A Poem



Trust me

Said the scientist to the farmer, after selling him genetically modified grains.

And one leader to another, shaking hands and scratching backs.

And the policeman as he ushered a gangster into the safety of a waiting taxi.

You’ve broken it

The people cry

They cross their arms, jilted

Digging heels into surprised tarmac

Now what, the watching world wonders and then turns

To more pressing news

And the leaders scramble to their tired toes to try to think

And the farmer surveys his infertile seeds and empty purse.

Reflections on the Creative Process

This was written near the end of 2011. The Reflective Essay was one of the assignments given toward the end of my MFA. 

Pic borrowed from a google search result.


Reflections on the Creative Process


I am the girl who eats elephants.

Or tries to at least.


When creative challenges strut past me, flexing their muscles, swishing their tales, flashing smiles and suggestions of personal fulfillment, nine times out of ten I will cave in. I just love a project. It doesn’t matter what sort of project as long as it requires that I stretch myself far beyond what I am capable of in reality. Need a percussionist? I’ve never played, but I’ll have a go. A loaf of homemade sourdough bread? Couldn’t be too hard to learn. A Masters degree in the midst of starting a family? Sure thing.


The idea of applying for, then being accepted into this MFA was too much for me to resist. I had a story I knew needed writing, and enough hard-earned wisdom to know I should invest in learning the craft. That was about it. I put together the application in less than two days, and before I really understood what I was doing I was at my first residency, a day after I discovered I was pregnant with my second baby. Some might say it wasn’t a well-planned decision. I think it was meant to be.


Toward the end of that first residency Xu Xi made a point about how one does not actually need to be in front of a computer or piece of paper in order to write, that much of her writing happens on the treadmill or as she goes about her day. This turned out to be the nugget of wisdom that would see me through one of the biggest elephants I ever sank my teeth into.


Writing pregnant was easy. Writing sleep-deprived whilst trying to figure out how to handle a colicky baby certainly was not. The last twelve months have been difficult, overloaded plates. Life is life, but this year was exaggerated: two young children, a husband realizing his own creative dreams, a building project, four part time jobs and a Masters degree.


It felt as though my propensity to nibble on the ear of a challenge escaped all reason as I now found myself frantically gorging on multiple elephants as if trying to defend a title in an eating competition. People ask me how I do it. I wonder the same. There hasn’t been enough time to reflect. The baby is 7 months old and we are still sleep deprived.


As I attempt to ponder this question in the free seconds between preparing meals, disciplining a toddler, washing dishes and using a pipette to suck the snot out of my sick baby’s nostrils, I find myself drawn more to the question of why do I do this?


For years I wrestled with the guilt that I had chosen to pursue a creative life instead of getting a real job. Hong Kong is not a city built for artists. Smart people keep serious day jobs and then spend some of their wages on creative hobbies. I have had to adjust my definition of Smart People. The creative life is not really a choice. I have tried to abort and bury many projects along the way, but that usually just leaves me standing uneasily amidst a bunch of rumbling graves.


I have adjusted my perspective on the creative process. I am taking a more philosophical approach now and asking what is the point of life/work/the things we all busy ourselves with? Hong Kong is a city full of extremely busy people. I am one of them. I resent busyness when it is caused by obligation to things I do not love, but when it is a symptom of a life full of meaningful fun, then busyness itself becomes something I love.


I have been putting much thought into the idea of playing to one’s strengths. I find the notion troublesome. I have heard it preached on international platforms, read it in books on leadership, been challenged with it by my ex-bosses in HK, and recently, saddened to discover Plato’s stance on it via @ Twitter: “One cannot practice many arts with success.”


I understand the concept- why invest in taking one gift from a level 2 to a level 4 when you could put the effort towards taking a more promising gift from a level 7 to a level 9? But I wholeheartedly reject the notion of playing to ones strength. Failure and discomfort is the birthing place of great art – the sort that people can relate to. Playing to strength is a strategy that minimizes the possibility for failure.



I endeavor to read Plato, in order to be able to fully converse with him on this matter. I want to know his definition of success. I don’t think it is the same as mine. I am also told that Julie Cameron has something relevant to say on this matter, but she is going to have to wait until I have finished chewing on what I already have in my mouth.


I have spent years of my life envying people who are really really good at one or two things. I am not one of those people. I am a little bit okay at a lot of different things. I have come to accept this now, mostly as the result of no longer having the emotional resource to fight it.


I found that the times I have tried to shelf all but a couple of my inclinations in the name of playing to a strength or two, I have wound up miserable. I don’t dabble on a whim. I do it because I feel that I have been entrusted with an idea, and it is up to me to make something of it. It is almost a duty. If I turn a blind eye to those duties, I end up feeling depressed and unfulfilled.


There are some people in the world who hold such regard for the idea of excellence that they simply refuse to attempt something unless they are more-or-less certain that they will be happy with their outcome. I understand this and cannot argue against it because I have seen these people excel numerous times. What I will acknowledge though, is that I do not possess their same level of self-control. If I catch the thought of auditioning for a Masters Degree in Jazz Dance into my head, there is little that can stop me from trying, even though my chances of success are limited, so that at least I can know that I tried. We won’t go into that specific example right now though. I think there are just two different types of people – two different ways a human brain can be wired.


The disadvantage of my wiring is that I am very familiar with failure. Again, that’s not meant to sound heroic in any way. Anyone who has actually failed at something important will know that it is not an enjoyable experience, nor one from which it is easy to recover. The advantage is that I have enjoyed the process of trying new things, and have also developed some wisdom from experience, but most importantly, I feel, some tenacity.


