Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Celebrate the Gift!

Merry Christmas! This is one of my favourite Christmas songs, "Celebrate the Gift" by Twila Paris.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The beauty of the ordinary


Got this off Facebook; it's a poem by William Martin.

I've been redefining what I think of the word 'normal' lately. When I watch my little nephew grow, I feel thankful that he's so normal, i.e. developing at a normal pace, doing all the normal things babies his age do. Because, you know, in a child, when something is not normal, it's usually not a good sign...!

So I'm coming to see that it is good to be normal and ordinary. I always thought 'normal' and 'ordinary' meant boring, and that it was not desirable to be normal and ordinary. As Brené Brown said in this video, "Somehow, in the world we live in today, an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life... it's been very clear to me that extraordinary means relevant." But that's such a fallacy, isn't it?

In interacting with my little nephew, I've decided that I'll never lament about being ordinary again. In fact, I should rejoice in being normal and ordinary. God is in the normal and ordinary.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Nutella muffins!


Baking experiment: success! At least according to my taste testers :D

Very easy to make:

250g Nutella
2 eggs
60g flour (I used self-raising flour, but the original recipe said all-purpose flour)

Mix all ingredients together, plop in muffin pan and bake at 180C for 20mins. Makes 6 muffins.

Friday, December 20, 2013

To be beautiful enough


I have never seen the film "Tootsie", but now I want to. I nodded my head when he described what happened after the make-up artists finished making him look like a woman, and he felt not beautiful enough: "I think I'm an interesting woman when I look at myself on the screen, and I know that if I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn't fulfill physically the demands that we're brought up to think that women have to have in order for us to ask them out. There are too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life..."

Every woman, I think, is intimately acquainted with this fear. You know you're interesting, inside, but you fear guys won't stick around to find out how interesting you are, because you look so ordinary and aren't some kind of bombshell.

There's always also a continual awareness of being "not beautiful enough": I see my friends worrying about their appearance/attractiveness a lot. I have friends who are nowhere near fat obsessing over how fat they are; friends who are, in my opinion, attractive but who believe they need make-up to cover up their so-called flaws; friends who are so insecure about their looks that they can't bear to look at photos of themselves, much less have anyone else see those photos. It's very sad.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas cupcakes!


What a work of art! Too cute to eat!
 
 
 
*Disclaimer: Not made by me ;)

Monday, December 16, 2013

A quiet joy

There is a calmness to a life lived in Gratitude, a quiet joy.
--Ralph H. Blum
 
 
Mmmmm the quiet joy :)

Something I didn't have before, and now cherish deeply.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Our relationship with books


So true, isn't it? Especially #1! Itulah namanya buku teks :p

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Shopping Conundrum

From a friend's Facebook page:

    THE SHOPPING CONUNDRUM
     
    The sinking feeling of walking away from that something you really wanted at the mall may be a series of pains, but are only TEMPORARY pains nevertheless.
     
    But the stress of realizing that you've bought something you didn't need (again), not having adequate savings and having bad debt will be ACCUMULATED pains that will steal your peace of mind and like a landslide, will subsequently suddenly plummet you to utter despair.
     
    Always remember that 70% of what we shop and buy are usually things we will end up NOT using.
     
    Less barang, more peace! More barang, less peace! ;)

Something I need to remember more often.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Not all tarred with the same brush

    Dr Janet Hall, Clinical Psychologist, says these superficial stereotypes are reinforced in popular culture... "Asian men are often depicted as geeky nerds with high intelligence but low charisma."
    --When Asian men are seen as 'undateable'

It's really tempting to draw stereotypes sometimes; I will say that yes, a lot of Malaysian Chinese guys do seem rather kayu, sadly... but just because I happen to be meeting the kayu ones doesn't mean they're all kayu At least, that's what I'd like to believe!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!

A friend pointed me to this photo on Facebook... clearly, she knows me too well :p

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Romance according to the Sunflower

Yesterday, a guy asked me what I would consider the most romantic first date. I replied:

"Romance is not about place or activity but about the connection between two people; you can be in a classy restaurant with great food and lovely ambiance, but if the two people don't feel any connection, it's not going to be romantic. If there is connection, you can be stuck in a stalled car by the roadside in the pouring rain, and it will still be romantic... especially if you can laugh about it together."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Incriminating evidence

Some of the loot from the Big Bad Wolf book sale.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

For want of a full-stop, the tone was lost

Fascinated by this article. I've noticed I do leave out periods (or full-stops, as we call them here) when I chat online, but that's because I send fragments of thoughts line by line - as the author said, using line breaks to punctuate. But once I've completed my thought or whatever I wanted to put across, I end that last sentence with a full-stop.

In writing online, like in comment boxes and emails, I leave out the full-stop when I end the sentence with an emoticon. I consider the emoticon a punctuation mark in itself - it's the equivalent of me saying something to you face-to-face, then ending with a grin, grimace or pout.

I've caught myself doing what the author noted - using an ellipsis (...) to sound less definite and more tentative/diffident. In my mind, when I 'hear' what I'm typing, I envision my voice trailing off at the end of a thought or sentence, showing that I'm not closed against opposing ideas or further input, that I'm pretty laidback about this whole thing.

