Saturday, December 29, 2012

Not seeing is believing

I wrote recently of an event where many young lives ended together, violently and unexpectedly.

This past Christmas Day, a family in my friend's community in Thailand lost its son, husband, father when the effects of a motorbike accident proved beyond recovery.

In May, the day after sustaining my fifth concussion in six years, I attended a movement workshop facilitated by a warm, bubbly woman who spoke gladly of her young sons (it seems there were a couple of us whose rough-and-tumble approach to contact improv brought preteen boys to mind. Hmm.) and her walk with our Creator. I learnt not long after that she had died suddenly: one moment she was back from school run, saying she didn't feel quite right; the next, this physically fit 48-year-old was gone.

I just learnt that my former undergraduate classmate recently suffered a third miscarriage just before Christmas.

I grieved when I heard about each of these. I grieve still. Loss is something that can never be completely reconciled in this life. I grieve for families standing in this instant void that requires a whole new way of living. I grieve for sons and daughters made aware that they must guard memories of the departed parent well if they want them to remain, because no more will ever be added. I grieve for spouses who found a good thing and had it taken away. I grieve for dreams of parenthood that seem too elusive to attain.

I grieve for our sense of safety, our belief in the order and fitness of things. This is the way I am; I don't need to take on others' pain. Simply by virtue of being who I am, I already feel it. I used to ask that my heart be made less tender so that I wouldn't hurt so much. Nothing changed; so I am learning instead to ask that my constantly broken heart be made a gift, and that its constant need for healing draw me closer to its beautiful Healer.

In this inevitable grief, I find myself at a point of decision.

Shall I believe that all is not in order and will never be? There is ample evidence to this effect in our clattering, limping world.

Shall I believe that beneath the cruel chaos lies a greater order that we cannot see because of our proximity? There is even greater evidence to that effect if we choose to ask the One who can see.

Faith, someone once wrote, is the conviction of things not seen.

How I ache for that conviction to be loudest as I navigate this seemingly senseless world.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

When something breaks...

... that something being news, big bad news about a young man shooting his own mother and then a bunch of schoolchildren and faculty before shooting himself...

... when it is plain that news isn't the only thing breaking, that there are shattered hearts lying everywhere in town and in affected families scattered abroad, parents who may never be able to look a festive decoration in the eye again, children who've learnt in the worst possible way that the world itself is broken and sometimes that which we've taught them to believe separates the good from the bad actually doesn't...

Image by Bjarne Henning Kvaale
... when so much is broken and still breaking, do we really need media crews flocking to the scene to interview victims?

Do we really need to see in such great detail how the boys and girls are feeling right after barely surviving said attack?

Do we really need a close-up of a teacher who's had the worst schoolday ever?

What does it fulfil in us when we see the grief-twisted faces of loss, rather than simply taking note that this atrocity happened and calling on the Compassionate One to mend all the brokenness?

Why do strangers the world over need so much information? Really, why? Do we need to agree how bad something is before we'll agree it's bad?

I deliberately did not link to any of the coverage. You probably know what happened, and where would my credibility be if I linked to the very object I'm decrying?

Friday, December 14, 2012


I spent weeks making a choice that truly required much less time and effort than I ended up giving it.

It renewed my awareness that I, and perhaps most other humans, do not like the concept of "Or" very much.

We prefer And.

We have a hard time making a final pronouncement because we know it will mean turning away from all other options.

In this case, it was a simple matter of when I would fly to which Southeast Asian city. That was all. But still I struggled, drafted plans, scribbled them out, started over, repeated until the dusty corner of my brain that once knew a few things about programming screamed that I should JUST BREAK THE INFINITE LOOP ALREADY.

The difficulty came from accepting that if I chose this flight, I would be in Singapore and not Australia on that day. If I chose that flight, I would be in Thailand but not Singapore or Australia. Then I saw the silliness of it all because if I wanted to concern myself with all the places I wasn't going to be at any given time, well, why stop at three? It would take me a while to think my way through a whole globe's worth of cities and countries and those little hidden corners one can only discover through getting lost.

