Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Take it easy

Mr G came home with new mugs for both of us. Mugs have favoured status in the english household as the ceremonial vessels for the traditional cuppa.

Cuppa means comfort, cuppa means love ya, cuppa means sorry, cuppa means friendship. I'm sure all those things and more. And Mr G being the proper englishman he is, wields the cuppa in all its full meaningful glory.

Mr G chose for me a serene and feminine mug called Momiji Peaches. When you finish drinking your nice cuppa tea, there's a little message revealed through the milk and sugar (just one, please).

It says, "take it easy! life is peaches."

How sweet is that? Maybe I can actually be a sweet and feminine wifey...hmm...no, actually it won't work. Too bad. Don't get me wrong, Mr G did not choose wrongly because he does know my exact taste for beautiful Japanese design, and this is just right. Little did he know, that in the underbed drawer full of presents for little girls, there are already two momiji dolls which I couldn't resist buying for my two. You can see the kind of thing I mean at this shop. What kind of momiji would you like? Or which momiji would you get me? *wink*

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Back To School - to Cheddar Gorge

In the rolling Somerset Hills lies Cheddar Gorge, home of cheese. Vertical limestone cliffs rose up around us and then we were there, at the rather cheesy village of cheddar, full of gift shops and twee tea houses. Apparently it is true that cheddar cheese was first made here, and during the tour of Gough's cave, we saw some wheels of cheddar cheese maturing, and a cheesy aroma (mixed with bat) floated through the air...dubious mmm? We, meaning 3 teachers, 3 parents and 60 kids, were on an educational school trip for the school day. Whilst I, would have been happy at a cheese tasting - it was not to be. My first responsibility was to ward the children's safety through the bowels of the Gorge...ah but I learned a decent amount!

The cave we visited was discovered in 1890 by Mr Richard Gough who retired to Cheddar in 1881 - he was a sea captain, and thus an adventurous soul. A beardy Victorian gentleman, he had 7 children. Together with his 5 sons, he discovered and cleared the mud and boulders away, year after patient year, to reveal the caverns before us.

The cave walls were chill and smooth to the touch, and everywhere was dripping water. Formed by the ice-melt of million year old glaciers it was the old riverbed, and an underground river still ran beneath us. There were some beautiful formations in the cave - my phone camera cannot do justice to them - though not bad for phone-cam!

A calcite "waterfall" - an airpocket in the earth caused the water to form in pools, and as the water evaporated and the level went down, formed each level of the "falls".
My favourite formation - King Soloman's Temple (yes, Mr Gough was a grand old Victorian wasn't he!) - I was really impressed! All this knowledge made up for the ear-splitting volume of the trip, despite behaving well. Needed a good lie-down in silence after, and probably some lavender water in the victorian theme!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Work in Progress

You know how you have work that isn't quite right, and you sit on it, take it out and revise it, and it still isn't quite right? Well I have this one I am not willing to give up on, but am stuck on where to go next. Can anyone give me feedback on which bits they 'get' and which bits are ?huh? ect, you know, just reader's impressions, doesn't have to be full analysis! Maybe it will light a fire under this work and get me to finalise it. I'll post it here, I promise not to get upset by anything anyone says...and I thought since I have explained chamomiles below, it may be less obscure than I think...

Chamomile Mother
for L and B

You tasted them equally–
Mother’s milk, chamomile tea,
One sweet, one bitter healer,
Soothing the night’s darkness–
Strict in the day’s relentless light.

Flower water and fragrance,
Bathed you and laved you,
Matricaria Chamomilla
Rubbed it on the hard knocks of
budding independence,
Remedy for your tears.

Bitterness to cool your blood,
Purify that daisy chain of dreams,
Your mother will tell you all the truth if you ask.
It won’t be pink through her chamomile glasses.

Love doesn’t come into it.
Love’s like the planet Mars to this plain tale.
An evening star over it all,
A daily wonder to be explored.
Curious companion for life.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Monster Slug eats Bellflowers

Actually, this was a small slug.

Raindrops on ladies mantle...

The back garden will be evolving slowly and organically. :)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Back garden before...

There's a large pictsy along the garden path. Will post after work pictures if the slugs don't eat everything aargh!

Started to dig (How many HSS does it take to build a Garden?)