I know, I know... being so interested in the evolving use of punctuation in online contexts exposes me as a huge nerd. But I don't care :p

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Say it ain't so!


'Selfie' is the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year? Really? SELFIE?!!!

I don't dispute its status as a "real word"; what I don't like is its connotation of narcissism or showing off. I don't care that it's been added to the dictionary as much as I care that it was chosen as the Word of the Year. Ewwww! There are better words to choose from!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Love letter

Found this beautiful letter Mark Twain wrote his wife on her 30th birthday.

"Six years have gone by since I made my first great success in life and won you, and thirty years have passed since Providence made preparation for that happy success by sending you into the world."

What an absolutely lovely thing to say :)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A rude awakening

I was, as usual, jolted into wakefulness by my blaring alarm this morning. As I lay back after shutting it off, heart beating triple time, adrenaline coursing though my body, it occurred to me that this can't be a very healthy way to wake up. Every morning when the alarm rings, I feel like I'm being attacked!!!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A legacy

I read a comment here that talks about students reading stories aloud:

    I recently substituted for an English teacher who, in team with another, was having a high-school class read "The Gift of the Magi." First, "reading" it means exactly that--the students divided into groups and took turns reading aloud. (Of course, this was only one day--I assume the next day featured a discussion of it.) One student read like a first-grader; another read rapidly and correctly, but with absolutely no inflection or pause for punctuation. Their comments before indicated they understood the use of irony, and when I interrupted to ask a question they seemed to understand the story. But they obviously had no ability to translate the words into the emotions behind them. An O. Henry short story and the minutes of the council meeting were all the same to them.

I, too, have students who read like this: they are able to read, but when they read, they pause at the wrong places, or have no inflection, no expression. And I realised that I probably can thank my mother, who read to me when I was a child, for showing me how the printed words on the page can come alive.

I don't remember her reading to me, but I know she did -- in fact, she says I learnt to read on my own, picking it up naturally, as she read to me and pointed out words in my books -- and it was probably through her example that I learnt the ebb and flow of the written word, the beauty and lyricism in it. How it can sneakily reach out and grab you by the throat with the emotions cleverly weaved into it.

So I have a lot to thank my mother for, I think. Because reading still remains my greatest joy to this day. It's no wonder kids don't like to read if they can't hear the words come alive in their heads when they do so.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

I do believe it's a library I have

This is from an old blog that is no longer online. I had the archives in HTML and wanted to see the list properly, so I needed somewhere to post this. It's a list of all the books I own on the subject of writing. These books are all in a box in my uncle's basement, but I wanted to check which titles I already have.

  1. Beyond The Words -- The Three Untapped Sources of Creative Fulfillment For Writers (Bonni Goldberg)
  2. Bird By Bird -- Some Instructions On Writing And Life (Anne Lamott)
  3. Chicken Soup For The Writer's Soul -- Stories To Open The Heart & Rekindle The Spirit Of Writers
  4. Escaping Into The Open -- The Art Of Writing True (Elizabeth Berg)
  5. Finding Your Writer's Voice -- A Guide To Creative Fiction (Thaisa Frank & Dorothy Wall)
  6. How Not To Write -- The Essential Misrules Of Grammar (William Safire)
  7. How To Write Funny -- Add Humour To Every Kind of Writing (edited by John B. Kachuba)
  8. I'd Rather Be Writing (Marcia Golub)
  9. If You Want To Write -- A Book About Art, Independence & Spirit (Brenda Ueland)
  10. Indirections For Those Who Want To Write (Sidney Cox)
  11. Language On A Leash (Bruce O. Boston)
  12. One Continuous Mistake -- Four Noble Truths For Writers (Gail Sher)
  13. On Writing -- A Memoir Of The Craft (Stephen King)
  14. On Writing Well -- An Informal Guide To Writing Non-Fiction (William Zinsser)
  15. Panning For Gold In The Kitchen Sink -- Everyday Creative Writing (Michael C. Smith & Suzanne Greenberg)
  16. Pen On Fire -- A Busy Woman's Guide To Igniting The Writer Within (Barbara DeMarco-Barrett)
  17. Surviving A Writer's Life (Suzanne Lipsett)
  18. Take Joy -- A Book For Writers (Jane Yolen)
  19. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes -- And How To Avoid Them (Jack M. Bickham)
  20. The Art & Craft Of The Short Story (Rick DeMarinis)
  21. The Art Of Fiction (David Lodge)
  22. The Borzoi Handbook For Writers
  23. The Courage To Write -- How Writers Transcend Fear (Ralph Keyes)
  24. The Forest For The Trees -- An Editor's Advice To Writers (Betsy Lerner)
  25. The Modern Library Writer's Workshop -- A Guide To The Craft Of Fiction (Stephen Koch)
  26. The Pen Commandments -- A Guide For The Beginning Writer (Steven Frank)
  27. The Right To Write -- An Invitation & Initiation Into The Writing Life (Julia Cameron)
  28. The Writer On Her Work (Vol 1) (Edited by Janet Sternburg)
  29. The Writer's Idea Book -- How To Develop Great Ideas For Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry & Screenplays (Jack Heffrom)
  30. What If? -- Writing Exercises For Fiction Authors (Anne Bernays & Pamela Painter)
  31. Why I Write -- Thoughts On The Craft Of Fiction (edited by Will Blythe)
  32. Wild Mind -- Living The Writer's Life (Natalie Goldberg)
  33. Words Fail Me -- What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing (Patricia T. O'Connor)
  34. Writers [On Writing] -- Collected Essays From The New York Times
  35. Writing Down The Bones -- Freeing The Writer Within (Natalie Goldberg)
  36. Writing From The Inside Out -- Transforming Your Psychological Blocks To Release The Writer Within (Dennis Palumbo)
  37. Writing Past Dark -- Envy, Fear, Distraction, And Other Dilemmas In The Writer's Life (Bonnie Friedman)
  38. Writing With Style -- Conversations On The Art Of Writing (John R. Trimble)