Taken during my first week living in the granted wish

So the choices have been made, and I hope I will have learnt my lesson: a little deliberation is prudent, but often I just have to push myself off balance and see to which side of the wall I fall. Surely I know by now that whichever way I go, I will never be separated from all that's good in my life.

Maybe falling isn't the best analogy for someone as accident prone as me to use, but it seems appropriate to the context and picture.

Resolution of the moment: Think less. Fall more. But not literally, for a change.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A blessing as you go

So you're off tomorrow on this much anticipated, perhaps equally feared adventure.

I haven't had the chance to tell you that on the same day you're leaving, I'm leaving too.

I'm not going as far as you, nor for as long. But I feel many of the same things you do. (Except the dread of packing.) Unlike you, I'm going somewhere I've never even been. Somewhere not only a great geographical distance away but also possibly outside any cultural precedent. I don't know what awaits me there, other than a few friendly faces. That is a very underrated feature, I know, but still I wonder what else there will be.

For a change, I have decided to stop trying to plan for all the possibilities I can think of. I'll just go. I have everything I need. I'll be back before I know it, back in this comfortable -- too comfortable? -- sanctuary where my crunchingly dry soul has found nourishment.

Why, then, should I bother going? This is what the pragmatic -- and lazy -- side of me wants to know. If I'll be gone and back before the moon has really even begun to wane, isn't it all just a huge waste of human energy and fossil fuel?

Image from you

I don't have the whole answer yet, but this much I know: the point isn't in where I finally decided to go, or how long I'm staying.

It's about whether I'll take the trip at all, and who I'm going with.

No donkey, lynx or sister in stuffed toy photography this time.

Just me. And Him. And more space than I've let myself be used to in this past year of, yet again, trying to fit myself into a box that wasn't me-shaped at all.

I wanted to offer you a blessing for your journey and the time you will spend up North. Instead I find myself reflecting on the blessing that you already are, whether you know it or not. You bless not through your performance or your sacrifice, not by your voice or your words. You bless simply by being, by daring to reveal that being in all her broken-then-redeemed glory.

Thank you for so blessing me with the inestimable gift of an unhidden heart. I wish I could express in words all that I wish for you in these three months to come. Since I can't, I instead offer you my footsteps alongside. Stay safe. Stay loved. And stay in touch.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

As the light goes

Cottesloe, September 2012

Living where I do now, it's easy to watch the sun set over the horizon. I am thankful for that. I've caught some splendid views and each one leaves me thirsty for more beauty, perhaps in hopes that it will counter the ugliness I constantly meet at work. Often I find myself so spellbound that I remain long after dark, the memory of the fading light keeping me still and silent whereas I could very well be on the far side of stormy.

Over eight years ago I wrote some reflections on nightfall, on what happens as the light goes and when it's gone. A few days ago, in regard to a specific situation it seemed as though night had fallen with an audible thump. I found myself suddenly in a place I did not recognise and could not see.

I have found once again that there is nothing to fear. Fear is a choice I may opt for by default, but I can also choose to be aware that I am not alone in the dark. I know I am in constant company of the One to whom darkness is as day.

Life has felt unstable for as long as I can remember. I first came to read these ancient lines in 2006 and they have remained at the back of my mind ever since. They returned to front and centre yesterday. I had forgotten the second half of the verse; seeing it again was enough to remind me that the promise of daylight is nearly as uplifting as daybreak itself:

"God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns." (Psalm 46:5, NASB)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Over Cottesloe, September 2012

I hope I never lose the ability to be silenced by beauty.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sewing for Orphans in Vietnam

A few days ago I stumbled upon this project and thought I'd give it a shout out here in hopes that all three of my regular readers would see it and want to help.

Say what? There are more than three of you? Well, hello there. Pardon me, it's just so quiet in here usually that I don't know you're there. Say something, will ya?

More importantly, if you're able, would you please sew something for the orphans at Tam Ky?  Teresa and her two children have spent some time working at the orphanage so she's not only asking for donations to strangers; these children mean a lot to her but there are more of them than she can sew for on her own.

