Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places



Changing shifts

They say you should be careful what you pray for.

A few of you know that I’ve been searching for a paying job for the last few months, in amongst the steady stream of visitors and birthday parties we’ve had.

Continue reading “Changing shifts”

The Home Straight (and a bit of a RAWR at the end)

Okay, here’s a scary thought: in less than 7 weeks, we will be moving to our new house.

The one that currently has no floor or window coverings, no tiles, no kitchen, no laundry, no toilets and bathrooms, no appliances, no internal paint, no lights, no powerpoints, no garage door…


It’s full steam ahead here on our planet. It’s a little insane. Was supposed to take Arddun to a play date with Eli and his nan, the lovely Marg, this morning. Ended up half an hour late after an impromptu phone introduction to the new foreman, who will be taking the build to the home straight. And then after lunch, I got word that I needed to sign, scan and email designs and quotes back by this afternoon, so I ended up at Dave and Marg’s house to frantically do that. All while the kids sprawled on the rug to watch Tweety and Sylvester, while Marg worked on redirecting Atticus from chewing on her furniture like a beaver.

And you know what? Lately, that’s a pretty typical day for us.

Atticus and Arddun often get complimented on their ability to sit still and entertain themselves in relative good humour for extended periods of time. And it’s only because they’ve had so much practice. I try to schedule a fun activity or destination for them to look forward to, in between the trips to the new house and any number of tradies in Mitchell/Fyshwick/Hume. But then one afternoon, I turned the car into the kitchen place and Arddun started crying. And that’s when I knew we were ALL over it slightly.

I’ve been nagging myself now and then to put all this down in the blog, so I can look back on this busy time and remember what it’s been like. And it hasn’t been all House, House, House; there are still play dates, and ballet classes, and school, and birthday parties, and church, and cuddle time, and playground time, and baking time, and art-and-craft time, and all those big and little things that make up our days rearing very young children. But we do pack a lot of things in our day, because this new-house project adds about 30% more activity to our week, on average.

Because it’s not just the actual ordering of stuff, and the liaising with the builders. It’s the thinking. It’s the planning. It’s the researching. It’s the agonising. It’s changing your mind, and then dealing with the knock-on effects. It’s preparing a sensible work statement, and gathering quotes. It’s chasing people up. It’s running over the detail because you’ve learnt not to take anyone’s designs at face value. It’s looking at your budget, and seeing what you can get away with. It’s figuring out how to do it on the cheap (read: by yourself) when you can’t afford a one-stop-shop solution. It’s talking to the tradies, and then talking down their prices.

All that. All while jiggling my son to sleep in the Ergo. All while watching my daughter from the corner of my eye as she draws in the sand on the yet-to-be-concreted driveway.

I remember reading an article recently about women returning to work after “maternity leave” or after years “at home”. And how we – because this will include me – tend to leave out their at-home years from the official, printed chronology of their job history. As if it’s a slightly embarrassing, self-indulgent, self-sabotaging “career gap”.

How ridiculous. Ladies, let’s stop this.

Because “maternity leave” is not a holiday. And “stay-at-home mum” is mostly an oxymoron. Aside from the fact that most full-time mothers I know are out of the house doing stuff with their kids, the whole birthing-a-human-and-then-sustaining-it-for-life schtick IS WORK. And full-time care-giving is a real vocation. It might even be the one true career, in this age of chronic and systemic job-hopping.

It takes energy, forethought, deftness of mind, feet and hands. It hones negotiation smarts and wicked time management skills. It teaches patience, sharpens attention to detail, deepens pools of compassion, widens horizons. It distills character and priorities.

And then when you add other major projects in the mix – like selling and building houses, like nursing a sick child or relation, like organising school and church fetes and fundraisers – you have other skills and experience that are worth recording and talking about.

So don’t let anyone — least of all your inner I-am-fat voice — tell you that your time as a stay-at-home mum was a professional gap in your CV. You’ve just developed a whole new skillset on a very steep learning curve, most likely while still sleep-deprived. And if you’re breastfeeding, probably without much coffee either. You rock.

The Art and Science of Being Present

Continuing the thread on switching off from a virtual life so I can tune in to the real one…

Yesterday, I touched on the fact that human beings are actually lousier at multi-tasking than we think.