Since 2006, I have added these books:

  1. How Not To Write A Novel -- 200 Mistakes To Avoid At All Costs If You Ever Want To Get Published (Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark
  2. Escaping into the Open -- The Art Of Writing True (Elizabeth Berg)
  3. The Weekend Novelist -- A Dynamic 52-Week Program To Help You Produce A Novel... One Weekend At A Time (Robert J. Ray & Bret Norris)
  4. How To Write Like Chekov -- Advice and Inspiration, Straight From His Own Letters And Work (ed. Piero Brunello & Lena LenĨek)
  5. The Lie That Tells A Truth -- A Guide To Writing Fiction (John Dufresne) Birthday gift from my dad in 2008, with the inscription, "Hope this book would help to make you a great writer!"
  6. Stein On Writing -- A Master Editor Of Some Of The Most Successful Writers Of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques And Strategies (Sol Stein)
  7. Crafting Novels & Short Stories -- The Complete Guide To Writing Great Fiction From The Editors Of Writer's Digest (ed. Melissa Wuske)

UPDATE:
I just saw that #2 in the new list duplicates #4 in the old list. Aaaaand... FOURTY-FOUR books on writing? FOURTY-FOUR?! Clearly I need help.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A love affair

It's not so much that I love to read or that I read a lot. It's simply that I'm in love with books. I love being surrounded by them. I have books in the living room, books on the dining table, books in the bathroom, books on my bedside table, books in the study room. The only rooms with absolutely no books are the kitchen (wouldn't want to accidentally set one on fire) and the guest room (which might change if I run out of space to keep them books :p).

It doesn't seem to matter that I haven't even read most of my books and may never have the time to do so. It's enough that I love them, want to read them and fully intend to one day read them. Sometimes I feel guilty for neglecting them, but simply having them around makes me feel happy.

I am so weird.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Inexplicable passion

I can easily explain my love affair with books -- I live to read, d'oh -- but can't quite pinpoint why I have such a fascination with shoes. Saying I love to wear shoes not only doesn't sound quite right, it isn't even accurate -- I'd much prefer to go barefoot!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The subconscious is a fascinating thing

Was doing some spring-cleaning and came upon an exercise book in which I had written down a few dreams. I rarely wake up remembering a dream, and unfortunately this entry was undated, so there's no way of telling which year I dreamt this. The words are scribbled across the page, not neatly written on the lines, by which I deduce I must have woken up and written it in the dark so as to capture the images before they slipped away. I reproduce the notes here in their entirety:

*      *      *      *      *      *

Was at rooftop -- looked up and saw object beaming rainbows from both sides

Wondered what it was

People started hurrying out with cameras and filming equipment -- asked them -- "It's an astroid!"

Watched as it sailed across -- "You think that's creepy? Look down!" Next to building -- tanks (army) all over the place. Lined up in neat rows, waiting

Asteroid lands -- all tanks pointed at it -- something pops out -- comes sailing in the air -- lands on rooftop where we are. Everyone screams, me included. Somehow some dinosaur has appeared in the middle of rooftop too. Thingy opens and there's a whole fish on top of a can. Friend is right in front of it -- grabs the fish -- then flustered, hurls it back at dino and grabs can instead. Dino devours fish while she opens can, the rest of us stand back in fear...

*      *      *      *      *      *

And it ends with those exact words, on a cliffhanger! I'm wondering if I ate too much pizza for dinner that night or something...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Loot!

Bought 3 books yesterday, so am feeling a little guilty. Yes, I went to a bookstore. AGAIN. Two days in a row. *facepalm*  What can I say? I'm a sucker for punishment!

I'm trying to console myself that at least the books aren't fiction. You see, when I was a teen, my dad told me fiction is a waste of money: "You should buy informative books, books which you will reference over and over again. Novels and storybooks just sit on the shelf after you've read them."

What did I get, you ask?
  1. Crafting novels & short stories: The complete guide to writing great fiction
  2. Beaded jewellery: Step-by-step techniques and projects to create your own style
  3. The brushstroke handbook: The ultimate guide to decorative painting brushstrokes
I nearly bought a fourth book, one on card-making, but I already have a collection of card-making books and I decided this particular book didn't really offer any new techniques I hadn't seen before. Phew, managed to cull one from the pile!