Image from Crinkle Dreams

Please read the project post to see the five specific items Teresa is asking for and some more guidelines. 

If you're in the Northern Hemisphere and would like to take advantage of cheaper postage, you can send your items to Teresa in the US but she needs to receive it by September 30.

Or you could send it to Teresa's friend Mrs Hanh in Vietnam, if you'd like a little more time. There's no deadline for that but I guess that doesn't mean you should try and send a bundle of sundresses to her in June 2016.

If you have any questions or want the addresses to send to, please email Teresa directly: teresacoates at mac dot com.

Happy sewing and thank you!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Practical crochet, Part I

I asked for timber floors.

More specifically:

Three to four months ago when I was about to begin searching for a home to rent, I made a list of attributes I would like said home to have. They ranged from "sensible" (safe neighbourhood) to "practical" (close to train station and/or bus routes) to "what are you doing asking for something so non-essential, especially in the price range where you're looking?" (timber floors).

I got what I wanted -- much more than I wanted -- and now, months later, still can't stop giving thanks for it. But the thing with wishes granted: you then have to look after them. Make sure they stay in good shape while under your care.

I had all this furniture, a combination of new and second hand but with the common denominator of potentially scratchy metal legs. That beautiful shiny floor needed protecting.

I did have an initial solution, but it was neither practical nor stylish.

And my toes were getting cold.

Enter my  not-yet-one-year-old crocheting abilities. Chair socks! I thought. The perfect plan: custom fitted, and more understated than mismatched adult human socks. A basic square, then a few more rows around the square, taper towards the top...

"Too much time, ah?" my sceptical (and also quite lovely -- they helped me move, unpack and assemble various articles) friends asked when they spotted the first sock in progress. "Wouldn't it be better if you just went and bought rubber feet from the hardware shop?"

And I did consider it, putting crochet hook and yarn aside while I went about finding more places for my various possessions.

But then the very same day I read my favourite crochet blog and lo, her latest post was all about how she'd gone about protecting her hardwood floors from chair scratches.

With chair socks.

So I plunged back in, and soon...

I was eager to test them out straight away, and was rather pleased with the result. Not because they look great; I don't think anyone would even notice them unless I pointed them out and got the person to bring their heads close to ground level for a good look.

I'd like my guests to return for subsequent visits, so I don't think I'll be doing that.

No, I think what I found most satisfying about this project was the small escape it provided from the lifestyle of assuming that everything must be bought ready made, that if you want something you go right out and plunk down money and get it right now.

There are times when I don't want to be instantly gratified.

And I also saved myself the cringe that inevitably comes when I open yet another non-recyclable package of mass produced something and generate more feed for the insatiable landfill.

(Yes, I do realise that I procured the yarn for this project by going to a shop and plunking down money for it, but it's still more sustainable than manufactured rubber feet because if my need for furniture socks ever winds down I can always unravel them and re-crochet them into something else. Rubber feet will always be rubber feet, until age takes over and they turn into rubber flakes. Also, the only packaging on the yarn was a recyclable cardboard band and, for what it's worth, this yarn is purportedly ecologically sound. Natural dyes, pesticide-free cotton or something. I take such claims with shovelfuls of salt.)

As if the square cross section did not provide me with challenge enough, I decided to also make a set of socks for my metal shelving unit. How to make right-angle corners?

Mitre them!

It worked, but the end result looks as though it stretched out into triangles unless you peer very, very closely. I repeat: I would like my guests to return, so don't say I made you do it. All in all, I'm pleased with the result.

I quite like how it feels to evade instant consumerism.

Friday, September 07, 2012

It's that time of year

Next year's diaries have started selling.

Which means soon I'll have to make a decision that has implications for the whole of my next year.

Hey, it's serious. Unlike many smartphone users, I still use pen and paper to make my personal appointments. It's nice to have a whole book of the mundane, the impromptu and the bizarre-even-for-me to look back on at the end of the year. And I consider my diary a symbol of that year of my life, so when the year begins I dedicate it to the One I live for, in token of dedicating my life.

