Thursday, April 15, 2010

Starry Field...

Starry Field..., originally uploaded by Snowdrops in Spring.

Composition in blue and green.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Note...

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it’s not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble upon a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;
and to keep on not knowing
something important.

Wislawa Szymborska (from here)

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Now all I can do is wait...

... And water regularly. And remember to take these back in when it gets frosty again (which is still a distinct possibility given the volatility of Irish weather especially this year).

L-R (Back row): Chinese Lanterns (obtained before Christmas, in a very poor state as it was winter, with dead branches and two dried-up lanterns in a pot with very poor soil; nevertheless, kept indoors and kept watering and new leaves began emerging since early March; trimmed and re-potted and could finally be left outside this past weekend); Japanese Peony (obtained before Christmas, also in a poor state, just a stub really, no branch or leaves to speak of; nevertheless, kept indoors and kept watering and the stub slowly grew and then branch out and then new leaves emerging since February; re-potted and left outside this past weekend); Calamondins (old plant, a house-warming gift from mum, used to thrive but suffered a near-death experience last winter, after two years of flowering and yielding beautiful fruit; kept indoors and kept watering and now new branches and leaves are finally emerging, but it is clear the old branches are dead; trimmed, re-potted and left outside this past weekend); Calla Lilies (old plant, grown from bulbs from scratch, among my oldest and most loyal of plants so far who haven't given up on me yet; came back to life spectacularly last summer; and have started showing green shoots since March; a pot that I am very thankful for, but alas, I ran out of potting mix to re-pot it this past weekend!); French Lavender (old plant, obtained as a lovely fully-grown pot plant from The Bloom Festival two summers ago; had been thriving for two summers, but like quite a few of my old plants, I'm afraid last winter was just way too harsh for it and I'm really, really afraid that the frost and snow had killed it; I couldn't bring it indoors though to nurse it back to health as the pot is just way too heavy for me to lift; still need to weed it and will keep watering and monitoring its health); Green Gooseberry x 2 (obtained before Christmas, had only barren, spiky branches in two container pots with poor soil; kept indoors and kept watering, and have been growing new leaves as well as new spikes since January, thus the very first plant among the new ones I acquired before Christmas to show signs of life and in fact have been thriving since, despite the poor soil; I still haven't re-potted them yet because, as mentioned, I ran out of potting mix last weekend -- I used up not only my existing bag, which had half of the compost mix left, but also a whole new bag I bought just before Christmas and it's still not enough!)

L-R (Front row): Ranuculus Asiaticus (aka Persian Buttercup) (from bulbs -- that resemble tiny black bunches of bananas, rather like star anise actually -- obtained from Marks and Spencer); Ranuculus Asiaticus (again from bulbs available from M&S); Ranuculus Asiaticus (again from bulbs available from M&S -- there are 25 in the packet you see, and you're supposed to leave 10cm in between the bulbs so I was running out of soil fast, and there are still 3 of these left in the bag I haven't got around to put to bed yet. And yes I know I'm not supposed to use a gardening trug -- a freebie given to me by my local florist -- as a planter, but it's the one water-proof container -- it's lined with plastic -- I have that has a relatively large surface area relative to its depth, which is ideal for sowing); Tulips (from bulbs obtained before Christmas, I should have been putting these to bed before Christmas so I'm a few months late in sowing them -- in fact, I wasn't sure I could still sow them if not for the green shoots that have been showing on some of the bulbs -- hope they may actually survive despite my tardiness in planting, although it is a faint hope indeed); Ranuculus Asiaticus (yes, even more of these, I told you I had a lot. Although these are meant to be spring flowers, the M&S pack says that sowing time is up to May, and hopefully these spring-planted bulbs will flower in late summer as this site says they should); Cupressa Wilma (aka Lemon Scented Golden Conifer) (obtained from before Christmas, the healthiest of the plants I got on arrival, and have been doing very well since; attempted to re-pot this past weekend but it is during the re-potting of this plant that I ran out of soil).

Finally, there is a little cream pot at the very front of the picture. I don't know what is in it as it looked like some sort of weed (now why did I think that it must be a weed?) that just took hold in some left-over soil in the pot over the winter months, and now showing some lovely green leaves, and I didn't have the heart to take it out. Live and let live I guess is my gardening philosophy, so long as it doesn't start crossing over to the other plants!