Nothing like an excerpt to help demonstrate the allure of a book. So here, I give you something from book #1 in the list above:

*      *      *      *      *      *

      He was tall, 6 foot 2, with a nose to match, tall, thin, and straight.
      That's the author talking.  
      He caught sight of his 6-foot-2 reflection in the window of a bagel shop, paused and studied his thin, straight nose, both in profile and straight on. Straight on, he decided, always show your nose to her straight on. Never from the side.
      This approach provides the same facts without stopping the story as if to say, "I'm going to describe somebody now." We see the reflection through the character's eyes, not the author's keyboard. We see action, both actual and implied. Plus, we learn somethhing about the character's personality. He's vain about the nose.
 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gettin' back into the swing of things

I bought a paper-cutter. Yep, you read that right. A paper-cutter.

I've always wanted one. Useful for papercrafts, even if I've hardly done any for yonks. Easier to slice through card rather than painstakingly take a pair of scissors to it (and not have the cut come out straight) or have to run a pen-knife through the card several times because it's so thick. But I kept telling myself: no, this is just a want. No, you're not getting one. Not right now, anyway.

Yesterday, however! I was in a bookstore and I saw this WONDERFUL contraption. It not only cuts, it can create perforations for you to make a tear-off slip, and it can also do a wavy decorative cut so your paper has a pretty edge! Plus it can help you to create folds instead of totally cutting through the paper. Wow!

I bet you didn't know I love gadgets. I love hardware stores and still think a hammer drill is pretty cool. But for the fact I know I'll probably only use it twice in my lifetime, I might have bought one already.

Anyway, getting back to the paper cutter... it's this one. Shiiiiinyy.

How much did it cost, you ask? *gulp*  That little baby came with a most lovely pricetag of RM175. But it was worth it! And I will use it! I just got a huge-ass L-shaped desk (6' x 5') and have designated one arm (leg?) of the L for papercrafts and painting. That is to be my ART space. Sacred. ;)

Monday, April 15, 2013

The lengths to which we will go

On the (extremely) rare day I decide to have coffee, I go down to the cafeteria and the mamak stall tells me: "Kopi habis!" o.O  Coffee can habis one meh?!

There is a San Francisco Coffee outlet but I'm not enough of a fan to pay more than RM10 for my coffee. It's just frankly not worth it.

So I go to the anchor tenant (do they call them anchor tenants in cafeterias?) which has a Nescafe dispensing machine. It offers black coffee, white coffee, and Milo -- but only hot. Get a white coffee for RM1.30. Go back to the mamak stall to get ice cubes for 50 sen. Swipe extra creamer & sugar from San Fran. Discover I have to add 4 sachets of creamer & 2 sachets of brown sugar to get the thing drinkable. Pour the new mix into the cup with the ice cubes.

Now my head is buzzing. Oooh!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

To-do list

This is for me. Because it's my blog :p

To-do list:
  1. Upload favicon
  2. Figure out header image/logo
  3. Finalise site colours
  4. Decide on background img & upload 3 sizes
  5. Fix "continue reading" so post doesn't get cut off
  6. Get 404 page off the navigation bar
  7. Work on template for permalink posts & pages to look like blog posts
  8. Insert social networking functionality & print functionality (perhaps?)
  9. Make contact page with contact form
  10. See whether can insert "Teaching" category link into navigation bar
  11. Sort out the placement/arrangement of 4 widgets below the content

...yeah, I think that might be it. HOPEFULLY.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My secret

When writing academic papers:

  • Always use the appropriate jargon. It makes you sound knowledgeable and authoritative; this is 50% of the battle won.
  • Look at other people's references to find relevant references you can use. References help to make you sound like you did lots of work and reading, and are familiar with previous work done in this field; this is another 20% of the battle won.
  • Explain EVERYTHING -- the key words in your objective and research questions, why you chose that theoretical framework, why you chose that sample, why you chose that method of data collection, why you analysed the data in that manner, how you came to the conclusions you did, how your study is relevant or useful. Explanations make you sound like you have a basis for everything you say, which makes your findings and conclusions sound solid; this is yet another 20% of the battle won.
  • Be sure your analysis is thorough, and that your findings make sense and are presented logically, in an orderly manner. This is the final 10% of the battle won.

And there you have it; that's the way I approach my papers. (You should remember I'm doing qualitative and not quantitative studies.)

The reason I put the analysis itself at 10% is because if you have great analysis but cannot explain it well, meaning you don't use the appropriate jargon and you don't explain everything properly plus you don't put it in context by having the correct references -- then your analysis will be useless.

I use language like a weapon.



*Found this on a now-defunct blog of mine. First posted on 10 April 2008, when I was knee-deep in coursework for my Masters!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Just how my brain works

The only things I ever purchase on impulse (apart from food) are books and shoes. The more money a thing costs, the more I think about it and do some research... because buyer's remorse is not a good thing. Especially if a product costs upwards of RM200.