Forbes touched on how it hurts relationships:

When I was writing “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead,” I asked for examples of body language that sent negative messages. Here’s an email I received from an office worker in an insurance companyMy boss drives us crazy with her mixed messages. She says things like, “You are always welcome in my office” and “You are all an important part of the team.” At the same time, her nonverbal communication is constantly showing how unimportant we are to her. She never makes eye contact, will shuffle papers when others talk, writes email while we answer her questions and generally does not give her full attention. In fact, we don’t even rate her half attention! Then she wonders why her staff doesn’t seek her out. clarifies what works better:

What you call multitasking is really task-switching, says Guy Winch, PhD, author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries. “When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,” he says.

Contrary to popular belief, multitasking doesn’t save time. In fact, it will probably take you longer to finish two projects when you’re jumping back and forth than it would to finish each one separately… “What tends to save the most time is to do things in batches,” says Winch. “Pay your bills all at once, then send your emails all at once. Each task requires a specific mindset, and once you get in a groove you should stay there and finish.”

Experts estimate that switching between tasks can cause a 40% loss in productivity. It can also cause you to introduce errors into whatever you’re working on, especially if one or more of your activities involves a lot of critical thinking.

And Bloomberg highlighted the difficulty of opting out in today’s world:

At the last World Economic Forum, Yahoo! (YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer shared that she checks her smartphone more than 150 times a day. It was a proud admission that feeds the myth that multitasking is the new modus operandi for smart, connected leaders. In fact, research has shown we work better when we concentrate on one thing at a time.

The myth persists, however, that multitasking is the best way to work. Peruse any job website and you’ll find literally thousands of descriptions making it clear that those who can’t handle “multitasking” need not apply.


Actually, that Forbes anecdote hits me the hardest, because it’s the mirror to my face. How many times have I tried to “spend time with Arddun” while doing the housework? How many co-painting projects have been secretly supplanted by a quick flick through Facebook? I went to visit my colleagues at my old corporate stomping ground a couple months ago, and another part-timer and I commiserated about how We Are THAT Mother. The one checking her work emails on her phone while her daughter is yelling, “Look at me, Mummy!” as she tries out the same toddler stunt for the 276th time — climbing UP the slide.

(On a side point, why is it that we feel like we’re “getting the day off work” when we’re home parenting our children? It’s the only reason I was driven to check in on my corporate projects while with Arddun. The truth of the matter was that my days home with Arddun were also my “work” days. I have a duty to be fully present at ALL my workplaces… even if the workplace also happens to be home and I’m teaching my daughter how to spell her name with toothpicks.)

Of course, being present – which I personally define as giving my All in the moment – isn’t just about stepping away from the gadgets. The bigger narration is about the lack of focus and discipline – especially when the unexpected crops up. “Firefighting”, we sagely called it when I was a pencil-skirted, killer-heeled corporate mover with a much smaller waistline. Yet I’m finding more and more that the principles of effective time management in the office need to be applied in my home life just as diligently, if I want to bring back focus and discipline in my home life.

So here’s what I’ve been trying out.

  1. Tuning into technology more deliberately
    Still a work in progress, and which I’ve already touched on in my previous post.
  2. Micro-managing my lists
    I am a HUGE list maker. I am almost at Wikipedia proportions, where I need a list of my lists. But the problem with having many lists (with all tasks ordered by level of importance, of course) is deciding which tasks fit in what Stephen Covey refers to as First Things First. Which is a lot easier said and done, because deciding what should come first goes right to the heart of what you are trying to achieve first for your life… then your year… then your month… then your week… and then your day. Remember making those New Year Resolutions? Not as useless an exercise as I thought. And yet at the same time, I want to be flexible enough to go where God takes me. (This year, He took me through pregnancy and a return to the corporate world – both wished for but still surprising!) I’m currently reading Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy – a wonderfully concise book that manages to summarise and consolidate many time-honoured time management systems.
  3. Micro-managing my day
    Closely related to the point above about micro-managing my lists, I dedicate a chunk of time in my mornings to sit and plan ahead. If I’m REALLY organised enough, I even micro-plan my day the night before. The process itself is still messy fun, so it roughly goes as follows:

