Fleeting

Dinner is due and there’s still things left to be done in the kitchen. But I feel compelled to write, even if just a bit.

Today has been such a mixed bag of emotions. Jamie and I went to visit another potential preschool today. It didn’t go too badly, but the experience made me realise how much growing up is expected of children these days, even while they are still at a tender age.

It is marvellous to be able to witness a child capable of so much at so early on in their life, but is it necessary? Are we in fact curbing their freedom to just be a child and savour the world as-is by demanding that they are able to meet supposedly age appropriate abilities? How does it feel for a child who isn’t able to comply at the time it is expected of them?

The other thought that occurred to me today is how limited my time alone with Jamie every day is becoming. For what seemed like an eternity, it felt like things would remain the way they are now for a long time more to come, but the reality is these days of being at home with me 24/7 will end soon. Surely there will be exciting times ahead thereafter, just that I wonder have I done enough to equip him for this upcoming next phase.

Here is the startling realisation I have come to after having been at home with Jamie for just about three years: It’s not necessarily enough to just be at home with your child. Being available and being physically present are two different things. I regret to say that often times, I am only one of those two things and not both. It is a sad sort of feeling when you become aware of this. I still have no useful enough remedy to overcome this problem.

It’s true what they say that we have such a short time with our kids before they move on in life. I already feel the weight of this reality. I can only hope that my husband and I are preparing Jamie well enough for whatever is ahead of him despite the limitations we have in terms of time, money and other resources.

Because essentially, I guess that’s what parenting is about: Helping them find their feet and equipping them to be able to handle whatever life throws their way. Building resilience. Shaping character. Leaving them with enough strength to go on, even when the time comes that we can no longer accompany them.

Countdown to Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year!

Being Malaysian Chinese carries along with it so many things that make up who I am. As much of a banana* that I am, so many aspects of the Chinese culture have seeped into my life. For instance, the kind of food we eat, the way we relate to our elders, etc.

Add to that the labels and expectations that are attached to being Malaysian AND Chinese, and then there is a whole added layer to what makes up my personality.

Anyway, the predominant thought over here at this moment is that I am not 100% proud of the heritage that we inherit by being Chinese (although only in part by now, since my ancestors have been on Malaysian soil for a good few generations by now), but this is who I am and I guess there must have been a reason for God to have fashioned this background that I have been born into.

This little video here, in some ways, says a lot. Never mind that it’s not about Malaysian Chinese in particular, it still reflects a lot on how the Chinese culture and mentality affects those of us who are born into this ethnicity. Notably, it speaks a lot about Chinese parenting in general: That emotionally distant, tough kind of love, the emphasis on studying hard, that inclination towards mathematics and numbers and money, that dedication to work, and sense of duty towards providing for the family.

Chinese New Year is mostly a family centred celebration. So all these things come up. All these family traditions, histories, imperfections… It is, to me, happiness tainted with a large dose of reality. The realisation that there will always be some family member that is alienated. Another who is indifferent. Yet another who tries too hard to unite everyone. All these things.

The angpaus. The hierarchy of family positions and titles. That emphasis on money. Those seemingly eternal debts: be they financial, emotional or all sorts of other in-between stuff. The polite small talk to mask the years of stories, sometimes buried out of convenience.

Hope I haven’t dampened the cheeriness of your Chinese New Year. These are just my musings. I love my parents. I like certain aspects of my Chinese heritage.I just hope to break the mould and be that bit different somehow.

Not to be that stingy, uncaring, crude person that the world might expect of me because I am inevitably Chinese. (Let’s leave the Malaysian bit for another post, another story – that too has a long list of things to be said about which is not worth delving into right now).

What’s your CNY reunion like this year? Mine’s alright, but a part of me always feels it could still be way better.

* A local slang which is used to describe a person who is Chinese but yet cannot speak/write in any of the Chinese dialects proficiently.

Cookery chat

This would not be a Malaysian blog if there was no talk of food.

