Happy Halloween!

halloween2016

 

I had posted this 3 years ago on Facebook – couldn’t resist sharing it again. In all this time, the little one has had a littler brother and can’t wait to go trick-or-treating with his friends today evening.

Happy Halloween people!

xx

p.s.: This was inspired by the super talented Calfifornia-based artist, Queenie Liao. I had posted another a while back with my baby as a little diver.

My little scuba diver

Warm tropical night

I drift asleep to a bedtime story

And wake up in a  dream.

 

 

underwater-explorer

 

 

The time feels like eons ago, when my first baby used to just eat, sleep, repeat and I had some time (read-ENERGY) to spare ! Inspired by the super talented Calfifornia-based artist, Queenie Liao, I had on some occasions turned his photographs into playful art and had a good laugh with my friends and family.

4 Books that bring back my childhood memories!

My husband and I love passing time in bookstores. Browsing in a nearby store one day, my eyes suddenly caught the attention of a gem which instantly transported me through time to my childhood! The sudden find sent memories rushing through my head; I stood there with the book in my hand and then I called out to my husband loudly: “Look! This is the book I had told you about” and kept on gushing about it: “used to be my favourite book back in school…look at the illustrations”. I felt like jumping about I was so excited.

That moment of joy also brought back the memories of some other books I enjoyed in my childhood. Here’s a list of four of them along with my fond memories. I start with the book which prompted this post.

1. The Fire Bird – Russian Folk Tales 

It’s a collection of amazing short folk tales about princes and princesses. The Russian names used to fascinate me – Ivan, Vasilisa, Baba Yaga (who was a sorceress!!). I used to make paper dolls and name them after these characters. Every afternoon I used to read this book to sleep after coming back from school. I knew all the stories by heart and would narrate them to my little cousins when babysitting them.

the fire bird

I used to love the colourful illustrations as much as I loved to read the book

The moment I saw the book I wanted to buy it for my children to read it too. A whopping S$50 price tag made me cringe and I resisted the purchase. I remembered to bring back this little treasure when I made the next trip to Calcutta. I am proud that it has survived in good condition for my kids even though it is older than me – it belonged to my Uncle who got it as a birthday gift in his childhood and he had passed it to me and my sister.

2. Pat the Cat and Pat the Bunny  by Edith Kunhardt

Pat the cat book1

This book is just right for my sons now – it is touch & feel book for toddlers and preschoolers. Apart from caressing the furry little pets in the book, the kids can have fun doing things like withdrawing fake money from the wallet and handing it out to pay for groceries, playing peek-a-boo, scratching daddy’s beard (a little sandpaper strip on the page), smelling ginger before mom cooks dinner. Haha! So cute, isn’t it?

pat the cat

My older son loves to do all the little activities in the book

It was such a fun book for me and my sister when we were kids. The books are presently with her, so I ordered a copy from Amazon. My son loves his Cat book and every time he reaches out for it, I relive my childhood once again! Ah! – the nostalgia. By the way, I had no idea that the book is so popular in the U.S, one of the best-sellers since its publication in 1940s. No wonder!

3. Animalia by Graeme Base

Animalia book 1

Oh Boy! This is by far the coolest book I have ever owned! And it screams out nostalgia to me! I cannot remember how many hours me and my sister and sometimes our parents have spent pouring over this book trying to name all the crazy things in the pages! It is a hit with children and a fantastic way to keep them busy.

It is an alliterative alphabet book, which means each page of the book is dedicated to a letter of the English alphabet and has pictures of numerous animals starting with that letter. The fun part is that the beautifully illustrated pages of the book have many many  other things which start with the same letter. The game is to name them all. It surely did keep me engaged  for a long time. To make it more challenging, the author had a hidden picture of himself in every page – finding him used to be very interesting.

Animalia book

Animalia is great for kids to increase their vocabulary and although I have not let my 2.5 year monkey play with it yet, I am sure we are going to have some quality mother-son time once he is old enough.

It is a keeper for sure. It has won the Young Australian’s Best Book Award in 1987 for Best Picture Story Book among other awards (courtesy wikipedia).

4. Feluda series by Satyajit Ray

Feluda-satyajit ray

The fourth is not one book but a series of novels on the character Feluda – the creation of one of the greatest Indian film-maker and writer of the 20th century. Do I hear a loud cheer from my Bengali friends! Lol!

Feluda’s character was written by Mr. Ray with teenagers in mind – but it has become a favourite for all ages! He is the famous suave Bengali sleuth, who makes use of his brains more than his brawn. He’s our homegrown Sherlock Holmes! Mr. Ray also made movies from few of the books. My father and I still use dialogues in our daily conversations, we are so fond of Feluda.