    • First, I pull out a list (hah!) of tasks I want/need to accomplish that day. It goes right down to the everyday things like “Give Arddun a shower” and “Clear the dishrack”. They are all tasks, not goals – each can be accomplished in a single dedicated session. Granularity, my friend.
    • Then I figure out my Top Three Priorities for the day. They are still tasks, but they have to be tied to my medium and long-term goals.
    • Then I work out the importance and urgency of all my tasks. To do that, I’ve lately fallen back on Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix, and I’ve started punching my tasks in an Android app called There are far more complex apps out there that align much more closely with Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix… but I love Tudle’s simplicity. The website’s in Polish, but the app is largely in English. This exercise can be painful, but it’s SUCH a great feedback mechanism because it immediately tells me where I’ve been using up large resources of my time. And most of the time, I tend to tackle the mundane because they’re quick and rote… but they also tend to be urgent-not important, or worse – not urgent, not important
    • And then I write a schedule to fit in all of those tasks in my day. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is the essence of time management – understanding how long each task takes, and finding time for it. It completely distills your list, and I always end up trimming non-essential tasks by the end of this process. I also build in time to rest and take stock of the day – so it’s a lot less tempting to get distracted with technology because I have already promised myself a break. And I leave buffers everywhere to handle the unexpected, so I can still catch up later. If I have time, I type in my schedule in my iPad app, Schedule Planner HD and then sync it to my calendar as well so I have it on my Android phone. The beauty of that app is that it enables me to log the ACTUAL time the task took place… so I can glean a better understanding for future time allocation of my tasks. The crap part about that app is that data doesn’t sync between the Android and iPad versions of the app. Schtoopid, I know.

Exhausting? Not really. I’ve gotten this process down to half an hour and it’s well worth it. I don’t get to do it every day – there are some days I struggle out of bed, or rush off to an appointment. But I have noticed that when I don’t plan my days well, I default to non-essential but urgent tasks. Those are the days when Tony comes home from work and when he asks what we’ve been up to, I frankly can’t remember what I’ve accomplished.

Micro-managing my daily schedule also has the added bonus of forcing me to do one thing at a time. Okay, maybe TWO things at a time. Which is the limit of what we beautiful, pitiful human beings can handle anyway, according to the French.

TTT – Two weeks in One

I missed the whole of last week, which only sharpens my appreciation of those who successfully set aside the time to blog regularly amidst their own crazy schedules. And so today, I present to you a bit of a bumper crop of gratitudes. And hopefully I get to finish this post in time, too!

  1. Finishing up with The Gideons

    For the last six months, I’ve been working part-time for The Gideons in Australia . Twice a week (and a few nights in between), I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work alongside a bunch of professional, conscientious, servant-oriented, fun, gracious, genuine Christians from all walks of church life. As with any job in the third sector, the people are largely there because they want to be there, and they believe in the cause. It has taught me a lot about the ministry and the Lord’s work outside of my immediate church family, and the breadth of their vision based on strong convictions and sound doctrine has been a humbling thing to uncover.

    My last week with The Gideons ended on Friday, and it involved late nights every day of the week leading up to my finish – which explains the quiet on the blogging front. I’m glad to say that I got to give a satisfactory handover, even though frustrating external circumstances meant that I could not finish the second phase of the project within my time with them, as I had hoped. But I dare say we will be in touch with one another. It’s been a work environment that truly embraces families, understands and supports the need for flexibility (and this includes providing the technological means to do so), and trusts its workers. Looking back, I could not have orchestrated this better – which only goes to show that God is the ultimate and consummate Project Manager.

  2. Global call to Prayer

    I participated in the Global Call to Prayer for Iraq and Syria on 29 September, even though my understanding of politics and chaos in that region is patchy at best. Specifically, I prayed for Christians in that region who seem to be trapped in the middle of a deadlock of extremist ideals, and whose suffering is the quietest because their numbers are few – and dwindling ever more. But their plight is no less dire, their women and children no less traumatised and their spirits torn to shreds as they are systematically raped and tortured, and as they watch their husbands and fathers die cruel deaths. I prayed for them all, but I prayed specifically for the minorities on the 29th. Because they are voiceless and bleeding.