Food is such a big thing for us over here. It is a means for survival, yes, but it is also a cornerstone of family life, a meeting point for friends, a catalyst for romance and many other things. We love eating out as much as we love our homemade creations.

The variety of food we consume here in Malaysia also speaks volumes about who we are as a community and the collective culture that we adopt in our daily lives.

So it’s only fitting that I should write more about this delicious aspect of my life.

In case you are clueless what it is we eat here in Malaysia, the above image is a general representation of what an average meal would look like in Malaysia. Sure, we have our noodles and roti and other fare, but in terms of staple diet, it usually comes down to rice. Or nasi, as it is called in Bahasa Malaysia.

The other two dishes you see in this photo are stir fried long beans (left) and stir fried chicken in Moroccan seasoning (right).

Stir frying is a common technique used in Chinese cooking. And since we are Malaysian Chinese, it is no exception in our household.

The great thing about stir fried dishes is that they are quick to whip up and require a very small amount of cooking oil. Cooking typically begins by heating the oil (normally about 1 tablespoon of it) and then adding in chopped garlic, shallots or onions into the mix, letting it sizzle for a moment before other ingredients are added to the pan. The order of ingredients that are thrown is would probably be decided based on which one would require a longer cooking time, eg mushrooms would go in earlier, and things like spring onions (which can be even eaten raw) are put in last. Both veggie and meat dishes can be prepared with the stir fry method.

The cooking time is short, but preparing the ingredients needed for a stir fry dish can sometimes be quite time consuming, especially if there are many different parts to put together. For instance, there would usually be a sauce mixture, meat might need to be marinated a bit earlier, and each additional ingredient would need to be chopped separately before being combined into the pan or wok later on.

Another frequent feature of Chinese meals is soup. This is usually clear soup, not the creamy kind you tend to see on a Western menu. The best tasting Chinese soups are double boiled and are left to cook for hours so it is more flavourful. These methods rarely take place in our home. The fact that a bowl of soup could be prepared at all is already something to be thankful for. My husband isn’t too fond of Chinese style soups, so that makes me even less motivated to make soup. I love it though, and if time permitted, I’d ensure there was one at the table each time we dined.

In our home, we also have an oven, 2 slow cookers and an air fryer to depend on for preparing our main meals. Other ancillary appliances include a blender, food processor, bread machine and sandwich maker.

The air fryer was the latest addition to the kitchen arsenal and it is serving us well. Tell me, who doesn’t like fried chicken after all?

Besides the Chinese dishes, we also often cook Indian curries and sometimes also try out Malay dishes like rendang or assam pedas. We also love Western food, so every week there is usually at least one meal of this nature. Examples of stuff we have whipped up in the past include shepherd’s pie, pasta, pizza and sandwiches.

Oh, and breakfast menu is normally simpler fare as compared to lunch and dinner. Bread or cereal is often what we resort to. Sometimes we’d have pancakes, muffins or steamed Chinese sponge cake too. I’m hoping to incorporate more options into the list of breakfast choices. In particular, some roti and pau and maybe some kuih and rice or pasta options too. But that might take awhile to work out, since it needs some prior planning and food preparation.

With our son around, we have also been making efforts to vary the items on our diet as much as we can afford to. So we have at least two types of meat every week, with chicken being the staple as it is the cheapest option available.

Fresh fruits are also served up on a daily basis in our home. I usually serve them over breakfast. But on lazier or less organised days, they creep into the lunch or tea time menu instead. Sometimes, they would be made into juice instead. But since this involves using the blender, that means more cleaning up so it isn’t as often as I’d like it to be.

I guess I shouldn’t cram too much information and stories into just ONE post. I’ll share more about our kitchen capers in subsequent posts.

I’d love to hear about what your daily meals are like though. Especially if you’re residing somewhere other than these Malaysian shores. Drop me a comment if you can 🙂

Reality check: The Work-At-Home life

Stuffed animals in disarray.
What my life feels like right now.

Greetings from the home front! Weekly routine has resumed, after much disruption and unusual activity in late December due to Christmas and my husband being on leave, etc.

