Keeping love warm – Thoughts from our 7th anniversary celebration

Every wedding anniversary is a time to celebrate the years that have been marked, the milestones that have been ticked off, the accomplishments…

But it is also a time to think about the future.

What kind of life do we envision? Who do we want to become, and stand for, as a couple?

In a couple of years, the kids won’t want to be around us so much. We won’t be needed so much. We will finally have some free time.

What will we do with each other then? Will the flaws show up? Will we start to nitpick? Will we get bored?

~~~

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So we celebrated our anniversary over the weekend. It was at our usual spot, the place where we tied the knot. We visit every year, and it’s interesting to see how they’ve continued to do up and enhance the venue and its offerings year by year.

We decided to order the afternoon tea set. I ordered a black tea with a strange name. We sat and ate and chatted for two hours.

Towards the end of it, I realised that my tea was still warm! I examined the tea pot, and lifted up the shiny metal cover. Underneath was some kind of rubber insulation material. Ah-hah. There was the simple magic to keep the tea pot warm.

I thought about marriage. There is so much at stake within a marriage, and yet marriage itself is so much at risk these days.

How do we keep the love warm? What are the insulators that will help us defend ourselves from the many temptations?

In the past, divorce used to be taboo and frowned upon by society. That in itself was a deterrent for married ones to be too quick at calling it quits.

Today, there is pornography and all manner of sexual addictions, there is the temptation of affairs both online and off, there are financial stresses and burdens on young couples, there is the ever present lure of work and shrinking of leisure and family time.

Let’s be honest, it is hard.

We need to take a long hard look at how we are insulating ourselves from the elements. What is our rubber insulation hidden under a shiny metal cover?

  • Are we working on our communication?
  • Are we aware of our own negative attitudes?
  • Are we making time for sex and intimacy amidst our hectic lifestyles?
  • Are we giving attention to each other even while having to give so much attention to our children?
  • Are we leaning on God for help in the areas where we are weak?
  • Are we showing appreciation for the things that he does?

Over the warm tea, we evaluated ourselves and where we’re at. We both agreed that over the past seven years, we’ve been so caught up in the whirlwind of parenthood that we’ve neglected to really put in the work on our marriage.

Our role as parents will diminish as the years go by, as our children grow in independence and responsibility and prepare to face the world as adults. However, our role as husband and wife remains for life.

This year, I hope that we’ll work on creating more quality moments together, and seek to understand more than to judge and criticise. I will work on being a better partner, and on learning how to complement him better.

My prayer is that we’ll not just be life partners, but partners in life, for life.

What are some ways you keep your love warm?

Inspiring mumpreneurs: Christine Buyco of Human Nature Singapore

I’m really pleased to have Christine, founder of Human Nature Singapore, share her inspiring mumpreneur story with us. Christine was one of the first few mumpreneurs whom I connected with in the early days of this blog. She sent me a box of products including the kids’ natural shampoo and baby wash, and hand sanitizer, and I’ve been a loyal customer and fan of her products since then!

Read on to hear her story of how she transformed passion and opportunity into a socially-responsible and thriving business…

Christine_Human Nature

1. What gave you the courage or motivation to start your own business?

My kids are my greatest motivator. When I gave birth to my first daughter, I already knew that I would have to quit my job as an architect. As important as contributing to the household income in expensive Singapore and pursuing my career were, I suddenly felt these were not as important as spending time with my daughters and being there on their formative years. A mumpreneur friend nailed it when she said, “There is no replay button”.

I went part-time after the birth of my first daughter and then I went on extended maternity leave when I gave birth to my second daughter. This was when I chanced upon Human Nature, an affordable range of genuinely natural personal products. I believed then that I got ‘lucky’, which Oprah defines as “preparation meets opportunity”. I wasn’t tied up with work. I was on the lookout with an opportunity now to pursue.

Also, my older sister is a mumpreneur and so are a number of my friends. They inspired me that it’s possible. In this Internet age, you can definitely run a very successful business from home.

At the heart of it all, find your story.