I wonder if everyone only focused on their strengths, we would miss out on the awesome experience of uncomfortable stretching, and that thing that happens thanks to 2 Cor 12:9 where God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness? I’m no theologian, but my lay interpretation of this verse is that if I’m too strong then I don’t leave much room for partnership with the divine – for me, the source of all creativity. I honestly don’t know if I’ve got that muddled or out of context in some way, but I am most open to discussion.


I am not suggesting that mediocrity should be given the right to some limelight – that would not be fair on the work produced with excellence. I am saying that if someone feels that they want to try to develop their skills in areas of level 2-6 abilities, then why not just let them? I can say for sure that with or without the chance to get on stage, or publish, or sell art or whatever, I would still be doing what I do simply because I get uneasy when I don’t. If I do get given the those opportunities then how nice, but I think that life is more fun if we just get on with doing what we believe we were made to do, as long as we aren’t hurting anybody, regardless of audience size or response.


These are my reflections on my own creative process. If my circumstances were different perhaps I could lock myself away in a tower like Montaigne, for the rest of my life to contemplate it all. It sounds very nice but I am not Montaigne and our three-bedroom family flat in Discovery Bay does not have a tower.


The conflicting advice I have received since ‘coming out’ as a writer (and entering into the great conversation that is literature) is much like the conflicting (and usually unsolicited) advice I often receive as a new parent. Cloth nappies? Naked potty training? Bottle? Breast? Reject conventional form? Strip it all down? Elaborate? Bring more humour in? Take myself more seriously?


I have to consider the options but ultimately find my own way.


If I were to write a manifesto I would say that I will not fear the influence of other artists, but trust the authenticity of my own voice. I consider myself a genuine artist. As I plug away at my writing and all my other projects I believe that I contribute to changing my city into a place where creative souls can exist for the long haul. I will courageously accept the fact that my context does not allow for creative monogamy, but charge forth regardless, knife and fork in hand. Yes, that is all I can do for now, and enjoy it I will.


Parenting: Simple, Idle and Free Range!



This was the actual checklist I was given when I went to my first pregnancy appointment! Perfection in the form of an innocent typo.


I’m not very postmodern in the sense that I love to solicit advice about all sorts of things. None of this don’t tell me what to do from me. I lean more on the side of oh crap, I have no idea what I’m doing, someone please give me the answer! Now, I am not in any way advocating that trait. I will put my thoughts on that in a separate post, but as an intro for today I’m just saying that my self-perceived deficit of common sense has led me to the self-help aisle of plenty of bookstores. The downside is that as a result I tend to ping-pong between all sorts of philosophies, often in an extreme way. When it came to food it was healthy to organic to vegetarian to detox to gluten free to paleo and now a big muddle of all, which essentially means we just eat whatever I can muster at the time, that usually means fish fingers.

I’m about to embark on my PhD and I can foresee a more intentional and probably academic reading plan over the next few years, and possibly because of this I have been indulging in some new parenting books lately. Or maybe the reading has been part of my attempt to find balance, as recovery after major life burn out that happened in Hong Kong, the city that really never sleeps. Or was that just my life at the time with Dylan’s sleep apnea, the son who never slept. Whatever the case, I’ve read some fantastic books recently and wanted to share them with you, especially if you are in HK and trying to fight off the tendency to freak about about schooling/activities/schedules/budgets/allergies/all things related to raising children.


Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne


This is a gentle entry point into some parenting ideas that I would honestly say would feel alien to a lot of us young parents these days. The basic premise is Less is More and the author writes with professional and personal experience and real authority about scaling back in order to fully engage and enjoy a simpler life. Ahhhhh, a breath of fresh air :)

There’s a blog too, but I won’t comment on that as I haven’t checked in out properly yet.



The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson

This one is probably going to offend a lot of parents who pride themselves in trying really really hard every single day. I bookswas one of those a few months ago, and it got really really tiring, and quite honesty ushered me into a season of deprssion. That sense that no matter how much I did, there was always more I could/should be doing…

This book made me laugh and blush at the very silly way I had been parenting not too long ago. I can’t get enough of this one. I was actually quite sad when I got to the end of it. It had me at “children love a tipsy parent” (I’m not sure if those were the exact words, but I will go with the laziness that stops me from referring back to the original text, confident that this would not offend the author). I allowed myself to chill out, sit around with other grown ups drinking grownup drinks while our kids ran feral in the garden for a couple weekends, and low and behold, life started to feel manageable again. Click here for a taster in the form of The Idle Parent Manifesto. Genius.


Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

I’m in the middle of this one now. It’s funny and again, makes me laugh at myself in almost every chapter – the ability to laugh at myself is one trait, and survival technique I have come to depend on.  Skenazy was in the press years ago for 51y6rCrGsVL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_letting her son ride the NY subway alone. She then went on to become the leader of the Free Range movement, encouraging parents to fight back against the culture of fear mongering that has taken up residency in the land of childrearing. Her message is basically CHILL OUT! And she has done her research into the statistics and facts that would be demanded of anyone with such an audacious message aimed at parents. The book is directed at an American audience, but those of us Internationals will be able to draw great value from it. Chinese culture is funny when it comes to kids, they must be bundled up under multiple layers of clothes all year round, and have to wear face masks to protect others from snot at the age of 2yrs, but they are allowed to be out and about town until 11pm. I’d be interested to know which culture has produced the most neurotic parents…

Here’s the Free Range Kids blog.


And finally, here’s a fun article from the New Yorker on the same theme that my sis-in-law Meg sent me the other day.


Health? You mean mine?!


Health was one of the first things to go when Dylan got sick. But this is not going to be a poor-me post about how hard it was (for me) for Dylan to be sick. He is doing really well in the UK – maybe it’s the cleaner air, maybe it’s the calmer mum. I don’t know. What I do know is that it it now time to move out of crisis-mode. We are no longer in crisis. Praised be the Lord.