As the caption above clearly states, this is how I feel about my current state of affairs right now. Everything is in disarray and all muddled, with unfinished business piled up high into one huge To Do mountain (the word “list” seemed too mild a word to describe the mayhem heh).

But I’m not really here to complain. We have enough negativity online, don’t we? To the contrary, I’m just here to share some candid stories with you.

If it’s your first time here, let me just give you little background by saying that I am a mother to a 2+ year old son and I maintain a home based career as a freelance writer while managing my child on my own during the daytime (until my husband returns from work at the end of the day, that is). That’s most of what you need to know, really.

Alright, let’s get on with it. Here’s what this post is essentially all about:

Working at home and its wonky consequences

Part of the reason that I started this blog was so that I could encourage you, my dear reader, through tales from my own life. This is one of my attempts to do just that.

Right now, my current lifestyle involves being homebound so let’s talk about that.

In particular, if you’re someone who’s contemplating whether the Work-At-Home arrangement is suitable for you, perhaps what I am about to say will help.

Let’s talk about what working at home really looks like, shall we?
For starters, there is no such thing as a typical day at home. Ironically. Haha.
However, I can share with you some regular features in my daily and weekly routine. Here are some of them:

1. Scrounging for time to work wherever I can. This is usually during my toddler’s nap times, after he has gone to bed at night or while he is absorbed in some play activity all by himself. The pockets of time that I normally manage to seize range from 5 minutes to perhaps 45 minutes. Anything block of uninterrupted time of a duration close to an hour or beyond is very rare indeed.

2. Multitasking: The unavoidable, lesser evil. For example, this morning, I had to prepare my invoice which I needed to send out to my client while nursing my still sleepy and slightly grumpy son at the same time. This meant balancing him on my lap while trying to type at the keyboard. Other examples of feats I have had to perform include cooking with multiple interruptions from my son or having to pause to check whether he has gotten up to anything mischievous while doing my best not to burn any food. Also stuff like eating lunch while standing or moving around the home doing chores (such as hanging out the laundry) at the same time.

3. Staying available on the phone to reply work related messages. I often settle work related conversations via WhatsApp which means sometimes offering divided attention to my son. What this looks like in reality: We would be eating lunch and as I coax him to keep feeding himself and keep a conversation going with him, I’ll also be hashing out ideas to a client about what content to put up on their Facebook posts.

4. Working in odd circumstances or conditions. Basically, not being fussy about when or where or how you work. When I’m desperate, I’ll write social media copy while relieving myself in the toilet or in bed when I get up in the middle of the night and realise I’ve unfinished work that’s soon due. Sometimes, I also write while sitting at the back of the car as my husband drives us to our destination.

5. We don’t cook as often as I’d like to. We manage only 3 homecooked meals weekly, and we eat 2 dinners each week at my parent’s place where my Mum would cook. Although we only cook several times a week, we somehow manage to salvage enough leftovers to cover lunch times on weekdays. So most days, Jamie and I eat leftovers for lunch in the daytime. Whichever other meals that are not homecooked or eaten at my parent’s are store bought.

6. The first thing to be neglected is usually chores. Since my time is divided between house chores, freelance work and minding Jamie, this is how things often gets prioritised. If you are the kind that cannot stand physical mess, this will likely irk you as it does me. I can tolerate a certain degree of untidiness, but what we experience over here often exceeds my threshold. But I have to live with it. Because being at home and working only on a freelance basis means we don’t have much extra cash to play with so hiring paid help to handle household chores is highly unlikely.

7. Child minding takes up most of my time. This is especially so if you have a toddler. They haven’t really learned patience yet. And they are almost always needing you or clinging to you. So if you can’t stand someone always being in your face, maybe leave childcare to a babysitter and keep that full time job so you can afford the corresponding fees. A win-win for you, since you will not go crazy dealing with the demands of a young child. Trust me, there’s a lot involved.

