My latest project with the Dumpling is to make trendy animals (ex: llamas, flamingos, narwhals, etc.) from the past and present. Owls, of course, made the list because they were everywhere back in the early 2010s due to Harry Potter mania. The birds were inescapable, being featured in clothes, home decor, and toys and even becoming popular household pets.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about owls are their eyes, so the Dumpling and I made ones that blinks and winks…among other expressions.
2. Glue two pairs of eyes together. Select two pairs of eyes from the template (or draw your own) and hole punch where indicated. Position one pair in front of you, then vertically flip (very important!) the eyes over to glue the second pair onto the backside.
3. String a thin wire through the eyes and tape the wire in place on the back of the owl. (I only had floral wire…that’s why it is green!)
The photos on my phone are an un-curated mess, filled with blurred, unflattering, or accidental shots that should have been deleted long ago. As a result, the Dumpling and I would often get distracted by the 10,000+ images other than the ones I want to show her.
After our recent family vacation, I printed a few photos that highlighted our trip and bound them into a miniature book. Sharing real, physical pictures was such a refreshing experience in this digital age. The format helped the Dumpling better recount the events in chronological order and served as a keepsake of our holiday.
The photo book, which measures 3″ w x 4″ h, was made from folding a standard 6″ x 4″ photo in half. The below tutorial shows how to print two images per spread. To create one image per spread, just print directly from your phone.
1. Adjust slide size to standard 6″ w x 4″ h photo dimensions in a blank PowerPoint presentation.
2. Delete any text boxes on the slide. PowerPoint inserts the title and subtitle text boxes on the first slide by default, so select both and delete.
3. Insert 3″ w x 4″ h rectangle on the left half of the slide. PowerPoint uses a blue rectangle and black outline by default. While it does not matter what the fill color is, remove the shape outline. This is where the picture on the left spread will be.
4. Duplicate the rectangle and place it on the right half of the slide. This is where the picture on the right spread will be.
5. Fill the rectangles with photos. Instead of filling the shape with a color, select the option to fill it with an image. Repeat steps 3-5 on additional slides until reaching the number of desired pages (my recommendation is approximately 10-20).
(Pro-tip: Add text on top of the photos to tell a story!)
6. Convert the slides in JPGs. My local print shop only prints photos from JPGs or PNGs, so I had to convert my PowerPoint file into the acceptable format. I could not figure out how to export the images without compromising on the resolution (even though I checked all the settings!), so my workaround was to first save the slides as a PDF.
8. Score and fold each printed photograph in half. Scoring creates a cleaner fold, especially on thicker paper stocks. If you do not have a scoring board, layer a folded towel under the photo, place a ruler on where the score line should be, and run the edge of an old credit card along the ruler to create the score line.
9.With the edges aligned, tape the back of the photos together using double-sided tape. I applied tape on the top, bottom, and outer margins of the photo, but not the inner margin located along the fold.
Once the photos are taped together, they form the inside pages of the book and the folds make up the spine.
10. Press the photos together under something heavy (i.e. textbooks) for about 24 hours. This limits the pages from puffing open on their own.
11.Tape the spine tightly together and then measure its width. This width varies depending on the number of pages, weight of the photo paper, and how well the pages were compressed together. For example, the width of my spine was approximately 0.5″. If unsure, add no more than 0.125″ to the measurement.
12. Create the book cover in PowerPoint. The process is similar to creating the inside pages of the book as demonstrated above, so I did not splice the demo video up into individual steps. In summary, adjust the slide size to US Letter dimensions (11″ x 8.5″) and insert a rectangle with the following dimensions: (6″ + width of spine spine) x 4″. For my example, it would be 6.5″ w x 4″ h. The rectangle should be placed at least 0.25″ away from the edges of the slide to prevent the image from being cut off during printing.
I have also added lines (at the 3″ and 3.5″ mark) to help indicate where I needed to score the book spine.
