 42 rolls next to each toilet. Another left the pan unwashed because he was only supposed to do “dishes”. 

To avoid power struggles and get chores done:

 Negotiate negotiables & non-negotiables 

  • It is ok to feel tired and ask for help if you don’t feel up to it. As family, we can help to chip in.  It is NOT ok to show an attitude and be calculative. Almost always, it is likely to be a heart issue rather than a task issue and it may be wise to get to the root of it. 
  • Focus on the task at hand; rather than say “That’s so inconsiderate of you,” say, “I don’t like that I have to do my job and yours as well.”

This is our journey in chore training. Do you have any helpful handles to share? 

Teaching Children to Help at Home

My husband and I decided way back (when I decided to quit my teaching job to stay home with the kids) that we would not have a live-in helper, and model what home management would look like to our kids. 

The principle was simple: if we, as parents, modeled what it looked like to manage our homes, it would be natural for the children to pick it up as a part of life. We believed and still do, that this would sustain our household to be self-sufficient in the long run. It would also train the children to be independent and know how to pick up after themselves. Collectively, we learn to serve one another. 

  That was at least seven years back. We have since moved from our cosy flat to live in with my parents in their landed home. The area has expanded and so has our family size. For awhile, it was tempting to call for help. Before we decided yet again to manage on our own despite having a relatively young family. 

Most people look aghast when they find out we do not have any help managing a household of 7. Some parents have asked me to share my strategies on how I “get” my kids to do chores. Some have even quipped mock seriously that they might like their kids to come by for “bootcamps” to pick up these skills. 

To be honest, I don’t have any formulaic strategy to impart. I do not even have a  basic chore chart or roster (am organizational-phobic in that way). But by and large, we get by, and we are ploughing through with this somehow. 

Are the kids happy to help out? I would say yes, with exceptions for when they are tired or grumpy.  

There’s still so much work in progress but what sees us through are our convictions and some guiding principles. These frame our mindset towards our philosophy of household management: 

1. Everyone should chip in to help around the house. 

This burden of work shouldn’t fall on one person alone (mom or maid or grandma etc) but be shared by every family member. Many hands make work light. 

2. A cheerful & helpful spirit

It’s not so important what you do but it’s the willingness and cheerfulness behind it that we hope to cultivate. It is the practical application of Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,..”. Do it not because you are MADE to do it, but because you would be happy to. 

3. Don’t make it a “chore”

Ah…the word “chores”, sound well, tiresome, before you even start. I try not to use this word if I can help it. 

When the kids were younger, I often found opportunities to reframe household tasks. I might add an element of fun to the task especially with young children and allow them achievable tasks so they can accomplish them. This makes them want to do it! 

More importantly, I would invite them to be a part of what I was doing. The focus is not on the task at hand, but the time we spend doing it together. 

4. Going beyond the call of duty

I have kind of avoided a roster with fixed chores. This is specific to my nature as a big picture person. However, it does have hidden benefits: it corrects the thinking that your duty is done when you’re done with what’s assigned as opposed to being ready to help when help is needed. 

5. Show Appreciation 

This is not a strategy. It is genuinely what we feel must be done when someone in the family takes the effort to do a task, regardless of how “well” the task is done. Giving children a sense of responsibility for what they can accomplish on their own without assistance,does a great deal for their confidence. It’s important to let the child see that his contribution is valued or valuable.

In the next post, I will share more about the specifics of how we do it in our household. Do share some of the ideas that work in your family!

10 Quotes on the Importance of Play

This afternoon’s play transported us into an imaginary Lilliputian small-land and my little inhabitant, on a Gulliver’s travelogue. Together, the children added to their fantasy world unplugging their ideas from the rims of their most fertile imaginations. The finale creations were limited edition lego duplo “sushi bento sets” nearing dinner time…

The way a child wants to play is often very different from the way his parents want him to. Most times, our children know there are no limits to how they can express themselves through play…if we let them.

This evening, we share some of our favourite quotes on the importance of play. May it inspire each parent here to schedule in purposeful playtime everyday for the children.

1. “Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.” – Abraham Maslow

2. “You don’t remember the time your dad held the handlebars, you remember the time he let go.” – Lenore Skenazy

3. “Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori

4. “Give childhood back to our children: If we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less.” – Peter Grey

5. “It is a happy talent to know how to play.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

6. “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” – Mr. Rogers

7. “Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.” – O. Fred Donaldson

8. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”-George Bernard Shaw

9. “Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” – Plato

10. “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers

Durian Fever: Butter Durian Ice Cream

Whether you revere or revile them, durians have taken over our little island in the last few weeks in a thorny invasion. Like most typically Asian families who love the fruit, we’ve jumped on the bandwagon to feast ferociously on it. Our irresistible haul of the week: meaty fragrant butter durians from the market! Butter durians are creamy and buttery with small seeds, quite similar to Mao Shan Wang, with less of a bitter aftertaste.