8. Lack of personal time. This is probably the pessimistic part of me speaking, but more often than not, you will not have any time to yourself. Even glancing through the notifications on your mobile device is a luxury. Being able to eat whenever you’re hungry is another thing you might need to sacrifice. Hobbies? Sure, but normally that’s only once all the necessaries have been dealt with, eg everyone in the family has been fed, essential chores are out of the way, no client is waiting for any deliverables from you.

9. Be prepared for interruptions anytime. This means that you will often have multiple tasks at various stages of completion at any one time. The interruption I am talking about is the kind that comes from your child. The sort of interference that you wanted to be at home for in the first place: To be there when your child needs you. But this also implies that other things will need to be set aside in favour of that. Tasks that might take only a few minutes can end up requiring double or triple the time to get done because of the said interruption.

Does all of that sound mighty gloomy to you? Well, it shouldn’t because being at home with your child has its generous share of blessings too.

Here are some of them:

1. I did not miss a single developmental milestone for my son. In fact, most times, I was the one who was right there to see him do something for the first time. The one I remember most vividly was when he sat up on his own for the first time. I couldn’t imagine how he might learn how to do it and was stumped on how to encourage him to achieve it. Then one day, while he was playing and rolling around on a mat which I had set up on the living room floor, he suddenly did it. The look of surprise and pride on his face when he had just realised what he had done was priceless. As was the memory of that incident which I hold to this day.

2. I was there whenever my son needed me. Being at the tender age of two that he is, he often seeks me out for all sorts of reasons: For comfort, to share with me a thought or feeling, to invite me to play, to ask for a hug or to be held. Although I cannot always meet his needs right away, I am available and near him and hopefully this helps him to grow up with a deep sense of security and confidence.

3. Because we are around each other 24/7, I get to observe his behaviour all the time and hence, am aware of tiny nuances of change in him. Children grow up so fast. Nearly every week or every few days, something potentially changes for Jamie. His preferences for food. The vocabulary that he uses. His thought processes. His physical skills and inclinations. I am also more likely to notice when he is about to fall sick or if anything is bothering him eg he is not sleeping well or has any insect bites or injuries.

4. A closeness that cannot be obtained any other way. I like the fact that Jamie is closest to me, and prefers me for most things. This isn’t always a good thing, and I still need him to be able to accept my husband handling him as well whenever I am not able to, but it’s a privilege that I enjoy immensely. That special connection that can only come from my son being around me 24/7.

5. Freedom from the superficiality of the corporate work environment and avoidance of time wasters like epic traffic jams. All because I am at home and can be more selective of who I work with and when I choose to be out and about (not during rush hour, as much as I can help it).

Alright, duty calls so I have to scoot. Hope you read all the way to the end. And that it has been eye opening. Hehe. See you again soon!

A year full

We’re off into 2018 already, but it doesn’t entirely feel like a Happy New Year to me.

Well, I suppose it could be worse, but nevertheless, I feel somewhat reticent about another beginning.

I sometimes wonder why we measure time this way, breaking it up into days, months, years, etc. Why not just keep going as if life is just one continuous story? These time markers sort of give you the false illusion of a fresh start when, in all honesty, you really are just the same person that you were yesterday.

So after all the celebrations of another New Year, what do we really hope to get out of it? Are loftier ambitions really worth the effort? Or is the mere determination to “keep on keeping on” more than enough?

I do not know what this year holds for me, or for us as a family. I’m not entirely sure I want to find out. Perhaps it’s a certain degree of jadedness that comes with having weathered a few decades of living. Whatever the cause might be, that dreadful cloak of melancholy has come to envelope me once more.

The only thing that is maybe pushing me onwards is that I need to be strong for my little boy. That I need to give him an example to follow, a guide to help him on his way in life. That if I do right, point him towards God, implant those precious virtues into his soul, someday he will become someone significant in this world.

If I can live just to see that day, I think I will die happy.

For now, my work is far from done though so I guess there’s nothing to do except soldier on.

Christmas chaos and beyond

Merry Christmas everyone! 

