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So I know I skipped a month for my "Look Book" series (the last one being from August 2018). But here is a combined September-October look book which I wanted to share with you. As I consider back to what I wore, I realize I was gravitating towards simple yet classic cuts and silhouettes. No crazy, funky patterns or bold looks here – just your regular polka dots, stripes, and solids. A touch boring? I beg to differ! But I’d love to hear from you - what is your style mantra is and which of these looks below did you like best? 

1.       Maisha Concept is a new label based in Singapore that I have discovered. I absolutely fell in love with their “Jaipur Chic” collection with its airy summery vibes. The brand works with small, independent artisans to support the traditions and knowledge of local communities (e.g., block printing in Rajasthan). Here are two outfits I wore recently from Maisha Concept – the first is the Pichola jumpsuit which I love for its pattern mixing. The other is the Amber Blue maxi skirt with a side leather strap which ties to a button so you can wear the skirt in two different ways. LOVE! Be sure to use code URBANMAISHA to get 10% off your order with free worldwide shipping.

Pichola jumpsuit from Maisha Concept | Tassel earrings from Just Gaya's |
Sandals from Ammos Accessories

Blouse from Zara (old) | Amber Blue Skirt from Maisha Concept | Rebecca Minkoff crossbody bag

2.       Linen n’ More is another local Singapore brand which carries Indian clothes as well as fusion and Western resort wear. With the fabrics sourced directly from India, this store has a lovely collection of cotton and linen outfits. Don't go by just what's listed on their website - the actual store houses a much bigger collection of clothes. I loved this cream-colored kurta with sharara pants. The “gota patti” details (the gold border along the outfit) adds a touch of fancy for the outfit. It’s perfect for a daytime event and that’s exactly what I had worn it for. Doesn’t the outfit just flow beautifully?
Cream Indian suit from Linen n' More 

I also wore this white eyelet dress and it was just perfect for a recent trip to Bali. I threw on a Maisha Concept scarf around my waist just to add a dash of color and flair. What do you think? (you can see an old post of mine about the different ways to style a scarf!)

Eyelet dress from Linen n' More | Scarf from Maisha Concept | Sandals from Ammos Accessories | Earrings from Stella and Dot

3.      Jodi Life is my recent fashion find in India. I love this site for its Indian fusion and ethnic-inspired designs. So totally unique and eye-catching with its prints. I had ordered a couple items from their site and will be sharing those looks soon. Their pricing is quite reasonable for Singapore standards but be prepared for shipping to take a while. Here is a cotton polka dot top which I paired with a pink skirt. You can easily dress it up as I did here or wear it more casually with shorts (try denim shorts with gladiator shoes!).

Jodi Life Polka Dot Peplum Top | Skirt from The Limited (old) |
Shoes from Charles & Keith | Earrings from MegaFash | Kate Spade Purse

4.       Mango is a known brand which offers all the latest on-trend apparel. I’m not the biggest fan of their fits (somehow the dresses don’t always fit right, which is why I always try them on and choose very selectively). However, you can get all the trendy designs here at a decent price.I had picked this simple white striped dress a couple months ago. Very wearable for a weekend! I can imagine throwing on a denim jacket and turning it into an appropriate “Friday casual” work look. What do you think?

Bucket bag and dress from Mango | Sandals from Zara | Tassel earrings from Just Gaya's |
Hat from Bangkok street shopping | Wooden bangles from Amrita Singh Jewelry

5.      eShakti is another recent e-shopping site I wanted to share with you guys. I was blown away by the fact that this site customizes clothes just for you and the prices are still damn reasonable! You can pick an outfit and choose the type of dress length, sleeve length, neckline cut, and other details that you want. Even down to deciding whether you want pockets to be included in a dress. Now that is something unique with an online store! I definitely would recommend you to try it. I had ordered this animal print, wrap dress here and I was quite happy with the fit. I felt that the pictures on the website were reflective of what the actual dress looks like. I have a referral code to share: urbanmantra_es1 for 10% off your next order (valid only until December 2, 2018).

eShakti dress (similar here) | Shoes and sunglasses from Charles & Keith | Mango purse 

6.      All Would Envy is a Singapore fashion brand with a sweet and simple style aesthetic. It is evident in the two dresses I have worn here.  One is a solid color lavender A-line dress and the other is a floral dress. Both are cute and comfy for daytime wear. The price point is around $28-35 for dresses by this brand.