Jacinta, in her former life, was a health & fitness enthusiast. She danced ballet 7 days a week during her Uni years (would have made sense to just study it, but she didn’t really understand that was an option until too late), she taught creative movement as her first job out of Uni, then qualified as a Personal Trainer & Group Fitness Instructor, then Pilates instructor, then opened a dance studio, then trained for a marathon, then went a bit nuts and needed some time out from everything. She sat on the bench of life feeling metaphorical, lamenting the side-effects of the assortment of medicine she needed to take, eventually she got off it all, joined a fancy gym, studied up on nutrition and the use of food as medicine. She got super fit and mentally stable, and then she got pregnant with baby no.1.


From that point all attempts to regain former glory fell short. Don’t even get her started on how tough it got once baby no.2 got sick. Or how yummy all forms of calorie became. Very few people she has met in the past four years know the Jacinta who used to care about health and fitness. She feels sad about this, and after some soul searching has come to accept that the best course of action would be to deal with things head on, and that means dropping the rather tiresome third-person approach to the problem.

Yes, it’s the start of the new year, and this is the time a huge number of chubbsters across the first-world start thinking about their fitness. I will join their ranks. I am no longer fit or smug enough to judge. I suppose that’s a good thing.

The beauty of writing is that you can tell the story any the hell way you want. But I am into the non-fiction stuff, to a degree. At least to the point that I reckon if I’m going to tweak the story to the point that I don’t look too bad at all, then what’s the point? I think it’s the honest truth that will be most helpful, in this specific case anyway.

(At this point Jacinta’s husband walks into the kitchen and asks what Jacinta is doing. “Writing for fun” she replies. He drops the questioning at that and asks “Shall we make one of these Angel Delights?” They were bought to put in a care package to send to an expat Brit. They are not part of Jacinta’s current eating plan. It is hard work for Jacinta to be Jacinta. Since she is writing on this very topic at this very time she has chosen to rise above it all).

Here and now, today, I am not happy with my current physical state.

- I would estimate I am 20lbs over my ideal body weight.

- My skin has been constantly badly blemished for about 24 months now.

- I got a really stupid stress-related haircut last year (you know, the drastic sort that you secretly believe will dramatically improve your life), and am still working through the aftermath (it was really bad, the hairdresser actually said “there, now you look like Rhianna!” As if that would be a good thing for me. For her it’s great but for me, not so much. Coincidentally my Welsh middle name is Rhiannon).

- I am tired all day every day.

- Each attempt to get back into a workout routine has left me utterly exhausted and needing a minimum of three weeks’ recovery.

- I am unhappy with my appearance and often revert to dressing to hide myself rather than wearing what I like. To add insult to injury I have been interviewed and professionally photographed for work-related things twice in the past two years.

Where I am now is at the point of being serious about making changes and this is what I’ve been thinking about lately:

- No matter how much I wish it weren’t so, I cannot simply do what used to work for me and expect it to work for me now. My body has changed and now that I’m older and have had babies, I can’t just throw myself into an insanely intensive exercise programme without hurting something. I need to start gently.

- I need to approach this holistically. The best season of super-fitness I have experienced was the one just before I fell pregnant the first time. I was practicing what I had learnt about nutrition, I was exercising regularly, I was looking after my spiritual health, and I was hitting a good balance with my social life (I’m usually pendulum swinging between extreme hermit-like solitude and being out every single night of the week).

I am going to stop there for tonight. I have want to discuss the infamous Maria Kang picture in a separate post but not time to write about that now. Just want to get this one out first in a throwing-the-gauntlet-down sort of way. I’m pumped. Mentally, not yet physically. Here we go!



Famous Last Words

I’m really great at making declarations about my blog’s area of focus and then doing absolutely nothing to follow up on said area of focus.


The last post was my lament on Dylan’s ongoing sleep problems. After 2.5yrs of seriously interrupted sleep, I resided myself to the idea that I would be without good sleep for the foreseeable future, and might as well blog it out. I did embark on a mission to find help and to get to route of the problem. I did pursue a couple of very promising avenues of help. And guess what? I’ve just had FIFTEEN NIGHTS IN A ROW of very acceptable sleeps!


In the past we would experience anywhere between 30-mins and 3 hours of hysterical screaming that could only be soothed (and not always) by a bottle (or three) of rice milk.


My current definition of “Good Sleep” is ZERO bottles of milk between 7pm and 6am. We still have a bit of crying, but in the last 15 nights, no crying has lasted longer than TEN MINUTES!


I will control myself and resist the temptation to go into just how big a deal this actually is to me. First let me explain what happened.


We moved to England and here as soon as you get into the health system they send you a letter telling you they’d like to send someone to visit your house and see how you’re all getting on. That in itself blows my mind. So, I met with a lovely lady named Sian three times. During the first visit she listened to my terrible story and then made a time to see me again. During the second visit she gave me a very thorough photocopied wad of information about sleep training. She told me now that Layla was settled into school it was time to deal with Dylan’s sleep training. She said we had two main options: controlled crying, or inching myself out of the room.


The latter is a much gentler and slower process of getting to the point where Dylan could fall asleep without me being near him. I would just sit on his bed with a book as he fell asleep, and then night after night work my way onto a chair, then inch the chair out of his room. This sounded nice because Dylan definitely had some major anxiety issues. I attributed these to the fear that someone with sleep apnea must experience. They are said to have horrible nightmares about suffocating etc. He needed to know I was there with him.


