Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Spare capacity

One of the most common questions I am fielded with is "Wow! 3 kids?! How do you cope?!" Sometimes I reply "With a lot of help!", sometimes I say "My husband is very hands-on with the kids, so that helps." And it's true. I think I'd have been a lot more stressed out and frazzled if hubbs weren't as hands-on as he is.

Though, sometimes I get this question in its "Irritating Variant" - some people ask "Twins?! 3 kids!? CAN you cope?!" Or "Can cope meh?!" To which I usually reply calmly "Cannot cope also must cope!" Or sometimes I simply say "Caaaaan..."

I often joke, though, that I even have "spare capacity". Coz if I carry one child in each arm, and have the third child holding on to my pants leg, I still have another pants' leg spare. Sometimes Isaac'd piggy back while I carry the twins. Not often, though, of course. The extra weight of all three kids is crazy on my knees.

When I was breastfeeding the twins. I'd often be tandem feeding them (i.e. both at the same time) and Isaac would snuggle up behind me, or at the end of my feet. Sometimes, I'd be breastfeeding one baby (the other one is sleeping) with Isaac in my other arm. Then when the sleeping baby stirs, I'd use my foot to stroke the baby and soothe the baby back to sleep. It's clean! :p Besides, it works :)Also, this leaves me with the other foot as spare capacity.

Nowadays, every night, we'd more or less be able to make the kids sleep on their own beds. However, throughout the night, the kids would gravitate towards me. By morning, I usually have Isaac on my left, Shawna on my right, and Asher'd be using my tummy as his pillow and my thighs as his armrests. So my sleep in the first half of the night's usually better and unfettered, but the later half feels squashed. But I think I'd miss it when they stop doing this.

I love it that the kidzes love cuddles. Maybe's it's coz I consciously and conscientiously hug and kiss them, and ask them for hugs and kisses as well. Asher especially, is very affectionate. He loves to go about draping himself on Shawna and on Isaac. Shawna gets irritated by him doing that, though - I suppose it's akin to being ambushed from behind, sortof. But she would hug Asher and/or Isaac whenever we tell her to.

Isaac has also come to be fairly affectionate. When the twins were babies, Isaac used to rain kisses on their hands and feet - then he'd look at me and say "Mummy see, I kiss my babies! Just like you!!!" The first time he did and said that, I almost cried. At that time, Isaac was still trying to get used to having siblings and he'd been incredibly jealous of them to the extent of beating them. Thinking that I'd make him even more jealous if he saw me kissing them, I tried to only kiss them when I thought Isaac wasn't looking. However, it seems that Isaac HAD seen me kissing the babies, but he not only didn't get jealous, he started emulating me by showering them with kisses too! Sweet!

I love asking the kidzes for kisses. Isaac's pretty generous with his kisses. Asher would oblige as well. Shawna's... Very frugal with giving out her kisses, I must say, though she's started to give kisses too, lately.

The usual kiss-exchange with Isaac goes like that:
Me: Hi Isaac, can I have 10 kisses, please?
Isaac: I'd give you 8 kisses.
Me: Huh?! 8 only?! I want 10!
Isaac: Okaaay... I'd give you 10 kisses. *muakz* one, *muakz* two, *muakz* three, *muakz* four, *muakz* five, *muakz* six, *muakz* seven, *muakz* eight, *muakz*nine, *muakz*ten!!! And I give you 5 bonus!!! *muakz* *muakz* *muakz* *muakz* *muakz*!!!
Me: Wah!!! So many bonus kisses!!! Thank you!!!

Then Isaac would ask me for kisses, and I'd give it to him, plus plenty more bonus kisses. Nowadays we have hugs and bonus hugs too. I can't wait to get bonus hugs and kisses from Asher and Shawna too!!! :)

Making time to write!

My problem with blogging, has never been that I didn't have anything to say - more like, that I didn't have time to say it. As in, I don't have enough time to write. I love writing. But good writing takes time and inspiration.So even if you've got a good spot of inspiration, it'd be all for nought if you don't have time to write.

Thus, it is, that I was struck by a good idea this fine evening - I shall write on my mobile during my almost-hour-long commutes that I have to make to and from work every weekday! Excellent idea, ain't it?! So here I am! Writing my first post on the train! :)

By doing this, hopefully we'd be back to posting everyday again. We'd see, eh? :)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Artscow photobooks and whatnot!