L-R: Lily of the Valley (newly potted with rhizomes -- i.e. root stems -- obtained from M&S after Christmas); Lily of the Valley (growing from a sickly bulb with a tiny stub since before Christmas, have been showing leaves since March, and re-potted just this past weekend -- Christ! I only realise that all parts of the the plant are highly poisonous from Wikipedia just now. Thankfully I haven't been dead yet from handling the plant); Coriander (old plant, grown from seeds more than a year ago, have been sickly and re-growing very, very slowly after a looonnng winter); Unknown House Plant (old plant, gift from my mum, with me since I first moved into the apartment, it used to thrive, but perhaps my previous words jinxed its growth, now it's still surviving, but only just, having suffered a near-death experience last winter, and it is currently still a pale imitation of its former glorious self). These either require shade (the lily of the valley), or are just too weak and require nursing (the other ones), and so are all kept inside the house.

Close-up of the Chinese Lanterns. (I guess it would be a long time before I can see these leaves grow into a proper plant and eventually flowering and showing fruit.)

My gorgeous pair of gardening tools -- sturdy and well-constructed as well as beautiful -- from V&A Museum.

Another shot of my balcony -- I have lots of left-over pots, I just don't have enough soil. And I always thought that I would run out of pots before I run out of potting mix!

Other house plants not shown:
1 x Cactus (doing well for three years)
2 x Pink sunflowers (sickly but recovering)
1 x Orchids (two blooms left, will need to rest soon)
1 x Chilli (sickly but recovering)
1 x Basil (sickly but recovering)
4 x Bamboos (doing well for three years)

There are other plants I'm meant to grow as well, having already acquired packets of their seeds / bulbs / sets (e.g. the "salad mix" package from Marks and Sparks, which included tomatoes, onions, radishes, and salad leaves, but I'm only really interested in just tomatoes and the salad leaves), but I think I need to stop here or else I'd turn into a full-time gardener.

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10 things to do when I'm depressed...

These are things I actually do, not things I necessarily should do. And these are NOT to be taken as some sort of advice. Just thought I'd share...

10. Think things through.

By this I mean deciding if the thing that's been bugging me is something that I can or cannot change, following the advice of the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

9. Talk to someone.

If the thing that's been bugging me is something that I cannot change (usually to do with other people's attitudes or behaviours), and being far from a naturally serene person, the best way of helping me accept (or at the very least, tolerate) the situation is to have a bitch-and-moan session with a dear friend (if personal, like things to do with family), or a bunch of friends (if work, so that everyone can join in with their tales of work woes to make us all feel better), or even colleagues (if to do with the state of the world, so that we can all pitch in with our pet pipe-dreams of putting to world to rights again).

I don't talk to members of my family* though. We only really communicate and let others have a piece of our mind when we row. We are very Chinese that way.

*(Oops, to clarify, I should say that the "members of my family" here refers only to the adult members of my family - and not my little sister and little brother. The saving grace is, we are all learning to let go of our grudges now as we all get older.)

8. Rant about it on my blog.

Of course, there are only so much griping one can do with friends. Or there may be things that I can't quite put to words yet verbally and need to write them down instead, and/or I don't feel able to share that level of bitterness and bile among people dear to me, however supportive they are (or may seem). So ranting on my blog becomes a way for me to let off steam, to release all those pent-up words that I had wanted to say but wouldn't dare in person. It is for this reason that I do not let anyone -- least of all friends and family -- know about the existence of this blog. If I felt that someone who knows me is reading this blog, I would be forced to hide or delete it.

It is also for this reason that my blog could be quite a depressing read at times. I don't usually blog when I'm happy. That's the sad truth (sad in the sense that otherwise my blog could have been an enjoyable read rather than the one long rant fest that it usually is). But my blog is also a reflection of me. For better or for worse. And so here it still is.

7. Take a shower or a bath. And the full-on beauty regime for serious cases.

My Chinese zodiac, according to my mum, says that my "five forces" (obviously not Michael Porter's) is lacking in water, and that my base sign is wood. Thus I always enjoy being with or near or in water (one of the reasons I love Hong Kong, and the reason I like rainy days). And taking a shower really revives me. I very rarely take a bath though, for obvious environmental reasons, but if I'm really, really depressed, a bath will do me a world of good.

And if things are really, really shitty, I go the whole hog in female grooming and pampering. Out comes the deep moisturising face mask that I use once in a blue moon (literally!), in the bath goes the natual sea salt and the dead sea seaweed wrap thing that I finally found an occasion and could justify the time to use, in addition to all the cleansing, tweezing, and shaving that form the normal part of female grooming regimen.