So IKEA is having a sale. I don't know how others choose their furniture, but this is how I choose mine (click picture for larger view):


Yes, I know some measurements are in inches and others are in centimetres. That's because all of IKEA's measurements are provided in cm, and while I'm generally a metric girl, for some reason when I bought my apartment I measured everything in feet and inches. I've NO IDEA what came over me. Thank goodness for unit converters!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Love affair

Found myself using the words 'resurgence', 'amenable', 'inundated' and 'traipsing' in various bits of writing recently. Am pleasantly surprised and unaccountably proud of myself :p  Not that I planned to be bombastic, but the words slipped out naturally, prompted by the occasion, and that makes the word nerd in me applaud, lol!

Since I started teaching, I've been constantly simplifying my speech, seeking the most common, easy-to-understand words when explaining concepts to my students. Sometimes I fear I'm losing my command of English. I've always been able to wield words like a weapon when I want to, and reach into my quiver to select one with the precise nuance which will hit home and convey exactly what I want to convey. It's a gift I've had for as long as I can remember.

But it's also a gift that can't be appreciated by all and sundry. It'd go *whoosh* over my students' heads, for example! So sometimes I hold back. I do this instinctively if I feel the other person is at a linguistic disadvantage. It's my way of sort of levelling the playing field :)  We might not be jousting, but language is about communication, so to me it makes sense to use the most efficacious mode of communication, even if that might mean restricting myself to the 2,000 most frequently used words in the English language. Yes, there is a list. You can go google it ;)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

It's just a car...

The problem with asking for advice is that sometimes the advice-giver is so... enthusiastic about it. So I really appreciated it when The Oracle said, "I'm just telling you this, but I won't be offended or think less of you if you choose to do something different," because that kind of reassurance is rare.

But now...! All I did was ask which brand of tyres I should consider, and this friend (not The Oracle) is trying to persuade me to change from 15-inch rims to 16-inch! And the price of 16-inch tyres is DOUBLE that of the 15-inch ones!

Sure, the car will handle better, although I'm wondering if I'll notice because, unlike some friends, I can't even tell the difference in engine performance when I pump different brands of petrol. It's petrol. It makes the engine run. The car moves. I get from A to B. Mission accomplished. I'm happy :p

I'm just not convinced that the additional financial outlay for the larger rims & tyres would be worth it to me. Which is quite apart from the fact that the expense would be considerably more than I've budgeted for. No doubt it's a 'nice to have', but is it a must-have? I hardly think so.

Now, how do I dissuade this extremely insistent friend?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Delving beyond

This was written by Patrick Lee, a friend of mine:

    One of the greatest things about being a writer is that you get to find out how things are beneath the surface. How people are beneath the veneers that they present to the world around them. People aren't objects, but it is easy to label and condemn them as such; as insensitive beings devoid of mercy and compassion, dreams and hopes, feelings and wants. People are who they are because of various things: their upbringing, life and circumstance. When someone does something, there is always a reason for it. Nothing is truly random, except to those that don't understand or care. For behind every strange story, oddity or speck of so-called randomness is a story, and behind that an idea, and behind that a thought. It is up to us that write to collect these ideas and thoughts and stories and present them in a way that would answer whatever questions we have, and raise more hidden questions that need be asked. If we do not do this, if we do not dive beneath the surface and find the whys or whats or hows that lie within our deepest, darkest reaches, we do more than a disservice to ourselves, but we also condemn each other to wallow in a false contentment and an enforced helplessness. Ask, listen and then create.

As a journalist, one of the things I enjoyed the most was listening to people's stories. Because I was in features and didn't do hard news, I could afford to spend more time on interviews (except when interviewing celebrities!) and I learnt all kinds of interesting things from talking with various kinds of people from different fields.

To me, people are fascinating because they always have so much hidden beneath the surface. Every semester, on the first day of class, I look out at the sea of faces and wonder what each individual's story is -- who are they, really? -- and what will they be like? How will we get along? What kind of conversations and discussions will we have? As I quickly put names to faces, each one becomes a unique individual to me. Yes, sometimes it's tempting to think of a student as "that lazy boy who never does homework" or "that girl who keeps falling asleep in class", but it's not useful, and it isn't true. It isn't true because that's not all there is to the person, and as someone who always wants to know why, I keep thinking that if only I were able to reach a little bit farther into this one's mind and heart, perhaps I could discover the key which would spark his or her interest in learning, or discover the best way to motivate him or her.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Not 50-50

Having grown up in church and attended numerous weddings, I've heard countless sermons on marriage and the marriage relationship. Most of them are based on the Ephesians 5 passage which says both "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" as well as "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord." This submission thing doesn't sit well with some women!

I've heard a lot of good explanations about it but the one I read this morning has to be one of the best. I very much liked what the author, Dave, had to say: submitting to the husband doesn't mean the husband is boss. God is boss. Submission has nothing to do with someone being in an inferior position or less worthy of respect. Instead, it means "voluntarily yielding to another in love". As for the husband, loving his wife "just as Christ loved the church" means "taking the initiative in sacrificial, loving, servant-leadership to protect and to provide". NOT lording it over her and roaring, "What I say goes!"

Dave used the imagery of a dance to bring this point home. In a dance, the man leads and the woman follows. This doesn't mean the woman is weaker, or not able to think for herself. It also doesn't mean the man is superior, or knows better. They simply have different, but complementary roles, and mutually help each other to move to the rhythm of the music, sharing a common goal.