When “filling” the the rectangle with an image, PowerPoint automatically stretches the picture, so manually change this setting by switching to “Fit” under the “Crop” drop-down. To enlarge or shrink the image proportionally, click and drag the white circles on the corners AND hold down the SHIFT key simultaneously.
13. Print. I used standard 8.5″ x 11″ card stock. When printing, select “Actual Size” in the setting to prevent the printer from changing the image size.
14.Score and fold where spine ought to be, then cut out the cover.
15. Tape the cover onto the first and last page of the book. Again I only taped the top, bottom, and outer margins. Do not tape the spine of the book onto the cover because there needs to be wiggle room for the book to open and close.
DIY metallic embossing — with embossing powder, special ink, and heat gun, has always sounded complicated and messy to me, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that a kid-friendly version can be created with aluminum foil. This project allows lots of room for error, so it is great for toddlers still working on their fine motor skills.
Trace design with glue. Smudges are okay since everything will be covered up by the foil anyways.
Glue string/twine onto the design. For my leaf design, I cut the string into varying lengths beforehand and let the Dumpling chose which ones to use. I was not picky about placement. If you are, however, the strings can easily be re-arranged since the glue took a while to dry.
Apply more glue surrounding the image and on top of the string,cover with a sheet of foil with shiny side up, and gently rub on the raised image.
Let dry, cut along the outlines, and glue the leaves onto the black cardstock. Any color paper can be used, but I preferred black since it brought out the metallic silver.
Bonus: Turn the leftover foil into abstract art. Crumples, rips, and wrinkles are interesting textures, so fold the leftover foil into strips of varying lengths and widths. Then ask your toddler for their expert arrangement to create a piece of abstract art.
One of my favorite craft materials lately is shrink plastic (a.k.a. Shrinky Dink), which is a type of clear plastic (#6 to be exact) that once heated, thickens and shrinks to approximately half of its original size. It is great for making personalized crafts and gifts since we could essentially draw or trace any design on it.
The Dumpling and I have turned our plastic trinkets into wind chimes, ornaments, accessories, name tags, and key chains, just to name a few.
Color pencils, permanent markers, or acrylic paint
Oven safe tray
Hole punch (optional)
Clear nail polish (optional)
Draw or trace your image onto the smooth side of shrink plastic sheet with permanent marker. My sheets came pre-sanded on one side and smooth on the other, so check carefully. Size the images accordingly as they shrink to half of their original size once heated.
Color on the sanded side of the plastic. Flip the sheet over and color on the sanded side — the rougher surface makes it easier for the pigments to grab on. Coloring on this side also ensures that the color doesn’t cover the design outline.
Cut along the outline. Be gentle as plastic can rip easily.
Punch hole(s) on where you want to string the shrink plastic.
Pre-heat oven to 175°C and then bake cutout for approximately 3-5 minutes in oven-safe tray. The funnest part of this activity is watching the plastic curl and then flatten into a miniature version of itself. The first time I did this, the cutout did not flatten properly — my guess was that I did not wait for the oven to pre-heat to the right temperature, so be patient!
I did not think it would happen so soon — the Dumpling is now learning Chinese words in school that is beyond my elementary knowledge of the language. Frankly my exact reaction when I saw her second semester vocabulary list was “WTF?!”
While she is not expected to write at three years old, her current curriculum requires her to recognize characters. Feedback from the school’s initial progress report stated that she “needs more practice”.
I dislike the competitiveness, methods, and intensity of the Hong Kong school education system (her current kindergarten is actually considered lax by local standards), so I am unwilling to deploy any tiger parenting tactics that would add additional pressure. That means I do not intend to enroll her in after-school tutoring or various extra-curricular courses so she can “get ahead.” I believe that learning at her age should be done seamlessly through play; anything extra should be purely based on her interest level. For example, I will only sign the Dumpling up for additional classes because it is an activity she loves to do—not something I want her to learn.