To be honest, I think he was my first crush! The coolness in his attitude was unbelievable and the way he used to solve challenging cases was incredible. I have read re-read all the books in the series and I still do, whenever I get the time. It transports me to those golden memories, where my dad would buy a new book for me at the annual book fair. I used to wait the whole year for that. Reminds me of the simpler times. I feel grateful that I could enjoy the books in the language they were written in and not the translated ones, and I wish my boys can get the same enjoyment someday.

Writing this post made me go back to my childhood in a sort of way. I will be taking the a Feluda novel and a big smile (which I am wearing right now) with me to bed tonight.

What are the books that remind you of your childhood?

Good night! xo

Pack smart for travel

For me,

Smart Packing = Packing light + Taking everything you need on a holiday

Striking a balance is key!

Holidays should be stress free, happy and rejuvenating, something that will make you feel good once you are back home! Seriously you don’t want to come home with a back pain with all the pulling, pushing, lifting, lugging and carrying huge heavy suitcases. Neither do you want to spend your holidays in stinking clothes because you only took 1 pair for 10 days.

Recently we went on a holiday to Melbourne and Sydney, Australia with our two kids for 15 days. Being autumn there (18-8 degree C daily temperature range with 30-40kmph winds in Melbourne!), we had to keep in mind the sudden temperature changes, so layering was compulsory, and we all know layering means more clothes! Remember, we have always lived in hot and humid places like Kolkata and Singapore, so this was winter for us.

In addition we had to carry medicines for the kids, toiletries, diapers, baby milk powder tin, milk bottles, some bowls and spoons, toys, breast pump and its related accessories, husband’s laptop and charger etc.

We had heard that in Melbourne one can experience four seasons in a day! So in addition to enough warm clothes we had to pack raincoats and umbrellas too.

We packed all this in 2 suitcases, one large size 28 inches (final weight 20kg) and a medium 24 inches (final weight 15kg), and two backpacks for myself and the husband (around 4kgs each mostly because of bottles filled with boiled water for the infant).

suitcases1

For those of you who think we did a good job with the luggage, let me share some tips how packing a suitcase in a smart way can make your travel easier.

 

Tip 1# Mixing and matching

I used to pack a lot of clothes earlier but I have realized that fashion is all about mixing and matching clothing pieces and creating beautiful fresh new outfits everyday on holiday. You don’t really need 15 items for  a 15 day trip. For the last quite many trips I have been trying to pack as little clothes as possible. This does not mean I wear the same outfit for 10 days at a stretch. I generally take 3 bottoms: could be jeans, shorts, skirts, and about 6 tops and t-shirts, 2 jackets, 2 sweaters, couple of scarfs and caps. This way I can create new outfits for many weeks. It’s fun and the best part is since you have some space in the suitcase you have the opportunity to shop on vacation without fear of excess baggage fees!


Tip 2# Make a List

Packing can be fun!

True! All you need to do is make an exhaustive list of things you need that are categorised and just stick to it. For this you may need some good amount of time to think about all the things you generally need on a holiday and customise it according to the holiday destination (my general packing list is at the end of this post). Believe me more than half of your work is already done. Now it’s just organising the items in the suitcases. Simple!

Google beforehand about the climate/weather of the place you want to visit so you have a fair idea of what things you can pack.

Make a mental note of the clothes you want to carry, for yourself and your kids. Take all the clothes out and start putting them in separate piles according to individuals, so that you know how much you are taking. Visualising a huge heap of clothes and shoes can make you decide sensibly.

“Do I really need that extra pair of fancy shoes?”

“How much wear can i get out of this super heavy woollen scarf?”

“Can I not mix and match the tops and trousers skirts instead of taking a pair for each day?”

Two other advantages with a list are:

  1. Essential items will not get forgotten and
  2. It’s fun for almost everyone to strike things off a list.

 

Tip 3# Organize with Packing Cubes

After finalising what to take, comes how to take: that brings us to Packing Cubes, which changed the way I pack now!

We recently got introduced to them and can’t thank enough for that.

Packing cubes are bags of various shapes and sizes which helps you organise and compartmentalise your clothes in a suitcase.You can get them at Daiso (sometimes, but often out of stock) or online where the options are much much more. The most popular one is Pack-It cubes from Eagle Creek but we got ours from Qoo10 and Muji. These should last out at least 3 trips before they get torn or zipper doesn’t work and that is a very small cost compared to the whole trip.

We separated the winter wear and the daily clothes for all of us which made it quite convenient. We had taken about 9 cubes:

  • 2 medium sizes for El Mono (the pre-schooler)
  • 1 big double sided for El Gato (the infant)
  • 1  double sided for myself
  • 1 medium for the husband.
  • 1 separate cube for night wear for the four of us together
  • 2 separate cubes for our inner wears and
  • 1 cube for the dirty ones – I had put a dryer sheet in it which made everything smell fresh till the last day.