But this is what really made a light bulb go off in my head:

    In His covenant with us, God says: “I will be your God and you will be my people. I will never leave you nor forsake you”. Marriage is also a covenant when we say to our spouse: “I will be your husband and you will be my wife. I will never leave you nor forsake you. All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.” It is something exclusive between a man and a woman and permanent for life. It is not a contract. In a contract, we say: “This is my part of the deal, I will do this and you will do that and if you do not do your part, the deal is off.” A contract is basically an agreement between two people for the purpose of protecting their rights and limiting their responsibilities. A covenant is an unconditional laying down of our rights, giving up our own agendas for the good of the other, for the happiness of the family before God.
    (emphasis mine)

My mother once told me that the best marriage advice she ever received was that marriage is not 50-50. You cannot think, "I'll put in 50% and he'll put in the other 50%." No, it's 100% all the way. After reading what Dave wrote, I have a clearer picture of what she meant. Because, if you think the 50-50 way, you'll get upset when you think he hasn't done his 50%. It's natural for a wife to think, "He doesn't do this, why should I do that?" But it's not a deal, as Dave says. Not a contract. It's a covenant to give all of yourself to another.

I do urge you to go to Dave's blog and read the whole thing, because there's some other great stuff there, particularly when he explains what it means to be united and becoming "one flesh". His example of Starcraft II made me laugh out loud!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Be who you are

It's crucial to know who you are.

Over the past few years I've been thinking a lot about being vs. doing. In our Asian culture, we're very geared towards doing. Appearances -- "face" -- is important. Image is important, reputation is important. When it matters so much what people think, doing becomes the be-all and end-all. You have to be seen to do what is acceptable and praiseworthy... it's not about doing it because you are that kind of person, it's about doing it because you should do it or are expected to do it. Duty. Obligation. Responsibility. And lots of pressure.

We forget that doing ought to flow from being. If you are a generous person, you don't have to remind yourself to act in a generous manner; it comes naturally. And if you are not a generous person, but force yourself to be generous for whatever reason, you tend to resent it, to feel put upon, to struggle to give and let go.

Don't get me wrong, of course we need to cultivate good habits and there will be times when we have to make ourselves do things we do not want to do. There's still such a thing as doing what is right, and being human, we aren't always inclined to choose that particular path. So yes, I'm not saying that if you're not a generous person, it's a good excuse to hoard and keep all the goodies to yourself. But I'm saying, perhaps one should work on becoming a generous person, rather than work at cultivating the appearance of generosity.

But it's not just about what kind of person you are, it's also about who you were made to be -- your innate gifts and talents, your natural inclinations, your passion. When you listen to people advising teenagers about career choices, what do you hear? "Be a lawyer, you can make a lot of money." ... "Try medicine lah, you'll never be out of a job because there'll always be sick people." ... "Teacher also not bad, you get a lot of holidays."

See, "success" -- defined in this context as being financially stable and respected and enjoying a comfortable, if not luxurious lifestyle -- is something we think we should have, and we allow it to drive our decisions. But we're not thinking of who we are, who we were made to be. What happens? We end up in jobs we don't like, striving and striving, pushing ourselves, going through the daily grind and the rat race, climbing up the ladder, feeling exhausted and never quite satisfied. We feel we have to "get there", and however much we do it's never enough, however much we achieve it's never enough, however much we acquire it's never enough.

But if you know who you are, if you know what you were made to do, if your doing flows from being... your doing comes naturally, you are not striving, you feel you're in the place you are meant to be, doing what you're meant to be doing. There's joy, there's fulfilment, there's purpose. And peace. Above all, peace. Because you don't have to prove anything to anyone. Because it's not something you HAVE to do; it's something you WANT to do. You want it, not because you think you should or others say you should, but because it's part of you.

As a Christian, I think this is even more crucial because, if I truly believe that God has a plan for my life, I need to be who He has made me to be in order to fit into the destiny He has in mind for me. God's purposes for my life cannot be fully realised until I find my identity in Him and am doing what He made me to do, in the place where He's called me to be. That's because, if I'm uniquely crafted, I've been given specific talents and gifts, and I'll have an inclination towards certain fields or areas of interest; and if I fight these, or leave them to languish by the wayside in favour of more seemingly desirable achievements or skills, then how could I possibly be effective in the way He designed me to be?

So, identity is a big deal -- it's really important to me. To know who I am. To be true to myself. To be doing the things that God wants me to do. Not to simply go with the flow. Not to do what appears most logical or practical. Not to fall in with others' expectations of me or of what is acceptable and proper. Not to be seduced by the lure of "success" and money. Not to listen to those voices in my head that tell me I need to do more or be different in order to be significant and valued.

It's a struggle. Still a struggle, I would say, although less than before. But here's the point I've been trying to make: That core in you, the part that makes you uniquely you, was placed there by God. Why do we let other people, other things, tell us who we are supposed to be or who we should want to be? He made you. He knows you. His is the only voice you ought to be listening to. In Him, you will be most authentically yourself. And there's security there. Because, once you know who you are, you can never be shaken. Let people say what they want to say, and suggest what they want to suggest. You'll know you are doing what's right for you, and, deep within, a peace will settle over your heart. And I think God will look upon you and smile.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

All it takes is one click...