My challenge, therefore, is integrating Mandarin into our daily routine without making the process feel like a “lesson.” Despite living in Hong Kong, English is the primary and dominant language in both our household and expat community, so Mandarin is actually a very foreign sound. In order to do that, however, I first have to learn the words myself. Google Translate has been my BFF, and I have been practicing the activities below alongside the Dumpling (and pretending like I know what I am talking about).
I made flash cards and taped them on relevant or highly visible places around the house. For example, 花朵 (flower) was taped right next to my vase of flowers and 牛奶 (milk) was taped on the fridge. Sometime we would play a “scavenger hunt” for the words or we just pointed to them as we went about our day. Those few seconds of daily exposure added up — by mid-semester, the Dumpling’s progress report improved to a “well done!”
I made coloring pages of her vocabulary words in PowerPoint, which can be done with just a few clicks!
Instead of using just markers and crayons, below are few ideas to keep the activity fresh by “coloring” with different materials.
花朵, 青草, 樹木: Scavenge for small flowers, grass, and branches to glue onto the characters
米飯: Glue rice (I dyed mine with food coloring)
兔子: Glue cotton balls or white pom poms
刷牙: Paint with toothpaste (preferable a colored one) on with an old toothbrush
洗手: Paint with colored foam soap/shaving cream
雨天: Draw raindrops with white crayon and paint over with blue watercolor (wax resist)
Below are a few other learn-through-play activities I have done with the Dumpling in the past:
Self Correcting Puzzle with Vocabulary Words
The Chinese characters used in the puzzle correlate with the vocabulary words from her Semester 1 vocabulary list.
This was another puzzle to help the Dumpling get familiarize with Chinese numbers. When we first started the activity, the Dumpling actually lacked the coordination and strength to pinch the clothing pins open, so clipping them on became an exercise in itself.
To play, lay the pieces with their backsides facing up. Flip over two pieces on each turn with the goal of finding two matching colors in as few moves as possible. Again, I do not expect the Dumpling to read just yet; I just say the colors aloud as we play. We initially started with only two colors and have currently built up to six.
For the Dumpling’s school Easter party, I made a mini activities book that I am sharing as a free printable. I love using this template because the book is printed single-sided on a regular piece of copy paper and is assembled without any gluing or binding — just fold and cut.
Print. Under the print options, select “Fit” under the Page Sizing section. This ensures that no matter what size paper you’re using (whether A4 or Letter), the entire image would be scaled appropriately to fit within the print area.
(Confession: I actually forgot this step and my books came out slightly cut off on the edges.)
Fold and cut. Cut along the solid lines and fold along the dotted lines according to the guide below. Remember to trim the rectangular border on the perimeter of the sheet as well.
I recently printed a free A-Z alphabet hunt pack from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls to review letter recognition and sounds with the Dumpling. To spice up the activity so that she was not just circling the letters 26 times on repeat, we divvied the worksheet pack into four to five separate exercises and “circled” the letters a different way each time.
1. Apply Sticker Labels
I wrote the letters out on circle labels and asked the Dumpling to stick them on as each letter was identified.
2. Dab On Colored Glue
If you do not have colored glue, create your own by mixing food coloring or liquid watercolor (add more drops for higher color intensity) to white Elmer’s glue.
3. Stamp with Fingers, Bottle Caps, Etc.
4. Paint With Watercolor
This step is optional: I pre-circled the letters with a white crayon so the correct answers were “revealed” once they were painted over.
5. Squirt Watercolor With Liquid Dropper
Sometimes just switching up the tool does wonders to renew my kiddo’s interest. Using a liquid dropper saved from an old medicine bottle, the Dumpling squirted liquid watercolor on top of the letters.
6. Puncture With Push Pins
Placing a folded towel (or two) underneath a worksheet, the Dumpling punctured each letter that she found with a pin.
N.B. Needless to say, the pins are sharp and adult supervision is required.
