A trip on the craft side 

It’s late (again) and I shall need to scoot real soon to catch some much needed snooze. But I thought I’d just drop by to share this fantastic Pinterest song parody that I pretty much identify with because I have always been a crafter at heart. 

I think I haven’t said it enough on this blog actually, but these things have their roots all the way back to my childhood. I remember crocheting and knitting in primary school while sitting it out during P.E. period (hehe a long story as to why, and which I shall address in a separate post). 

I still think of DIY and craft projects as a brilliant way to unwind and to serve as my creativity outlet. I may not be that capable in the things I produce, but somehow just working on something is hugely satisfying for me. I shall attempt to blog more about this undying passion of mine (which seems to be surviving even better than my love for writing, ironically). 

Okay, gotta dash. See ya! Meanwhile, enjoy the video! 

Rain and cupcakes 

Rainy week it has been. Today is no exception to the ongoing streak. I don’t mind, really, since I love rain. 

Jamie does too, except once the thunder and lightning get too much. I decided to keep the curtains drawn and had some music playing on Spotify to keep him distracted today when it was pouring. But I think it wasn’t as dashyat as yesterday so he didn’t seem to be affected. 

Yesterday, he would have this slight look of terror every time he saw a lightning flash. He can now anticipate that after that comes the thunder. (We had an episode last weekend where our neighbours in the landed homes beneath us had a fireworks party and it absolutely terrified Jamie because it seemed as if it were just outside our balcony. He has been extra nervous about thunder ever since). 

Well, he’s asleep… for now. I am having an early coffee break. Not a common occurrence in this job of mine as Work-At-Home-Mum. I’m eating cupcakes that I baked yesterday. Also while it was raining. There are 2 left. I *should* be leaving one each for Deric and Jamie… but it’s tempting to just have another… No one would know… *rubs hands gleefully* 

On a more serious note, I’m actually feeling a little melancholic today. Perhaps it’s the recent challenges of breastfeeding Jamie at night (he has been having more midnight awakenings, teething perhaps?) and also the mundaneness of chores and work. I don’t even feel I’m perky enough around Jamie (and I have always tried to be since I want to raise him to be a cheerful boy and not melancholic like me). 

I had sketched out a plan to write a book. It’s currently on hold as I manage my workload. My work is sort of on pause mode because I feel I’ve hit a wall for one of my ongoing jobs and am dawdling while waiting for the client to reply me on the issues (I generally do not like to talk about work issues on this blog so that’s all I will say about it). 

Quick lament to say that for some reason lately I seem to have lost the spark for writing. I can still do it, but I find little delight in it. It’s like I’m on autopilot. Muscle memory. Responding on reflex. This is worrying. What should I do about this? 

I still daydream about selling handmade stuff of mine. I tested out a modest little motif for some hairpin design I thought would be good to start off with. I need to work out costing. I can’t because I need to go out to check out the materials. 

I want to do craft projects but there never seems to be the right time. Or I put other things as more of a priority over it and never get round to actually doing anything. I have so many planned and pending projects! I’ve told my husband countless times that I might die buried beneath all the tools and raw materials I’ve purchased for crafting. 

Meanwhile, my ukelele’s only function at the moment is to entertain Jamie. He will frequently exclaim, “Guitar!” and gesture towards our study where the uke and Deric’s guitar and other miscellaneous music instruments we own are stored. Once in awhile, I will relent and take the uke out for him. I still haven’t progressed from learning chords from the C key (in fact, I think I’ve forgotten what F chord is like). 

Sigh. My music interests seem to have dwindled too. Even choosing songs on Spotify to play for myself is such a difficult task. What tunes do I like nowadays? Why can’t I figure it out? 

More rain now and a very loud burst of thunder. My heart nearly stopped worrying Jamie might awaken in fear in his bed. He didn’t. Back to my coffee. Forgive my long post. It’s been awhile since I shared my thoughts. 

Shorter stories next round. I promise. 

 

Corny matters

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Easy to make and safe to use around a toddler. Yay! 🙂

I have been putting off mending the books that Jamie has ruined for a very long time. My concern was that he might end up eating whatever form of glue I used for my repair work. 
I actually took time to scour the Internet for some homemade alternative that would be safe for toddlers. And to my relief, there were actually tons of options out there. 

