Style is forever…
A little kooky and a whole lot vintage, Norbyah Nolasco is a teacher by day and a style blogger by night, curating her fashion blog I’m a Norbyah. This ecofashion enthusiast is a mama to three cuties: Ella, Cally and Michael. Read on to find out how she balances her time between work, family and her passion for style. She also shares some tips on how she gets in that coveted “me” time, and why Sri Lanka was her family’s best vacay yet…
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I spent my childhood growing up in Malaysia, the daughter of a local Chinese Malaysian father and an Australian mother. I’m a working mother, a vintage lover, a hoarder of polka dots and other prints, and I write a fashion blog on the side. Sometimes I dabble in styling shoots or collaborating with local brands. My sartorial sensibilities are largely influenced by my belief that there’s value in pieces from the past. Fashion is cyclical. Clothes have a longer lifespan than the time they spend in people’s wardrobes. I wear vintage and secondhand clothing mixed with some ‘slow fashion’ local designers because of my passion to reduce textile waste and to recycle.
How did you get into teaching? Who or what was your inspiration?
My parents are both teachers, so it runs in the family I suppose. I knew early on that I wanted to work with kids. As a teenager I taught a kids’ dance class one summer and loved it. I also volunteered as a t-ball coach for kindergarteners. English was always my favourite subject and my mother is an English teacher, so you could say that she inspired me, as did many of the good teachers I was lucky to have (including my father who did teach me).
What is the best thing about your job?
The best thing about teaching by far are the connections I make with kids. It’s not just helping kids to appreciate the subject I teach (because sometimes they just don’t), but more helping them to find their voices and grow confident in articulating themselves as people. It’s about helping them make connections between what they learn in my class to their lives and encouraging them to take risks without fear of failure. I teach senior students, so they’re basically mini adults. I’ve come to really love taking the journey of their last year with them, as they get ready to take the next step into the world of adulthood. My students are under a lot of pressure, so I try to help them learn that failing is not a bad thing because it’s a necessary part of learning. I also advise my school’s dance team, Hong Kong Dancers, and have the pleasure of working with kids who have a passion for dance.
Funniest moment as a teacher?
Goodness, there are so many. I work with my mother, so I think it’s funny when students (and even teachers) first make the connection that we’re related. On a couple of occasions, we’ve actually showed up to work dressed exactly alike in identical outfits, not just the same shirt or pants. We crack ourselves up when we realise. Our co-workers get a kick out if it, too.
We love your blog! What was the inspiration behind it?
I’ve been writing a blog since I first moved to Hong Kong in 2006. In the early days, I wrote to share my experiences of moving back overseas with my family. A friend gave me my own blog as a goodbye gift so that I would share these experiences and so I wrote a family blog for two years. In 2008, I switched to Blogger and continued writing about family, but by 2009 I started to write more about things that interested me (my knitting projects, fashion blogs, styles I admired or trends I noticed). Then one day, I took a leap and posted an outfit. I’m a Norbyah kind of took off from there and evolved into a personal style journal where I share my thoughts about all the things I am, especially my thoughts about vintage.
How would you describe your style?
My style is eclectic and vintage-inspired. I don’t think that looking stylish has to cost lots of money and I believe that there is value in pieces from the past. Fashion keeps coming back around and designers take inspiration from earlier decades. I like the challenge of staying on trend while also being eco-conscious and buying my clothing secondhand or buying vintage.
Where do you go vintage clothing shopping? Favourite shops?
Admittedly, Hong Kong has a limited vintage clothing scene. What is available in boutiques is overpriced in my opinion. Certainly, if you’re looking for vintage designer, you can find it in some of the boutiques like Once Style or Reverie. Mrs. Vintage has possibly the best collection of vintage designer handbags that I’ve seen in Hong Kong. Good pieces are definitely worth saving up for, but I’ll be honest, my favourite kind of vintage shopping is thrifting. It’s the idea of finding a real gem for a song.
Read more: Where To Get The Best Bargains in Hong Kong
What is your favourite vintage/second hand piece you own and why?
Oh, it’s so hard to choose just one. I don’t think I can. If I did have a favourite, it would likely be a midi skirt or dress with polka dots or some quirky novelty print. I suppose if you mean a signature piece, then definitely it’s the vintage scarf.
Where do you buy your kid’s clothes? How would you describe their style?
When we’re in Hong Kong, we head to H&M or look in Stanley Market. Mostly we buy the kids their clothes when we visit our families in the summer at places like Target. We’ve also been taking the kids to thrift shops like Goodwill or Salvation Army as well. They love to see how far their money goes and it feels good to buy second hand for them, too. I’ve become really aware of how many clothes our kids have that they don’t wear and I’m trying to change that. Their style is really their own and a bit hard to describe, but it’s a bit sporty and artsy. They are all really active, so they wear what is good for playing outside. My big girl Ella has really gotten into putting funky looks together and for the longest time my little girl Cally refused to wear anything but dresses. My teenage son Michael has defined his style by what’s comfortable and is picky about what shorts he wears and which colour t-shirts, too. He dresses a lot like my hubby, actually. He also spends time working at Print House, so a lot of what he wears has paint or ink on it. Seriously though, we let them decide how they want to express themselves in their outfits.
Between teaching, blogging and being a mom – how do you balance all the different hats you wear?
I think it’s important to have a good network of support, and fortunately I do. Truly, we’re lucky to live in Hong Kong where we have a domestic helper culture, but just handing everything over to your helper is not really the answer to finding balance. At home, we try to teach our kids to be responsible for their belongings (carrying their own bags, packing in their lunches each morning, setting the table, making their beds, etc). They also have their own chores (recycling, compost, mail). It’s a lot of work to remind them, but they also begin to see that they’re an important part of making the house run smoothly.