Heya!!! So sorry for the disappearing act, but I've been busy, you see! I've been doing up photobooks and other photo-related gifts. Let me show you what I've been up to!

First up here below is this iphone 4 skin which I did. This turned out very well, and when I posted this picture on facebook, I got a record number of Likes, and many many comments, mainly asking me where I'd did this and how much it cost me. The short answer is: I did it on Artscow during one of their promos and it only cost me US$8.99 inclusive of shipping to Singapore. The promo's now ended, so you won't get it so cheap if you do it now now. But if you read till the end of this super-long-post (you have been warned) - you will find out how you can get to do this at a discounted rate from it's usual non-promo pricing of US$13.99 (for the skin) + US$3.99 shipping.
Above is a 7 inch by 5 inch, 20 paged(sides) photobook I was trying out coz (1) I suddenly realised I half-did this book years ago but never completed it, and (2) there was a promo for the 7x5 book which cost me US$5.89 including shipping to Singapore (crazy pricing eh?!). So, I actually surprised the hubbs with the above two items, as his birthday gifts. He just turned 39 years old on 17th September 2011! You can see the entire book here at this link - though you may need to install the Silverlight software.

And I also did up a whole bunch of 8inch by 10inch stretched canvas which were on promo for US$8.99 each inclusive of shipping to Singapore. Hence, for this whole installation below, I spent less than S$180, including the nail thingies that we bought to hang them! I must say it turned out pretty nicely as well - the placement layout could definitely have been better... but overall, not too bad...

We managed to find a spot of empty wall to stick them on - my in laws' place! My mother-in-law's been diagnosed with lymphoma, and so she's been missing the kids lots since she no longer stays with us to take care of the kids. So, I thought this huge collage of the kids' pix will cheer her up as it allows her to see the kids 24 hours, 7 days a week AND she gets to "show off" nice pix of her grandkids to whoever comes by to visit her! Good idea, right?! :p
The projects above weren't THAT time consuming... it's the ones below that took up lots of time... the photobooks!!! I've been meaning to do them, of course, but was busy and all, so actually, it was also coz I wanted to do these for my mother-in-law (portable photobook compilation of the kids' pix - the better to show off with, anytime, anywhere!!! :p) coupled with an Artscow promo that had the 39 paged 8"x 8" photobooks each going at US$12.99 including shipping that spurred me into action to do the Asher & Shawna books. Currently, they have been shipped and are on their way to me now! I am eagerly anticipating them, and hope they turn out well. Again, you can view the full books at these links here - Shawna's book & Asher's book. Here's a screen shot of the books below at the links - you can flip the pages page by page there.But yet, what really started all this was when I did Isaac's book more than 2 years ago - this below (and at this link) is Isaac's book. I initially also did a 39 paged book, but expanded it to a 60 paged book when they had a promo for that at some point... So!!! Have I interested you enough to go crazy on Artscow? :) But before you do, read my quick-start info (and a million disclaimers) below, before you embark on your journey with Artscow. I dare say you may regret it if you don't read what I've written below before you start Artscowing... You have been warned!
What was intended to be a short and sweet note blossomed into a freaking long six paged essay!!! So….
THE SHORT: Click here to go to Artscow to register your account (registration is free) – http://www.artscow.com/?Ref=608220 Have fun tinkering around and read below if you get confused and don’t know where to start.
Hi everyone,
The last time I wrote out this note was in 2009, and some things have changed since then. And since there’s recently been some interest from you guys on Artscow due to the pix I posted on the stretched canvases, the iphone skin, and photobooks – here I am doing a major update on this note. Oh, and let me state upfront that I am not connected to Artscow in any way at all (other than being their customer).
Artscow is this online website which does a lot of personalised gifts, anything from photobooks to bags and t-shirts to iphone skins and even coasters, dogtags, mousepads and aprons and lots lots more. The prices on the website are in USD, and when they say “shipping” they mean international shipping.
I’ve been using them for a few years already, and have tried them out for more than 10 types of their products. They have promos which make them so cheap that I could not resist trying them out, but their quality is not consistently top notch such that if and when I recommend Artscow, I am careful to make known my nitpicks and be generous with my disclaimers. However, my average experience with Artscow has so far been above average and their prices are cheap enough to be taken as paying for a lesson learnt, if anything goes wrong.
Of course, many things affect quality. One is the innate quality of the products they offer. However, equally important (if not more important!) is the quality of the photos you use, and also the design of the product which you submitted. For example, I found that the picture quality of the photobooks can be a bit grainy and a bit too red, at times. But I realised that if my picture is bright and of high resolution, they turn out great in the photobooks. So picture quality is important! Rubbish in, rubbish out! Overall, I would recommend Artscow if you’re willing to take a bit of risk. Nevertherless, caveat emptor – buyer beware!!! The choice is yours!
Artscow has “regular/standard/usual” pricing for their products which can be found on their website. Their regular pricing is fairly competitive when compared to similar vendors which offer such products locally. However, if you make use of their promotion coupons and credit systems, Artscow can be so cheap you wonder how they make money.
Apparently Artscow is a Hong Kong company, which has a website targeting the US market. But they produce in Hong Kong (or maybe even in mainland China?) and hence, costs are low for them (I assume). Also, this is one website which there is no such thing as “combined shipping” (i.e. buying more items at one go in order to minimise shipping costs). In fact, I believe they earn off their “shipping costs”. For example, you can use a coupon for a free 39 page 8" by 8" hardcover image-wrapped photobook, but you have to pay US$13 for shipping. If you buy 5 books using 5 such free coupons, you still have to pay 5 x US$13 = US$65 for the 5 books. Some people may say this is misrepresentation, but to me, I suppose they’ve got to earn somewhere somehow, right? So it doesn’t bother me – to me, the effective price of each book is US$13 inclusive of international shipping, and that’s mighty cheap, if you ask me.
But remember! It’s only this (super) cheap if you use the free/promo coupons or the free credits. So! I'm writing this quick-start info to give you a bit of orientation around the Artscow website. (What was intended to be a short and sweet note blossomed into a freaking long six paged essay!!!)