2. What is your biggest setback so far and what lesson did you take away from it?

The biggest setback for me was losing a big chunk of start-up funds to ineffective marketing venues. It was a very expensive mistake and it took a lot of perseverance, optimism and creative juice to get us out of the pothole.

Lesson? Always do your research and any big decision deserves a good night sleep or two. I always say that passion and motivation alone won’t win the race. You have to clock in your mileage on research and learning new skills (whether in finance, marketing or networking) to stay relevant.

3. How did you balance managing a business and family?

In my experience, the word “balance” has become synonymous with “compromise”. I have this formula that out of 3 things – business, family and sleep, you can only add or do two at a time. So if I spend my time more on business and sleep for example, that means I’m not spending enough time with my family. And if I try to be a supermom and juggle both business and family, I’m definitely losing out on sleep!

This formula does not even include “me” time or social life. So you can be sure that’s almost non-existent! (Haha! Well, that’s how you get things done.) The good news is, they say the crazy juggling slows down after 3 years. When your kid is no longer attached to your breast (we are still nursing at 3 years old!) and your business has hopefully stabilized (with the help of a staff now).

If kids want to play, then they have to help so that mommy can finish up early.

4. Do you involve your children/spouse in the business? What have they learnt from it?

Oh yeah for sure. Any mumpreneur business is a family business by default. In fact, it is not voluntary but rather compulsory. Haha!

If kids want to play, then they have to help so that mommy can finish up early. If mommy needs to work extra hours, daddy has to look after the kids. Whatever dad is good at, he can use those skills in the business too. Every time and resource is valuable.

The main lesson here is that every member of the family helps. We are a team that works together.

Moms are indispensable at work. We are output-oriented, we can multi-task, and we mean business!

5. What would you say to a fellow mum who’s starting out on her own?

You can do it. I actually believe now that moms are indispensable at work. We are focused – we don’t waste time as every minute counts. We can achieve so much in a limited time. We are output-oriented, we can multi-task, and we mean business (excuse the pun)!

At the heart of it all, find your story. Everyone has a story to tell. Meaningful businesses have stories to tell, and a mother with a business is one of the most beautiful stories for me. It is a business born out of love and personal touch.

That’s the beginning. The beginning of sleepless nights and endless frustrations, but also the beginning of a happy and purposeful life.

Thank you, Christine, for inspiring us with your story!

Made whole on her sixth birthday

We celebrated Vera’s turning six with a simple party for her. There wasn’t that much time to plan the decor, so we put up art canvases (bought from Spotlight) decorated with straws and ribbons to make her name.

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The dessert table was filled with some of her favourite things, like macarons, strawberries and rainbow kueh.

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The rainbow cake was from the artisan bakery from Tanglin Mall (just outside the supermarket). It’s a bakery that we frequent, and I like the cake because it is light and not too sweet.

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A bouquet made of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. An easy and sweet idea that a girlfriend gave me.

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We were thrilled that some of her school friends could make it (despite it being a Saturday morning and a usual time for enrichment activities / sports classes).

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We played silly relay games at the void deck downstairs, using props like sand bags, chalk and rubber rings. The kids had to walk around in circles with a sand bag on their heads. It was a funny sight. The winning team had prizes, the second team also had prizes. All’s fair at this child’s birthday party…

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And surprise surprise, the kids all gravitated to the playground by themselves. Vera was one happy child that day, with so many good friends to play with. She also had special time crafting and drawing with her “bestie” from school, as her bestie’s mum came a bit later to pick her up.

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birthday_us

Dear Vera,

You’re a wonderful little girl, always happy, funny, and sensitive to others’ needs.

God surprised all of us during your sixth birthday by giving us news that the hole in your heart has been sealed. (We haven’t have a check-up in the last 3 years, and I admit some parts of me were in doubt as to whether you would be healed completely or not, but now I know that God was patiently working on your heart all these 1000+ days, to seal the hole.)

Have we ever told you that your name means “faith” and “true”? Well, I can see now that the Lord has been faithful and true to you. So my prayer for you as you turn six is that you will grow up strong and grounded in the faith, and that you’ll live a life that is faithful and true to Him…

Love always, mummy

What happens when mummy and daddy fights

The hub was a little pissed off with me one evening. He started talking rather loudly, and was a tad fierce even.

