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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

Month

August 2014

Values: the life blocks, the moral foundation

We just ended this excellent series at bible class on how we communicate to family members. Amongst many other things, the series involved identifying our personal styles and reactions in times of conflict, and having a look at other historical examples in the bible. I am kicking myself at the moment because I’d stored my notes from 2 weeks ago in a real safe place… which of course now means I can’t find them. But I did remember that the first question on the top of the list had to do with personal values.

It was something along the lines of,

Have your told your family what your personal values are?

It’s a great question, at least for me. Mostly because I have no idea what my personal values are, much less thought about articulating it to my family of origin, or to Tony and Arddun. It’s also a great question because it highlights that most fundamental assumption that trips all of us up: just because we’re in the same family, doesn’t mean we all inhabit the same attitudes and exhibit the same behaviours.

It’s like common sense in housework. It’s not actually that common. So if that’s tricky enough to determine sometimes, then we need to start talking out loud about what we think our personal and family values are.

A quick look around the interweb has produced a number of familiar and less familiar examples. More than anything, I’m awed and rather ashamed that I had never thought to do this.

In This House
I’ve seen this around. Like it, but only two out of three of us do Loud really well. And even then, I’ve mellowed lots.
Steele Family
Ooohhh I like this one
Family words rather than values per se
Something more abstract. Not sure that I care for this “Tag Cloud” style
One-word family values list
Also like this one
Homemade family values flower
Clearly, there were SEVERAL family meetings and a parenting textbook/workbook attached to this one. Wow!
Christian Vanilla
The Christian Comprehensive approach
We Are Kind
The Focused approach
Jennings family values
I thought I recognised the handwriting!!! I’ve seen that poster before!!! #kjennings #whilerandomlygoogling

Of course, articulating family values is something that needs to be discussed and agreed on, and not just cobbled together by me, the overenthusiastic part-time SAHM. But even before I’m ready to go broach the subject with Tony (and Tony, my love, consider the subject already partially broached!) I need to work out what it is that I value.

I’m still working through the list, but I thought I’d start with what I already do. I think we ALL like to think that we champion huge concepts all the time like Love, Justice, Loyalty, Kindness, Purity, Courage. And we aspire to be diligent and successful in areas like Health, Beauty, Finances. Still, I think we all know that attitudes don’t speak the loudest – actions do.  So here’s what I’ve come up with so far this week, based partly on what I spend my heart on. And I’m sure there’s more to come.

My Personal Values (that I’ve come to recgonise anyway)

I value continual self improvement, hard work, and the desire to reach my full potential

This one took a while for me to get to, especially the bit about reaching my full potential. I think we get constantly inundated with the World’s vision of how someone reaches their full potential. They get a Nobel Peace Prize, for instance. Climb a mountain. Start a company. Become a celebrity. Write a book. Write 10 books. Work 85 hours a week. Have 7 children, foster 10 more, adopt 3. Basically spend every waking moment Living and Doing, in the hopes of becoming the best version of themselves.

I believe it’s no coincidence that I choose to be a Christian. It’s also not a coincidence that I choose to blog. The former requires a lifetime of a renewing of the mind, and the unlearning of old ways while putting on Christ. The latter is one of my means of documenting the process, and checking in. My problem is finishing – I’m not great at that. But I do genuinely seek to do better, and I do spend quite a bit of time examining my faith, my actions, and my shortcomings. Which is why I’m constantly goal-setting (but still suck at seeing some of it through). And also, I get REAL excited putting together a 23-step program to get me there. That’s probably the funnest bit for me.

I value Discernment, Sagacity, Temperate Judgement

This one came about because I’m increasingly aware of how I balk when given “expert advice” on many subject matters – health and nutrition, parenting, technology, religion, self-help… I am especially leery of magic bullets. Yet when Celina and I were growing up and identifying our polar-opposite traits, we had always regarded her as the suspicious one, while I would swallow a concept whole first because I trusted people so quickly. That seems to have changed along the way.