I finally settled for cornstarch glue as it seemed the least problematic (no warnings about mould as what I had seen mentioned for glue made from regular flour) and was fairly easy to make. Plus I had everything I needed already stocked in my kitchen. 

So, after much procrastination, I have at last repaired those poor, neglected books and they are back on the shelf for Jamie to wreck havoc on once more. Hehe. 

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What freshly made cornstarch glue looks like.

There is now also a jar of leftover cornstarch glue ready and waiting for a reason to be used. I wonder how long it will keep actually… I fret about mould appearing, but so far, so good lah. 

The books I’ve mended are holding up pretty well thus far. And I haven’t got a thing to worry about if Jamie is decidedly peckish one of these evenings and chews on some of those spots I glued back on. 

In case you had similar concerns about using regular commercial glue products on toys or books that your toddler uses, you can check out the cornstarch glue recipe I used here.

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Cornstarch glue resurrected from the fridge turned out to be a little hard and lumpy. Boohoo.

Just a little note: Since the first time I made that batch of cornstarch glue, I have pulled out the leftovers to use at a different time and it turned out to be pretty hard and lumpy. I tried adding hot water to it to get it to be more liquidish, but it didn’t work out very well. In the end, I resorted to popping in the quantity I needed straight into the microwave for a quick heating session. That worked out better. 

I have jotted down the date that I made the cornstarch glue on the jar and I will update this post when I notice it going bad in any way so you’ll know how long it can keep if stored in the fridge like I did. 

For a future batch, I would like to try a slightly different glue recipe/tutorial which incorporates some form of preserving agent like salt or vinegar like this. Or I may even go out on a limb and start experimenting with other types of homemade glue too. 

Well, whatever the case may be, rest assured that I’ll be right back here to report on how that works out when the time comes 🙂 

Prawns, at last

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Now that I’m at home daily awaiting for the arrival of little Jamie, there is a need to whip up my own lunch food (so as to avoid having to go out just to buy some).

Just last week, I finally got to make something scrumptious that I was extremely satisfied to eat: A dish containing prawns.

Prawns! I haven’t had much of that since getting married. The reason being that Deric cannot take things like seafood because it has a high uric acid level. This is in addition to his inability to take too much carbs in his daily diet.

I’ve been doing my best to keep within the confines of a domestic diet that meets his needs, but I cannot deny the fact that there are certain foods that I miss.

The cookbooks that we often refer to have quite a few of seafood dishes in them, often involving prawns, and I have always wanted to try them out.

So, finally, since I would only be cooking for one (ie ME), I got the long awaited chance to try out a prawn dish. Yay 😀

This one came from a cookbook called Easy Chinese Stir-Fries by Helen Chen (ISBN: 978-0-470-38756-6) which Deric bought at a discount during one of the bazaar sales held at his office (if I didn’t remember it wrongly). We’ve been using the book pretty often even from the early days of our marriage (which is coming to 3 years now, so fast!) and it has never failed to impress us with the outcome of the dishes.

The author learned her culinary skills from her mother who pioneered Asian restaurants in America, apparently. For people who are based out of China/Asia, it’s pretty cool that the dishes resemble the ones we have here in Malaysia quite accurately.

So anyway, the dish that I tried was called Yangzhou Slippery Shrimp (prawn, shrimp, sama lah :P) and it was really simple to follow. I already had all the ingredients in my kitchen, plus Deric and I had bought a bag of frozen, shelled prawns at Jaya Grocer some time back which weighed 200g and was just the right amount for my consumption.

Original recipe called for 1 pound (approximately 453g) of prawns, but I found that the recipe was still alright if I still followed the measurements for the other ingredients at their prescribed quantities.

The resulting prawn dish is as what you see in the above picture. It was really tasty: A little sourish and sweet, but not too much, and garlicky too.

I also cooked some baby spinach to eat together with rice and the prawns. For that dish, I used garlic, oil and half a cube of Knorr’s chicken stock, coupled with my own veggie stock that had been frozen into cubes and stored in the fridge. The flavour from the homemade veggie stock was really obvious, even more distinct than what the commercial chicken stock usually provided.

I think I just might make more homemade stock in the future. Seems to be worth the effort as it is able to produce better flavours.

It’s really great to be at home and to have more time to chill right now. I look forward to other culinary exploits in the kitchen soon. As soon as I clear my remaining stories for work though. I want to get them out of the way ASAP so I can be worry-free when it’s Jamie’s time to come out.

