Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places




The last time I baked something sweet that turned out alright was 18 years ago at my Home Economics exam. Even then, the cake had sunk in the centre but I had covered that up with fruit and smothered the whole thing with chocolate, so the teacher got distracted…

Since then, I hadn’t needed to touch an oven. As far as Asian desserts go, I wasn’t ever a fan and as far as baking in the family went, our oven short-circuited the house once and we’d never used it since.

Then I got to Australia.

Hospitality in Australia – good hospitality in Australia – seems to go hand in hand with culinary sweets. Morning tea – cakes and bikkies. Afternoon tea – different cakes and bikkies. Dessert. Cream. Cheese. Butter. Pastry. Meringues – large, small. The boring nutrition of fruit completely negated by sugar and spice and all things sinfully nice.

But the problem is, I suck at baking.

I blame my oven most of the time. The thermostat is as reliable as a weather man licking his pointy finger and sticking it into the breeze. You set the oven to 160°c fan-forced and the light will go off when it hits the mark. But the temperature will keep climbing. Before you know it, your beautiful tart has been sitting in 220°c for the last half hour and you could play frisbee with the product.  And kill the person it lands on.

But the bigger problem is my penchant for making things up as I go along (works for Chinese cooking, baaaad for baking…) and the fact that I’m rather heavy-handed with ingredients. Also, I can never get the butter-flour balance and before long, am spiralling into the abyss as I try to get what I think to be The Perfect Dough. The list goes on and on.

But good hospitality – great hospitality – almost demands some TLC with the dessert. Some effort required. Some home-made goodness. OK for when it’s a lunch or dinner. But when it’s the in-betweeners, it’s not like I can rock up with some soy sauce chicken, you know what I’m sayin’? NO cake goes with soy sauce chicken.

Turning up with store-bought confectionery used to merely be embarrassing but now that I’m a full-time housewife, it bugs the living daylights out of me. “It’s not an exam, you know,” Tony reminds me gently. He is greatly amused by my new-found definition of success in life. But I am not. Now that I am a Mommy, I get to go to mumsy things which always seem to involve driving to someone’s house for tea and sweets. And I’d love, for once, to be able to say, “Great! I’ll whip up some <insert delectable pastry here>!” and not sneak off to Aldi’s.

Also, fast-forward to the year 2016 when Arddun’s 5 and she’s the only kid in her kindergarten not to have cake made from the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book because her mother is a putz with the oven. My poor baby girl, laughing stock of kindergarten, scarred for life.

Anyhoo. Went and bought a book that promised easy baking. It says so on the cover – “Easy baking“. I made a lemon currant loaf. And watched the oven like a hawk. And moaned into Tony’s shoulder about how it will turn out awful.

And it turned out okay! It even turned out edible.

Lemon currant loaf
"There is hope for her after all."

Tackling the wall decal

We just spent about 2 hours figuring out how to put up the wall decal together. Or rather, Tony stuck on lots of it, while I cut up the pieces and took happy snaps and drove him nuts unsticking some of what he stuck and resticking them “just because”. It’s nice to chronicle evidence for the kid that we can work as a team – heh heh!

We’re still about halfway through getting the nursery done, but it’s amazing how a simple tree with gormless owls can pull a room together.

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Bargain booty braggin’

Have been pretty well-behaved on the baby-mamma retail front, aside from that lapse in judgement when I decided to go on a pink binge and dress Blobette as a strawberry field (more on that later).

Still… the change in season has prompted an upgrade in wardrobe – partly because of the need for warmer clothes, but mostly because Blobette has decided to Live Large. Coupled with the proverbial Nesting Instinct that kicked in circa last Friday, and I ended up shopping for most of this long weekend.

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RRP for items above: $59 + $387.15 + $29.90 = $476.05
Actual spend: $9.84 + $75 + $10.20 = $95.04

w00t, I say. w00t!

Whoa, nellie

Like a cork suddenly released from a bottle of bubbly, our entrance into the second trimester has given Tony the boost he needs to Suddenly Take Charge.

With the shopping.

You have to understand my husband, to understand why this is so endearing. Because the man abhors the shops. He is The Most unmaterialistic person I’ve ever met, who will gladly trade mopping the floor using his tongue with an hour at the shops. While most men in Singapore profess boredom with shopping, at least they’ve grown up with it as the national sport. In Australia, ANY sport is the national sport. Except shopping.