I also had a big guilt complex from last year, back when I was working at the university three days a week. It just so happened that the schedule meant that I would put him down for his lunchtime nap and always be gone when he woke up. After a couple weeks he cottoned on to this pattern and started protesting his nap and then picking up a life-threatening lung infection. This was the start of his need to know I was there any time he stirred in the night.


The thing is I am not a patient person. I was groggy and wanted sleep NOW, not to inch my way out of the box room over a matter of weeks. Anyway, that would have been hard to do since I’m often alone with two kids at bedtime and Layla would have none of it.  She knows her rights.


So I told Sian I thought we needed to explore Controlled Crying. She explained that this is not the same as letting them “cry it out”. It just so happens that all things being equal, I am actually a big believer in letting them cry it out. It was the sleep apnea that rather rudely interrupted my attempts to co-author the next Gina Ford plan.


Controlled Crying means letting him cry for 2 minutes (a minute for each year of their life) and then popping back in and matter-of-factly reassuring them, and then leaving again. This can happen dozens, if not hundreds of times a night until they realize that they might as well just quit and sleep through. Sounded like a long shot but at this point I was a beggar too impatient to choose option one.


I was gearing up the strength to embark on this plan, and told Sian I thought my husband would be emotionally strong enough to hold out for the 5-7 nights it would probably take. Then something unexpected happened. I asked Sian if she thought Dylan looked well enough to endure it, if in her non-medical opinion he looked like a normal healthy kid who just needed sleep training. The reason I asked this was that a year ago Dylan was quite visibly an unwell child. This is what each member of his medical entourage told me anyway – I couldn’t see it because I looked at him all day long and in that situation it is hard to see the little changes that happen. According to his doctors he was clearly unwell – he had dark blue circles under his eyes, pasty white clammy skin and bright red lips indicating too much yeast in the gut. I thought he was looking pretty normal now, but wanted to double check.


She looked at him, then looked at me and went quiet for a moment.


Then she said to me “I think you should take him to the GP and just explain the situation so that he can assure you that he is no longer in danger. You might need that. He looks absolutely fine to me, but I think you need to hear it from a doctor.”


I must have looked a little confused because then she went on to say something along the lines of how big a scare I have had and how incredibly natural it is that I am terrified of leaving him in the night. He was at risk and I had to be on high alert, but just because that season has passed doesn’t mean I know how to come down off high alert.


Then I cried a lot.


Then I thought about blogging this development but procrastinated because it was quite painful.


Then I decided to do a bit of evidence gathering. Sian had told me to start a sleep diary but I’m not so good with the follow through, so that never really happened. Instead I just observed, and instead of observing Dylan I started to observe myself.


I had a flashback of one of the many visits to the GP in Discovery Bay I was on with Dylan earlier in the year. The DB Medical Centre were getting ready to launch a Frequent Visitors scheme just for my family. Not only was I running down there every time Dylan got a sniffle, I would do the same any time anyone in our household so much as cleared their throat – the basis for this was that I could not afford for anyone to infect Dylan. I sat in the waiting room as Dylan played with the toys in the corner, and imagined the receptionists rolling their eyes at me here she is again, doesn’t she have anything better to do with her time… I’m partial to letting the odd conversation play itself out in my head, and in my head I replied I know, I know, it totally LOOKS as if I’m a neurotic mother who has nothing better to do with my time, but believe me, I am a very busy lady. There are a hundred other things I need to be doing instead of shuttling my son to and from waiting rooms all week. I looks like I’m the problem, I can totally see how it would look like that from where you are sitting, but I assure you, it’s not me…


I was satisfied with how that mental exchange concluded. In my mind the receptionist nodded and agreed, yes, you’re right. It does look like you are the weirdo, but after hearing your explanation I am convinced that you are the helpless victim in this situation. Of course no mother wants her kid to be sick. No, you’re doing everything right…


Back in Oxford, in reality, I was beginning to allow myself to explore the possibility that I could be the problem. It seemed ridiculous but stranger things have happened.


I noticed that Dylan was much calmer when Tom put him to bed. I noticed that Dylan insisted on my spoon-feeding him, even though he is well past the age of independence in this area. I started him in daycare and he only cried for me for 5 minutes on the first day and after that couldn’t wait to be dropped off. I asked his minder if he ate anything at school and she said yes, as if of course, why wouldn’t he? He’s just a normal kid.


Then one night it happened. It was after Tom had been away on a tour for a few nights. I was exhausted from being the sole adult in the house and Dylan was kicking off in the middle of the night. I lost my temper. I took him out of my bed, turned a light on in another room and gave him a telling off. I put him in timeout so I could go to the loo and take a breather because in all honestly I was worried I might chuck him out the window if I didn’t give myself the timeout.


I breathed a quick prayer and then went back to him. He was hysterical to the point of hyperventilating. I went through the process of getting him out of timeout – explaining why he was there, asking him to say sorry, and then cuddling him and telling him he could not come back to bed until he stopped crying. He controlled himself beautifully. I knew it was hard for him, but he did it. As soon as we got back to bed he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. We slept until 8:30am. Layla was late for school the next day and none of us was sorry.


I knew I was on to something. I bought Boundaries with Kids, a book I knew I needed to read for other reasons, and it confirmed things to me – I needed to be firm and clear with Dylan about my expectations for the nighttime and if he chose to scream all night, then I could not reward him with milk, or even with my presence, but instead that I needed to make it not an enjoyable experience for him. Thankfully he’s only needed two midnight timeouts since that night. They always happen quickly now.


I’ve just noticed how long this is and Downton Abbey is on so I will conclude part one here.



The Googles Can’t Save Me

Dear Interwebs,

Why can’t you help me fix my son’s sleep dramas?