Firstly, get registered. Click on this referral link (
http://www.artscow.com/?Ref=608220) and register your account. It’d be great if you use the referral link to register, so that you get an additional "1200 free prints credits & 3 8"x8" photo books, and other photo gifts" and I get referral credits. Once you have registered, you need to log-in. Only by being logged in, can you access your account details and sections which I will mention below.
Artscow has many products as you can see on their website. You may explore the website at your leisure to see all the stuff they can do, but I shall use the following three items as examples.
These pages show the regular pricing (usual/full pricing) for the products, pricing does not include shipping yet.
Canvases & Stretched Canvases: http://www.artscow.com/photo-gifts/Canvas
However, with coupons and credits, you can often get the product free, and simply pay for the shipping. OR use their promo coupons which usually include shipping costs in the price. You can often save up to 80% of the costs this way.

You can obtain Artscow credits and coupons on products in several ways:
  • Credit & Discount page https://www.artscow.com/Member/CreditDiscount.aspx (link for this is on the left hand side of the website, under Member's Area) - you have free credits for a load of items, especially if you’re a new member. They give you the item for free, but you have to pay for shipping.
    • Credits have expiry dates and so they have to be used by that date, failing which, the credits 'disappear' - are not valid anymore.
    • Credits can be transferred to other people if you do not need them.
    • To transfer credits, you click on Generate under the Transfer Key column, to generate a transfer code, which you can email/message to your friend for them to take into their account (to validate the code).
    • To validate a code (if you're at the receiving end of a transfer code), you go to your Credit & Discount page and paste the transfer code into the box and click "Validate".
    • The credit your friend has given you will appear in your table of credits. The expiry date remains the same.

  • Coupons - often emailed to you by Artscow themselves (you’d be on their mailing list once you register an account with them. Alternatively, you can “like” their Facebook page to always be kept informed of their current promo). Some are "Coupons for more credits", whereas others can be "Checkout coupons".
    • Coupons for more credits - these codes are meant to be inserted into your Credit & Discounts page (see above) to validate it. As with most codes, there would be an expiry date for the use of the code. However, upon successful validation, it would give you more credits, which usually have 1 month validity period before they expire.
    • Checkout coupons - these are meant to be inserted into a box on the right hand side of the website in one of your screens in checking out items in your shopping cart. Also usually has an expiry date. Therefore, these coupons which has a promotion or a free credit have to be strictly used by their expiry date.
    • "One use per houshold" checkout coupons - There are some checkout coupons that can be found here and there on the website, that can only be used once per household