    And I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have been born Singaporean. To have emigrated to Australia which, for all its secularism, still collectively singles human life as sacrosanct no matter how diverse our individual views on God may be. It is not because I am smarter, more diligent, more resourceful… my current state in life, in the grand scheme of things, has little to do with my individual accomplishments. I was born into a different world and had privileges bestowed on me. It could have been very different.

    If you’re interested in being a part of this, the next prayer is on Sunday 5 October.

  3. Gorgeous weather

    For the most part these two weeks, the weather has been fabulous. We try to make the most of the good days outdoors, especially when winds are tolerable. Went to Floriade last Tuesday, and to John Knight park again this afternoon. And a few random on-the-way playground visits in between. Considering I could predict the weather report in Singapore verbatim by the time I was 7 years old, I love that I’m now in a “city” (glorified country town) that has such a wide variance of weather conditions.

    Floriade flag
    Floriade flag from our Ferris Wheel cage. More on our visit in another post.
    Sara with her babies
    Enjoying simple pleasures – good company, good weather, good cuddles with babies
    Arddun swinging her imaginary friend
    Arddun, pushing her imaginary friend on the swing


    Arddun and Leila walking and talking
    Can’t believe these two girls are only 3 Years Old! They look far too grown up in this shot.

    Arddun and Leila walking the bridge

    Sara, Famiza and kids on picnic mat
    An idyllic picnic in the park
    Jett blowing out dandelions
    Adding to the pollen count in the cutest way possible
    Jett having emo moment on swing
    “All By Myself” by Jett
    Jett and Leila strut their stuff
    Walking with determination.
    Arddun pondering in the distance
    Tolerating lunch time so she can get away and play to her heart’s content.

    Leila and Ayman
    Caught Leila on camera, finally! She’s quite camera shy, but such a photogenic subject. :-)
  4. Discount lighting and a flying visit to Sydney

    The drawback to living in a fairly affluent inland Territory with a small population is the price gouging. Houses here just cost more to build, which is why we ended up driving to Sydney to buy all the lights for the new house. We ended up saving about 25%, excluding the time and fuel it took us to drive there and back. That’s saying something, considering that we’ve chosen to LED everything except one lamp. The 老板娘 (lady boss) also threw in a feature lamp for Arddun’s bedroom, and upon finding out that we are expecting a boy, got a “boy lamp” for Boy Blob’s bedroom. It has a lenticular print of cars racing. Very cute.

    Our flying visit to Sydney meant that we crashed at the Whitcombes’ overnight, and they were very gracious in accepting us at late notice. It was just lovely to see their new home, and to wake up in the morning and breakfast with them. Arddun and Abi got along great, and I suspect both girls would have liked more time together. Worshipped with the church at Macquarie before heading over to IKEA at Ryde (of course). Don’t quite know how it happened, but because Arddun had been such a patient and uncomplaining chicky throughout the weekend while we pottered around in a pokey lighting shop until sundown, we left IKEA with a gigantuan plush toy dog as a Thank You. She’s delightfully named him “Wags”. I think we both figured it costs a whole lot less than a real dog AND we don’t need to spend evenings walking it, so why not.

    Arddun with Wags her stuff toy dog
    Queen Elsa watching TV with Wags.
  5. Boy Blob, he is growing

    I am getting slower and more tired with each passing day, but that in itself is such a gentle reminder of how well this baby is growing. And he is growing. My obstetrician keeps saying he’s an average size, but I feel a lot bigger this time, and I have the stretch marks to prove it. While Arddun used to give me a series of butterfly kicks in the right ribs, this boy does the butterfly stroke across my entire mid section. He definitely lets me know when he appreciates the food. I feel like I’ve hardly blogged about the poor kid this time ’round, compared to the many posts dedicated to Arddun during my pregnancy with her, but in truth, he makes his presence known every waking hour (and sometimes while I’m asleep still). I am achier and lumpier and older and more wrung out energy-wise this time ’round, but I know I’m really going to miss this when he’s finally born. Exactly two months to go from today! Crazy or what! I’m so glad I have these last two months to spend with Arddun intensively before we become one bigger happy family. I’m so grateful to Tony for working so hard, and that he has a job that allows us to do this.