*update: It is done now. Top view of garden above and from my front door view of the new grass and herb bed! Two weeks before we can actually walk on the grass!

Front garden being cleared...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Summer is here, make room!

Nigella sativa and Nigella (photo by Francesca York) http://www.nigella.com - this photo is for Kenny. Learn more about the herb here.

These are not quite the right colours but I like them, some strange technical fairyland has touched the edge of my photo! Surreal.

My garden is being dug up and replanted to make an aromatic herb garden. I am excited. Will update you on progress.

I'd like some blue roses, wouldn't you?

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Soothing Chamomiles

Matricaria recutita © 2000 Joseph Dougherty/ecology.org.

There are two kinds of chamomile commonly used in aromatic treatment. German chamomile, matricaria recutita pictured above - and Roman Chamomile, anthemis nobilis. The flowers look almost identical, but you can tell the oils apart as they are different. As you can see, they belong to the Daisy family
Asteraceae, whose bright-faced flowers like bellis perennis dot English lawns and are ruthlessly eradicated by lawn purists; or dandelions, which are even tougher to get rid of.

Both Chamomiles are cooling and soothing. They calm and induce sleep. They help with pain in the nerves and muscles. They are supportive to the liver, encouraging its detoxification function and regulating the Qi. Both relax the diaphragm and the abdomen, helping with shallow, anxious breaths and nervous cramps. Both ease the frustration held in the solar plexus when we have fixed expectations which are difficult for the unpredictable world to fulfill.

German Chamomile is a thick blue colour, pungent and viscous. It is rich in Azulene, a monoterpene chemical which only turns blue in the distillation process and bisabolol, an anti-inflammatory agent. Its smell is sweet and earthy with a bitter tone. I reach for German Chamomile in creams and gels to heal the skin: to cool red eruptive rashes, or inflamed edges of wounds and grazes (not on the open wound itself, it would sting!). It has both sedated my toothache - and my anxiety in the dentist chair from having two wisdom teeth out this year - and aided in swift healing after. German Chamomile helped to cool the inflammation of the lining of my lung after my bad bout with the viral flu. It eased the pain of the torn muscles in my ribs from the coughing!

Roman Chamomile is lighter, more appley, still with a bittersweet bite. I use this with children, to sooth their nights, calm their tummies, wash their stings, stop the itching for chicken pox, in their ears for ear infections. As for the rest of us, massage into tense muscles, apply to the abdomen for pms and period pains, stress and insomnia. Lovely in the bath after prolonged exposure to relatives during the holiday season.

The chamomiles blend well with lavender and geranium, also jasmine and rose. For a first aid blend, mix with helichrysum (for bruises) and ravensara (anti-infectious).

These are two oils I always carry with me in my tool box.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

First strawberries of summer

I always try to catch that first elusive taste of an English strawberry. It's so subtle, vanishing as it melts in your mouth. These tiny little berries pack a small explosion of it - and you have another and another...until the whole punnet is gone. Even better go out to the all-you-can-pick place on the old Roman Road and get them fresh off the plant in the benign English sun or drenched from the quiet rain.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Kenny Reads, Leaves

Sufian Abas took a very serious portrait of Kenny. He looks like he has a flame of enlightenment over his head like a bodhisattva. Why did I post this pic? It is good to have different viewpoints of everyone, which is why Sufian's photos are so extremely good. Kenny was describing the "I" in his book in the morning, just waking up:
"I see my face as black and white and see no shades of grey." - in Broken Mornings
So since I missed the last Readings, Kenny promised me he would get out Broken Mornings and give me my own private reading when I visited. Lucky me, I thought, but expected him to be kidding. But no, the man remembered his promise. He delivered unto me my own personal read of "Leaves" over the cake I might have mentioned once or twice. Kenny is very good at reading, no wonder ladies get rapt. The paparazzi were too busy listening, we didn't get any photos. It wasn't that kind of evening anyway. He read "Smell" which Spiffy chose and "Settling In" which Lyrical Lemongrass requested. So we all got one. It was fair and square. Kenny said that he felt he had moved on from these stories but liked them again now he heard them aloud. So all was good.

We even got a drawing demonstration on a napkin - hey, he can draw too - look forward to seeing some illustrations when Dark City 2 comes out. We all reluctantly stood up to leave and we dropped Spiffy off at the train and Kenny at his new place, clutching a Just Heavenly cake, I wonder if he ate it or just fell asleep on the spot!