All Would Envy floral dress | Shoes from Charles & Keith | Gorjana bracelet

All Would Envy lavendar A-line dress | Bag from Michael Kors | Shoes from Charles & Keith

There is something about Bali. Maybe it’s the fact that it has retained its authenticity despite the massive tourism. Maybe it’s the Balinese people who are so genuine in their interactions with you. Maybe it’s variety of things that Bali has to offer, from beaches to volcano hikes to rice terraces. Or maybe it’s the sheer number of inviting cafes and the fact that they all have wifi! Whatever the reason, I find Bali a versatile destination for a couples getaway or for families with kids. I have been to Bali thrice in the past 2-3 years and I know there is still so much more to explore. But seeing as how so many of you followed along and enjoyed my Bali travels through my Instastories, I thought it would be good to pen a post with all my Bali recommendations on where to eat, sight-see, and shop (this list excludes my hotel recommendations though we have stayed in some stunningly beautiful properties - but that's a topic for another time)!

Let’s start with Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali. Here you will find the famous rice terraces and the flourishing arts and crafts centers on the island. If you choose to go to Ubud, my recommendation is to just stay put there for 3-4 days. It’s further away from the main, frequented areas in Bali, such as Canggu, Seminyak, and Nusa Dua. Thus, one can unnecessarily end up spending a lot of time going to and from Ubud for just a day’s trip. If you do go to Ubud, be sure to check out the following places:

1. Tegalalang Rice Terraces: There are several restaurants along the rice terraces and almost all boast a view of them. Pick one to have lunch in and take lovely pictures of the rice terraces. Along the same lines, look into doing a tour of the rice paddies. We did one and my older one enjoyed it!

2. Pod Chocolate Factory: Bali’s own chocolate factory makes its chocolates from locally grown cocoa pods. Kids will love making their own chocolates here! And well, adults too! Pick which kind of chocolate you want along with the toppings and you’re all set to create your own gourmet batch to take home (just make sure they don't melt later in the heat like ours did!). You can take elephant rides in this place as well.

3. Monkey forest: This is the famous touristy thing to do in Ubud. Worth a one-time visit to see friendly (and sometimes rather naughty!) monkeys up close in their natural forest habitat. The forest itself is extensive and has a mysterious air about it with dense trees and creeping vines.

4. Bali Swing: So there are more than one of these “Bali Swings”. They look super cool in the Instagram photos you might have seen of a person sitting on a swing, soaring high in the air with a view of some hills over yonder. But I’ll warn you that it’s a bit of a tourist trap. We had gone to Bali Swing, lured by similar such enticing photos only to find long lines of people waiting to just climb a swing and get a ride. My advise is to try to go early in the day when the lines are shorter. Ultimately, I’d say it was fun for a short while when soaring up high on the swing! 

5. Ubud main market area: Lots of shops and boutiques to check out along Jalan Arjuna and Jalan Hanuman. It’s nice to go in the evenings when it’s cooler

6. Saraswati Temple: This is a small temple near the Ubud market area. The locals recommend going in the evening to see the beautiful sunset that lights up the temple premises. Unfortunately, we missed being able to go there during sunset. In the daytime, it is nothing too exciting as the temple itself is not open to the public (only the small compound).