I had something to retort and it was already on my lips. But all of a sudden, Vera appeared from nowhere and slapped him on his back. She said something to the effect of “Don’t talk like that” or “Don’t do that.” Then she waltzed off.

Following her cue, JJ came along and also gave his dad a slap on the shoulders. He said, “You don’t beat mummy” in his fiercest voice. (Funny how he got confused and thought daddy was beating me.)

At this point, I had already forgotten what I wanted to say and started to laugh instead. I felt like the kids had seriously got my back covered.

A smile also appeared on the hubby’s lips. Obviously he couldn’t stay angry for long. He started to play along with them and said, “Of course daddy won’t beat mummy, daddy will tell her nicely not to do it again.”

Trust the kids to help defuse a tense situation unwittingly. I asked Vera later on why she did what she did. She told me matter-of-factly that she thinks Daddy should talk nicely to mummy all the time.

Wow. That’s nice to know, isn’t it.

But seriously, I think it was also because Vera felt uncomfortable seeing her father speak harshly to her mother. (And the reverse also holds true by the way. I recall speaking rudely to the hubby once and she exclaimed “mummy!” in a scolding voice. And once when we were squabbling, she said, “You all don’t talk like that ah!” or something similar.)

So…What can one conclude?

First, I think children feel a distinct discomfort when the parents fight. Or if the situation is tense enough, they could start feeling fearful. If the child is verbal enough, they will express it. For Vera, she expresses it by showing her disdain.

Second, I think she only reacted so strongly because the hubs was pretty fierce this time, and granted, this was actually uncharacteristic of him. (Not trying to give him credit here, just the facts.)

Third, now I know that the kids are always watching. I used to think they can be quite blur, but when it comes to the crunch, it appears they are more in tune with what’s going on around them than we think.

You know how we often say to our children, when you’re happy, I’m happy? It looks like the converse is also true. When we as parents are happy, our children are happy too. When we cry or are stressed, they get affected too.

So we did what responsible adults and parents should do – make up.

I tell you the truth, I was smiling all the way to bed that night.

Now that I’ve discovered I’ve got bodyguards / guardian angels around me…erm, I think daddy had better behave himself from now on. ;)

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13 ways to love your wife on Valentine’s day

How are you planning to spend Valentine’s Day? V day usually encompasses a dinner date (not on the actual day of course), and the occasional chocolates or flowers. It’s quite a down-to-earth affair for us. For me, simple words of encouragement (or no. 9 on the list below) would be the best gift to relish.

I hope you’ll find some inspiration to love here…

1) Re-create a spa experience at home with scented candles, aromatherapy, ambient music, and facial masks. Use a simple massage oil like jojoba and help massage the knots out from her tired shoulders and back. (The only catch is, you can’t fall asleep before she does.)

2) Take her out for an unforgettable dinner experience at Nox Dine in the Dark. (The best part about this is probably the fact that you can’t use your mobile phones! Read more about the experience over at A Nugget of Joy.)

3) Another place you might want to check out is MAD Museum of Art and Design. It’s a new establishment so not too crowded yet. After dinner, you can take a leisurely walk through the museum or pick up cute memorabilia from the likes of when I was four from the retail store (Note: one of the current exhibitions on the ground floor houses nudity due to its erotic theme. This may be a little weird so head on right upstairs for more interesting art pieces.)

4) Re-create your first date. Go to that special place or restaurant and play-pretend. It’ll be fun to see the things that you guys remember about it!

5) Say it with love with this Chope-you card, Norma wallet or this handcrafted “Wonderfully Made” wood piece.

6) Treat her to a lovely lovely Gula Melaka cake from Shop Wonderland at Haji Lane, and give her a generous budget to shop around at the retail store upstairs or any of the neighbouring stores.