Kind regards,



The life rule I break on the most consistent basis is “Google is not a doctor. Do not ask it what your problem is.” But I do ask. A lot. Very little good can come of doing it. I know this in my head, but not in my fingertips. Any time anything is slightly awry with any part of any member of my family’s bodies I find myself sacrificing hours of my life to Goggle Almighty. He, like my other God, always hears my prayers, but doesn’t always answer. Why Google, why? WTF, Google, WTF?

Most of the time the reason I can’t get on the same (web)page (ahem) is because I don’t have the gift of search words. I should do, I believe I taught a class on this during my brief but glorious stint as a uni lecturer. But I have mid-term memory problems, so I don’t. I ended up leaving that job because Dylan’s health was going crazy. My Internet searches have come up with all sorts of bazaar and highly distracting information. I won’t go into that right now because I tend to be long-winded when it comes to irrelevant details. It’s a generational curse/blessing passed down from my father’s side.

Several years ago I landed a neat little freelance job writing content for HK’s .gov website. It was super fun and I did several days of it sitting in the studio at Hillsong Church, Sydney while my husband and sound tech guru Pete Wallis (the only genuine people-person of a sound tech I have ever come across in my life) mixed our church band’s first album. That was quite a diversion, but the point I’m making is that it was a really fun and flexible job.

I spent hours researching HK’s various online resources on specific topics to make things user-friendlier. I’m getting so side-tracked now that I can’t actually remember why I started this story…Um…oh yah, so one day, several years later, I was at wit’s end trying to figure out how to get some hired help for housekeeping/babysitting without having a live-in Helper, and without breaking the law in Hong Kong, then, I stumbled across a really helpful webpage, and got really excited, and then later realized I was the one who had written it. I rolled my eyes at my own silliness and then, a couple days later I realized I had already been through that exact same exercise when my beloved Father passed away – I needed to find out what logistical things I could do to help my Mum, so I googled what to do when someone dies, and bam, there is was, an incredibly helpful webpage. Weeks later I found the exact, but unedited, text right there on my laptop from the work I had done whilst in Sydney in the company of my husband and Pete the legend.

I’m going to go ahead and ignore the voice of wisdom suggesting I delete most of the above paragraphs and move right onto the reason I started this post in the first place:

My son hates sleep.

Quick recap – after 2 years of mystifying and torturous confusion he was diagnosed with Infant Sleep Apnea, and then had tonsils and adenoids out. He has been mostly physically well since is operation in March, but sleep is still a huge problem in our family.

We have probably not helped the situation by moving across the world, away from everything he has ever known, and by having a nomadic summer of living out of suitcases in people’s spare rooms for the last 8 weeks.

Every one of my parenting ideals has gone out the window since Dylan was born. He is my humble pie and I love him dearly but man oh man does he put us through it. I am actually going grey.

Layla, my first, is a textbook angle. I could set my iPhone clock to her. She eats well, sleeps perfectly in her own room, toilet trained with no problem, and cannot wait to start her first day of school tomorrow. I mention this only to balance out how crap I am about to make myself as a mother look in the next couple paragraphs – I did, at one point in history know exactly what I was doing as a parent. But:

Dylan is very sensitive. I don’t blame him with all he’s been through – imagine not being able to tell the person who is meant to be looking after you I can’t sleep because I can’t breathe! I am crying because I am scared I will stop breathing if you lie me down!

Dylan doesn’t eat much. He is happiest if he can watch an iPad as I spoon food into his mouth, or if I chase him around, or if he can exist off goldfish crackers on the go. He won’t eat green things, mushrooms, boiled eggs, or anything that isn’t a cracker, a sausage or a scotch egg…unless I am in the middle of telling someone that he won’t eat the above… then he will stuff his face with it all. Using action or inaction to contradict mouthing-off parent: it’s the law when you are two.

Dylan sleeps in my bed, sideways, creating a perfect letter H with the three bodies present. He must tumble around for at least 60 mins before falling asleep and he will wake, often high-pitched screaming at least once, but sometimes four times a night. The most successful way to settle him is to give him a bottle. He doesn’t take a dummy, doesn’t suck his thumb, doesn’t have a blankie or any other comfort item. The only problem with the bottle is that Dylan has a very sensitive digestive system and it does an allergic reaction to anything that it gets overloaded with over a long period of time. He has, at various stages, been declared allergic to dairy and soy, but we now find he can handle everything as long as we rotate them.

Getting out of bed in the middle of the night when you are dog-tired is really hard. It makes for a grumpy day to follow. Having to get up and down multiple times over the course of months is akin to torture. Half of me apologizes for going on about it, but the other half needs the writing therapy. Last month I resorted to buying little box-drink sized rice milks and bringing them to bed with us. I can tear the corners off those suckers with my teeth and pour them into his bottle with my eyes closed. Literally.

New problem is his nappies can’t handle his full bladder any more – he is busting out of them and wetting the bed. Not convenient at all. Can’t change the sheets with my eyes closed. May or may not have opted to just sleep on pee once or twice recently.

So…where are we now… I tried to ask what my hilarious mother refers to as “the googles” what to do about Dylan and the mess we are in. I need a toddler whisperer. Google’s got nothing for me. Lots on Sleep Apnea and how to know if you have it, what to do about it, how to prepare for and recover from the op…but precious little on how to survive prolonged sleep deprivation and how to sleep train a 2.5 yr old with serious sleep issues.

A small but cocky voice from my inner jury is suggesting I help my prolonged sleep deprivation by not writing prolonged blog posts when I could be asleep.

I don’t listen to many of the inner voices.

Another little voice inside keeps peeping “but it’s not my fault it’s like this – I would have sleep trained him and let him cry down, but the sleep apnea bla bla bla…”

Is there any point placing blame? Yes and no I think. I’m sure I’ve made many mistakes along the way. The foggy brain has not helped, but the cause of the brain fog is beyond my control. (okay, cocky voice, I will go to bed in 5 minutes.)