At the Sarawati Temple
7. Restaurants: Walk along Jalan Gautama and you will find plenty of charming little cafes, many specializing in organic juices or organic something! We tried a few restaurants along this little street and had really liked the following places:
  • Thai restaurant called Warung Siam Ubud - good food and good people watching! 
  • Soma Café is located in an antique wooden house. The menu comprises of various fruit juices and what they call “raw” food items. The food is strictly ok but the restaurant gets a thumbs-up for being kid-friendly with a kid zone upstairs.
  • Another restaurant to visit is Murni’s Warung (not along Jalan Gautama). I suggest going for lunch as it would get quite mosquite-infested by dinner time. The restaurant setup and décor is so interesting as it is built against the side of a hill. Other than the fact that you will need to take mozzie patches when you go, this restaurant is very kid-friendly.
Outside Soma Cafe
Upstairs kids zone at Soma Cafe with books and toys to keep the little ones busy
8. Luwak coffee: Ubud is also one of the places where you can try the famous luwak coffee. Have you heard about it? Well, if you haven’t, I’ll let you read it up for yourself. But certainly it’s a fun experience to try it out this famous coffee.

Had enough of the hipp-dippy, earthy vibes of Ubud? Time to hit up the happening hipster neighborhoods of Canggu and Seminyak! These are two different areas but are located relatively close to one another. Seminyak is hotbed of amazing eateries and boutiques. Meanwhile, Canggu is an up-and-coming beach town, north of Seminyak and south of Tanah Lot. Read on for my recommendations for these two areas:

Things to do in Seminyak 

1. Shopping: Go to Seminyak Square and begin your window-shopping or actual shopping experience there! If you’re looking for stores with home furnishings, check out Satunama, Kim Soo, Mercredi and Domicile (just to name a few). For clothes, you will find many local or international brands that made their start in Bali (these boutiques are generally more expensive). Street shopping and haggling is also fun - I had bought a pair of cute sandals for $13 SGD.

2. Spa: I’ve only tried Sunderi Spa (twice) and it was lovely both times. Good service and massage treatments at a good price.

3. Restaurants:
  • Motel Mexicola: Mexican food done right! If you go for dinner, stay until 10pm and you’ll see the crowd go crazy dancing on the tables to the beat of the live band! 
  • Ginger Moon: Great for lunch or dinner with pan-Asian cuisine. It’s located near all the cool shops and boutiques in Seminyak so it makes for a great option for a meal after your shopping escapades! 
  • Sarong: A restaurant with modern Indian cuisine. This place has a gorgeous ambiance (especially for dinnertime) and the food is to die for! Great for a date night but also suitable and welcoming to families with kids. 
  • Mamasan: This is not a child friendly restaurant in terms of food and ambiance but more suitable for a date night spot. The pan-Asian cuisine here is novel and lip-smacking good. I particularly loved the creative cocktails here - we had ordered 4 different drinks at our table and loved all of them. 
  • Chandi: Lovely restaurant that features Indonesian-influenced cuisine. This place specializes in different types of satay so don't try to stray from that when you make your order. As a vegetarian, I was a bit unconvinced about how good tempeh and vegetable satays could be but Chandi proved me wrong. Seriously good stuff!  
Things to do in Canggu 

1. Finn’s Beach Club: While we didn’t make it to the beach in Canggu (it’s popular amongst the surfers), we did land up at Finn's Beach Club. We loved the food and service here and lounged on the daybed for most of the day. Super kid-friendly and a great way to spend a lazy day.

2. La Baracca: Easily the best pizza I’ve ever had in a long, long time and that’s saying something. It’s a small shack but the food is oh-so-good!

3. Milk & Madu: Think chilled out café with burger, pizza, and poke bowls. What I loved most about this café is the corner meant just for kids. There’s a big playhouse and slide along with coloring for kids to keep them busy.

4. Other restaurants and coffee shops to visit in Canggu: Cafe Organic, Hungry Bird, Revolver, La Laguna (go only in the evening for the live band), Monsieur Spoon (this French bakery unexpectedly opens onto a rice paddy field!), and Seasalt in the Alila Hotel (amazing beach views over drinks).

Overjoyed to see open fields behind this cute little cafe at Monsieur Spoon!
4. Tanah Lot Temple: Amongst the more famous temples in Bali, Tanah Lot is a rock formation which is also home to an ancient Hindu temple. If you're in the Seminyak or Canggu area, you are not that far from the temple so it's well worth a visit!