With these cubes, packing and re-arranging between two suitcases was easy and quick. Clothes did not tumble around in the suitcase and the husband didn’t get confused between the clothes of the two kids as everything was labelled. I still remember that on our previous holidays, me and hubby would spend a good half hour re-organising and re-packing the suitcases, after the kids went to bed. Everything went haywire inside the suitcase, and the whole process felt like an ordeal!

Now whenever I needed anything all I did was to take out the particular cube and Voila! it was done. The suitcases looked neat and strangely it made us feel calm and relaxed to see them so. Such is the power of organising I suppose!

 

After the trip, you can still use the cubes for organising your clothes in the wardrobe.
packingcubes

Tip 4# Rolling instead of folding

Another tip which helped us is rolling up the clothing items instead of folding them and laying them flat on top of each other. This way you can see all your clothes at the same time. Decision making becomes easier and lot many clothes can be fit into the cube than usual. The clothes also don’t get creased this way.

A small digression: this can also be used for storage of clothes in drawers – I learnt this from the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever” by Marie Kondo. I recommend it highly.

 

Tip 5# Reduce the amount of Toiletries

This can be done in two ways:

  1. Consider buying toiletries at your destination unless you are going to a place where things are more expensive.
  2. Take smaller amounts in small plastic bottles.

Also remember that not all varieties of lipsticks, eye-shadows, etc needs to be taken – take only the essential ones.

 

For us, it’s an ongoing effort to keep reducing baggage weight with every trip – I would like to cut down more on kids’ clothes as they are growing up and as a target hopefully we can fit everything into 25kgs for the four of us for a 2-3 week vacation.

 

I would love to hear other tips on travelling light – please do leave them in comments.

 

My packing list:

TravelChecklist1TravelChecklist2

8 Tips for Travelling with Small Kids

I love to travel and have been fortunate to find a partner who shares the interest in equal measure. We have two kids – an infant aged 8 months (El Gato) and his pre-schooler brother, exactly two years older (El Mono). Every time we get back from a vacation, the usual questions we get asked by friends and relatives are:

“Did you take your helper along?”

“Wow! You are so brave! Isn’t it painful for the long haul flights? How do you manage?”

“So many diaper changes and feeds? Isn’t it very stressful?”

“We are waiting till our boy turns 5 to go on a long distance vacation”

Even Hubby Dear (HD) had some of these fears before the first trip. But since our first baby, we have travelled a few times: a mix of short flights (1-2 hours), medium duration (4-7 hours) and long ones (13 hours) to various places when El Mono at different times was 6 / 8 / 12 / 18 months and more recently with the two kids together.

Since the first trip HD has been as comfortable as me with travelling with small kids. We are no experts in parenting, but I thought I would share some of the tips and ideas which worked to make the experience pleasant for us.

 

Tip 1#: Night Flights

We always try to get the direct night flights with a bassinet seat and one needs to book early for bassinet availability. Bassinet helps to avoid a paralysed arm the next day. This helps the kids to sleep especially if we tire them out on the day of travel. Even if the kids don’t, my logic is: for how long will they cry, couple of hours??, but eventually they are going to sleep and you can also close your eyes for a while. A rested mom on a holiday is the most important of all. Trust me!

Carry essential medicines in cabin baggage. Kids’ nose can get stuffy, so saline sprays can be a saviour during those moments. Panadol sachets are useful for any unfortunate fever in the flight. The homeopathy medicine Chamomilla for those times when nothing seems to stop a baby from crying.

All major airlines let you carry water for your baby and have kid’s/infant’s meal available. If my babies are asleep, I generally take those jars and crackers with me in my bag for the next meals.

 

Tip 2#: Packing Cubes and a separate Kids “Go-to” Bag

We got introduced to packing cubes before our last trip to Melbourne and Sydney and it changed everything, for the better!!! Read about these wonderful cubes in a separate post here.  In this trip we had a 4 consecutive nights spent in 4 different hotels – the cubes made the daily unpacking and repacking very quick and convenient.

This time around, we had made a “Go-To Bag” – as I referred to it the whole trip, out of a gym shoe-bag that we got free with some promotion; it was filled with all the snacks, the feeding bottles, few diapers, wipes, some scented plastic bags (you definitely don’t want that disgusting smell when kiddo decides to go poo-poo in the car), a thick table cloth (for those moments when you see a lush green patch and wish for a relaxed sit-down), a small toy, colouring pencils and so on. This was very handy and every time the kids wanted something, we like “Jeannies” had fulfilled their needs! This way you don’t have to stop the car all the time, rummage through the suitcases or the backpacks, and also when stopping for meals, just take the handy little bag along and you are set.

