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Hello, my name is Sandy.

Busy body, busy brain

This morning, I read an article about how being busy might actually be good for your brain. The headline is a bit misleading, or at least overly optimistic, since the stress of being busy can cause all sorts of problems. But you know, boredom can cause stress too, so I'm all for keeping busy with meaningful things.

But this isn't an essay about being busy. I'm working from home; done all the day's work plus toiled on my novel. It's time to get some practice in for next month's #blogjune challenge. Been four years since I last did it - just enough time to forget the stress and pain of having to sit and blog something every day. Like squats and lunges, I'm sure it'll work out good for me in the end.

Writing a blog post every day shouldn't be that hard. The only criteria are self-imposed and thus as flexible as I want them to be. And yet, I find the longer I leave it between posts, the more pressure I feel to produce something worthy of going in Aeon or The Atlantic. Creative arrogance, perhaps? Who am I to be that important?

I like to think the challenge will give me an opportunity to un-realise the pressure. Last year, my perfectionistic neuroses would loom over every freelance job. Over time, through doing many jobs, I discovered I could produce work that was just as good even without that worry. Stressing made no difference. What mattered was buckling down and doing the work. Jon Westenberg's recent advice about getting 'mean' resonated with me for this reason.

So in theory, this exercise should strengthen the connections in my brain that help me write. I expect there's a similar mechanism at work when it comes to keeping busy. No time for the mind to atrophy when you're constantly practicing and getting better at stuff.

Would anyone else like to join me for #blogjune? Follow these instructions to register via twitter.

What's been going on

I've spent the last month meandering through my weeks. I like how things are going lately. Even though my black dog still nips at my heels, he's been less a hound of Baskervilles and more, I dunno, a beagle or something.

So, wots been going on then?

Gaming

some friends need to put more clothes on

Ah... Miitomo. This is a weird, creepy, cute and awkward game built around over-sharing. Above is a picture of a friend who took his clothes off and came over to my virtual apartment. It's why you don't add just any old chum to your friends list.

my dark souls 3 character

Also, Dark Souls 3. What can I say that you haven't already heard? Nothing. But let's celebrate the sentiment. Just thinking about it makes my palms sweat and my heart beat faster. I also feel like shouting swear words at the wall.

Fooding

Herman apple cake

There's been a lot of food in my life. Cakes, breads, cookies. Above is a Herman the German friendship cake - the actual cake, not my bread alternative. It's so very moist and keeps well. We still have some in the freezer, a bit of which went into making the healthier-ish edible terrarium below.

healthier-ish edible terrarium

My terrarium isn't healthy healthy, but I'd take it over the sugary (but pretty) original recipe. For the 'drainage layer' (the rocks you put at the bottom of a normal terrarium), use nuts and seeds and add custard for moisture.

Fresh fruit and cream make great 'plants'. The plan was to extract a natural food colouring (fail) for the cream, then whip it stiff (also fail) and pipe it into little echeveria-style leaves (cbf). But yeah, I was just ready to eat, so... maybe next time. :)

homemade tortillas

Learned how to make tortillas using this Basic Homemade Tortillas recipe. It's easy, tasty, uses only 4 ingredients, but the house reeked of fried oil after, and I can't stand the smell. But I now know I want my dream home to have an outdoor wet kitchen for stuff like this. :3

Best food news: I found a restaurant that serves spicy offal noodle soup! It's a huge, filling serve for just $13 at the place that used to be Beer & Skewer in Northbridge. They've recently changed their name to something else; Mama's something-or-other.

Writing

After powering through weeks and weeks of 30-minute writing sessions on my novel manuscript, I'm getting ready to... start all over again. Dumb dumb dumb. How do you know when to press on with a project, when to reboot it, and when to give up entirely?

Giving up is not an option here, but I don't want to press on with a direction that doesn't feel right. But I also worry about the whole thing falling off if I play with it too much. This is the bane of life for everyone working in a creative field. The bane. I has it.

a pensive cat

In the past month, I've written a short story and started two new longer stories. Before the next month is over, I hope to have another two short stories under my belt. Heck, I'd be happy with a couple of 100-word stories. I just want those brainwheels turning smoothly again.

making a mess, making cocktails

A magazine I write for accepted my pitch for a piece on... cocktails! Which meant researching, testing, modifying and drinking. My favourite recipe of all was a Summer Mary, dubbed 'JanuMary' for us in the southern hemisphere. It's a lighter version of the Bloody Mary, using passata and soda water instead of straight-up tomato juice. Pound in a few basil leaves and it tastes like pizza. :) New household favourite.

Full article: 5 Easy-to-Grow Herbs for Fresh Spring Cocktails

Making

an arduino hooked up to a breadboard

I hoped to have something electronically interesting to show you by now, but you know how it is - you go to read up on how something works only to find you need to read up on a million other things before you begin to understand. The other day, I went looking for the right-hand rule. Remember that? I haven't had to use it in nineteen years.