There’s plenty of other things I hope to accomplish around the home besides cooking too, and I hope to share that with you once I get round to them.

It’s such an exciting time. I really like where I’m at in life right now. 🙂

 

 

“Mugged”

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So the story goes that last Christmas, my family was given home decorated mugs as gifts. As a result, my Mum’s interest was piqued and she asked the giver what she had used to design the mugs. 

This eventually led to my Mum being lent the very marker pens that were used to draw on the mugs. And she was even given several of the extra plain undecorated mugs that the giver had on hand (leftovers from the ones she had bought to distribute as Christmas gifts). 

And so, my Mum ended up deciding to give Deric and I each a plain mug and to allow us to decorate it for ourselves so we could use it as our dedicated mugs whenever we had dinner at my parents’ place. 

A cool idea, no doubt, which especially appealed to a person like me who loves craft activities in general.   

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But Deric and I put off decorating those mugs for a very long time and it was only recently that we actually got down to it. Part of the main challenge was deciding what to draw, but thankfully there was Pinterest to help us in making that choice.

There was another limitation that we soon discovered the moment we started drawing on the mugs: The marker pens that we were to use had thick tips and the ink in them wasn’t flowing too well either. 

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These limitations made me decide to stick to mug designs that were mostly text based rather than image based, because it would be difficult to draw precisely with markers in the condition that I had described. 

Hence, this is how I arrived at the decision of putting “Coffee – A hug in a mug” and the words “CAFFEINE”, along with the diagram of its atomic structure on my mug.

As for Deric, he decided to go with a superhero theme and picked a design focussed on Green Lantern. 

All in all, it was a pretty fun activity (decorating our mugs) and I think both of us would be open to doing it again. Only with brand spanking markers that had thinner tips and flowing ink supply.  Hehe. 

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Castles in the sky

There’s a fine line between optimism and irrationalism, and I think most of us are a little unclear on where one ends or where the other starts. One memorable incident that I experienced some time back illustrates this perfectly, 

Story goes that I was talking to a friend who would be soon kickstarting a freelance career of her own, having already worked several years in the field of her expertise. Hers is a different industry from mine, of course, but having tried to do a bit of a freelance stint in the past, I had this inherent belief that it wouldn’t be easy for her to start things off. Nevertheless, throughout this particular conversation that I had with her, I remained positive and encouraging about her choice of a career move. 

After all, I had always dreamed of someday moving on into a freelance career of my own.

In the course of our chat, I mentioned to this friend that should I ever get my way to earn money in the field of my choice, I would have loved to craft custom made bags in the same manner that a tailor would custom make clothes for his/her customers. 

I had expected that she would have been encouraging at the very least, since this was in essence not that far a cry from what she herself was opting to do in the near future. But surprisingly, she was more pessimistic about my dream career direction than she was about her own. 

She even went as far as to say she didn’t think there was a very promising market for such handcrafted bags. It was awfully disheartening to hear her bash my dreams down to a pulp. Even more so since I had just seconds ago been so supportive of hers. 

I doubt she was being spiteful in what she had said in response to my sharing. But nevertheless, the effect was a negative one and that’s probably why I remember that incident to this day. 

Honestly, this doesn’t feel that much different from how I used to feel whenever I considered the possibilities of becoming a writer for a living. Back in the earlier seasons of my life, I deemed it almost an impossible feat. I had had very limited exposure to publishing in general, and hadn’t ever won a single essay competition in school nor had I even joined a student editorial body to learn some of the ropes. 

In other words, I had no track record or glowing portfolio with which to convince others that I could do a decent job writing, And yet, to cut the long story short, I have actually become a writer by profession today.

Well, I have yet to earn a single Ringgit from anything I have handcrafted, but who knows what the future may hold? I think what’s important here is not to entirely rule out the possibility. 

For now, I just glean inspiration from posts about other crafters who have made it in monetising their passion just like this one: Top 10 Malaysian handicraft makers.

Sigh. 

KL Noir

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Deric and I chanced upon a Borders book sale last week while having lunch together on the eve of Chinese New Year. As it is with most book sales, you have to wade through drab and dubious title aplenty before you arrive at any real treasure.

We didn’t have that much time on our hands after lunch (as I still had to return to the office to work, although Deric was already off from lunch time onwards), so we hardly got much stash out of the sale.

