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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? 
There are days when you want to just walk out the door without having to think about what to wear. And then there are days when you don’t mind putting some extra effort into your look. Depending on which side of the bed you woke up on, the color black is a reliable friend for us moody mavens. To be precise, the black dress can be the single more versatile piece in your closet. The LBD never goes out of style and there are any number of ways to dress it up or down. 

There are no rules, just play around with the different accessories you have to create different looks. For example, you can add one or a combination of the following:
  • Blazer 
  • Statement necklace 
  • Scarf 
  • Belt 
  • Plays with color: Add pops of color or, conversely, use muted tones 
Here are 4 looks I styled wearing a black dress.

Look 1: I call this the “Basic” Look. Hey, basic doesn’t have to be mean boring! In fact, basic can be understated but well put-together. Here, I chose to keep the look understated and let the dress be the main focus point. The accompanying accessories of the handbag and shoes are in muted beige and brown tones which are complimentary colors with black. Simple and chic!

Look 2: I wore a scarf here and opted to cinch it with a belt. This red scarf with embroidered flowers is from Sue Mue and it’s the right length to be paired with the dress. Note that a shorter scarf would not have necessarily looked right. In such cases, just wear the scarf in a different twist.

Look 3: Add instant boost to the black dress with a smart belt and a blazer that pairs well with the shoes (this doesn’t mean the two have to match but their colors should compliment each other).

Look 4: For this look, I chose to wear a fringe necklace and throw in some color to the mix – a yellow blazer and lace-up flats. Hope I don't look too much like a banana but oh well...:) 

So tell me - which look did you like best?
Munching away on the sweet potato pancakes from Fusspot & Foodie
With the end of August fast approaching, it’s “back to school” season! I can’t believe that my older son is almost 5 and will be starting kindergarten! The start of the new school year is upon us, and I’m already in “mom preparation mode” for Krishnav’s daily school lunch box. As a working mom, I don’t have the time to necessarily cook everything, nor would I like to send him with too many processed, packaged foods. Like any mom, I fret about what my son will eat and whether he will eat enough in school. What food items are easy to prepare and uncomplicated to eat? Which snacks are healthy but still delicious for him? 

Fusspot & Foodie has been the convenient solution I was looking for. Probably the only meal kit and catering setup in Singapore designed specifically for kids, Fusspot & Foodie provides healthy, wholesome, kid-friendly meals and snack options. The food items are planned and cooked using fresh ingredients. As a parent, all I need to think about is going on the Fusspot & Foodie website and picking out what I’d like to order as and when I need it (food arrives 1 week from the time order is placed). I first learned about Fusspost & Foodie through their Instagram and fell in love with their fun food creations and recipe ideas. Since then, I have met and spoken to Founder and Head Chef Tanya Soman who is extremely passionate about her business and the idea of building a healthy and positive approach to eating in children. I’ve had the chance to order a few meal kits for Krishnav to try and he’s given it a thumbs-up (no mean feat for a “fusspot”!). As it turns out, even my 13-month old has enjoyed munching on the foods we’ve ordered.
The blackbean brownies are a favorite in our household!
So what have we tried and liked? We’ve ordered the blackbean brownie and sweet potato pancakes (both of which are a particular favorite among my boys!), fish patties, homemade hummus, pasta sauce, and falafel. I can’t wait to try their Superfood Chocolate Sauce next. Made with organic cacao (hello antioxidants!), organic cold pressed extra virgin coconut oil (healthy fats and naturally antibacterial) and organic Australian honey,it sounds divine! I know Krishnav would love it with his pancakes, added to his milk for flavoring, or drizzled over fruit kebobs!

I’m sure us moms can all find ways to make our lives a little more manageable. Having a few healthy options for snacks or meals ready in the fridge has been a lifesaver for us. Definitely recommend trying it out.

Fusspot & Foodie also provides catering for kids birthday parties. Says Tanya Soman, “Deep fried snacks, high sugar treats and empty calorie sweet beverages are the standard items at children's parties today. Fusspot & Foodie wants to change the way kids eat at parties. Our menu's are proof that 'party food' doesn't have to be 'junk food'. It can be made with fresh veggies, fruit & whole-grains while being creative and fun so kids truly enjoy it!”

You can use the discount code URBANMANTRA10 to get 10% off one item on www.FusspotandFoodie.com. Happy, healthy eating!

The two pictures above were provided courtesy of Fusspot & Foodie.