The ultimate pampering for me however isn't a manicure or a pedicure or even a full-body massage, but a hair cut that included wash and blow dry -- sounds rather boring and mundane, but I know a good hair salon here, where the guy gives a thorough head massage as part of the hair-washing routine, and it is a truly, head-meltingly, relaxing experience. And nothing says "I'm over it" like a short haircut. (Well, short-er. I can't stand short hairstyles as I loathe to give up the ability to tie a pony-tail on bad-hair days.)

Given my affinity with water, it's rather weird then that I never learnt how to swim, despite having taken numerous lessons since I was a little kid (including countless courses I undertook during my teenage years and when I was an undergrad, courses which I didn't quite get to finish, to my own disappointment but to the relief of the swimming instructors). I just don't have the stamina to keep moving my limbs to keep going to reach the other side.

I enjoy just floating where I am, thank you very much. Yes I am lazy that way. (But then I don't get in the water to earn an Olympic medal, I am in the water to relax, so I decided that floating rather than swimming suits me just fine).

6. Take care of my plants.

When I was living with my parents, and when my younger siblings were babies or ickle toddlers, I enjoyed baby-sitting them because being with them always made me feel good and really helped relieve stress (and this did not mean just playing with them, but proper baby-sitting that included the whole nine yards -- getting them to finish their bottle, getting them to sleep, feeding them and changing their diapers -- there was a little song-and-leg-jiggle routine I used to do to my little sister and brother when they were babies to get them to cooperate while doing the dirty business, and they loved it and would laugh, so diaper time was actually rather like play time in my family).

Basically, taking care of someone else other than myself helps relieve the stress and tension that I feel when I am not able to take care of myself. Being able to take care of other people (make them feel a little less discomfort if not actually helping them to solve their problems) makes me feel better about my ability to handle issues of my own.

Now I found that gardening is rather like baby-sitting in the kind of stress-relief and feel-good effects it gives me. In addition to watering them and re-potting them (the latter is rather like changing nappies in the kind of mess it entails), I do "plant massage" to stimulate their growth. (By this I mean rubbing the new leaves in the direction of their growth in a bid to encourage them to keep growing in that direction -- and don't laugh, but I know this trick works ever since I was a four-year-old and kept rubbing the end of one branch from a pot of lace fern so that it eventually grew long enough and reached across the balcony and into our living quarters, away from sunlight!) And watching things grow to their full potential is always extremely satisfying.

Don't worry, I don't sing or talk to my plants. Yet. But I do admit to playing them classical music. But I convince myself that I am playing the music for myself rather than for them. The point is, both (the music and the gardening) relax and calm me when I am in distress.

5. Clean my apartment.

Sometimes, when work gets too much, I always fantasize about giving up my academic job and becoming a cleaner instead. As I get older, I discover myself envying people with manual jobs because they don't have to think. All I would need to do then is to move a mop from left to right, whilst humming a little half-forgotten tune. And at the end of a hard day's work, the floor will be clean. That, to me, seriously sounds like bliss.

Of course, back in the real world, I still think for a living. Instead of embarking on a whole career change, and all the stress that goes with it, I clean when I am feeling down. When there are too many ideas or when my thoughts are stuck in a rut, I go and do my dishes, do a laundry load, dust and hoover the flat. And mop.

It's a good work-out. I sweat, therefore I had toiled. And I have a clean apartment to show for at the end of my efforts. Guaranteed. No ifs or buts. That always makes me feel good. Even if my thoughts are still in a rut, at least I could show to myself that I could still do something. That I am NOT totally useless. Thank god.

4. Take stock.

Another way to help me believe in myself again and believing in my own capacity to change is to take stock of how far I've come. Flipping through my past work, looking at old photograph albums, reading old letters, listening to old tapes and CDs, re-reading my books, re-reading my old poems and diary entries, help me find my way back to who I am.

More often than not, I would then re-express my commitment to myself in the form of poetry again. Verse and scansion help turn what is mawkish and mundane into something less embarrassing, if not, well, poetic, at least to my mind. Of course, most of my poetry are mawkish and mundane for precisely that reason. But my awkward lines give aid and comfort to my awkward soul. And that is all I ask of my poems.

3. Go for a walk.

I could go stir crazy if I just stay at home all day. A bit of fresh air does me good. Especially the kind of clear, refreshing air that we are blessed with here in Ireland. Sometimes when I'm indoors for a week or more (possible, when I stay home to work to a paper deadline), my body is craving the sun like it craves water. Sometimes, all it takes to lift my dreary mood is for me to stand or sit outside and absorb the sun.