Lyrical Lemongrass and I went off to find the perfect sashimi...we did very well. She blogs about Umai-ya. Mmm, what a lovely crowning evening. Thank you for looking after me so well. I will take this day and store it in my jewel box.

Let Me Eat Cake II

This orange ginger cake cordially eaten by Lyrical Lemongrass, Kenny, Spiffy and me.

Let me tell you why eating cake is like meeting bloggers in KL.

You see a cake and you want it. You debate on its creamy contours. You speculate on its inner integrity. You imagine its aromatic entree. You can see other's choices of cake and it says something about them. Cake is a luxury of experience. You don't have it normally after every meal. Cakes are intense concoctions of myriad ingredients alchemically transformed into a whole. They are manifestations of someone's vision. Maybe we all have tired, cynical parts of ourselves which whisper, "Cake cannot be as good as it looks." Pleads with us not to get tummyache or be someplace where someone will hurt you, or laugh, or stare.

So what is it like to fall out of the sky with perfect clarity? To hurtle past the towering cumulus canyons and set foot on the earth of your past?

Maybe you could see my hands shaking as I read to you.

Afterwards, the rush, the acceptance, the friendliness and generosity of spirit. Thank you for hearing me read. Thank you for saying a few things to me afterwards. It really meant a lot.

Tucked in my chair at Marmalade - light and open to the sun - Kenny and Spiffy before me and Lyrical Lemongrass at my side, where she had been all day; well, we ate cake. I finally and truly felt at home. Eating cake that evening was the perfect experience. A coming together. An alchemy. We picked up the threads of our blogs and we smoothly turned them into real and very truthful people. We laughed and told each other lots of truthful things and all it made was a good difference. Kenny was burning bright with adrenalin, tired from his move and working so much, he still made some time to come out. Spiffy had a sore throat and felt ill with flu and I said have honey, have honey and we all worried about her getting home to rest. Lyrical Lemongrass had ferried me everywhere, gone to blogger's breakfasts and lunches with openminded aplomb, for she is a formidable writer and reader too. Here I was among them, drunk on cake and companionship.

You know what? There was more.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

...and have it too.

I had to look it up on wiki: about the cake phrase! Too late tonight to keep going. Write more later on getting my promised personal reading I had after. *wink*

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Let Me Eat Cake

Beautifully textured carrot cake from Marmalade in Bangsar Village, photo courtesy of Lyrical Lemongrass

That is how I felt about attending Readings@Seksan's two Saturdays ago. Metaphorically, my life was rich with new experience like reading poetry in Malaysia, a country I had exiled myself from for so long. I was attending with my new blogger friends, another rich and rewarding experience: new kindred is a rare and valuable thing, and here it was in abundance where I never knew it could be found. I was also in touch with my friends from the Convent and my cousins whom I had felt so close to in my teenaged years, right before I left home forever. Perhaps I had come back properly this time, in my whole body, with my whole spirit.

Mirroring my inner life, we did indeed eat a lot of very excellent cake. As you saw in the previous post, my lunchtime was graced with a heavenly treat and so was my teatime. Since it was Lyrical Lemongrass who accompanied me, the standard of the food was high high high. But I digress, since food is always so distracting.

Seksan's is indeed an inspired venue, open to nature and nurturing to the arts. I truly wish to thank Sharon Bakar@bibliobibuli who organises the Readings for her generosity in asking me to read, unproven. She has a detailed account of the Readings at her site on the 26th of May. Sharon is such a prolific and informative blogger of all things literary, that you may have to scroll down a ways to see it. The June Readings will be last-ish Saturday in June, watch for them! She is an oasis in what used to be desert, and the landscape is slowly changing.

I read in august company. An editor of the NST reading evocatively from his book Brickfields: A Time, A Place, A Memory. A veteran poet who has trod the lonely way before us, venerable and published. Young, new, confident talent, already so accomplished, so many awards, poised on the lip of his future. The founder of readings herself, what more can I say! A silverfish short story award winner reading a story so plain, expressive and raw that I was in complete and total awe - about a sexless marriage.