Like good citizens of a durian-crazed land, we are doing our due diligence by paying tribute with a concoction of our signature durian ice cream this morning, a request from all the durian cum ice cream lovers in our family–the King of Fruit bathed in cream…how fitting…and yet another way to preserve our obsession. Please share and spread the love to all durian fanatics you know!

Here’s how we made it in close to 20 minutes in 6 easy steps.

Durian ice cream in 6 easy steps!

Pix1: Remove durian meat (about 2 cups) and set aside. Meanwhile put mixer bowl and beater paddles in the freezer to chill.
Pix2: Make durian purée: in a blender, blend durian meat with 20ml of milk and half a can of condensed milk (between 150-180ml adjust for preference). Add a bit of milk at a time if it’s too stiff.
Pix3: remove mixing bowl and set up hand mixer. Start whipping chilled cream. We used 350ml Dairy Farmer’s Thickened Cream. We also added in Red Man’s Whip Topping (200ml) because we had some in the fridge for more volume.
Pix4: Whip to stiff peaks (8-10mins)
Pix5: Fold in durian purée and mix in.
Pix6: Voila! Ready to pour into containers for freezing for at least 12 hours or overnight. Makes about 2 pints.


Last week, at a whim, I brought four intrepid little explorers out on a relatively cool morning to a simple nature walk around our neighborhood. It was the best thing I did that day, tho it meant struggling to balance baby in the shawl while trying not to keel over peering at tiny insects having a field day. Pardon the pun. That was my Nat Geo best for you!

Nonetheless, we were not disappointed…look at these spoils! The kids were obsessed with their fly catcher and measured out some insect-swatting killer moves and our best armament to date: a magnifying glass. The younger girls got home to their journals and began sketching leaves. The older one completed his examination of a cross-section of a flower.


Over the weekend, if your kids are in need of an eye break, just seriously get out. I know the weather has been absolutely unforgiving but just two streets and we discovered a huge cluster of mushrooms, a neighbour’s secret tree house with mystery trap door (we’ll be back to spy) and the awareness of so much life teeming around us that it made our daily worries look minuscule.
Think about it: there’s this absolutely amazing universe of an eco system that’s drumming to its own beat…completely unfazed by geo-political affairs and accelerating parking prices. We can all take a leaf or two from that, can’t we? ‪#‎budgetmumactivities‬ ‪#‎homeschooling‬‪#‎theoutdoorhour‬

Nature study ideas:…/nature-study-ideas/

Grapefruit-Lemon Ricotta Muffins

I am a maternal creature of habit; I bake, cook, tinker around the stove often enough and manage to pull off suitably decent grub for my constantly hungry family. The food manages to appeal enough to do a disappearing act off the dinner tables in crazy quick time, leaving a trail of crumbs…usually on the floor. Sometimes, it makes me question if I DID really make something at all with my culinary effort feeling completely ephemeral. In time, I forget, until I plough through photographic evidence like a food “forensic”, pleasantly surprised that some food memories can be uncovered.

This recipe is one of them, nearly forgotten in the recesses of archived data and contented stomachs.
Made on one of those sunny but cool afternoons in Melbourne, I had just been blessed with a few grapefruit and lemon from the abundance of local spring harvest. In the land of milk and good cheese, ricotta was the obvious choice to go with the citrusy bright flavours.

I remember thinking this would not be perfect without some whipped cream and our happy family of six skipped into the brightly-lit supermarket to get ourselves a can. The kids loved choosing the wrappers to encase the soft biscuity cake and then thrilled themselves further by shaking the can, and watching the artistic flourish of the whip mount itself delectably on top the pinnacle of our afternoon delight. A worthy memory indeed.

**add 1-2 tablespoons of grapefruit or orange as you like it.…/nonnas-lemon-ricotta-biscuits-…

Dr Bronner’s Castille Soap

Most conventional grocery produce has pesticide residues on the surface and has high probability of being waxed. The waxing is used to increase appeal on the store shelves and to give it a longer shelf life.