But if I'm really feeling down, going for a walk has multiple benefits. It exposes me to fresh air, sun rays (if available, otherwise rain would do me good also, see Point 7 above), gets me to work up a sweat (see Point 5) without being in any way strenuous (see Point 7 again), allow me headspace to think through my issues (see Point 1) but to do so with a pleasant change of scenery, so that I could begin to look on the thing that's been bugging me as well as myself with a fresh pair of eyes, and it gets me close to nature, which always helps (see Point 6).

Listening to birdsongs, feeling the sun on my arms, breathing in cool, fresh air, I feel grateful and happy to be alive. Even if the part of life that I happen to be going through at that particular moment sucks. But overall, I am thankful to be here.

2. Talk to someone. Again.

When all the above fails and I'm still in a funk, there is nothing for it but to seek some help. This time from the professionals. I had sought student counselling when I was an undergrad, when family issues got way too much for me to handle on my own (and beyond the capacity of my best friend to help, but I am eternally grateful for her empathetic ear when I needed it the most). Having someone who would listen and help you analyse your situation and your thinking about said situation helps. At the end of the day I was still left with the responsibility to face my issues, but I had a better sense of things that I could and could not do to improve the situation, things that I need to let go if only for my own sake, and knowing that the locus of control is still within me -- that I could decide how I react as well as act. Knowing this made me feel less powerless. Which helps.

1. Let time pass.

By this I mean both "This too shall pass", and "It takes time." Even if one has professional help, it takes time for the healing to happen. It can't be rushed. And one could make it worse by expecting things to happen within a set time-frame. Take things one day at a time, and keep at it. That's all we could and reasonably hope to do.

Remembering "this too shall pass" also helps. No matter how bad the situation is, and no matter how bad (how useless, how weak, how ignorant, how powerless) I think I am, IT WILL PASS. Nothing stays the same forever, and nobody stays completely unchanged as they grow older. I tell myself that if I could survive this with as much dignity intact as possible, then I am changing for the better. Albeit only very slightly. What doesn't kill me makes me stronger, even if my strength lies solely in the fact of me not letting that thing to kill me. Yet. And so long as I am, I win.

Let time pass. It's one of the kindest things one can do for oneself.

(This post is inspired by a series of blog-posts written by 荒言. I have disabled the link in case the blogger feels his privacy is being intruded upon by my linking to his post here).

(Again, the above is written with the caveat that they only work - so far - for me. As the saying goes, different strokes for different folks, and we all have - and need - different ways of re-newing ourselves, including clinical help. The point is, we have all been depressed at some point in our lives, and there is no shame about admitting that. And if we cannot help ourselves, we seek help, and give ourselves time. There is no shame in doing that, either.)

(And this being a rather long post, as well as being a 10-point list, I know the temptation of any reader is to just skim the headings and maybe a few lines and decided that they have "read" it, know what I'm on about, and dismiss this as just another "self-evident" post. Well, maybe it is, but perhaps not in the way you think it is. I implore people to read the whole thing through from beginning to end before judging. Or don't read it at all. That's all. And obviously there is no way I could control how people read this, but at least I have done my bit of imploring. Thank you for reading.)

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

For every girl and for every boy...

Feminism: Not just for girls. (Source: Robot Heart)

Update: Definition of Feminism

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Apple berry almond tart...

Given how bloody freezing this Easter weekend had been, as well as the fact that I had a pot of strawberry preserve and a jar of flaked almonds I had been meaning to use up, yesterday I finally took time to bake the above apple berry almond tart (this is something I've wanted to make ever since I came across the recipe last November, which can be found here: Dan Lepard's apple berry almond tart recipe).

Despite the fact that I don't have a fluted tart tin and ceramic baking beans (I used a slightly smaller circular ceramic oven-proof dish instead, which miraculously managed to fit inside the baking tin) and the fact that I'm hopeless in rolling dough out evenly in the first place anyway -- which contributed to the haphazard blind-baking of the pastry case, leading to the final tart not being able to be lifted out of the baking tin -- I am rather proud of how the tart had turned out :D It doesn't look that different from the photo in Dan Lepard's article AND it tasted absolutely De-Lish! (Even if I do say so myself, ha!)



Where are you from?

Que sera sera...

Feed my pet!

Currently getting stuck in...

Have just finished...

Me, Anime...

A bunch of snowdrops by any other name...

S is for Sweet
N is for Natural
O is for Open-hearted
W is for Worldly
D is for Dedicated
R is for Romantic
O is for Original
P is for Perfectionist
S is for Special
What Does Your Name Mean?