  • Special Sale page http://www.artscow.com/promote/fcfs.aspx (link is a tab on the top of the website) - are the current ongoing promotions. Artscow issues new coupon codes on this page everyday for a range of products. If I recall correctly, this is a Checkout Coupon which you enter upon checking out, to obtain the discounted rate. These deals are usually pretty good coz they have a discount off the usual product price, and usuallly include free shipping.
  • Forum page http://forum.artscow.com/Default.aspx (link is a tab on the top, right hand side of the website) - scroll down to the Hot Deals section, where people share freely the coupon codes that they do not require anymore. The two discussion boards are:
    • "Hot Deals" and
    • "Discount Coupon Codes Exchange Corner"

  • Google it! - Apparently there are websites on the web where people consolidate coupons such as this. So just google "artscow coupons" and you can get quite a few hits, two of which I found are:
Coupons and credits come by easy for certain products like photo prints, but not so often (or never at all!) for some other products. For example, I have never seen a coupon for t-shirts. When you are unable to find coupons/credits for a particular product you want, look for a generic discount coupon so that you can save in other ways. For example, two coupons currently found on the website are
  • FREESHIPPING25 - for free shipping for orders of US$25 or more (expires 19 Sept 2011)
  • DISCOUNT25P - 25% discount off all items excluding photo prints
Well these may expire very soon, but I'm sure you get what I'm trying to say. Also, Artscow tend to come up with coupons very often, so new ones should be out soon after these expire. These two coupons above have been around for a long time, seems to be a mainstay. Though I do recall that they both used to be 30% instead of 25%...

As mentioned above, Artscow is not like the usual online retailers we are familiar with, where shipping gets cheaper if you buy in bulk. Artscow seems to charge per unit bought - like I bought three 8" by 8" photobooks, but had to pay US$13 for EACH book's shipping. Which is obviously over quoted, but then, that's obviously how Artscow makes money, otherwise how do they survive by giving away free stuff all the time.
Well, anyway, how I normally find out how much shipping is, is to add the item to your shopping cart, and just go through with checkout until you get to the screen which shows you the shipping cost. The shipping cost would appear on the same page which they show you your address and ask you to confirm it. Therefore, so long as you do not go beyond that page - you have not confirmed your purchase, so you don't have to worry about having to purchase the item just to find out the shipping cost.
But the good thing about "free shipping" is, it's international shipping. Thus, whether you send to Singapore, or USA, or Australia - it's the same rate they charge. So, for example, if you want to send a book to your friend who's overseas - you can actually just have Artscow ship it directly to them overseas, at no extra cost to yourself! Also good for those who are outstationed overseas, you can do up a book of your kids pix, and send it directly to Grandma & Grandpa who's in Singapore! How's that for a Christmas surprised idea! :)

The beauty about Artscow is that the prints on the products are fully customisable. The only limit is your imagination and effort.
Firstly, to be able to access the Artscow online designer, you have to download and install the Sliverlight software onto your computer. Follow the links on the website. Then you can through the "Create your own products" (tab on top of website) and then through whichever product you want, to click the "Create it!" button, access the designer, and work your magic! The programme is relatively easy and intuitive to use, as you just drag things here and there. Let me know if you have any problem, will try and guide you, if I can.
Using other people's template for your own product
If you think you’re not very creative and you’re afraid of having to design your own item, you can always make adopt another person’s design as a template – you just have to insert your own pictures. Go to the Gallery (http://www.artscow.com/gallery) and you can see a lot of products which people have uploaded for your viewing pleasure, and for you to copy if you wish to adopt their design as a template for your own product. Click on the product to see it in detail.
  • For example, when you are viewing a photo book that someone else has done, there is a button on the right hand side, above the product that says "Create a book like this".
  • Click the button, and the Sliverlight designer would open with a template of that book right there with all the layout and design same as the one you just viewed – but without the pictures.
  • All you have to do is drag in your own pictures and make your own amendments to it.
  • Save the project, and it would go into your Saved Designs!
  • When you’re done with your project, you Add to Cart, and you can purchase it.
  • Remember to use a checkout coupon if you have one! Credits would apply itself if applicable.
Designer Kits - Sometimes you see under an item the yellow lettering highlighted in red:”Designer Kits”. Click on it, to see how many Designer Kits were used in designing that item. If you use this template for your item, you have to pay that dollar figure in the drop down (when you clicked on “Designer Kits”), one time off payment (you can reuse unlimited times). Designer Kits are like packages of background papers, embellishments etc, that were designed by a third party (not Artscow). There are also free kits that you can use. For example, if you go through the links below to see the photobooks I made for the kidzes.