It's amazing how we can use electricity every day and have no idea how it works. I know that's kind of the point - that you don't have to know - but I like knowing. Learning this stuff has been one mindblow after another. I had no idea how much ingenuity went into the tiny things I take for granted. Like transistors. I mean, wow.

Electrical engineers are pretty much amazing. You should shake the hand of the next one you meet. I don't think I could ever be a proper engineer, but pretending for a few hours a week is heaps of fun. I'm a fun-gineer.

What else?

I've been thinking about starting an email newsletter. When I started freelancing, one of my mentors said I needed one, but I was busy and scared and it sounded like marketing fodder so put it out of my mind. Lately, conversations have been coming up around newsletters. Friends have introduced me to some rad ones, and some I had been thinking of unsubscribing from suddenly got good. Is the universe sending me a sign? Or is this just the hot thing everyone's doing right now?

Would you sign up to a newsletter if I started one? I couldn't tell you what you'd see in it yet, but quite likely similar topics to what you see here, or what we'd talk about over tea or a beer, and other random interesting things like these:

And these:

And of course this:

If you're keen, let me know. Who knows, maybe it'll give us a chance to chat on email more, or give you something to chat about with someone you like better. :)

So, what's been going on with you?

Project Hair: Day 723

my hair at day 723, and a pimple on my forehead

My hair is getting long. My hairdresser and I calculated that by October, we'll have enough hair for the big chop. So that's my next appointment. I go back to short hair, and someone out there gets a wig.

I'd like to take a moment to talk about this lovely hairdresser who's been helping me out. Her name is Abbey. I've mentioned her before. When I started growing for this project, she was the senior stylist at Rebecca Oates in Subiaco. Since then, she's taken over the branch and transformed it into abbey&co.

The way she talks about wanting things to work is just wonderful. I'm a big fan of people-first businesses. Look after your staff, help them grow, give them space to be creative and achieve their dreams. In not so many words, Abbey describes this and more, and I feel I'm not just in a salon, but a place. A thoughtfully made place.

I'm excited to go back to short hair. It's nice being able to catch everything in a ponytail, but I end up tying it in a bun anyway so the tip doesn't flick me in the eye at sport. Plus I'm sick of finding long wayward strands all over the bed, my pillow, the floor, the shower. Seriously, hair everywhere and I don't know how I could stand it when I was younger.

End times are nigh, hair!

Hair progress: 27.5cm
Rate since last check-in (day 506): still about ½" per month

Super Simple Herman Bread

cross section, showing crumb

For the last three months, we've been making our own bread. It's gotten to the point where 1kg bags no longer cut it; we bought our first 12kg sack of flour today. Yeah, we're turning into those people.

Without my own science lab, I can't say whether homemade bread is objectively better than bakery stuff or carefully formulated factory bread. But I am loving the process of doing this myself, and making time to think about what goes into an oft-overlooked staple. So, as far as I'm concerned, there's something special about homemade buns and loaves.

We use Herman the German sourdough starter. It's meant for cakes, but we're not big on sweets in our household. Using it for bread is perfect because we are big eaters. The dense and filling end product suits us just fine.

Fancy a super simple sourdough bread recipe?

Feeds 2 people.

500g plain flour  
240ml lukewarm water  
1 tsp salt  
1 cup of Herman

Mix ingredients.

Knead for 10mins.

Leave to rise for at least 2 hours.

Bake @ 230°C for approx. 20 min.

Tap bottom with a spoon. If it sounds hollow, it’s ready.  

That's it. So easy, huh? :)

My best results come from kneading for 10 minutes, leaving for 10 minutes, then kneading again for another 5. The crumb turns out nice and smooth.

This recipe makes a nice loaf, but in my opinion, eats best as 6 little buns.

golden brown outer crust

my loaves always split in the oven

score the dough before you bake it to get cool little patterns

Lifting, bro

Writing fiction has been hard. They say writing is like a muscle - the more you do it, the stronger it gets. But I've always found no matter how much stronger you become, you always end up lifting weights that get a bit heavier.

Before last year's big challenge, it had been over a decade since I'd written fiction in earnest. Poetry and lyrics, yes, but a big meaty story - even just a small story - escaped me.

If there is a fiction writing muscle, I imagine it's closely related to the part of your brain that dares to imagine. Non-fiction, technical writing and web copy are all safe - there's a frame of reference, there are constraints like in bumper bowling.

When you author a piece of fiction, you're in control of all of it. You set the rules of your universe, then work your arse off not to break them. You'd think it'd be easier to stick to your own rules than to someone else's, but when you have the power to make rules, you can also change them. On purpose or by accident. Many times over the course of a first draft. Oops!