That was the most frequently asked question I got after announcing my family’s relocation to Hong Kong. It turned out that I had no say in the matter as the label was automatically bestowed on me upon arrival. If I had the means to be a housewife, it was assumed that my husband made enough to qualify me.
There is not a definitive guide to tai tai-ing, but it seems that a woman at minimal must marry into a family with enough financial mean so that she does not need to work. While housewives and stay-at-home-moms are common in the U.S., this prerequisite is actually not attainable for many in Hong Kong given the city’s high cost of living and large income disparity. The median monthly income for an employed person is approximately HK$18,000, but with the median cost for public rental housing at HK$17,800, most families need dual earners to put a roof over their heads.
There are different tiers of tai tai-hood. Various factors move a woman up and down the ranks, such as the affluence of her neighborhood, amount of leisure in her day, quality and quantity of her social connections, extravagance of her consumption, etc. At the top echelon are the daughters of Asia’s elites — tai tais of the 0.1% (think Crazy Rich Asians) sleep in past 9:00 AM, employ multiple maids, never do housework, go on international shopping sprees, indulge in regular spa treatments, dress in the latest designer fashion, etc.
Expat wives are an unique breed of tai tais who rarely call themselves as such. Simply self-identifying as an expat already oozes a certain status. Composed of outsiders, the ones I know are mostly trailing spouses of executives, lawyers, pilots, bankers, or consultants. Although they do not boast lineage from Asia’s political nobility or flash F.U. money like China’s nouveau riche, expats flaunt their elitist Western upbringing, education, and values like some kind of non-monetary currency — from enlisting their children in private international schools, to assuming that everyone understands English, to decrying the locals’ treatment of their maids, to being morally outraged by the use of plastic straws and bags. Some of these initiatives are well-intentioned, but also patriarchal. Mostly found in pockets of expat neighborhoods with coffee houses, yoga studios, and imported organic food, expats do not adapt to local culture; they insist that locals cater to their bougie ways. (I am Exhibit A.)
To Tai Tai or Not Tai Tai?
I may be in the minority, but I absolutely hated being called a tai tai. Having grown up in Boston and worked in New York City, I came of age in the Sheryl Sandberg era. No one in my social circle aspired to be housewives, even after having children. Giving up my career, therefore, felt like a betrayal when I moved to Hong Kong; I did not want to be a stereotypical tai tai on top of that.
I held out, doing menial chores myself for a year, before I finally brought in a full-time helper — a maid, cook, nanny, and personal assistant rolled into one. The benefits are life changing: no more cooking, washing dishes, folding laundry, or doing chores…period. After messy activities with the Dumpling, our workstation would be miraculously cleaned by the time we washed our hands. Tasks as simple as refilling the water pitcher, making a grocery list, or changing hand towels are no longer on my mental to-do list. Impromptu social outings are now possible because I have a babysitter on-call six days a week.
I naturally gravitated towards meeting other expat moms. Through play dates, community outings, school events, and coffee meetings, I learned the ins and outs of daily life, built a support network for my family, and made amazing new friends along the way.
First World Problems
Even as I reap the benefits of living a life of relative comfort, the transition was not easy. Loneliness was overwhelming at first because jigg regularly works 14+ hours a day and is sometimes away on business trips. Walking away from my career was a blow to my ego. In a culture where being a housewife is a status symbol, there is still a sense of sadness, even shame, when I tell people that I am a one. My days can be monotonous and mindless if I do not push myself to remain productive since I no longer have engaging projects, demanding deadlines, or ambitious colleagues to challenge me at work. Every year that I am unemployed, I become less employable; I may even be obsolete one day. I am entirely dependent on my husband’s income, so I face huge financial risks if we were to ever separate.
The truth, however, is that the perks are hard to give up. Between returning to the grueling grind of New York City or living a life of leisure in Hong Kong, there is no competition. I may despise the title, but being a tai tai, semantics aside, is amazing.