UPDATE 14th October 2011: Just received Isaac's book on his 3rd & 4th year yesterday 13th October 2011, here's the link for that book http://www.artscow.com/gallery/book/isaac-years-kids-children-0tikr5kmioqw - I'm very pleased with it! :) Go see!!!
Complete your design - and wait for a coupon
Well, we're all very busy with work and family, right? So what if you don't have a coupon for what you want to do right now?
  • It's okay - just do up your design first - it takes time, you know.
  • Whilst doing it up, keep a close look-out at the forums for anyone throwing out suitable coupons for your use - and grab it!!! when it turns up!
  • Alternatively, you can even post on the Artscow forum asking for such and such a coupon.
  • Wait! Before you do that, you can check with me or with your other friends whom you know have an Artscow account – they may have a coupon and can transfer one to you. Thus is it is good that we have an Artscow community of our own, so that if and when we need free credits, we can transfer them to each other ;p
So once your product is done, you can either use the best coupon you have at hand, or simply wait longer for a free coupon. Unless you urgently need it – then you may have to just use a generic 25% off coupon or a free shipping coupon or something… Or try to save in other ways, for example, if you're thinking of photobooks - the 20 page 8"x8" photobook coupon seems to come by pretty often. So you can often grab that. If you want 39 page 8"x8" photobook and you can't find such a coupon, then you can use the 20page coupon to do a 20 page book (but with added pages up to 39 page).

After you have tried out Artscow, you may wish to refer your friends. As mentioned (ad nauseam) I make sure I point out what I dislike about Artscow to people I recommend them to, because, I am not 100% pleased with them. I want people to know what they're getting themselves into. I feel, the main positive point about Artscow is that it is so cheap, that people can afford to try out for themselves without much monetary outlay.
  • How to refer friends?
  • Benefits of referring friends?
    • Artscow gives your referred friends "1200 free prints credits & 3 8"x8" photo books, and other photo gifts" - so for those who want to do photobooks, you have 3 free photobook credits already!
    • Artscow gives you points for every successful referral. You can accumulate points to redeem product credits. The table can be found at the Referral Report link https://www.artscow.com/Affiliate/ReferralReport.aspx
    • As mentioned above, it is good that we have an Artscow community of our own, so that if and when we need free credits, we can transfer them to each other ;p
    • But best of all, to me, referring friends who are interested, is sharing with them a good bargain we have chanced upon - share the good stuff, man! :)
I think the above should have given you a good overview on how to milk the (Arts)cow :p Let me know if you need help from me, whether it is in using the designer, or anything else.
Looking forward to see your creations!!! Have fun!!!

Here are my comments on the
Artscow products I have tried making before
  • Photobooks – generally good. Could be better, but value of the price of the item, is very good. Watch the designing to make sure you cover the bleed.
  • Dog tags – very good, I was very pleased with them, but don’t put them in places which have them in the sun for a long time, will cause it to split.
  • Iphone 4 skin – very good.
  • Coasters – average. I didn’t use a photo, but used pictures (for a game component).
  • Note pads – very good.
  • Canvas bag – generally good. I just used a black and white logo though, so not sure if it’d be good with pix.
  • Recycled bag – generally good. Black and white logo turned out nicely, but the stitching on the handles of the bag can be improved.
  • Name stamps – very good. Did name + cartoon logo stamps for kids’ stocking stuffers.
  • Playing cards – very good. Watch the designing to make sure you cover the bleed.
  • Magnets – very good. But now after 2 years, starting to have rust spots.
  • Car sign thingy – looks good as new on my sister’s fridge.
  • Mouse pad – good.
  • Cosmetic bags – very good.
  • Watches – not good. The pix on the watch face is very good, nice. My issue is with the quality of the watch – very cheapo. Not recommended, unless they improve the quality of their watches. However, my ex-colleague made this and liked it very much – maybe the ladies’ cut watches are of better quality than the mens’cut ones.
If you have used Artscow before, or intend to do so, do share with me your experiences so that we can know which products to avoid, or mistakes to avoid making when designing our items... but most of all, we can "show off" our stuff to each other!!! :) Have fun!!!


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