This came up on my twitter feed the other day:

If you are sleep deprived:

1. You gain weight.

2. You burn muscle instead of fat.

3. Physical performance is greatly reduced.

Thanks for nothing, @LiveFitToday Followed by Morgan Freeman. Like salt in the wound.

From what I know, it is important to trace back and understand how one got into the situation one is in, in order to see a way out, but meanwhile for us the problem gets worse by the day and the only way out is to push foggy brain to find the solution to the brain-fog-inducing problem. Think, foggy brain, think! The Googles can’t save you, it’s all on you, foggy brain.

Tonight Tom went to see a concert. Dylan, Layla and I brushed teeth and settled in my bed for stories. Layla went out like a light and Dylan sang songs and tumbled happily for 45 mins. Then he broke into cries and cried upward for another hour. It escalated to the point of hysteria so I took him to another room so Layla wouldn’t wake. I cuddled him and spoke to him calm and firmly, and finally he fell asleep, and I mean fell. I suspect he passed out from exhaustion. One can only scream-cry for so long. I did what I thought best but that’s what I’ve been doing all along and the problem isn’t any closer to fixed. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong but I know I need to figure it out and change something before foggy brain has a car accident.

I hereby commit myself to figuring this out and blogging about it so that the Internet will have something to offer the next sleepy mother who comes along – even if it is me, having forgotten that I wrote this.

Stock Check

Life is never dull. I genuinely crave a bit of boredom. Boredom is a luxury and I’m more than a little jealous and begrudging of anyone who experiences it. Smug, bored bastards.

I’m not even kidding. I have a wonderfully full life but somewhere along the way I faltered a little, lost my footing and have been failing to catch up with myself ever since. Last December I got myself in such a busy work-life related tizzy that I woke early one morning and had to ride to the A&E in an ambulance because I had chest pains and a numb left arm. That is not a brag. There is nothing clever nor attractive about someone in their thirties having a heart attack. It turned out I wasn’t having a heart attack. It was more like a panic attack, but I don’t really have those normally, so I put it down to a rather ungraceful dismount from the treadmill of busy-work-season.

It was on the way home from the hospital that morning that I arrived at the conclusion that BUSYNESS IS NOTHING MORE THAN A THINLY DISGUISED AND SELF-IMPORTANT BRAND OF STUPID.

I mean it. Busy is not good. Busy is stupid. I am embarrassed at how busy I let myself get on such a regular basis. Smart people know how much they can chew, and they bite accordingly. Elephant-eaters like myself have a disconnect between what eyes, oesophagus and stomach can handle. We rudely talk with our mouths full and are grumpy with heartburn most of the time.

Occasionally, more often than I would care to admit, life gets so off-the-charts crazy that I honestly worry that I will blow as gasket. I feel like a wonky-legged washing machine on spin dry with springs starting to pop out of me.


Nope, I still have not managed to define what this blog is all about, but yes, I am going to go ahead and use it as a place to post this little slice of writing therapy. I write for my life. I write in the name of self-preservation and sanity. To date writing has been the most successful action I have tried in eye-of-the-storm times like these, and since everything got on top of me again a few weeks ago I’ve not been able to tweet anything of any worth, so I’m now going to have to take to more extreme measures…blogpost stock check.


January 2013: Tom and I engaged in annual church-wide fast. Tom cut out dairy, meat, gluten, sugar and caffeine. I was already off gluten in the name of the current (at the time) round of Dylan-solidarity but I didn’t even bother trying to fast anything else because I was (and am) still rather grumpy about the sleep-fast in which I have been obliged to engage ever since March 2011. (Dylan, sleep apnea, I’m working on my attitude blah blah blah).


Anyway, the outcome of the fast, in a very round about way, was that Tom and I both felt it would be a good idea to take off for a year, to put our work on hold and go live in the UK to recalibrate and refocus on what really matters most to us – our family and our art.


February-June 2013: Said goodbye to our lovely Domestic Helper, Eden. I shuffled my life around a bit to regain control of the household. This was all in all a great experience but was a little tricky at times and had to be done whilst packing down the DB flat, finding a tenant and still running Handmade Hong Kong.


July 2013: Left our DB flat in the hands of a great tenant (woohoo), moved in with my mum for three weeks (I adore my mother but this was an intensely stressful time), finally boarded a plane and made it to my family home in Oxford where my brother, his pregnant-with-twins wife and toddler live. 


We have been here almost three weeks and tomorrow we head off to London to housesit in a gorgeous house for three weeks, then one week in Bristol with Tom’s sister, and then, then, hallelujah only then, we move into our own house in September!


I will bake bread and make jam. I will to sew. I will walk my kids to school/daycare and back every day. I will write. I will exercise. I will sleep train Dylan once and for all. I will pick up a guitar and relearn my 5 chords. I will appliqué furniture. I will fight all temptation to start any businesses in England. I will probably start my PhD but I think that’s ok….

We’ve been living out of suitcases for 6 weeks now. Dylan has recently taken his 2am screaming sessions and rice milk addition to heart jolting levels. Layla is doing well but is puzzled by the double standards with which I am trying to parent (“No Layla, no more snacks. Dylan, will you stop screaming if mummy gives you a jaffa cake?”), Tom is doing great, especially for someone who struggles with travel/being away from home. I will continue to run HmHK remotely but I am almost at my goal of September, when I will have two people join my work team so I can do much much less.

I am mere paragraphs into this exercise but feeling a hundred times better already. We have definitely not chosen an easy path this year, but it is all in the name of Sabbath-style Rest and simplifying life. I am hopeful that the current chaos is just short term and life will settle into a more appropriate rhythm soon.