It's a big decision.

So which should I choose?

frankie daily journal 2013
Image from Frankie Press

Frankie again? This is what I'm using this year and while it's adorable and the cloth jacket makes me feel nice and old-timey, it's a little scant on writing space and I do have some packed-out weeks.

Then there's Kikki.K's Cute, which I used in 2011 and liked very much. I wouldn't mind another 365 days of Cute.

Image from Kikki.K

But then there are other contenders this year, such as the Moleskine Le Petit Prince. I like the quality of Moleskine's covers and Prince is one of my favourite books, but I don't know about the paper. And do I want the little prince sprinkled across the pages of my 2013?

Moleskine 2013 Diary - Weekly Notebook - Limited Edition 'Le Petit Prince' - Large (13x21cm) - Blue - Hard Cover
Image from NoteMaker

Or perhaps something from Shinzi Katoh, like below? I'm sure when I go to Sydney next month I won't be able to set foot in Kinokuniya's stationery department without spinning into a diary frenzy.

Image from Mark's Tokyo Edge

And countless more that I've glimpsed while out and about, plus the dizzying selection on Etsy. So many choices; only one year. (I know. I'll have more years, DV, but the choice broadens every year.)

I know, first world problems, blah blah blah but you really don't want to know about the other things I'm up against. Paper goods are much more enjoyable, trust me.

Do you use a paper diary? Have you seen anything else that I might like? Please feel free to add to my dilemma.

I have no affiliation with any of these brands or retailers. I just like the stuff they're selling very much.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012


I was running late this morning, this drowsy grey morning with the severe weather warning and the kind of wind that makes concrete bridges sway. As I drove I saw the clouds, heavy with raindrops waiting for their cue. 

Still, I had to stop and capture it. When something catches me, I don't just let it go.

Half a minute later the raindrops came thick and heavy, ushering in the grey that they say will still be with us tomorrow. But the colours stayed all day.

Where will the colour in your next grey day come from?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Worth living

I chanced upon this in the course of my workday. I know anything related to suicide is never going to be an easy discussion but I'm looking at the article more from the quality-of-life-in-chronic-illness point of view.

The two lines that caught my eye:

". . . despite my MS, my existence has never been richer, surrounded by a loving family and friends."

"Assisted suicide would create a climate of fatalism, a loss of hope. It is [a] sickening world where individual life is devalued and where only the fittest are regarded as contributors of society."

I think we already do live in that world. A glance at the economy, at most social events, at popular entertainment is enough to prove that point.

How do we make it less sickening?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Crickets? Cobwebs?

I know. It's been quiet (again) around here. I just thought I'd pop in and write something so as not to give the impression that I have spent three months -- really? Three??? -- languishing in concussed grouchiness.

I have not. Indeed, as I did mention at the end of that most recent blog post, the grumpy spell ended before I'd hit "Publish".

Life is good. I found a home to rent in preparation for the cousins/house-sit hosts' return, although the process by which it was secured was so improbable that it seems more as if the home found me. Said home is so "me" in so many more ways than I could list offhand, and here I had been thinking I'd settle for anything that had a working lock. Preferably without a verbose landlord living on the same premises, but when you're desperate...

I have been learning -- and that is part of the reason for this season of blog silence -- the fine art of being blessed. To be precise, I've been learning how to stand there and let the blessing drench me, instead of bolting like a startled pony or starting to pare down what my heart desires until it more closely resembles "what I will only just live with because I think I have no choice". Learning to wait, learning that as I live in my Creator and him in me, our wills come together and what he gives me is what I always wanted.

It is a scary thing, knowing that the One who blesses knows exactly where you live. Physically and metaphorically. For most of my life I have not been able to handle that knowledge. I didn't know the proper protocol for dealing with someone who relentlessly pursues you with goodness. In this life where the mail rarely holds something more exciting than bills; where even friendships too easily turn transactional and some only reconnect with you for the sake of using your social networking contacts to expand their business, how foreign is the concept of someone who gives perfectly.