Don’t get me wrong – I can still get incredibly excited over new shiny concepts. But Tony often balances off such enthusiasm with a measured, factual response (and the occasional eyebrow-raise) that I’ve grown to appreciate his cautiousness. And I’ve become a lot more moderate (and sadly, a little cynical) over the last decade and a half, after an entire adolescence of my mother tsk-tsking me for being Too Emotional.

I value having the courage to speak up, to change, to meddle

While packing my old bedroom in Singapore last year, I came across a letter I had written to a sister in Christ and it took my breath away. It was basically me broaching the subject of how I’d noticed her changing away from God and church, and how I really yearn for her to hang on to her faith. It was earnest, it was honest, it was surprisingly loving and gentle (not my best traits), and because it had been such a long time since I’d done something like that, it touched me. Weirdly, I wish others had written that way to me when I was going through big stuff in my late teens and early twenties. I wish I had sent that letter to that sister. But perhaps I only wrote what I needed to hear for myself. Communicating through the prism of my own love language.

I can be blunt now, I know. I have a forthright manner. I call a spade a spade, sometimes worse. But I think I’ve mellowed. I used to have a lot more courage to speak up for the underdog, to broach difficult ideas, to poke at the glass ceiling, question the status quo, meddle with love. Of course, that also meant I tread on many toes, flummoxed many Aunties and Uncles in church, intimidated others without necessarily winning them over, and made enemies. I still do some of these things quite well. :-(

Coming to a different country and starting out as an outsider has subdued me somewhat. I am also more mindful, now that I’m married, of charging ahead but leaving my introverted, circumspect husband and partner exposed and hating it. And yet I wonder if I’ve swung too far the other way, like a pendulum. Where the good stuff is getting muffled with the bad. I believe I still have it in me to fight the good fight when it counts.

This personal value isn’t so much one that I’m exercising regularly, but one that is dormant and needs refining.

 

I’m sure there are many others – the dead obvious ones like I Value Beauty (which is why I window shop so much), and the more surprising one like I Value Family, which is why I’ve put the corporate career ladder climbing schtick aside for now, and am still working out how to reinvent that bit. This isn’t a comprehensive list, like I said, but it was the first 3 that came to mind and it’s an interesting start.

 

Soooo… what are your personal values?

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The successful failure

One of the perks of being a part-time SAHM before Arddun goes to preschool is the time we get to just hang out together and try things.

We were going to surprise Tony with cookies when he returned home from work this week (He’s working longer and longer hours, and has to deal with interesting staff. Not his favourite two things.) Decided to try out a new recipe from a book I’d bought cheap from Borders years ago (American measurements, with metric translations). Was supposed to be brown sugar cookies with a drizzle of lemony icing.

Wasn’t too sure about the recipe halfway through but because I’m no baking diva, and we were having too much fun, I pressed on.

Collage of Arddun with cookies on tray
Cookies are looking good on the tray at least
Arddun profile baking collage
Arddun’s chief role: beater eater

 Sadly, when we pulled the trays out 12 minutes later, everything was le splat. Just too much butter, methinks. And waaay too salty.

I was pretty disappointed. But Arddun just walked over, looked at the trays, said “Oh dear, Mummy!” and then patted me gently on the back. “Oh well. It’s okay. Nevermind. You alright?”

Prompting me to question who had the more adult response, really. What a crack up!

Strawberries and chocolate dipping sauce
When all else fails as spectacularly as it did, go to chocolate-drenched fruit
Arddun eating a strawberry
Happy with consolation prize

TTT — Parking, Piccies, Pregnancy

Great parking when I needed it

This piece of gratitude actually came about the week Andrea and Ben were here. I hadn’t included it in last week’s list because going all swoony over parking is, frankly, a little embarrassing. But I think all drivers can relate to that punch-in-the-air feeling when you score the perfect parking space. As it turned out for my cousin’s visit, I scored a parking space riiiight in front of Jollimont Centre (the coach station here in Canberra) the day of their arrival… and then I scored a parking space at the side of Jollimont Centre on the day of their return.