The Help

I’ve never been great at servitude. I’ve never been much of a servant. I’ve always been more comfortable in front, whether I know what I’m doing or not. In most cases, I’d rather lead than follow. Which is why this stay-at-home business has taken me quite by surprise. And it’s also why the inner dialogue never seems to cease.

I know there’s more to being a SAHM than the housework and the babysitting. But in the middle of two loads of laundry, a house strewn with toys, dirty dishes and a perpetually dusty floor, I wonder. If I didn’t live in Australia, for instance. If I had just stayed home in Singapore, if I had married a Singaporean and if all my peers went down the path of hiring a maid domestic helper to play babysitter, cleaner, cook and car washer for $400 a month… would I have done the same thing? Would I be back in the corporate world, in my 3-inch heels and my pencil skirts and swanning off to pseudo-important coffees?

Or would I have chosen to step out of the rat-race, even for a little while, because this basic instinct is screaming at me to sacrifice the career for a couple of years because the bub is only going to be a bub for a blink in time?

I honestly don’t know.

If a Singaporean were to come right up to me right now and tell me that I’m wasting my education because I’m doing what a Filipino maid would do for far less, I’d actually be tongue-tied. Because – horror of horrors – a part of me believes that myself. It really isn’t rocket science to cook and clean and ensure the child doesn’t maim herself with the staplers. And my Communications degree didn’t have a whole lot to do with toilet training a toddler. I cannot project manage her nap times, much less her learning curve or when she decides to grow four molars all at once.

And so sometimes, it feels like I am a tremendously overpaid nanny and housekeeper. If you only count the opportunity cost of my wages, that is.

These past two months have seen our household change gear. The honeymoon period is over, the traditional length of maternity leave having ended in June and bidding a sayonara to the giddy havoc and newness and endless soirees of coffee with newfound mommy friends. I am now career mommy. I keep the house in reasonable order, and have more fanatical systems for tupperware stacking and Where Things Should Be Kept. I cook every day, several times a day. I cut coupons. I attend community meetings about local schools opening.

I trap random cats and fantasize about confronting the stupid neighbour and charging him/her for the cost of landscaping our garden.

My concerns are everyday and mundane. And yet, I can’t recall ever feeling so refreshed. Or fulfilled. Because as ridiculous and as hackneyed as it sounds, I am all-important to one human being. I am indispensable in a way only a mommy can be. And I look back at my corporate life, and struggle to remember if I’d ever impacted anyone’s life as much as I do Arddun’s, or she does mine. Or if I’ve ever felt so passionate about the mundane. Or so convinced that I’m where I need to be.

This week, I watched my girl

  • discover her belly button
  • discover my belly button as a result of discovering her belly button
  • learn to say “Uh oh…” whenever something drops/breaks/leaks
  • reverently breathe “Ohhhh WOW…” when beholding an awesome toy
  • recognise an apple from a book jacket, before promptly asking to eat one
  • try and close her new toy stroller like Mommy and Daddy do with her actual pram
  • cuddle her stuffed toy cat like a baby
  • go “woo-woo-woo!” to imitate a dog
  • try to conduct a singing group
  • run to the front of the church to dance to a hymn.

Half of these incidents were a direct result of just hanging out with Arddun. And half of these moments I would not have traded for many, many things in the world.

So. Note to self. I am staying at home for a host of reasons. Chief of which is that I chose to become a mother, and so that’s what I’m here at home to be.

Justify my love

Now that almost everyone is back at WORK-work (as opposed to stay-at-home-with-baby-full-time work), I’ve likewise switched gears. Or at least my conscience has. The honeymoon period is definitely over, and my child is not a newborn. She’s not even really a baby. And so it feels like a very lame excuse to play the New Mommy card when I try to explain (to myself) why I’m not doing more.

I’ve had a chat to other mothers, and it’s a small relief to find I’m not alone. Somehow, staying at home in this day and age feels too much like a luxury, and so we guiltily cram as many chores as we can into precious little time. The 45 minutes Arddun plays by herself in the cot is spent washing dishes, cleaning her eating station, tidying the kitchen, putting a load of laundry on, emptying the dishwasher, wiping down the stove. An additional fifteen minutes is spent distracting her with TV while I run to the bathroom and try to have a quick shower. (This does not work, by the way. I can hear her complaints when I turn off the taps and I know that she’s been yelling for a time like a caged baby baboon while Playschool is blaring in the background.)