Christmas has come and gone over here, and we’re into the last few hours of Boxing Day (which is NOT a holiday over here), but hopefully it’s not too late to wish all you readers out there 🙂

It’s been a rather busy few days and the home has yet to be back to its usual order yet (not that it has much order these days actually). 

Christmas this year has been fun and enjoyable, mostly, but with several hiccups involved. Mainly the the gift preparation department. Pfft. 

As usual, I had lotsa ambitious ideas, and wanted to be able to offer gifts to most, if not all, my church members. What did not cross my mind though was the fact that the church I now attend isn’t as small as the one I grew up in. 

So, in other words, we set ourselves up to do impossible things. And that made us lose sleep as well as miss most of the Christmas service at our church. Not a good thing. Sigh. 

Things we made as gifts this year: 

  1. Herb salt (used already dry herbs and mixed it with Himalayan rock salt and garlic powder)
  2. Pandan kaya (if you don’t know what this is or have yet to try it yiu absolutely must!) 
  3. Shortbread cookies 

Here’s a pic of the jars of herb salt we gave away.

Forgot to take photos of the pandan kaya and shortbread, but the gift packaging had a similar look and feel anyway. 
This year, our Christmas tree looked the best of all the years we’ve been married. And with the most presents under it since we kept the discipline of opening gifts only on Christmas morning itself (which we didn’t use to observe when it was just me and Deric in the past haha). 

All this is probably because our youngest family member is extremely excited about the colours and lights on these trees. We got him to help us set the tree up with its decorations this time. No glass ornaments, so it wasn’t a problem. 

As for his Christmas present, we got him a drawing board that has both a blackboard and a whiteboard surface. It was from Ikea. He loved it. 

Gifts for Deric and myself were bought as a symbolic thing only, just to teach Jamie the idea that each family member deserves a present and that we all need to be part of the gift giving ritual.

We could have done more on the spiritual front though. We read him the Christmas story of baby Jesus and all that. But perhaps we should emphasise it more in the future. 

Or perhaps, I shouldn’t sweat it, and just let him grow up a little more before we share spiritual truths with him. 

I also regret not having been able to have some personal reflection time to contemplate the significance of Christmas and my relationship with God. Hmm. 

Anyway, I gotta run now. But here’s one last Christmas pic from me of our tree at home and the presents around it. 

Paint and potatoes

Here’s what Jamie and I did on Tuesday evening… 

One of these papers bears my artwork. Guess which one?

What happened was we had a bunch of potatoes that were turning green. I remembered reading somewhere that this wasn’t a good sign when it comes to consuming them, so I thought why not do something else with them instead of just throwing them out. 

I watched a YouTube video (I’ll embed the video below) on how to make stamps out of potatoes, and found that it was really simple to do. So I went ahead and did it. 🙂 

All you need is potatoes, a kitchen knife and some cookie cutters.
Here’s the full collection I made that day.

Here is Jamie really excited just after we’d finish setting up and before the activity had actually begun… 

It was the first time Jamie was using stamps, so he didn’t really get the concept of pressing it onto a paper and lifting it up and repeating the same actions in a different spot on the paper. 

After showing him how it should be done a few times, I finally gave up and let him have fun with the paint in whatever manner he preferred. 

Letting Jamie create artwork with paint as he pleases.

Here’s the thing about art & craft activities with toddlers: Sometimes you can’t really foresee how they might want to do the activity. Most times, they want to do things their own way, and this means they may sometimes do it differently or wrongly (from our adult point of view). 

But I guess part of the fun is letting them explore and try things out in whatever ways they want to in order to satisfy their curiosity. Indirectly, I guess they’re learning something there. 

The challenge for me is being gracious enough to let things be and suppressing the desire to intervene or influence how he experiences it. Also, that disdain for messiness which may actually be necessary for them to grow and learn. 

A side note: Jamie has this really cute way of pronouncing “potato”. It comes out sounding like “pee-tay-toh”. I think it’s absolutely adorable. Heh. 😍

And I shall leave you now with the YouTube video below. 

Drop me a comment if you have done something similar too? I’d be curious how it went, especially if you did it with a toddler like I did. 😊