Noice.

Parking around Jollimont Centre
So nerdy, but HAD to take a photo

I was especially thankful to get the second parking space, as that allowed me a good half hour coffee with Andrea and Ben before they boarded the bus. Precious times.

Selfies with Arddun

Arddun is beginning to get curious about photography — probably because I keep taking pictures of her on all mobile devices and now, an actual camera. She hasn’t quite understood the concept of looking through the viewfinder of a camera to take a shot, but I think she’ll get there soon. She is now fascinated with selfies, though. (I’m not altogether sure how to feel about that one.) We had a mini indulgence one recent lazy morning during breakfast, and for some reason I wasn’t quite prepared for how she snuggled up against me to take a bunch of selfies. Heart melted, blub blub…

Selfies with Arddun

Cruisey pregnancy thus far

I’ve heard that second pregnancies are harder on our bodies, and I’ve personally found that to be true. Muscles are looser, which means things get sore quicker; the pelvic pains I got on the last week of pregnancy that made walking difficult is something I’ve now been struggling with since the start. My nausea had hit harder, I feel more tired, I lose energy quicker. I’m sure part of it has to be with age and the fact that I’m running after a dancing toddler, too.

But I am so thankful that my pregnancy is boring. “Boring,” my midwife and obstetrician sagely reinforced, “is a great thing when you’re pregnant. No events. That’s what we want to know.”

There are other pregnant women who really struggle with the big stuff, even the possibility of severe complications leading to death. And I know none of us is immune. I try to remember this whenever I wake up in the middle of the night with blindingly painful leg cramps, the kind that contort your face into The Scream, or when Boy Blob decides to break out dance moves violent enough to cause me to jump. Because all this is temporary, and I know I actually have it real good.

“Look, mama! I’m Rapunzel!”

IMG_0648.JPG
You crack me up, kiddo.

Addressing my consumerism with distracting fun

I’ve spent way more than I meant to this month.

A couple of reasons…

  • I’ve discovered what glorious fun it is to find great online retail prices, and then slink into brick-and-mortar shops to coyly ask if they’d price-match my finds. (And they all did. All four retailers.)
  • This modern version of bargaining with shopkeepers coincided very neatly with the recent purchase of my DSLR camera, and with it all the accessories. New lens! Camera bag! Nappy Bag to fit New Camera Bag!
  • In a very inspired week, I went about decluttering my personal and business emails and ended up stumbling upon all the Pumpkin Patch sales I had previously assiduously avoided in the Promotions tab. Catastrophe, but the Boy Blob can now consider modeling as a career next Winter.
  • Andrea and Ben came for a week and when three Singaporeans are gathered, there will be good food if not shopping.

I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of tracking my superfluous spending through Toshl – so anything outside bills and groceries qualify. My coffee and babycinnos with Arddun, for instance. Entrance fees for indoor playgrounds, lunch out, takeaway dinner when I’m on my way to a Tupperware sales meeting, clothes and homeware shopping, that sort of thing. It started out as a way to track where the money primarily goes, but along the way I’ve tried to give myself a limited budget per month so I’d be pushed to weigh up my options more deliberately.

And then I came across an article on The Buy Nothing Year.

Okay – I am privately not a fan of the hippie lifestyle. I’ve seen and smelled human beings who have used homemade soaps and shampoos, and have decided I wouldn’t like a bar of it. (Geddit? Bar? Of soap? Boom boom.) I also kill plants remarkably well, so starting my own self-sufficient veggie garden is not going to sail. And I’m not going to walk or bus everywhere. Not with a toddler and a nappy bag and an already achy pregnant body. My time is already precious.

Also, I’m not altogether comfortable about stingeing on others. I get that splurging on myself is indulgent, but generosity and hospitality are values I esteem quite highly too.