On the blogging side of things, I try to keep my event/social schedule to one night (maybe two) in a week. When school has evening obligations like parent nights, graduation, etc, the blog takes a back seat. I also try to involve my kids in that side of things as much as is appropriate so they don’t feel left out.
How do you save time? Can you share any organisational tips and tricks?
Every Sunday night, we write down all our activities for each member of the family for the whole week on a white board (rows for each person in the family, and columns with each day of the week). This white board hangs in the kitchen where everyone can refer to it. I’ll write down field trips, bus changes, after school activities, nights out, etc. It helps us stay on the same page. My son is starting to write his own things on the board (back to that idea of responsibility).
Read more: 7 Helpful Tips To Keep You Organised
What do you do to get in that “me” time?
Sometimes all it takes is five minutes of “me” time to recharge my batteries. An uninterrupted trip to the bathroom is bliss. Getting ready for school each morning, when I can just do my make up without interruption. Reading my book for half an hour at the coffee shop while I wait for my kiddos who have art class. Blogging really gives me that “me” time because it’s a creative outlet that’s all my own. Having said that, I do try to make sure it doesn’t take me away from my family too much. They are very much a part of who I am on the blog.
Read more: Sassy Mama’s Family-friendly Coffee Spots
What do you find to be the most challenging part of parenting?
I’m going to be brutally honest here at the risk of sounding like a horrible mother. I hate playdates. The idea that we as parents spend more time arranging our children’s social calendar than our own, or the feeling that we need to ‘entertain’ our kids just annoys me. But it’s a real issue right now. If I don’t arrange playdates, then somehow my child suffers socially at school. I wish it could be simpler, like when we were growing up.
Read more: Mama Musings – Everyday is Mother’s Day
Favourite family holiday spot?
Hands down Sri Lanka. We just took the kids there for two weeks at Christmas and it was amazing. It’s the perfect blend of lazy resort vacation with the right amount of sight seeing and culture. We had a lovely experience there and the people are so warm and friendly. Galle Fort was incredible, so much colonial history to see. The Amangalla Hotel has a lovely terrace for cocktails and an excellent restaurant for a nice sit down dinner. We went blue whale watching in Merissa and stopped over to visit a turtle hatchery in Hikkaduwa. But really, anything with a beach and good food suits my family just fine.
Read more: Family-friendly spots in Exotic Sri Lanka
What are your favourite spots to eat at with your family in Hong Kong?
When we do take the kids out for dinner, it’s nice to take them to the Stanley Waterfront because they can wander about when they’re done eating while we can keep an eye on them. Vern’s Beach Bar and Beef & Liberty are our most frequented spots along that strip of restaurants these days.
Can you tell us about how your career was pre-baby as compared to post-baby?
Getting to work was much easier before I had kids. Now I’m always the last one out of the house to walk my daughter to school. There’s always an issue with getting her shoes on that waylays my departure to work. I also leave work promptly between 3:30-4 to get home and get kids off the bus and to their activities. In my last job as a public school teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, a colleague told me becoming a mother means that at work, you are a LIFO – last in first out. These days I bring more work home and I don’t always get it done because I fall asleep the moment I sit down.
Read more: Mama Musings – Women in the Workplace
What’s the best advice you’ve received as a parent?
Don’t neglect your relationship with your spouse. It’s okay to have nights out without the kiddos and they need to understand that the family started with just the two of you. Also, solo dates with the kids are important. Spending an afternoon with just one kid as opposed to all three allows you to really connect with and listen to each child. They value that alone time with you. And it’s good for a mumma, too.
Anything that starts with “you should…” when I haven’t asked.
Something that you wish someone had told you about motherhood?
Your child will get lice at least once.
What has been your most humbling moment as a mum?
Giving birth to my youngest, Cally was a pretty humbling moment. Having two kids made me feel like I had this whole parent thing figured out. From the pregnancy to the birth, my experience with Cally reminds me that I know nothing, actually.
How do you keep the romance between you and your husband alive with such a busy work and family life?
It’s easy to fall into a rut and think that once you’re parents, your own social life doesn’t matter anymore, but I couldn’t disagree more. The romance is so important because you have to know that you love each other when you’re really frustrated with each other or the children. Dates don’t have to be extravagant. They just have to involve some alone time so you can reconnect with the hubby. In our case, we love live music and we love to have people over to share it with us. We’ve been hosting little concerts on our roof. We also both feel it’s important to get out of our bubble from time to time, so we’ll go exploring different parts of Hong Kong to find new spots to eat, see art, catch a band or attend some kind of event. Hong Kong has so much to do, so it’s easy to find something we both enjoy.
Favorite date spot in Hong Kong?
Serge et le Phoque — it’s good food, good music and good company. We love it there.
As a mama, I wish I were better at…
Being more patient. I usually get frustrated at homework time because all three kids have things they need and they’re frustrated and there’s only so much as a mother that I can do to help. When the help I’m giving them doesn’t help, then we all get a bit frustrated (don’t get me started about how much homework kids get–and I’m a teacher!)
I wake up in the middle of night thinking about…
All the things I didn’t finish.
Bedtime is always smoother when…
We don’t have much homework and have enough time for bedtime books. The Ramona the Pest series is our favourite right now.
My favourite moment of the day is…
It’s hard to choose. I love mornings because I look forward to my latte, but I also love bedtime and reading books to the kids. The moment when they’re all asleep and it’s finally quiet is my favourite. I end up staying up quite late because it’s so peaceful and calm.
Thanks to the talented Michelle Proctor of Michelle Proctor Photography for all of the beautiful images above! Follow her on Instagram @michellejproctor