 

Tip 3#: Keep outdoor time for Kids in the itinerary

In advance of the trip, we now plan out a good balance of parks, places of interest and shopping in the itinerary, so that everyone is happy!

Disclaimer: Our kids are pretty young, so entertaining them is not so much of an issue, as long as El Mono has a ball to play with or a paper plane to fly, a green park, where my little one can crawl, and some planes, helicopters, birds in the sky! When visiting open places like parks, we would definitely carry a ball, a bubble maker and and one toy with us and we knew the kids were sorted. The kids at this age can easily be amused with things around and if some silly stories can be made up about those things, then its even more fun – for example I may say: “El Mono! Do you see that tree? Can you go and find out if there is an elf hiding behind it?”

Australia has no dearth of parks and plain green grounds for kids; there are so many things for the children to do there that you are spoilt for choices. So in the most recent trip, every morning we had a long list of things to see/do which had few hours of touristy sightseeings, an hour or more in the sandpit/parks (always with the hope that the more they play, the more tired they get!) and some tidbit shopping here and there.

 

Tip 4#: List of items for Shopping

It maybe difficult to shop with kids in tow, so it’s best, if possible, to look online for the things to buy or make a list of the must-haves from a particular shop/mall. This way it makes it easier in the mind if you know exactly where to go, what to ask and what to buy. We had some basic things to buy in Australia, like something you don’t get in Singapore easily or it’s too expensive here. I knew exactly what to get, so one evening at Woolsworth, before retiring to our hotel after a long day, I picked up organic eatables, vegemite, Tim Tams, some organic body lotions and such for the kids. Apart from the above boring shopping I did pay couple of visits to Sephora and a few Australian boutiques too!

Making a list for everything makes me feel sorted and relaxed. Believe me, I have had those moments when I went absolutely crazy and nearly had a panic attack thinking I had to buy so many things without a “things I want to buy” list and got lost in glitzy overwhelming malls! Not very productive and it makes you feel depressed later.

So do some Googling beforehand and know what to buy, because you will always be short on time for shopping when travelling with kids.

 

Tip 5#: Hide the stains on the kids’ clothes

The last thing you want in your precious vacation photographs is your kids looking dirty in those 3 day old, sauce smeared sweaters and muddy trousers!

The trick is to pack dark coloured clothes mostly, because they are quite forgiving in the photos.

Layering is also a clever tip. If your little one decides to rub his cute chocolatey fingers on the t-shirt, do not fret, just put a short sleeved t-shirt / a shirt for a second day use.

 

Tip 6#: Serviced Apartments or Airbnb

Staying in a serviced apartment or Airbnb (as opposed to a regular hotel) makes living out of a suitcase slightly more comfortable when you have kids with you. This way you have to carry less utensils with you, like bowls, plates, spoons, etc so the luggage is lighter. Laundry if at all, becomes easy too.

Cooking light meals for El Mono was very convenient, like oats and banana, French toast, etc. Even for us, on those hasty mornings, homemade breakfast was very convenient and hassle free. Somedays it got really chaotic getting both kids ready on time, for the limited time breakfast spread in the hotel.

I try to feed my kids whatever is available and I believe if they are really hungry they will eat whatever is given. However, El Mono still doesn’t eat pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, etc. I let him eat whatever he is okay with (mashed bananas with oats, boiled eggs, bread, french fries, etc) knowing that it’s only for 1-2 weeks and I can get him back on a balanced diet once we are back.

 

Tip 7#: Lightweight Strollers

For our last trip we had taken one stroller thinking that mostly El Mono will walk and when he is tired we will carry El Gato in a baby carrier and El Mono will sit in the stroller. It was a big mistake not to take two strollers: Both the kids fell sick for a couple of days and we had to make the older kid sit in the stroller and carry younger kid the whole time for a few days. This took a big toll on our backs especially in Sydney where we had to walk all over as we couldn’t find a taxi with an infant seat: it’s mandatory in Sydney to put an infant in a baby seat even in a taxi.

 

Tip 8#: Share your itinerary with the pre-schooler kid

We find that El Mono can get quite cranky for no apparent reason. We have also found that if we tell him in advance of what is to come he is less cranky with changes. For example: “We are going to get into a car and you will have to sit in your own seat and wear a seatbelt” or “You can play with your ball when we are in the park but that will be after we have finished lunch”.

 

Finally, when travelling with small kids, we keep an open mind: we know that we may miss visiting a place on our list, or we may lose half a day or more to an unfortunate fever, or we may not be able to dine at a popular restaurant due to a cranky toddler. We expect for such things to happen and do not fret about it and it helps us to carry on with a smile.

So those are some tips we follow on our travels.

I would love to hear back from you awesome parents about what you do to make travel easy. Please leave your valuable tips and tricks in the comments section.