Still, there is something to be said about how much those roommates saved, and the behavioural changes that came about from that project. Consumerism is, unfortunately, a large part of city living and I am a city girl at heart. (Actually, consumerism is a large part of First Worlds, period.) This past week, I feel like I’ve been reacquainted with that original spirit which inspired me to start using Toshl way back when.

And so, to add to the tracking of my daily spend, and the monthly budget I’ve set for myself, I’d like to start setting goals for what NOT to spend on.

Which means running out and downloading a bunch of free apps to try! Wheeee!

I’ve looked at habit tracking apps before, but this time I was looking for apps that had to do with goal setting and getting inspired by others. It also had to look heaps pretty but cost me nothing. And so after hunting around, I’ve come up with my shortlist.

New free apps I’ll be experimenting with these next few months

Some budgeting goals I’m refining at the moment

  • Limiting the number of indoor playground visits as the weather gets warmer for Arddun
  • No clothes, bags, cosmetics, bling, shoe-shopping for a month (this includes buying for Arddun as well, which is even harder to curb)
  • Limiting the number of café outings with Arddun (will make exception when we are with friends)

More about The Buy Nothing Project

TTT – Going live, coming home

I know this is now two days late.

To be fair, I did start writing this on Thursday… Greenland time.

Better late than never, etc etc…


I don’t know whether it was the lack of sleep, my current gooey pregnancy hormones or the fact that I have the day off today, but I woke up this morning feeling a whole lot of Thankful. There’s a calm in me, wholesome and warm like freshly baked bread, and just as nourishing and welcome on this cool winter’s afternoon. I don’t usually gush about the good things in life, but there’s just something about today that makes my soul hum.

We’ve had Andrea and Ben over this last week from Singapore. Between blogging the hours away and immersing myself in their cheer and company, I chose the latter the way one savours a good meal and is loathe to let any morsel go to waste. They got on the coach this morning and even as I type, are on their way to Sydney to eat their weight in fresh seafood and work it off after with long walks around this hilly, bustling metropolis. I’m going to miss them, but I’m sure they have, in no small way, contributed to my sunny sense of wellness this day.

So here goes.

1) Going live, baby

After telling myself that I’d like to get out of web project management and try something else, I landed a part-time contract in April with a Christian organisation that I just could not refuse. It turned out to be an intense project full of twists and turns that required constant creative thinking and firefighting, and pushed me outside of my comfort zone. It’s not finished yet, but the first part of the product launched on our deadline despite crazy, crazy odds and yet another last-minute curve ball. Awed, inspired and grateful for the many hands on deck, but most of all touched by the graciousness I constantly encounter from others in this business.

It also meant I could enjoy the rest of the week with Andrea and Ben without this project hanging over my head and heart. Bliss!

2) Being at home with my homies

I remember one bible class lesson with Willie where she described how, decades into her marriage, she still feels about hanging out with her family of origin. That sense of sinking into that deep sigh of familiarity and knowing, “This, THIS  is my family”. Don’t get me wrong – Tony, Arddun, Boy Blob and I are a family. They are my family. And of course home is wherever they are. And I love Tony’s family too – his family of origin. The source code that explains his uniqueness.

But being with your own family of origin means dipping your whole being into the aaah-just-right waters of your genetic pool. It means never having to explain the history, because they were a part of it. It means saying a word to recall a lifetime, and to watch this sage-like recognition of where you’re coming from when you talk about a time and place.

I don’t think Ben, Andrea and I slept very much over the week, mostly because we were chatting so late into the nights, and then starting the day early-ish so we could spend more time with each other still. It didn’t take very long for Arddun to pick up where she left off with them in June last year. The second moment she got home from school on Friday – 9 hours after they’d departed for Sydney – she looked around the house before quietly asking, “Where’s Aunty Andy? And Uncle Ben?” And I know she misses them still.