In real life, I get nervous controlling the destiny of others. Throughout my career, people would urge me towards leadership, but I never wanted it. I felt guilty all the time about telling people what to do, even when it was my job. I can tell someone, from experience, what will and won't work, but I don't want to tell them what choices to make. I'd rather give them the tools to figure things out for themselves.

You can't do this with fictional characters. Obviously. So the same 'leadership guilt' fears bubble up when I write. How weird is that?

The human brain has trouble discerning fact from fiction. Input is input, even the input it generates itself. Consciously, you can comprehend what's real and what's not, but at the hardware level, it's all impulse and circuitry. To a writer's brain, the characters are as real as your mum.

So that's why I have trouble bossing them around, interrupting them when they say something boring, and why my first draft, after three months, still sucks a bit. :)

But I'm making progress. I'm two reboots in, and have finally found a direction I think I can make work. I'm writing in 30-minute sets every day - well, most days.

I've also joined a new tiny community of fiction writers. It's a slack chat group, which is perfect because you can drop in and out at you need to. You're not obliged to talk, like you are on forums. Just seeing that little green light next to someone's name makes me feel like I have a gym buddy. Message me on twitter or facebook if you want more details.

Today, I'm writing non-fiction. Flyer copy, a short article for a magazine. But if I get all that done, I may look for short story inspiration at /r/WritingPrompts.

Some time in Brunei

In January, I went "back to old country" to see my grandma for her 90th birthday. I don't go back often. Perth is home and comfortable. But I feel an awkward affinity for my 'home' country because so many people I love still live there.

Before this trip, I last visited eight years ago. Though many things had evolved, to me they all still felt the same, looked the same. This year was different. I saw a young person's memories through adult eyes. The monsters I remembered weren't as scary, the mysteries less mysterious, and everywhere, signs of time and change.

We drove past my childhood home. Grandma said she planted coconut trees there when we were little. Mum told me my placenta was buried in the front yard. We sold the house before we moved to Australia. Now, more than 20 years later, it looks run-down. Bare ground replaces my recollection of trees and a lush hibiscus bush. But our old iron swing was still there. Rusted and timeworn, but standing.

ants nest in a longan tree

Travelling. This was the first I'd been asked for my occupation in an official, legally binding context since going feral. I wrote, "writer". It felt good. Do blushing brides feel this way when they first sign with a new last name? Do transgender people feel this way when they fill out the first form asking "M or F"?

I wish I got a picture, but it was almost midnight and my sister and I spent ages trying to figure out what date to put on the form. Is it the date you depart or the date you complete the form? I still don't know.

sister looks down the canal in Bandar

We went for a boat ride down the Brunei River, between thick mangrove banks to see if we could find wild monkeys, and then through Kampong Ayer, the famous water village. I didn't take many pictures. I had my camera out, ready to go, but against the backdrop of forest sounds and our boat cutting through water, all I wanted to do was sit and stare at trees.

We saw two monkeys. You'll have to take my word for that.

a four-dollar laksa - choice, bro

Because this is about food, I'll use a food related figure of speech: this was the icing on the cake. Food, local food, in Brunei is so cheap. I had forgotten how cheap. This laksa cost FOUR DOLLARS. And it was just as good if not better than the $12 laksa you get here.

We had satay and roti and curry ayam and kolomee and Jolibee, which tastes exactly like how I remember it from when I was a kid. My one regret is not having SugarBun, because I really loved their fried chicken and filet o' fish.

My healthy eating went out the window, as is expected on holidays. The food was all very rich, and the climate so very hot and humid - by the end, I was very eager to get back to my regular diet. I made a point of updating my to-do list with "eat a meal of just vegetables".

a hydrant, I think?

It was a wonderful whirlwind of a trip. But no matter how much I enjoy a holiday, the best part is always coming home.

Seeing the cats.

Sleeping in my own bed.

And reliving the fun parts, going through the photos. Let me show you a few.

Happy birthday, Grandma! (Only 2 people knew which camera to look at.)

cooking lessons with Grandma

cutting keropok

a pile of keropok slices

Auntie's cat, Ginger

very tall plant

A crazy tall plant. I assumed it was a dracaena, but now I'm not sure.

touch me not

We called these "touch me nots". Wiki tells me they might be Mimosa pudica. I've made a video if you'd like to see them being touched.

my ant friend

This ant stopped to look at me looking at him.

KB from the aerial tower

Kuala Belait. Full photo on my flickr.

cheap fuel prices

Fuel is also very cheap.

chooks and a pineapple

satay and sauce

sweet potato breakfast

char siew kolomee

a bowling trophy full of fonts

A trophy with Comic Sans.

a plate with a pointless story

A cute plate with a pointless story.

the best Asian shirt

My new favourite t-shirt.

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