That is all for now. 

PS – I am grumpy about the obligation I feel to post nice/relevant/cool pictures with my writing. I’m not good at this and this is a major reason I haven’t posted in so long. I will sort myself out soon. Promise.

Dancer’s Feet

smug beautiful arch.


Explanation: This is a little piece I wrote for uni two years ago. I’ve just spent the past hour trying to make it fit into the book I’m trying to finish, but finally come to accept that it doesn’t belong there. So I’m posting it here..


Picture a dancer.  Scroll down to her feet.

Without much thought one might be mistaken in assuming a dancer’s feet are beautiful, like the rest of her body. After a little more consideration logic should reveal that actually, it makes more sense for a dancer’s feet to be covered in blisters, bunions, bruises and Band-Aids. No one puts her feet through as much grief as a dancer.


One might think that a dancer is forever going for foot massages and pedicures in order to counter the damage that she does, but often is the case that it is the dancer herself who will seek out ways to further damage her feet. There exists a product, a contraption (the name of which I cannot remember) that is designed to contort the ankle at unnatural angles in order to increase arch of the foot. Feet with high arches are to be envied on the ballet scene. When a young ballet dancer finally graduates onto Pointe shoes she will sometimes be advised to pour rubbing alcohol onto her open blisters in order to speed the callusing process. The agony of burning flesh is worth the agony of being allowed to stand on ones toes.


The following I find interesting as well as comforting:  The most beautiful feet in ballet – the slender ones with the high arches – are also the weakest. They are the most prone to injury. The strongest feet, the ones that will allow a dancer to enjoy a (relatively) long career in dance are the wide stocky ones with low arches.


This is a beautiful win-win situation:  The girls whose wide duck feet cause them to blush with shame at every shoe fitting can smugly remember that they will be in the game longer, while the pretty-footed doe-eyed dears can take comfort in their superior aesthetic beauty as they hobble up and down the halls of the physio clinic.


I have wide feet.  Although it has been close to a decade since I last donned a proper ballet shoe they are still hideously – and apparently permanently – disfigured.  Patches of skin are discolored and callused in places where they have no business being discolored and callused.  I also suffer from a mild case of something called Mortin’s Long Toe – where the second toe is longer than the big toe.  People with Mortin’s Toe are generally advised not to go en pointe in ballet because the more even-lengthed one’s toes are, the more solid a base to distribute the body’s weight.  I highly doubt this advice stops anyone.  It didn’t stop me anyway, and the result is quite a mangled looking line up of toes.


And now the lemonade recipe:  My strong, wide, ugly feet have been excellently matched to the wiring of my very being. They are not pretty, but were built to last as I traverse the optimist’s trail, dithering back and forth, picking battles and calling ceasefires within, not knowing where I am going and sometimes not even enjoying the journey. I take some comfort from the notion that my feet are strong, not weak and feeble, I take even more from the belief that they were bespoke-tailored with me in mind. Someone somewhere knows how I am wired and afforded me with the equipment I would need to get through life.



A Mummy’s Apology (not the I’m-sorry kind)

The problem: very few natural opportunities to blog.

The plan: write what I can in the time I have available today -


Tom and I are currently in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We are here because Tom is leading the music at every session of the Alpha Emerging Leaders’ Retreat. I am here to accompany him. We have some free time now. He has gone off to see the sights, I spent an hour and a half sprawled out on the king-sized bed with the curtains closed. I have drunk too much coffee and am so out of practice I was unable to nap, so I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the peace for 90mins.  What a treat!

I want to take a few minutes to process what has been happening since last year, when we were last in Malaysia for this same retreat, version 2012.

Highlights: I completed my Masters degree and Tom released his album and it went to no.1 on HK’s iTunes chart. I also got given a job as a part time lecturer at City U, but…

Low point: A couple weeks into teaching at City U my son Dylan got seriously sick. Dylan has been a tricky little guy since birth. He is not a big feeder or eater, and is not inclined towards sleep. Ever. I spent his first year of life trying to figure him out, and failing miserably. I just kept telling myself it would change with time, and there always seemed a reasonable, if not unfortunate explanation for his sleeplessness – teething, milestones, separation anxiety, needs a comfort item, crack of light coming through the curtain, too dark, too hot, too cold, wind, colic, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance… the list grew longer faster than I could attempt to address each item.

One day in October our Helper Eden had gone to the shops, and I was home alone with the kids as they napped, or tried to. I was reading a story to Layla and Dylan was crying down. Only, Dylan never cries down, he cries up. His cry is never half-hearted. He is fully committed to his cry. If I were to download that baby’s cry interpreting app for the iPhone, I’m pretty sure it would tell me that Dylan’s cry means: HELP ME WOMAN, I AM ABOUT TO DIE, YOU ARE A TERRIBLE MOTHER, WHY HAVEN’T YOU FIXED THIS PROBLEM YET? I WILL BE DEAD IN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES IF YOU DON’T COME AND GET ME RIGHT NOW.

Layla had somehow fallen asleep so I went to him. I picked him up and he continued to cry, but the cry got quieter, then he started choking and then his lips went blue and then his face went blue. I called my neighbour and asked her to come down and sit Layla until Eden returned. I grabbed my bag and ran out the door. Once I was half way up the stairs Dylan burped, and then he relaxed, but he still sounded all wrong so I took him to the paediatrician.