(Sorry for funny colours. Was playing with filters.)

Andrea and Ben
Our visitors – “Uncle Ben” and “Aunty Andy”
Andrea doing Arddun's hair in the morning
Still waking up at the breakfast bar while Aunty Andy does her Elsa hair
Andrea and Arddun
Her Aunty Andy
Arddun climbing steep ladder to slide
Getting by with a little help from Ah Ben
Arddun solo down slide
Wheeeeee!
Arddun running out from slide
Again, again!
Andrea Arddun slide
Sliding down together is so much fun!

 

3) Seeing the world I’ve grown to love through appreciative eyes

I get a little teasing, mainly from Singaporeans, for choosing to live in Canberra. Partly because most of them have only heard about how quiet it is, but mostly because Canberra is about as different a city from Singapore as you can get. It’s 350,000 inhabitants “squished” in land area bigger than Singapore (including the latter’s islands and numerous land reclamation projects). It isn’t about shopping and food. It has four seasons including a real winter, a struggling public transportation system, and a lot of natural parkland and reserves. It’s quiet. Oh lord, it’s quiet. You can hear your thoughts here. You have room to breathe the freshest air blowing through from surrounding hills and ridgeland, and your sinuses and skin clear up because it’s dry and clean. You can see sheep and kangaroos grazing (though not together). You can build houses here. You can work hard here, you can slow down here, you can grow alongside your children and soak up their childhood. And because there aren’t so many people around, you can find yourself here – distinct, apart from the crowd, clear, lucid. Apprised of, but relatively sheltered from fads and trends and popular opinion. You can get clarity here. You can dream.

As with any home, you know its faults most of all – but you’d defend it to the ground if someone on the outside were to attack it. And until a few years ago, I guess I’d secretly regarded Canberra as a looooong staycation. But it’s been eleven years since I moved from Singapore, and I’m more content now than I’ve ever been in over a decade.

It’s a lifestyle – and a life choice – that is hard to explain, and even harder to embrace if you’re not looking for it. Tranquility can often be mistaken for boredom, and it took me a while – especially coming out of my twenties – to wind down the adrenaline junkie in me. I still pack too much in a day, and I still burn the candle on both ends to embrace all my interests. But I’m beginning to understand that a life without constant hyperventilative event and drama can be deeply satisfying.

(HUGE caveat: I’m not saying my Singaporean friends and loved ones are all dark and twisty adrenaline bunnies incapable of switching off and building fulfilling lives. Hardly. I’m just saying Canberra is starting to suit me, but it doesn’t suit everyone. Mostly because there are no durian parties here.)

This is a super long-winded way of me saying that it made my heart sing to see how Andrea and Ben truly appreciated this brown land I’ve come to call home. They found joy in the little things I find joy in – good food in surprising cafes, gorgeous views unassaulted by high-rise buildings, fresh produce, quirky shops. Freezing cold air juxtaposed with yummy hot chocolate, humongous stationery warehouses, a double-storey music store. Stretches of winding road enveloped in velvety darkness, supermarkets that stay open till midnight. Quiet traffic.

An almost-empty cinema and a brilliant movie playing while you’re nursing a glass of Prosecco. A surprise of wooden artistry in a forest of glass and concrete. Crazy playgrounds shaped like acorns, and a breathtaking expanse of land dedicated to the cultivation and conservation of the world’s trees.

A church that is small but intimate and loving. That trusts each other enough to lay down true burdens, that worships without fanfare (and sometimes without Powerpoint). That asks hard questions and is okay with diverse answers. That can be disorganised, but strives so hard to be patient with one another in love.

And then the ultimate compliment – that they can see why I live here. And that is heartwarming indeed.

Photo of Graham, Penny, Andrea and Ben (normal)
A posed shot with the Frys
Photo of Graham, Penny, Andrea and Ben (quirky)
That’s more like it
Andrea taking in view from arboretum
Andrea taking in the view of the arboretum

TTT – The Boy, The Girl, The Dirt

There’s a meme going around my Facebook feeds lately, where friends tag others to publicly post 3 things they are grateful for every day for 5 consecutive days. Kinda like the 365 project lite, or 1-day cricket.