We’ve just started discovering Dr Bronner’s 18-in-1 Magic Castille Soap in our household. The great thing about it are its multiple uses and one of it is a very practical fruit and vegetable rinse. I like the fact that what’s used in the bathroom for example, is clean and safe enough (a mix of organic coconut, jojoba, olive oil) to be used for cleaning our food in the kitchen. It simplifies the things we need to buy and eliminates the need to purchase a separate and oft expensive “veggie wash”.

Put 2-3 drops of the soap into a bowl of water, dunk your produce and scrub with hands to get off any dirt. Rinse in cold water.

Citrus Orange Castille Soap courtesy of Nature’s Glory – The Name You Trust For Health. Opinions expressed are my own.

Bread and Butter Issues

Have been rolling on some late nights working on some freelance writing, overcoming my tech phobia by reading up on WordPress and committing, yes finally committing to a Udemy course on how to set up and manage a website. There. Now I’ve sealed my words in print. No more procrastinating. No more aimless Pinterest surfing and K dramas. Work.

It’s been a whole new fantastical escapism for me in between bouts of laundry, kiddy tantrums and picking up crumbs, to be thinking of other work other than my primary “work”–mothering. My emergence into a night owl and now more regular than not, work-at-home mom, has made extravagant cuts to my sleep-life balance. This may seem penny wise and pound foolish (yes,ironic) but unlike the furor over Brexit, I am fortunately aware of what I’ve voted for: the desire to push forward for a greater union & vision for my irresistibly adorable tribe.

Obviously, there’s no exiting motherhood and am, like it or not, invested for the long haul (diapers to dissertations!). Constantly working, constantly present, constantly ploughing for the hearts of my children and precious ones within my influence, constantly dreaming of days yet lived, for soon-to-come harvests, and constantly itching for adventure!

Weekdays trigger my lamentations of these bread and butter issues. Weekends, on the contrary, trigger my random impulses to cope with them through some kitchen therapy. Here’s to more excitement in the days to come and to pillowy comfort food like Bread and Butter Pudding for those late nights!

1 loaf of leftover white bread, cut into triangle halfs
30 g unsalted butter (melted)
Jam of your choice
1 pinch cinnamon powder
1 pinch nutmeg powder
½ cup sultanas
1/2 can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
3 eggs
1 can Evaporated Milk, 375mL
2 tsp vanilla essence

1. Preheat oven to 170°C.
2. Using a brush spread one side bread slices with melted butter, jam and arrange buttered side up in shallow ovenproof dish, sprinkle with sultanas.

3. Combine remaining ingredients, whisk well. Pour custard over bread.
Bake in preheated oven 40-45 minutes until set.

I Scream Oreo Ice Cream [No Machine!]

We’ve got a sweet tooth and a weakness for cream and it’s been crazy hot this week! So there, not a bad reason for the second ice cream experiment. This time, after whipping up coffee ice cream with whip top cream, I decided to try a recipe with a heavier cream and condensed milk. This was after multiple complaints from the little ones that they couldn’t have heaping spoons of coffee ice cream (restricted access) like they otherwise would, if they were kids born in Brazil! The vote was cast, and they chose Oreo Ice Cream, not my preferred flavour but definitely an overwhelming favourite with these little sweet tooth fairies who were squealing and screaming away in excitement! Kid pleaser!

Oreo Ice Cream

Oreo Ice Cream

Here’s what you need:
[Recipe adapted from]
2 cups cold heavy cream – thickened cream or double cream (35% fat or greater)
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
20 Oreo cookies (use as much or as little as you want)
1/8 tsp. fine salt

1. Place the bowl and whisk attachment of a mixer in the freezer for about 15 minutes to chill.

2. Pour sweetened condensed milk in a separate bowl. Whisk in the vanilla extract and salt, until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

3. Place cookies into a ziplock. Press down to remove air and seal bag.
Roll and smack with a rolling pin, until cookies are broken into desired size pieces. Set aside.

4. Remove whisk and bowl from freezer. Pour heavy cream into chilled bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.

5. Using a wire whisk, gently fold about 1/3 of the whipped cream into the sweetened condensed milk mixture and mix thoroughly. Add the remaining whipped cream and using a rubber spatula fold until well combined. Do not stir. Folding keeps the whipped cream light and fluffy.

6. Dump in the cookies pieces and fold gently until evenly distributed.
Pour the cookies and cream ice cream mixture into one or two freezer safe containers and spread evenly with a spatula.

7. Place a piece of plastic wrap that is larger than the top of the container directly on top of the ice cream. Cover the container with a lid and freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight, until mixture is firm.

Voila! Nothing beats homemade ice cream! Share to save to your timeline.

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