I was talking with a friend recently about keeping personal information safe from prying eyes online, and he said, "Not everyone is scared to have their information out there; I have friends who share everything about themselves."

The mere thought of it boggles my mind. I've always figured that those who are lax at guarding their personal info are either careless or ignorant of the dangers, but I suppose it could also be that they're simply comfortable being that way. I just can't understand that!

Even in the early days when I blogged under my real name, I used my first name and a poorly masked version of my last name. The whole idea was to make it more difficult for people to find me via a search engine like Google. Of course, if you were to discover the blog, and you already knew me IRL (in real life), it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to make the connection and figure out I was the writer. But if a stranger were to look for me by running a Google search of my name, my blog wouldn't show up in the list of results.

It wasn't that I was ashamed of what I was writing, merely that I thought it prudent to be cautious. When you have stuff floating out there on the Internet for any Tom, Dick or Harry to see, you don't know who's reading it, so it's wise to be careful. If someone stumbles over it that's one thing, but if a person were to dig around for stuff about you, that's another. Bear in mind that whoever is industrious enough to go looking for you is going to be a stranger and you have no idea where they sit on the scale of insanity (boringly normal, interestingly quirky, mildly eccentric, disturbingly strange, flat-out weird, scarily delusional, bat-shit insane). Yes, most people are fairly normal and well-balanced, but all it takes is for one bat-shit insane person to get hold of your personal information, and you're screwed!

Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I prefer to think of myself as being *cough* security-conscious *cough*. Ever heard of the adage, "better safe than sorry"? Maybe it's because I studied law and then worked with the media, and so have heard enough stories to make my hair stand on end!

In this day of social media, I think it's even more important to protect your personal information, because it's become a thousand times easier to trace you or dig up your various online profiles. Ever since establishing this blog, I've had two distinct identities on the Net: one as Sunflower, which I also use on Twitter and online dating profiles, and one under my real name, which I use on Facebook and elsewhere. Basically, I use Sunflower whenever I don't want to reveal my real name. My friends know who Sunflower is, of course -- it's not exactly a secret -- but random people wouldn't know. And again, you wouldn't be able to find stuff posted under the Sunflower name when you google my real name. This way, I have some measure of control over who sees what and who knows what about me, and I like that.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Adventures in being an aunt

At 5 weeks

Meet my brand-new nephew. Is that not the most adorable little face?

I've always thought babies are little miracles. When you come to think of it, each little one starts from a single cell that the naked eye cannot even see... how did that tiny being manage to form so perfectly with everything in the right place? Each time I look at a baby, I'm amazed all over again at what a marvel of engineering they are and am bowled over by the greatness of God. And wasn't He also so smart to make them so ridiculously CUTE?

Yesterday I babysat my little nephew for four hours while my bro and SIL went on a date. It was my first time caring for him solo with no back-up. He's only 12 weeks old, how hard can it be, right? He can't even turn over yet, let alone crawl, so he can't possibly get into mischief... it'll be a breeze, feed him, hold him, change his diaper, watch him fall asleep. Nothing to it!

...Riiiiiight.

Maybe I was just projecting, but the poor boy seemed unsettled by the new environment and absence of both parents. He rubbed his face in my T-shirt several times and started fussing, as if to say, "Hey, you smell different! You're not my mummy!" He was wet, so I changed his diaper, and then couldn't figure out how to fasten the new one. I was aghast. "Good grief, how hard can it be? This isn't rocket science!" I told myself, but in the end only managed to fasten one side. Defeated by a diaper! Never thought I'd see the day!

Of course, it didn't help matters that he was making protesting noises all through the process. "I'm sorry, I know this is so undignified, but it has to be done, okay? I'm getting you all nice and clean. Hang in there," I told him as I wiped him down, holding his legs up to get to his bum. As he continued to protest, and I fiddled with the diaper, I was like, "Shhh, shhh, almost there. Sorry, your aunt's not an expert, have patience with me, okay?"

I fed him and he fell asleep on me (finally! lol) and I was hoping he'd sleep for awhile, but in half-an-hour he woke again and was fussing, so I started singing to him, dredging up all the old Sunway School songs from memory. That seemed to calm him down :)  When I ran out of songs, I started quoting Scripture to him ROFL. It's amazing when you tell a baby that he's fearfully and wonderfully made, and that God knit him together in his mother's womb; it really brings things home the truth of the words and causes you to marvel at what God has done. Like, wow, how awesome is God and how precious is this little one!

From that we segued on into prayer (how could we not?) and then it was time for another feeding, and diaper change -- this time I managed to fasten both sides, woohoo! Progress! Today my arm muscles are aching from all the cuddling and carrying, but my heart is full ♥

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Looking back

Should have cross-posted this from Facebook earlier. Didn't think of it till now :p


2012 in review:

1 Jan: Starting new year in new apartment! A place of my own, finally!

2 Jun: Submitted Master's thesis! After more than 5 years! (started Dec 26, 2006) First goal of the year achieved.

29 Jun: Presented a paper at a conference! First time ever. Would not have dared to do so without the encouragement of my awesome thesis supervisor.