It’s made me remember that I used to dedicate Thursdays to Thankfulness.

I’d very recently purchased the Gratitude 365 Journal App – partly because it had the prettiest user interface out of the all the gratitude apps I’ve seen, but mostly because I want to fine-tune my perspectacles. I don’t have to tell you that there can be a lot of negativity on the internet; gone are the days of one-way mass media where a small group of elites opined. These days, an opinion piece could invite instant feedback and with it, hot judgement, cold trolling and many times, downright nastiness.

Politics and religion aside, parenting is one of those things that can press everyone’s crazy button – whether you’re a parent or not. Lately, I’ve grown so weary of reading comments that quickly deteriorate to name-calling and judgement. I’m also quickly losing what little patience I already have with manipulative scaremongers who prey on the insecurities of others to inflate their own misplaced sense of superiority and saintliness. As if parents don’t have enough secret oodles of self-doubt to deal with.

You know what I’m talking about, because we are surrounded by it daily.

It is hard not to be sucked in the game, and especially with the Facebook posting and the retweeting. I’m very opinionated on a raft of topics (read: most things). It’s probably why I started blogging, although I’ve made more of an effort with this blog to reflect and refine my words and deeds.

It also means I’m so much more susceptible to the hot judgements and the cold cynicism.

It may seem like disparate topics – gratitude and unrighteous judgement – and yet they can be two sides of the same coin. Self-righteousness is narcissistic because it assumes from the very start that my values and life experiences should determine everyone else’s True North. Yet, Gratitude is another kind of self-absorption, in that it requires discipline, and continual self-awareness and reflection.

Simply put, I find that focusing on things I’m thankful for helps slay the part of me that wants to think the worst of others. It’s not a coincidence that people who feel grateful are more likely to feel loved – and to want to love in return.

(I just want to put in a quick disclaimer that I’m not talking about Positive Thinking here. There is a difference between being perky and being thankful.)

Anyhoo – back to today’s Thursday’s Three Thank-yous

1) This active, growing boy

I am incubating a human being that is now strong enough to kick me awake. He’s starting to settle into a 3-hour pattern – which includes an 11pm Snoopy Dance (happening right now), a 2am plié, and a 5am Ninja-stealth wallop. He responds very positively to chocolate. I am also contemplating a life with an Even More Active Kid. (Remember that Arddun was crawling and standing by 6½ months, and walking by 10½ months.) I miss him when he’s zoning out, and there is a slow smile that breaks across my face when he starts up again because I know he’s still alive. I am so thankful for the privilege of carrying 2 babies in my lifetime. Having someone move independently of you while within you is a bizarre, delightful thing.

2) This loving, (mostly) obedient girl

Didn’t mean for this round of TTT to turn out to be so general — but I’ve really enjoyed Arddun’s company this week. Sure she wants to strike out now and then – refuses to hold my hand sometimes, bursts into tears when I say “not yet” or “no”… but her manners can be so beautiful, her gratitude can be so transparent, and her concern for my welfare, so guileless and genuine. I love how she has learnt contentment with her own company, something adults can struggle with still. I love how she mostly understands when I need space to accomplish other things; that she doesn’t need to be the centre of my universe all the time.

Arddun sitting on a red stool and reading in her room

3) The ability to own a plot of dirt

We officially became landowners yesterday. Not such a big deal to many Australians, but it’s surreal for a Singaporean like me. To own land and build your own house in Singapore (no matter how tiny) is the reserve and privilege of the fabulously, obscenely wealthy. We are not multi-millionaires, but we have been given enough to own a plot of dirt. (Weeeell, “own” is a strong word considering all land in Canberra is crown lease. But it’s still a great feeling.)

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