But I did notice that the KL Noir series, published by Fixi Novo (the English imprint of Buku Fixi) was on discount. So I decided the time had come to finally buy one of the books in the series.

Thankfully the one that I picked was actually the first in the series. It’s nice to start off with the debut volume, since it would give me an idea of how it all started and what flavour the stories that were first published took on.

Subsequently, when I do get my hands on the other books in the series, I’d at least be able to see the transformation it has taken on from its earlier volumes. I like it that way.

I finished the book in a matter of days, since it is after all merely a collection of short stories, and hence, very easy to read.

Anyway, so I decided I would share my little take on how the first in the KL Noir series has struck me. Hope you’ll find these insights helpful, or at the very least, appreciate my written efforts in penning these thoughts down online. Hehe.

Well, here goes:

Flip the first page in the book and you will be greeted by the Fixi Novo manifesto, which outlines the beliefs and practices of the publisher behind the series. As is my habit, I read through each point that was printed there (I basically read my way through just about every bit of text I find… even these so-called more “boring” bits that most folk tend to bypass).

What struck me the most about their stand on things was the part where they said they would not use italics to indicate the use of non-English terms in the text.

It’s my first time coming across a Malaysian publication that says this so overtly, so I was genuinely impressed. In my feeble attempts to write Malaysian themed short fiction in the past, I always endeavoured to make my pieces seem more international by the use of italics and accompanying it by footnotes to explain away local terms that I expected foreigners would not comprehend. Fixi Novo shows me that this isn’t always necessary.

The publisher also stated that they favour stories about “the urban reality of Malaysia and that they specialise in pulp fiction. Again, these are laudable principles and ensures that the stuff their books are made of are truly Malaysian and relevant to today’s readers.

Okay, last thing to note about the introductory pages of the book is that it provides 2 pages’ worth of excerpts that give you a foretaste of the stories that are contained within. These short previews were very tastefully picked, and effectively increased my curiousity to read on.

Alrighty, so we move along now to the actual stories in this debut volume.

On the whole, I’d say it was a good mix of short stories; both in terms of the themes of the stories as well as the writing styles.

I have a little difficulty narrowing down which was my favourite story though. If you’ll permit me to list down more than one, then I’d say it would be a close tie between A Gift of Flowers by Shih-Li Kow, Kiss From A Rose by Fadzlishah Johanabas, Chasing Butterflies In The Night by Kris Williamson and Vanished by Khairulnizam Bakeri.

The enchanting thing about short stories is that it doesn’t delve too deeply into either character development or intricate plot lines so it gives you ample room to just soak up the words as they come and enjoy the storytelling for what it is. Yet there is always the chance to slip in a plot twist somewhere in between, and that’s what makes the reading worth your while.

These stories I’ve named have all those elements, and each was a refreshing read in its own right.

Of course, that’s not to say that the other tales in the book were bad. They were just as good, just that these were my favourites.

Although I didn’t really get the point that Adi was trying to make to Serina in Kiss From A Rose.

And I didn’t the way Eeleen Lee told her story, The Oracle Of Truth in the second person. It just felt a tad awkward since if I had been in the character’s shoes, I may have made a difference set of choices than what he/she had done.

There was also a great deal of Malay writing influence present in most of the stories although the choice of character names did leave things open to interpretation.

The flavour of horror/mystery deployed in Dayang Noor’s The Machete and Me, and Amir Hafizi’s The Unbeliever definitely had its roots in Malay traditions and beliefs.

That’s fine, actually, and even understandable, since (if I’m not wrong) Buku Fixi is predominantly a publisher for Malay titles.

But it would be nice to see themes explored that cross into the other cultures that make Malaysia what it truly is. For instance, exploring the beliefs and superstitions of Buddhists, Hindus and the like. Malaysia may be a predominantly Malay population, but nevertheless it is the influence of these other cultures that make Malaysia stand out as compared to the relatively mono-racial populations that make up other neighbouring Southeast Asian nations.

However, all in all, my first exposure to the KL Noir series has been a pleasant one, and it’s very likely that I’m going to go out and purchase the other volumes some time in the near future. I believe you should too.

* * *

I also write the occasional book review for work, albeit in a much more formal tone. You can catch them online here.

(It’s a little hard to search for if you were to use my name, for some strange reason, so if all else fails, do a Google search OR ask me for the specific titles I’ve reviewed. Only if it interests you, of course 😉 )