Some are better than others at the fine art of resting by the mailbox. Image by RJ Roth.

Yet this is who he says he is, and who he demonstrates himself to be. So I believe. And I rest in believing.

Although I don't quite have the photogenic light-capturing attributes of certain grey felines.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I'm grumpy and I know it! Growl, grimace, grumble, etc, etc.*

I was told yesterday, for the fifth time in six consecutive years, that I have a concussion.

I was also told yesterday that I "need to be more careful on the road", because apparently it is somehow my fault that somebody was reversing out of a parking lot and didn't check his blind spot before smashing right into the car I was driving. Fortunately, I was belted in. Fortunately, he wasn't going that fast. Only fast enough to put a big dent in said car and, it seems, a not-too-serious-provided-I-rest-quietly-for-a-few-days bruise in my head.

And today, because I finally have the time to investigate ways to get all of those beautiful photographs from my super advanced camera phone onto my blog without involving Blogger's decidedly primitive and user-unfriendly app, I find that I am still unable to do so in a way that suits both my schedule and my aging but still stable laptop, which is why you will find this post devoid of pictures because I am determined that there is more to life than Instagram and I will not inflict any more of those painfully hip, artfully filtered square photographs on you, my gentle readers of my gentle blog that has seen me through nearly seven years now of Life. Blog is blog and Instagram is Instagram and I will not, will not allow the two to merge as so many of my blogging friends have done. So there. And if I cannot get any pictures up here other than my Instagram shots, well, that'll be that for now.

But I will find a way to master you yet, phone-picture-camera-cranky old computer conundrum. Oh yes, I will. Maybe another day, when this great hulking piece of Life Challenges I see hurtling towards me has hurtled itself away.

While I'm in a ranting mood, just a couple more... don't take it personally, now, dear reader. Most of you have been very kind to me, and the people who do the sort of thing mentioned below most likely never come here so I might be preaching to the choir, or maybe to the native wildlife skittering about in the bush out behind the church (I mean that as a compliment; native wildlife in Australia tends to be ah-dorable), but still, I gotta say it.

Kindly refrain from telling people to "be more careful" when they are already nursing head injuries from accidents that were in no way their fault. It does not help with the inherent grumpiness that tends to come packaged with head injury, and it does not give them automatically warm, appreciative thoughts towards you. Oh, I appreciate the concern; just not the assumptions. Have I ever mentioned before that I detest assumptions? I'll say it again, bearing the risk of repeating myself. I hate assumptions. Get the facts before you make your conclusions. Makes you look that much more deserving of your IQ score.

And secondly: would it take so much effort, really, would it take so much effort to dash off a one-line note to accompany things you send in the post? Whether it's a DVD-ROM of your wedding photos or my reusable grocery tote that you neglected to say had been accidentally packed in your luggage following your visit here, a note would be good, because we're not all mail-opening machines and sometimes it's nice to see a few friendly words in another human being's handwriting.

I used to expect stickers, and hand-drawn smiley faces, and beautiful penmanship. The fact that I've ceased to, well, I guess means that I have officially given up my passport to Snail Mail Never-Neverland.

I wouldn't be too alarmed, though; it seems I might have found a porous border to slip through, and I am far from alone there.

*I have not been so grumpy in a very, very long time. I expect normal transmission to resume... oh hello, wait, about five minutes ago. But I was already nearly through the post by then, and the blog could use an update, so I'm just going to post it, but really, I'm all sunshine and rainbow sprinkles again by the time you read this. So please don't picture me as Grumpy Ren, all right? Because I've been told the sight of her inspires nightmares in young and old alike.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

I'm still here

I have not spent the past month and a half in shock over a broken two-hole punch.

No, I'm ashamed to say it's happened again: I've allowed this blog to grow quiet, deserted save for perhaps the occasional scuttle from a virtual spider. Although it seems people are still visiting, in trickles. Thank you for keeping the blog aired out; it's so unpleasant when spaces acquire that musty smell of forlorn neglect. Even if it is a virtual musty smell of forlorn neglect.