Which is why his whole-hearted embrace of the world of baby paraphernalia shocks and awes – in that I profess to moments of stunned silence, followed by a definite and melting “naaaaawwwww”. Yesterday, we spent a total of six hours baby shopping – at his instigation. We bought a dryer in 15 minutes flat. Then we spent two hours test driving five ridiculously-cute prams. Then we went tallboy window-shopping, which was indirectly related to the baby shopping.

And then we got home and spent 2 hours online sussing out overseas options, and scouting All Classifieds for second-hand baby cots.

Today, he continued the hunt. Alone. He got the dryer installed. Braved Babies R Us and their ambivalent customer service. Checked out the pram deals at the Babies Direct shop. Test-drove prams in a manly man way. (Today’s mission was primarily to suss out the Urbo. More on that later.)

He also made an appointment to view a bunch of second-hand baby furniture. We ended the day as proud owners of a second-hand 3-in-1 cot, mattress, change table, and baby bath – for the feather-lite price of $235. Sure, the cot has teeth marks on one end. I say it gives it character. Like notches on a bedpost, only… not.

At the rate he’s going, we’re going to have the nursery done by Chinese New Year. I’m loving the energy.

Where did my house go?

So you start out with a three-bedroom house that is larger than the cosy shoebox you grew up in, and you think to yourself, “This is HEAPS of space. HEAPS!”

Then you get knocked up, and now decide that you need to convert your study into a nursery. And suddenly, you want to crawl under a large bed and hide from all that work you now find you have to do.

I don’t know what it is about us humans, but we seem to accumulate so much sentimental junk without even trying. I have TWO  humongous paperbags, each filled with paperbags. Enough wrapping paper to cover all my white goods – twice over. Books I will never read “but will sell on ebay some day”. Just a closetful of “just in case”.  

In order for us to prepare a nursery halfway decent, we have to touch the study, the garage, the sitting room, and the guest bedroom. I just started a list of tasks and I already feel exhausted and broke.

And then there’s the stuff to get for the baby. On the one hand, there’s the very real temptation to get everything brand-spankingly new and shiny. On the other hand, there’s the practical part of your brain screaming, “Don’t be such a ninny. You’re in Marketing. You know all about creating desire for useless goods.” So you sit there and go through a rather brutal process of elimination, asking yourself the Real Tough Questions, like:

  • Do you REALLY need to get a baby bath, when you have both a sink and a bathtub?
  • Do you REALLY need a mobile bassinet? Isn’t that, like, a glorified pram? In essence?
  • Do you REALLY need a change table? Didn’t generations of kids in Singapore – me included – get by with that trusty pink and blue rubber mat?
  • etc.

After which, you’ve gotten your list right down to the bare basics. And then you feel like a stingy, selfish human being incapable of providing her own offspring with the very best that a paltry thing like money has to offer.

Ain’t guilt grand?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I’m huge into Christmas. Or was anyway, until I got to Canberra and realised that it’s a lot like Kuala Lumpur, in that most people gear up to leave the place and spend Christmas somewhere else. Christmas in Canberra is about as exciting as a new pair of socks.

So in the six years we’ve been married and in the five we’ve lived in our home, we’ve never decorated. We have a money tree from our wedding that’s looking rather ratty, but it serves as our gift tree – so Valentines’ Day presents, anniversaries, birthdays and yes, Christmas gifts get left under its scant branches. And because there’s really only two of us, we don’t need anything bigger really.

But this year, I’m looking around and picturing Blob (proper baby, with proportionate head-to-body ratio, looking devastatingly cute at 5.5 months) and I’m thinking already that we’re sloppy parents and should make more of an effort, dangnammit.

So is this the start of that proverbial nesting period that mothers go through? Perhaps.

Blob got his or her first Christmas present this week!

Olivia the Owl crinkles, jingles, squeaks, reflects, and looks gormless to boot.

Tony’s colleague Katie got Olly the Owl for Blob. Which just makes it all that much real-ler. It’s one thing to grow a small paunch and get those bellybelt things to expand the waistband of your work pants (bellybelt RAWKS). It’s quite something else when another member of society openly acknowledges Blob’s humanity.

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