7) Pack a personalized picnic basket filled with her favourite things, and hang out on the lovely greens of Botanic Gardens, Labrador Park, Hort Park or East Coast Park. Some flowers or helium ballons would be a nice touch too. (While you’re at it, maybe hire a photographer to capture some natural lovey-dovey couple shots!)

8) Try whipping up a simple steak with whipped potato and mushrooms on the side. The condition is that she must remain out of the kitchen and spend her time instead having a leisurely bath and dolling herself up for a candlelight dinner. (Of course, kids should be parked at the babysitter’s.)

9) Handwritten notes or cards never go out of style, so it’s time to dust that pen and write her a love note. Try to list down 5-10 things that you appreciate or love about her.

10) Go on a mini adventure together – cycling at pulau ubin perhaps or take up a new sport like stand up paddling or windsurfing. Studies show that the more new experiences a couple has, the more fulfilled they are with their marriage.

11) Put on your favourite album and do a slow dance together in the bedroom when the kids are fast asleep.

12) Catch a classic romantic comedy together. Not sure what to watch? Here are some ideas.

13) Do a staycation – just the two of you at one of these 10 whimsical boutique hotels in Singapore.

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However you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day, remember that it’s all about making time to relax together, hug, kiss, and laugh together. It’s about clearing away the distractions to focus on your sole mate, and to tune in to her heartbeat. No matter what challenges lie ahead, remind her that you’ll always be there for her, and that is the most important thing…

For more ideas, read 30 ways to love your wife and 30 ways to love your husband.

Interview with Val of Nouri, on helping others look good

To kick off our “Inspiring Mumpreneur” series, I’m pleased to introduce Valerie De Costa, founder of Nouri Face and Body Concepts. I first got to know Val through a good friend, when I was looking around for a credible post-natal massage service provider. I learnt a lot from her regarding post-delivery care and certainly benefitted after going through some rigourous massge and weight-loss therapy with her. She’s hard-working and driven, and as you’ll find out, her family and children are her source of motivation and inspiration…

Val_nouri 1What made you take the leap of faith to start your own business?

Ever since my childhood years, I had always dreamt of being my own boss while being a part of something which I enjoy, which would bring satisfaction and a source of viable income.

I take great pride in making others look good and feeling their best, hence I decided to embark on my own journey in the beauty industry.

That was the sole motivation that spurred me to set Nouri Face & Body Concepts, then known as NouriSkin in 2001.

How do you balance your work and family?

When NouriFBC first started in 2001, I had just conceived my first child and lost my mother to cancer in that same year, so to even dream of achieving a balance between work and my personal life was unthinkable at that point in my life.

Without a trusted family member to assist in helping me with tending to my child while I was at work, it was a great challenge to keep on working hard at my newly set up business while making sure I could care for my child on a daily basis.

As with most service industries, my job requires me to work long and irregular hours. Clients mostly drop in for treatments after office hours, and quality treatments can take at least 2 to 3 hours each time. Hence, I sacrificed my personal hours to work late nights in order to build up my client base and reputation steadily.

In the past, I often had to rush for every single task. I would pick my kids up from the daycare centre, feed and bathe them, supervise them on their homework and then rush back to my job to attend to more clients. To say things were hectic is a great understatement.

When children reached the age of self awareness (around K2 or early primary), I got them involved in the business as well. I believe that training them at an early age to take on responsibility will go a long way in the future.

Of course, they only help out in simple tasks such as sweeping the floors, cleaning the rooms after appointments, etc. But their involvement made things easier, and the tasks helped foster responsibility ànd character in my kids. It also meant that I get to pack up and go home on time, without having to waste extra time on menial chores.

All those years of “drilling” my boys have actually bore fruit. I am glad that when I bring the kids out, many others have told me they are very well behaved.

Of course, I do wish they can perform better in school. During their formative years, due to my long working hours, I wasn’t able to read with them much, or encourage them to be interested in reading. Hence, they do not share the same love of books and reading as I do. I believe that good reading habits are extremely important, as it will help one gain knowledge and insight, with a desire to always learn more. That’s where I feel I could have done better as a parent.

 Val_kids

What was your most challenging period while building up Nouri?