Unfortunately, in large part my silence here is due to the fact that I've taken to microblogging. I upgraded my phone at the end of last year, downloaded Instagram and whoosh, suddenly I was getting my pictures and (brief) thoughts out into cyberspace practically as soon as they'd formed. I, who had been so disdainful of those people who update their Facebook with news of what they'd eaten for breakfast,

morning tea,

lunch; I have become those people.

But I hope I'll still have things to say here, because sometimes a picture -- and 160 characters -- doesn't explain what 200 well chosen words can. Besides, I know many of you don't use Instagram and I will not become one of those people who adopts a new platform and abandons all those who don't have access to it. I have a great deal of sentimental attachment to this blog and the people who've faithfully, if silently, read it all these years.

If you're on Instagram too, please follow me if you like. I'm -- who else? -- royalshyness. I post about things other than food. For example:

Sharing the beach at sundown;

completed craft projects;

the perpetual goldenness of the hours in some places.

If not, we'll just keep meeting here: brushing past each other soundlessly, unaware of each other's presence except that you know when I've posted and I know when my stats are telling me that I have readers in the Ukraine.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I've been told I don't know my own strength but this was a shock.

Bye, hole punch. You were one of my first purchases when I arrived four years ago. All those reams of notes, archived assignments, logs and bills and statements and letters you helped me organise. I wonder what my Master's journey would have been without you.

Looks like the seasons really are shifting over here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I had every intention of going to church that Sunday morning.

I had every resource I needed for going to church.

I had every reason for going to church.

What I did not have was the foreknowledge that the usual route to church would be blocked, necessitating a detour so big that I'd miss half the service by the time I got there.

So I swerved away from the road to church* and spent the morning letting leafy shadows shift over me as I sat and read. Waterfowl squawked, sputtered, splashed nearby. Children raced past on foot, on scooters, on shoulders, urging fathers faster.

(I can't say that last sentence fast out loud. Can you?)

Diversions happen. They can frustrate, confound, delay... or they can lead us to conclude that if we're going to end up somewhere else anyway, we might as well make it somewhere nice.

*A decision rendered much easier by the existence of a fledgling evening service; I am so, so thankful for the women and men who put much of their lives into the health of this congregation

Sunday, March 18, 2012

While away

A few notes about getting away:

If your destination is not too far from your place of ordinary residence, making travel time negligible and maintenance of food freshness not impossible, you can pack a light meal or two in anticipation of wanting to do nothing that evening but stay in and watch DVDs in bed. Of course, if you're at all like me, it might mean you pack a varied and detailed salad but forget all cutlery, resulting in your having to rip a tomato apart with your bare hands and eat dinner with a teaspoon.

This didn't diminish my experience in any way but if you think it might do yours, then by all means: don't forget the cutlery.

Being away, you might also find yourself spending more time on handwritten text than you would back in your Ordinary World: curlicues make a return, and the signature lavender sprig that was on your plate at breakfast enjoys a short-lived modelling career before returning whence it came.

Away is where there's time aplenty, and space to enjoy that time unhindered.

Friday, March 02, 2012


"Self-care is essential," I have heard from every one of my lecturers and supervisors in this my latest (and, I'm hoping, lifelong) career. "Get away as often as you can," many also said. Enjoy the change in surroundings. Catch a break from containing other people's anxieties. Immerse yourself in beauty.

I ignored them. The excuses fell thick and fast. "I don't need to get away because I love where I live and it's pretty peaceful." "I can't spare a few days away from home." "I have too much to do." "Even if I am stressed, I let it out through baking and craft." "I'm fine. I really am."

I'm glad this time around it didn't take too long for me to realise that the above isn't always enough, that I needed to believe that people with decades of experience know what they're talking about -- and more than that, I needed to go away. Indecisive though I still am, the need to go was far greater than the fear of committing to the one choice. So it is that I ended up in that magical spot not too far from home, yet far indeed.

Where welcome was expressed not only in words and a lift up the stairs for my overnight bag, but in a pair of lavender biscuits and the offer of the programme for the local outdoor cinema.