From that point we entered a season of visiting doctors intensively. between 1-4 appointments a week. Dylan had a bad infection in his lungs. He needed more than 12 medications a day to help him fight it without hospitalisation. We bought a nebulizer that he had to have twice a day, a vaporiser and a very expensive air purifier. We switched onto a hypoallergenic diet. I moved into the spare room so I could hold him most the night. The doctors agreed that it was the best way to go because he was at risk of vomiting and choking in the night. Eventually I made the decision not to sign on for a second semester of teaching – I was cancelling classes to be with Dylan and had no idea when he would recover. More than one of Dylan’s doctors used the phrase “I don’t want to frighten you, but…” and more than three told me very soberly that “he is a very sick little boy.”

From October 2012 to today it has been a slow and painful climb out of the ‘critical’ zone. The weird thing is that he is a very happy and calm little guy for most the daylight hours. During the night he turns into something else, but we fumble along regardless. What else can you do? You still have to get up in the morning and get on with the day.

Everyone knows a rough night leaves you feeling, well, rough. A whole week of them feels somewhat unjust. By the time a week becomes a month, and then a year, you can no longer remember what not feeling rough feels like. A new and highly undesirable identity has formed as the you that you used to be fades into the distance, taking with it whatever it was you used to think was important. This isn’t totally a bad thing. I believe there is value to be found in all the hooha but it will require a rested mind to unearth all that stuff. A few months ago I finally recognised another byproduct of the challenge I’m facing, and this one was totally unexpected. I knew I had been feeling something weird, but couldn’t quite place it, and then it dawned on me: Shame.

I was walking around life feeling deeply ashamed of what was happening to our family. I was never angry at Dylan. That was one decision I have been inflexible on from the start. It is not his fault. I was pretty upset with myself for not being able to comfort him, or fix him, or continue to achieve everything I wanted, and I was regularly mean to Tom for not being able to fix the situation either, or to read my mind to find out how and when to say exactly the right thing, and I was mad at Layla for also needing me despite the fact I hadn’t slept, and I was very disappointed at God for not answering my desperate prayers the way I wanted them answered. As for what Dylan himself had to suffer, don’t even get me started on that. There were lots of unpleasant feelings present that I recognised and could, on some level, understand, but I really didn’t expect shame to be one of them. I think it was linked to the secrecy of the whole situation – not that we were hiding it (I’ve probably tweeted about it at annoying frequency), but just that it has happened behind closed doors where no one else can see how bad it gets, or have firsthand insight into why I’m no longer sticking to the plan. I find it interesting. I don’t really have any further insights on this point though.

At the beginning of this month Dylan’s ENT specialist said Obstructive Sleep Apnea was the main problem we had to tackle, so he had surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids. Putting an under-two-year-old in for an operation was not an easy decision, but the truth was that the whole household was at a point of despair, and the doctors said if Dylan doesn’t start sleeping properly his development will be affected.

The three-day hospital stay was difficult but his physical recovery was perfect. Tom and I can hear that his breathing now sounds normal. He still isn’t sleeping though. He doesn’t know how. He has had to wake himself up to breath since birth, so it’s going to take some time to give him the skill and gift of sleep.

Sleep is a crazy thing. It is very hard to appreciate its value until you go for a season without it. I have now gone two years with less than 20 good nights’ sleep. It shows. My immune system is very weak now. I have a constant cold and sore throat. I have gained a ridiculous amount of weight because I am the opposite of those people who lose weight when stressed. I am exhausted all day long so I eat in the hopes of getting an energy boost to help me through the day. I also eat when trying to feed Dylan – “Look Dylan, Mummy’s eating it!” It doesn’t work. The child won’t be coerced. What I do lose when I’m stressed is hair. Not because it is falling out – because I tend to cut my hair when stressed. I think in a weird attempt to gain control over something, anything, I find myself taking to the scissors more often than good sense would recommend. But the way I see it now, if I’m not bald it means there’s still some fight left in me. Rage, Rage against the dying of the light.

I’m also going grey. There are moments when I can feel the colour draining out of my hair. Tom and I used to marvel at how young we felt. We met when we were teenagers and on some level felt like teenagers ever since. Until last year. We used to wonder where the point was that people really truly become grown ups. I still can’t pinpoint it exactly, but I know for sure that I’ve past it now.

C’est la vie eh?

And, in the truest of all symptoms of mummyhood, I have to go. No time to get to the bottom of all this.

Bye :)


Spare Rib Syndrome

Recently I have allowed myself to dream big dreams again.

Then I got scared. The dreams are too big and greedy and likely to embarrass me when they don’t work out.

I decided to put them on the shelf; at least, that’s what I was telling people I was doing.

In fact, I was shoveling dirt onto them as they lay in the grave I had dug for them earlier just in case. I said had to “shelf” them because I have young children and my husband needs me to be available to support him. These are not bad reasons. Raising my babies is the highest calling I will ever have in this life. Playing a supporting role in my husbands dreams is a part I have always felt not only comfortable with, but truly my authentic self in. So, when I got scared and began hedging my bets and weighing my options I felt sure that no one would question my reasons for the “shelfing”. No one can argue with the young kids excuse. I mean reason.

I went to church this afternoon totally unaware than my careful construction of excuses was about to be wrecked. Church, my church, was one place I safely assumed would affirm my need to shelf. However, not today. Today was the day that Founding Pastor (and my father in law) Tony decided to courageously speak a life-injecting word about the value of women. He was supposed to be speaking about social justice but according to him social justice must begin in our hearts and in our church home, and our attitude towards gender injustice. His words soaked into the parched dry ground of my past-hungry for affirmation, exhausted-from-multitasking feminine soul. As tired and afraid as I am, those words will not return to him void.

The children are asleep, one is coughing. I will probably have to get up to settle someone a few times tonight. My eyes are heavy but dammit, I am reaching towards the shelf, to pick up the shovel and begin to unearth those dreams again. God help me.