And yet, while I’m towelling off and grimacing about her wails, I’m also wiping down the bathroom sink, bench top and bathtub.

Because we women multi-task. We do not compartmentalise, we connect. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a weekday or a weekend. I find myself cleaning up as I go along, and constantly daunted that I can never get enough done. And when we’re finally back to the job of caring for the child, we read to them, we sing to them, we play hide-and-seek, we cook Jamie Oliveresque baby meals. We take them to the doctor’s, the library, the mall, the playground, the park, the supermarket, other mother’s houses. We take them to baby swimming classes and Gymbaroo classes and Giggle & Wiggle at the local library – even though the librarians cannot sing. All the while kicking ourselves for not stimulating them enough, and secretly wondering if a childcare environment wouldn’t be a better alternative for socialisation and quality early childhood education.

At least, that’s my perversity.

In great contrast, our men – when left in the sole charge of the offspring – are perfectly capable of letting the kid crawl around the house on its own while they enrich their souls and minds on the Xbox. They have absolutely no qualms about doing something they REALLY enjoy while “watching the kid”. Because it’s a weekend. And they’ve worked all week.

And Tony still does the laundry. And he still does his ironing. And he still takes out the garbage, and does the gardening. It’s not like he doesn’t help out – he does. Heaps. But it’s just… different. He has a list. He ticks the items off. He reaches the end of the list. He sits down, and he plays Battlefield 3.

I have a list. It grows by 5 items for every 2 that I tick off. And while I’m ticking the items off, I worry that I’m not making the most of my time with Arddun.

I really get it now. I really understand what they’ve been saying, when they say that motherhood is a full-time job. It is. It never stops. It is unrelenting, and there are no weekends because there are no imaginary lines. And I’ll tell you why there are no imaginary lines. It’s because Mothers are Women. And Women mostly don’t know when – or how – to switch off.

I was reading Kate’s blog post yesterday, and how she’s loving the age of 2 because suddenly, it’s not that full on. The tykes, they’re more independent then. They can communicate a little clearer, they can play independently for longer. And I love my little girl. But she’s not a big napper, so she’s awake a lot of the time and always getting into scrapes and gosh I’m tired. My house was a mess when I was a white collar worker, because I was hardly at home. And now it’s a mess when I’m a SAHM, because we’re always at home.

And I feel like I accomplish precious little. Always.

Will the voices in my head please pop a Valium and drop off?

TTT – Stay-at-home pleasures

1. Steam mop

Oh you crazy household device – where have you been all my life?! Singapore’s not big on steam moppery, and we had been persuaded – early in our marraige – by a chatty man in Godfreys Belconnen to sink Too Much Money into a heavy hoover wet vacuum. But then I read a post on Facebook about someone else’s steam mop purchase. And so I marched into Harvey Norman and got one. And it takes a fraction of the time to mop my floor, and even less water, and… and… I sound like a Stay At Home Mum. Which makes the next item even more of a nail in that coffin.

2. Grey’s Anatomy

I have NEVER watched Grey’s Anatomy, but I thought I’d try and lo, I am hooked and watching it after dinner and wanting to rent all 8 seasons AT ONCE. Because nothing salves migraine, strep throat and the sniffles like a medical soap opera.

3. Fellow SAHM

I’m actually nervous about my maternity leave extension, as much as I’m thankful for it. A large part of me wonders if it’ll hold the same level of joy once everyone goes back to work like responsible corporate mothers, and my handout from the government ala paid parental leave dries up for good. Which is why it’s heartening to know that other friends are planning to do the same, because at least I don’t feel so oddly decadent and like I’m shirking my social responsibility and wasting my corporate juices. Or whatever.

So glad to have Sarah, Bailey and Charlotte for company, going forward. Here’s a photo from our visit today. Looks like there’ll be many more to come.

Arddun and Charlotte
Arddun (on right), checking out Charlotte’s very cool 1980s leg warmers.

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