Where a sandwich, mundane no-time lunch back in my ordinary world -- the very same sandwich! -- turned into a magical meal to the music of galahs and cockatoos conversing as they swooped down to the pool. Eaten here, eaten thus, it was fuel enough for the next few hours' wander through the lavender and through my raggedy, neglected soul.

Where discarded old things aren't made to feel worthless, or at least that's the impression I got. You can't feel worthless, can you, if you're given a place like this to continue your existence?

Where en route to the bridge I could press close to a tree, tracing the story of its years through its resin-coated bark.

Where indoors, too, had many wonders to be appreciated: a thimble-sized couple shyly courting on the windowsill (I gave them their space when taking this picture),

the stage set for that old, old battle between light and dark,

and a former inhabitant of this house reclaiming his favourite spot on the spiral staircase, lying in wait for the odd unsuspecting foot.

And so it was, my first day away.

I'm quite pleased with myself, writing this post only two weeks after the fact. My blog posts are usually so delayed that seasons change and cobwebs form in between.

Friday, February 24, 2012

One of these days

Yes, one of these days...

When I am not at work, talking to people in one of those snug double-lit rooms with the armchairs and the ever-changing number of water glasses and the non-lockable cabinets and the one fuzzy wall each, on which I have been tempted to stick a life-size camel made of felt -- except where would I find one? -- just to see who would be the first to notice...

When I am not outdoors, listening to the swish-swish of a playful summer breeze and observing what it is that sunlight does to leaves and vice versa...

When I am at home but not reading, watching a DVD, cleaning house, hanging out laundry, ironing, writing or otherwise Busy...

Yes, one of these days, I shall take out yarn needle and stuffing, and I shall make small, even stitches attaching ears and nose to head, head to body, body to tail end and so on, and then there shall be nothing lying about in pieces in my home.


Nothing that I'd want to know about, at any rate.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Another dream come true

So maybe we're a rare breed, the people who dream of making tau sar pneah. And maybe rarer still, the ones who actually reach for it, but Google would show you more than a handful of food/baking bloggers who have.

I'm neither food blogger nor baking blogger -- and there are frequently times when I can't be referred to as a blogger at all, times when my life is so busy being lived that it won't sit, stay and be documented for public consumption -- but here's my experience of it.

But first. Remember a few months ago, when I posted that tribute to the superlative breed of friends I have? I could add another point of thanksgiving here: For giving me company to make these labour-intensive biscuits with. On my own, it would have taken me at least another year to give them a try and even then, would have been weeping from the monotony and fatigue by the time I reached for the 50th lump of dough. (For anyone who's keeping track of these things: the recipe is supposed to yield 100 biscuits. We made 88.)

I arrived after church, after the doughs and filling had been prepared. This meant I was just in time to sit down to a quick lunch before the assembly began: first the weighing and the rolling into little spheres of the filling,

 the oil dough,

the water dough. 

Then the rolling and combining and rolling and rolling and rolling of the two doughs (not pictured, because by then it was all hands on deck and nobody had a non-oily hand for taking pictures with).

Then the egg wash and the baking,

and the laying neatly in rows for cooling and being admired and attracting longing gazes and finally

the being bitten into; the collapsing into layers of light, thin flakes; the revealing of crumbly-soft seasoned mung bean; the bringing of childhood memories and adolescent reminiscences and early adulthood nostalgia into present day.

It's nice, the feeling you get when dreams come true.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


My parents raised us in a cultural vacuum, or near-vacuum, an uncomfortable space created by one parent's baby-and-bathwater view of cultural practices not implicitly described in the Bible and the other parent's putting up with it. I guess life sans baby, bathwater, towel and tub is easier to bear in the long run than the prospect of living indefinitely with belligerent dogma.

And so I've spent a lot of energy in the past few years trying to learn more about where I came from. One thing I'd observed and wanted to know the reason for: Hokkiens really, really like sugarcane. It's there on altars or near doors whenever there's a big festival; when you pass a bridal car on the street you know if at least part of the happy couple is Hokkien by the four feet or more of sugarcane stalk protruding from the car window. I wonder now why I've never heard of any traffic incidents caused by a motorcyclist or pedestrian getting swiped by sugarcane.