Enjoying coconut water just outside Tanah Lot temple
Tanah Lot - you can see the rock formation over the water with the temple on top

Jimbaran is another area in the south of Bali. I have only been there to visit the Ayana Resort which boasts the famous Rock Bar. Essentially a bar carved into the side of a rocky hill, this spot is really a great place to enjoy sea views and fancy drinks in a unique setting (I really have to give it to Bali for having figured out how to create amazing experiences in restaurant settings!). When I had visited Rock Bar, I happened to take my kids with me as they are allowed to enter the restaurant/bar.

I hope you guys found this Bali guide helpful. This guide is by no means exhaustive but it's a good start! Do let me know what you discover from your travels there.

Lately, I had begun to feel tired and low on energy. I think the madness of the last few months had caught up with me due to work and work travels, family commitments, kids stuff, and life in general. I was searching for a break when an unexpected offer came my way. ..

The solution to my tired, aching body
When Serena Spa from the Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel contacted me and invited me to try their spa facilities, I was intrigued. When they further offered to let me invite five of my girlfriends and turn it into a “spa date”, I was sold! It had been a while since “us girls” did something together and a spa session sounded like just what we all needed. Most of us are working women and all of us are mommies – put that equation together and you get a situation where occasions for meeting up and chilling together are quite infrequent. So I did what any girl would do – I quickly created a Whatsapp group of my mommy friends and told them to block one Saturday morning for spa therapy! On the day when we showed up for our spa appointments, the six of us gathered in the cozy lounge area of the spa, catching up and chatting away like it had been ages! Like a typical blogger, I suggested we put on face masks and cucumbers on our eyes and take pictures together in our white robes. You know, kinda like that photo above? Yeah, no...that was shot down pretty quickly. Haha! 

Picking the right spa treatment
Soon it was time to begin our treatments. The spa menu does offer quite a broad selection of body therapy, body scrubs, facials, and manicure/pedicure treatments to pick up. Some of us picked facials while others picked a massage therapy. Regardless of the treatment, the sessions begin with 15 minutes of relaxation in the steam room. The idea behind the steam room is to help you unwind and loosen the tension in your body before you get started with your actual treatment. While most spas will have a common sauna/steam room, I liked that Serena Spa has individual steam rooms for each person.

I chose to get the Marma signature massage which is an Ayurvedic spa using herbal oils. It started off with a head massage with warm oil, followed by a body massage, and ended with a body scrub. The whole experience was so therapeutic and relaxing. My therapist knew what she was doing and checked in with me often to ensure that she was applying the right amount of pressure. I personally like firm pressure during a massage so I thoroughly enjoyed my Marma massage. If strong massage pressure is your thing, then I highly recommend this treatment!

For my friends who chose the different types of facial, they enjoyed their treatment as well. However, do keep in mind that some facials from the spa menu involve extractions while others do not. So ask your therapist about this in advance to ensure you pick the right facial treatment for you.  

Facilities and service
Overall, our interaction with the spa and its staff was smooth and pleasant. The spa itself would not be considered as big and luxurious as you might expect from hotel spas on the Orchard Road strip. But the facilities are certainly clean and comfortable and tastefully done. What’s more, the Marriot Tang Plaza Hotel is centrally located and easy to access (MRT stop: Orchard).

Promotion Offer
If you’re feeling like you want to have a “relaxing mummy break” with your girlfriends too, worry not dear readers! Serena Spa has been kind enough to provide a discount offer for first time visitors for a limited time only.

Serenity Full Body Massage for 60 minutes at $78++ or for 90 minutes at $98++  (Please mention code URBANSERENA to avail yourself of this discount offer)

Serena Spa at Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel
320 Orcahrd Road, #04-01, Singapore 238865
Tel: +65-6831-4526

We’ve all seen them - those dreamy photos of a family with beautiful children running across a meadow carefree, a mother lifting up her child as he smiles away, or a couple holding hands and leaning against each other lovingly. Those were the images in my head when I had arranged for my first ever family photoshoot a few years ago. Unfortunately, it didn’t go too well for a number of reasons (more on that later). I realized I could have avoided a few pitfalls and so, I saved those learnings for the time when I would need them again.