There was a time when it was very difficult for me when I had my personal issues as a parent and a business woman. In addition to that, I did not want to worry my family and clients unnecessarily, so I kept my problems to myself.

Having to deal with high rental rates, high staff turnover, lack of reliable domestic help, and very young children to look after really took its toll on my mental and physical well being. I must have looked listless and troubled, because even my clients were starting to show concern and mentioned that I used to look good.

Getting the hint, I scheduled a trip to a hair stylist who revamped my style so much that I felt instantly revitalised and my confidence started to return. I resumed my work with a fresh new look and a vigour to match.

Everyone immediately noticed this change and said, “Val, this is the real you. Welcome back.”

I have since learnt that as women, we have to look after ourselves in every aspect. If we don’t, we can’t be a good provider to our loved ones and add value to our workplaces.

It is really not about carrying an expensive purse or jewellery, but simply put, you have to look your own personal best to perform your best. Many of my clients agree that when they look good and FEEL good, they tend to find that everything else just falls into place for them naturally.

Where do you think you got your fighting spirit? 


I attribute it to being born into a humble family background, where we made do with the little we had.

As a family of regular church-goers, Sundays were the only day we could put on presentable clothes to attend mass. Talk about looking your Sunday best, I only had two presentable outfits for outings and had to alternate them each week when I went to church. That simplicity never bothered me, but it served as the basis of my life’s motto to never take things for granted and be complacent.

It is this very motto that keeps the passion for my goals fiery and strong, to fight for what I want.

What would you say to a mum who’s thinking of starting her own business?

I would advise her to pursue her dreams and passion. Your kids will be your source of inspiration to be a better person and to strive harder for their sake.

Success is never guaranteed, but if any mum has the desire to make her mark through being her own boss – I do not see that as a bad thing as long as she can prioritise her goals and execute her plans properly.

Val & her clients

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first interview in this series. I’m on the lookout for more inspiring mumpreneurs to feature every month. If you are a mumpreneur or have an inspiring story to share, do email me!

Accepting my child for who he is

2015 has gotten off to a rocky start.

Javier had some behavioural issues at the turn of the new year, and we’ve started seeing an OT to find out how to help him. The basic issue seems to be that he has low muscle tone and correspondingly higher levels of anxiety. He is also frequently temperamental.

What does muscles have to do with behaviour? I was told that he compensates for the lack of control by being more controlling over others and over himself (by engaging in some repetitive behaviour like strapping and unstrapping his Velcro shoes.)

Since we received that piece of information, it was like a missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle. A lamp was finally lit in this dark room. With that, we’ve also grown more aware as to how to help ease him through his daily routine tasks. Mainly, we’ve stopped getting frustrated and/or yelling at him to hurry up. As tiresome as it may be, we try to give him greater allowance and breathing space to finish his tasks the way he wants to. (According to the OT, if we rush him or try to intervene in his tasks, we may exacerbate the problem and his mind never leaves the task because he didn’t finish it properly.)

I was taught simple mat exercises to help him with spinal alignment and strengthening. I was also encouraged not to keep to a strict schedule, and to give ourselves greater time allowance to get out of the door. This has helped to minimise the stress for everyone.

I can’t help but ask myself if we’ve done something in the past to have contributed to his challenging behaviour right now. Perhaps I’ve been too controlling over time. Perhaps I haven’t let loose enough, or let him play enough. Perhaps we have placed too much pressure on him to perform. Perhaps we have been too strict in our discipline.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I confess, the doubts and guilt are hard to shake off.

But I try to shift my focus from myself to helping him. It is an uphill climb, both emotionally and mentally, so we will need all the energy and grace to see us through. I’m reminded that when things seem out of control, He is in control. He has a purpose for this season. And I pray He will let us see the light of day.

So…I am learning to accept my little boy for who he is, God-created and God-designed. Not for who I hope he will be someday.

Whatever difficulties you may be having with your child, I pray that you will also find strength and encouragement in God, and be able to love and enjoy your child for the special little person that he is.

God has a story to unfold in his life, and a good plan for him. And we as mums and dads are privileged to be a part of this learning journey.

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