Image by Jesuino Souza

So, the short version of all that I've gathered from talking to relatives and reading strangers' blogs: the Hokkiens were once on the run from enemies. Sugarcane plantations were the only place that provided cover for our trembling ancestors while their homes got sacked and pillaged. And ever since then, the strong, flexible stalks have been a symbol of our thanks. They're present at every major milestone of life to remind us how fortunate we are that life goes on at all.

I also learnt that it's on the ninth day of each year (which falls today and YAY I just proved I still have some level of attachment to this blog and I am so glad I finally have a timely post, even if it did entail having lunch at my desk) that we ritually give thanks for our deliverance as a people. I wouldn't know first hand; see beginning of post. But I have always known that there's a day during the Chinese New Year period when my relatives go the whole hog -- actually, the whole pig (roasted, head on) -- preparing food and paper offerings. By the time I got old enough to ask questions, I was also old enough to decide I didn't want to ask them because I rather prefer sweet silence to another blood pressure raising, high-volume lecture on idolatry.

Much of my energy is spent on understanding why people say and do the things they do; when I fail to arrive at comprehension, I try to accept and tolerate because I think that is how you avert most of life's destructive moments. There are things worth fighting for but once they've been identified, you realise how much else there is, therefore how much isn't worth fighting over. So I don't bear any grudges for having had huge parts of my heritage withheld from me in my formative years. There's nothing I can do now to change it all.

I'm only left wondering: how do you get so hung up on whom to thank and how to express those thanks that you cause your entire family not to give thanks at all?

Monday, January 23, 2012


Today's the first day of the year for us Chinese and our Korean and Vietnamese kin, and anyone else who goes by the lunar calendar. All my best wishes to you for the year ahead. May you find yourself on the road to all that your heart desires.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What else did I do in December?

After looking through my pictures taken in that month, it appears this post might just as well be titled "What else did I eat in December?" I think I should make concerted effort to take pictures of other things I do, because I really do more than eat.


But since the food-skewed pictures have been taken, I might as well share the main highlights.

A couple of months ago, feeling restless and hungry, I took a good-sized detour on my way home from church. "Huge" in the manner of "unnecessarily crossed river even though church and home lie on the same bank". The happy result was my discovery of this Vietnamese restaurant on the business end of Northbridge. It's spacious, charmingly dingy, and serves authentic, subtly flavoured food that doesn't leave me parched. I've returned a few times since, seemingly happier with each successive experience.

December also being the month of Christmas, there was the work Christmas lunch. The set menu was a forehead-slapping ordeal for indecisive me. Did I want festive (turkey) or favourite (fish)? Unusual (veal)? Or how about going totally veggie? Veal won in the end, tweaking my animal-loving, humane-lifestyle sensitivities in the nose.

And then there was that full Sunday, which doesn't happen often at all these days (I write this thankfully, remembering seasons not so long ago when Sundays were more tightly scheduled, physically depleting, emotionally fraught and spiritually wounding than any other day). I was hungry after church and needed something to tide me over before our late-afternoon date with deep-fried sushi which was to take place before we went to the jazz club, finally, only eight months after we'd first talked about it. This kransky roll filled the gap just right.

You'd have thought I'd made Herr and Frau Hotdog's day when I insisted on having mine the way they would, the way any self-respecting German would. "Onions?" she'd asked, beaming when I nodded. Another nod to sauerkraut, and the beam got wider. But I have never seen a happier sausage-selling pair than these two when I winced at the offer of ketchup and accepted a squirt of mustard instead, not the common-or-garden mustard next to the ketchup but this secret mustard from the small bottle that stood on its own far away from the standard fixings. ("It is very, very hot. Trust me, you don't want too much." She underestimated my Malaysian-raised palate. I will have more of the "very, very hot" mustard next time.)

So, it appears I'm still eating meat. More uncomfortable dialogue between the different parts of me. Yippee.

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