Recently, I had the opportunity to do a family photoshoot with Megha from Sunflare Arthouse Photography. There were a few small things I did differently this time around but they made all the difference (of course, having a great photographer played a big role too)! Sure enough, the whole session went much more smoothly and also relatively quickly, which is important when you one child climbing up on you and another running off to god-knows-where.

Folks, the end goal here is to have a happy photo-taking session without the fake smiles and cheesy poses. So here are the 7 mistakes to avoid when doing a family photoshoot. This isn’t rocket science and you’ll find most of these tips to be very practical. But believe me, sometimes we overlook the most obvious details. So let’s begin…

Mistake #1: Putting undue pressure on yourself

One doesn’t do family shoots often and so, there is a certain level of importance placed on getting the photos just right. Perhaps you planned to use these photos for a special event, or a photobook, or a family photo wall? But once you place that kind of importance on a photoshoot, expectations and a certain level of stress inevitably begin to creep in. Drop that pressure and have fun! After all, it’s the positive vibes and emotions that will be reflected in the photos. So smile more, worry less.

Mistake #2: Not investing in the time to find the right photographer

For my first photoshoot, I found a photographer who was good with fashion photography. So I assumed he would be good with family shoots. I was wrong. Despite his well-meaning and kind attitude (bless his heart), he did not have the necessary experience needed for putting children at ease and capturing candid moments. The result was awkward poses and photo editing that would be more suitable for fashion blogs. So this time around, I knew that I should go with word of mouth recommendations or take the time to look through a photographer’s previous works on their social media platforms. Consider their style aesthetics and editing. If you come across a photographer whose work you like, you don’t need to look much further.

Mistake #3: Picking a day and time that doesn’t suit you and your family

This might sound like a no-brainer but so often, we end up accommodating the photographer’s busy schedule rather than our own. It’s very important to carefully work around children’s naptimes and our own personal and social commitments. So be sure to pick a date and a time of day that doesn’t clash with these things.

Another mistake is not listening to yourself when you know better. Going back to the experience with my first family shoot, Krishnav was actually down with a cold and was a bit under the weather that day. I still pushed ahead with the plan because I didn’t want to cancel something we had worked hard to plan. The result? A sick child who was clingy the whole time and refused to smile. I learned my lesson that it’s better to postpone and do it right rather than rush into a shoddy job now. So don’t be afraid to postpone the shoot if needed.

Mistake #4: Not taking the time to think about location (for outdoor shoots)

Location is so important. But I don’t only mean choosing a beautiful setting. I also consider factors such as the following: Will it be hot outside during the chosen time of day? How crowded will it be and will that affect our shoot and comfort level? What is the lighting like? Is the place reasonably close by and accessible from our home? Are there bathrooms nearby in case of bathroom emergencies or outfit changes? Will the kids feel comfortable in this location?

Keeping all these factors in mind, I had picked the East Coast Park for our most recent shoot with Arthouse Sunflare. The location is beautiful with open green space and the blue sea in the backdrop. The kids were relaxed and familiar with the surroundings. Also, it is very accessible from our home so the convenience and proximity factor was a winner.

Mistake #5: Not bothering to pre-plan

One way to avoid getting stressed about the photoshoot is to simply prepare for it. Make a checklist of items to bring so you don’t forget them in the pre-photoshoot rush. Because believe me, it’s always a mad rush out the door when you have kids with you. Case in point: During my first photoshoot, we were running late and rushed to our shoot location without carrying the essentials with us. I had no water for Krishnav when he grew thirsty and no face cloth to wipe our sweaty faces which would be inevitable in the heat!