28 Jul: Completed Elijah House Basic School 1 & 2 (except for one last class on 4 Aug that I couldn't attend). Second goal of the year achieved.

4 Aug: Played keyboard with a worship music team for the first time in... only God knows how many years. Survived the experience thanks to huge support from everyone esp. lead guitarist and bassist, and very patient worship leader. Humbling experience :)

28 Aug: Submitted corrections to thesis :D

2 Oct: CONVOCATON OMG IT'S FINALLY OVER FOR REAL I CAN'T BELIEVE IT

27 Oct: My li'l nephew is born -- I'm an aunt! ♥

16 Dec: Travelled abroad for the first time in 7 years! (Last passport stamp: 24 Jan 2005 in Bangkok; I told myself I was not allowed to travel as long as The Thesis remained unfinished.)


*      *      *      *      *      *


As you can see, it's been a year of milestones. I'm so, so thankful for all the blessings and all the wonderful people in my life. God has been very gracious to me.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Which side's winning?

Going back-and-forth on a "should I, should I not?" dilemma...

I've always considered online dating a viable way to meet someone. It's just a point of contact. You're supposed to meet up face-to-face eventually (sooner rather than later) and take your communication off-line. Is it dangerous? My answer to that is, how is it any different from meeting a stranger in a pub or bar? Everything is potentially dangerous, including driving and walking down the street -- it's what you do to minimise the danger that counts.

So anyway... online dating has always seemed like a good idea because 1) I like the Internet, which is to say I use it a lot, even if I still don't have a smartphone and therefore don't have 24/7 Internet access wherever I go; 2) statistically, it would raise the chances of meeting that special someone, given that there's a wider pool of people to communicate with; 3) I'm a writer and communicating by text is, well, one of my favourite things to do, although sometimes I worry I write too much and make my readers go tl;dr ("too long, didn't read").

But after years of sporadically trying my luck online, I'm starting to doubt that this is the way to go. Aside from all else (like not getting any reply after sending out an email, or receiving creepy messages), the transition from online to off-line is often rough and things don't work out. Last year I had lunch with someone I was excited to meet and I thought the meeting went well, but he didn't seem interested in pursuing the connection after that. And I didn't understand it -- still don't -- because we talked for three hours and seemed to have a really good conversation, like it wasn't about surface stuff, you know? If you are not interested, why share with me personal details about yourself and your family?

I've been rather discouraged ever since that incident, and I've thought of giving up on Internet dating altogether, but then I think, what if? What if there's someone out there and I just haven't met him yet? What if the next person is the one with whom everything will sort of click into place? If I stop trying I'll never know.

On the other hand, what if this is not the avenue through which I'm meant to meet the guy, and I'm wasting my time and energy? And money... which brings me to the next thing.

Yesterday I received a notification from Match.com saying that someone had sent me an email through the site. If you're a free member, you can put up a profile and look at others' profiles, but you can't send or receive emails. Which means that unless I fork over some moolah, that email is going to languish in my in-box, unread, since I can't access it. This is the dilemma: To pay or not to pay?

My curiosity is driving me crazy; I want to know who sent the email, and what it says. My sensible, practical half is telling me: most likely nothing is going to come out of it, as always. My hopeful, idealistic self is whispering: you never know, maybe this could be it! My wallet is saying: are you sure you want to do this? Is it worth it? -- which, of course, is the million-dollar question. It all depends on the outcome, which is uncertain and unknowable.

If I become a paying member (which I was, briefly, for three months in 2010) it wouldn't mean just reading this one email, it would also mean I could contact others on the site and try my luck. But I just don't know. It hasn't worked for me before, what makes me think this time will be different?

Should I, or should I not? I don't believe in regrets; my personal stance has always been that it's better to give things a try than to look back and wonder and regret. On the other hand, sometimes I also think that I'm just clinging to forlorn hopes and am deluding myself that something will happen! Isn't the definition of insanity to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Does not compute

I hate it when I'm illogical.

I was mulling over this idea for a story: It would open with the bad guy having captured the good guy somehow. But, to throw a wrench in the works, the bad guy is forbidden by the laws of their world/universe to physically touch the good guy, so he has to find creative ways to torture/maim/kill the good guy.

I thought, oh well, then he can just use knives and swords and stuff, can't he? Not that hard. What's so interesting about that?

Laying that aside, I thought again. If he can't lay hands on the dude, how did he capture the good guy in the first place?

Easy, I told myself, he sent his minions.

Well, if it's that easy, why didn't he just send an assassin after the fellow? Why does he need to find creative ways to do away with him?

I was stumped. And annoyed at myself for coming up with such an illogical plot.

As I was writing this blog post, though, I realised that I could have it such that the good guy has some kind of power that only the bad guy can extinguish. Erm... but I still don't have an answer for what's so interesting about using knives and swords to off the bloke. If I extend the limitation and make it so the bad guy can't harm the good guy in any way, whether by physically touching him or other means, then his minions would also be ineffective, because they're extensions of him and doing his bidding, so how did he trap the dude in the first place?

Grrr, this is so ridiculously annoying. And to think I was all set to start writing out the first scene!