When we first moved to Hong Kong, it was a rude-awakening to discover that daycares are not popular. Many working parents have grandparents or live-in nannies (they’re extremely affordable in Asia) for childcare, so guardian-accompanied playgroups are more prevalent for non-school aged children. They were a regressive step for the Dumpling because she has attended a drop-off since she was six months old back in the U.S. As we waited for a spot to open at an unaccompanied program, however, accompanied playgroups were our only immediate options at the time.
The one we joined was typical. For two hours, one to three days a week, parents or caregivers bond with their toddlers through engaging, educational activities, such as circle time, singing, dancing, arts and crafts, and sensory trays, led by an experienced teacher. The children will have opportunities to develop social skills, confidence, and independence—soft skills needed for an easier transition into drop-off classes.
Sounds promising, right?
I hated the fact that I needed to be there—not because I did not want to spend time with my daughter, but because I did not want to be her security blanket. This particular program allowed kids to join and unjoin any time, so the lack of continuity and familiarity made friendships difficult to form. The Dumpling naturally gravitated toward me instead of exploring on her own because I was the easier option.
The teacher functioned more as an activity prompter than a leader—she would not intervene when a child was disruptive, acted inappropriately, or did not participate. Adults were solely responsible for their children, which was problematic as each toddler saw his guardian as the main authority figure instead of the teacher.
With a dozen adult-child pairs in class, it seemed like everyone operated under different “playground rules”. When the Dumpling snatched a toy from another child during one session, that child’s nanny lunged and aggressively snatched it back from the Dumpling before I could react. I was shocked that a grown-up behaved this way. I guessed she believed in “an eye for an eye”.
The differences in everyone’s parental values and styles were apparent. During an arts and crafts activity, the teacher presented a cherry blossom painting created by dotting pink paint on a tree silhouette—an example of what the class was to replicate. I did a demo for the Dumpling on our sheet. She dotted maybe three or four flowers before she smeared the paint around with her hands instead. I shrugged and looked around to see what other pairs were doing. Most adults were taking their kids’ fingers and dotting for them; the rest were completing most (if not all) of the activity on behalf of the children, who either lost interest or did not want to touch paint.
When the paintings were placed on the table to dry, I noticed that all of them fell within the spectrum of the teacher’s sample…except for the Dumpling’s. The others depicted delicate, tranquil blossoms blooming, while my kid’s tree looked like a typhoon bulldozed its way through.
The Dumpling was so proud of her work, and I was proud of her. I was proud that her piece was different…that she was different. She was not afraid to explore, completed the painting on her own, and did not mind getting dirty along the way.
I often reflect back on this moment. In an age where “over-parenting” is normal, I was glad that I did not interfere. But did I overvalue her independence and creativity? Under different circumstances, these traits could be viewed as insubordination or arrogance.
Painting a cherry blossom was trivial in the greater scheme of things, but what if it metaphorically represented a different activity (say baking or playing a team sport), could the Dumpling’s “tree” be viewed as a failure? Was the process that much more important than the result? Should I have encouraged her harder to follow instructions? Or guided her fingers (like what some adults did) instead of letting her go rogue? If she had refused to paint at all, would it have been acceptable to return home with nothing? If the stakes were higher, would I have completed the project for her (like what a few others did)?
The other adult probably judged me as I had judged them, so only time would tell whom made the right parental choices. We strive towards grooming our kids into happy, smart, successful, good people, but even our best intentions could produce a variable of unforeseen effects.
I left this playgroup after a few weeks and tried another one—it was just as chaotic and dysfunctional as the first. My biggest critiques with the accompanied programs are their continuous open enrollment and the mandatory presence of a guardian, which in combination hindered the development of soft skills they claim to foster. Luckily a spot opened up for the Dumpling at a drop-off class soon after. (Hallelujah!) In the end, she did not benefit much from attending accompanied playgroups, but at least I learned something about my parenting values.