This time, I was better prepared. I packed the items I would need in a bag a few hours before the photo-taking session. My personal list of items included:

· Water and snacks for the kids

· Comb and makeup for your touch-ups

· Props/toys for the photos, such as a ball or stuffed animal for the kids to play with or hold

· Additional distractions to keep the kids happy and busy rather than bored and grumpy

· Outfit changes if you plan for them

Mistaken #6: Not knowing when to stop

Being a blogger, you would expect that I love the camera! Indeed, I seem to fork out an inordinate amount of patience for multiple takes in various angles and poses…whatever it takes to get the right shot! BUT I’m the exception to everyone else in the family. In my first photoshoot experience held outdoors, I pushed everyone to keep going despite a slightly unwell kid and a husband sweating profusely under the hot sun. As time wore on, so did their patience. Pleasant smiles slowly melted into pained expressions captured on camera. It wasn’t pretty. This time around, I had my own internal cues for knowing when to stop. When you notice the children starting to get restless and your spouse’s mood starting to turn, that’s when you know it’s time to wrap up!

Mistake #7: Not planning your outfits ahead of time or planning too many outfit changes

The clothes you wear and the number of times you choose to change is directly proportional to the crankiness of your husband and kids. Keep all outfits smart yet comfortable for everyone. If you are planning an outfit change, make sure you know where the closest changing room/restroom is if the shoot is outdoors. In my recent shoot with Sunflare Arthouse, we chose not to change our clothes for the outdoor session as it would have been too complicated with 2 kids and no restroom within easy reach.

A lot of the mistakes I’ve mentioned above are related to minimizing a negative experience and promoting a fun session. Be relaxed, find a good photographer, make a checklist, go into the shoot well-fed and well-rested, pick a time of day that isn’t uncomfortably hot, and be quick. You will thank yourself later! No one wants a kid having a meltdown in the middle of a photoshoot. And no one wants to be bickering with their spouse about “C’mon, suck and tuck!” or “Are we done yet?”

I’m so happy with how our photos turned out. We were lucky to have a photographer who did a fantastic job and had a great attitude. Megha was such a delight to work with! Her easy-going nature and friendly smile put us all at ease, making the shoot a very relaxed affair. I particularly appreciated how she tried to engage with my two boys in a playful manner and didn’t try to force anything upon them. Somehow she managed to capture sweet, candid moments of our family. It was really lovely and I would highly recommend her. Do visit her page at Sunflare Arthouse and her instagram @meghasunflare.

Candid shot which isn't perfect but shows all our happy crazy emotions!
Hello everyone! It's September already and if I was still living in New York, I would have been looking forward to cooler temperatures and pumpkin spice lattes (yum!). Instead however, we continue to face thunderstorms and humid weather which can only be described as unforgiving and brutal to my hair’s temperament. But I digress…frizzy hair or not, one can still find ways to look stylish and presentable, right?

So here are my 6 looks from August, some of which you have already seen in my previous post about Four Looks with an LBD”.

First up is this pink gingham top with flared sleeves. I got this last summer from a Singapore online store called Closet Lover. Cute stuff at really reasonable prices! I like the gingham design and when it’s in pink, it adds a certain sweetness to the look. So many ways to wear it but here, I opted to pair it with a black midi-length skirt from Mango. I wore this look to work.

Gingham top by Closet Lover | Skirt by Mango |
Shoes by Charles & Keith | Clutch by Just Gaya's
The next look is my recent purchase of this bright, eye-catching dress from Mango. When I posted this on Instagram, many responded saying that they wouldn’t have thought to wear a dress with such a busy design and bright colors. I suppose it takes going outside your comfort zone to wear something like this. But for someone like me who loves color and prints, I liked this outfit right away! But honestly, it just goes to show that sometimes we are overly conscious of what others will think if we wear something – Don’t be! Wear what makes you happy.

Dress by Mango | Clutch by Bling Box Singapore | Shoes by Charles & Keith
The last 4 looks are the different ways that I styled a black sheath dress, using different accessories such as a belt, scarf, or blazer. You can read more styling details and tips about these looks here.

So which look did you like best?