A full spectrum of Malaysian culture in its unique diversity revealed itself both in readers and audience. We do take it for granted, you know - our multiculturality with attendant issues and conflicts. As an individual, this experience in its most positive extremity, seems to enable me to walk some everyman's land between all cultures of this world and is a gift to fitting in, which may not be all people's cup of tea, but I have lived long in hard lands with it.

Photos from Leon Wing, thanks. Left to right Balan Moses, Pey Colborne, Nic Wong, Noraishah Ismail, Bernice Chauly, Wong Phui Nam.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Fourth Blogger's Breakfast Club May 26th, KL

Lee Su Kim Photo by Lyrical Lemongrass

My LitSaturday in KL began when Lyrical Lemongrass picked me up from the hotel forecourt and we set off to Bangsar for the Breakfast Club. We sneaked in just as Eric was introducing Lee Su Kim author of Malaysian Flavours (Pelanduk Publications, 1996), whose new book, A Nyonya in Texas: Insights of a Straits Chinese Woman in the Lone Star State (Marshall Cavendish, 2007) is now available at MPH. I also noticed a slim volume on Manglish. She spoke amusingly of her experiences in Texas, and how Americans view Malaysia (where??). The guy who always asks about making money from writing piped up at question time, amid much giggling from the audience, so I asked Su Kim if she'd met any cowboys while she was in Texas, to change the subject. Surprisingly, she said No! (and there's a whole chapter on this in her book) There were no cowboys to be met in Texas and she had to pay money to go to the Rodeo to catch sight of any. How disappointing! I just adore cowboys, you'd think there'd be a few wandering around in Texas. She was very funny and a confident speaker.

David Byck Photo by Lyrical Lemongrass

David Byck, author of It’s a Long Way to the Floor (Johnathan Styles, 2006) says it is not an autobiography, it's about the process of change. He looks very fit, so the man walks his talk! On his website he says his book is "a true story of how yoga changed the life of a hot dog-eating, sports-loving, weight-lifting, Mr. Corporate America from the inside out." I wish I could have seen a little bit of the man before (he does describe himself on his official website ) - but David seems like a very relaxed and happy kind of guy. You can see how his gentle, self-deprecating humour would carry the tone of his book.

He spoke with a lot of honesty and integrity about the writing process, describing how he's going about his second book and some very funny anecdotes about going to a writing workshop in the US and the process of editing after one has written the first draft. What I remember? 1. Work on your first sentence. 2. Finish your manuscript before even thinking about anything else. 3. The difference between most published and unpublished writers is simply that the published writer didn't let anyone discourage them. He was a very encouraging and motivating speaker and I think he'll be reading a chapter from his book-in-progress at the next Readings at Seksan's.

Kudos to Eric and MPH for getting such entertaining speakers, and for such a lively session. (Ooh and nice curry puffs!). I met Chet and Spiffy and k.kim which I recognised from Blogworld and somehow ended up going in a group with Eric, Xeus, Spiffy and Lyrical Lemongrass to Red Ginger and then onwards for a lovely box of cakes at Just Heavenly. Mmmm mmmm!

This picture of what I had: Death by Chocolate is from their website. I definitely survived to go back some day.

What I Miss Most

Rain Trees at the Taiping Lake Gardens

I read this poem at Readings, organised by Sharon Bakar at Seksan's on the 26th of May. It was my first time reading poetry in Malaysia.


What I miss most
Are the rain trees,
The limestone hills in the North;
The sight of a big brown Brahmin bull,
With a bright white egret on its hump,
Under the attap thatched roof,
Of the rickety wood bus stop.

Tin mine white sand,
With weeds struggling to live,
In the barren silverness.

Rice paddy patchworks unfold,
Railroad tracks follow the coast, where
Tiny silhouette huts stand,
Husks of boats, fishing nets,
Abandoned to the wind.
The moist warmth still echoes on my skin.


When I am here,
I am as indivisible as the water,
Crashing as the waves,
Onto Ferringhi Beach.
I forget where two worlds,
Will pull me apart.

I can lie under the casuarinas,
And kiss you,
Like I will never, never leave,
I will stay, stay and whisper
(Like these waves),
Insistently into your nights,
Never letting you sleep.

We watch the fishing-boat lights,
Move far out at sea,
Singing their false songs,
To squid swimming towards the moon.

Published In Earnest Spring 198_ Harrisonburg, Virginia