Hello, my name is Sandy.

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.

KonMari: Life-changing magic, one year later

Just over a year ago, I tried the konmari method for sorting out my home and life. For anyone who hasn't encountered this yet, it's a system of cleaning house based on one simple principle: joy. Here's some reading to bring you up to speed:

So, let's be honest here. My house is still a mess. Let me show you.

Be warned, these photos are nowhere near 'social media perfect', which I feel makes them important to share. After a year, I think, taken seriously, konmari will lead to positive changes in your life, but not through magic, and not guaranteeing a magazine aesthetic. But I'll cover that as we go.

messy, dusty bedside table

Here is my bedside table with books I'm reading, a junk box, junk that hasn't yet been put in the junk box, emergency topicals (Vicks, lip balm, moisturiser, tea tree oil), and bits and pieces that don't belong but ended up here by accident.

a messy desk spread

My messy desk.

cluttered kitchen bench

Our kitchen bench is almost always cluttered. There's a caveat here I'll discuss in a moment, but first, let's run through the mess. Everything left out falls into one or more of these categories: Heavily used, recently used, in urgent need of use, or will probably be used in a few hours. Sometimes we put out stuff that we aren't in the habit of using, but want to use more.

Looks awful, doesn't it? I've learned sometimes I need mess to function properly. Partly as a visual thinker, and partly because I like to assess my 'usage trends' in a new environment. This configuration of clutter has changed 4 times since we moved here last April. I'd really like to find a definitive system of organising this space, but nothing's felt right so far. I have more to say on this too in a moment.

messy clothes pile sitting on a clear plastic crate

Now, this is the worst. To me, it's the antithesis of what I imagined a konmari life to be. However, you can see some semblance of order inside that plastic crate. There are pockets of order elsewhere too.

a slightly more ordered craft room

The craft room, for example, which is a work in progress as we save up for the right sort of furniture and decor. We're taking it slow. The last thing I want is to add stuff just to fill a gap, without considering whether it's the right function and style for us.

slightly more ordered kitchen cupboard

Here's the kitchen cupboard, featuring my supply of jars, baking powders, tea, ferments, spreads and sprinkles, oils, special tools and materials, and expired foodstuff used for household purposes (like yeast for trapping garden slugs).

tidy array of books

This is a tidy collection of planning tools and reference material, occupying the better half of my messy desk.

my very organised stationery collection

And the thing that brings me a lot of joy - my very organised stationery collection. Three tiers of hot Swedish RÅSKOG, filled with tools and supplies for everyday creativity and productivity.

With all this in mind, can I really say the konmari method has changed my life? After all, mess is mess, and there's still so much of it, so it's bunk, right?

WRONG. Since adopting the konmari system, I have:

  • Found a career that's meaningful to me
  • Moved to a nicer house with a bigger garden and more natural light
  • Rekindled my love for books
  • Rekindled my love of writing fiction
  • Met other people like me with a similar hodge-podge of hobbies

None of this is down to magic. Throughout the year, I kept an eye out for disconnected or miraculous events, but found none. Coincidence and luck, sure, but not magic. What changes your life is the perspective you get from tidying up and applying a healthy, self-oriented criteria to your life choices.

When I first started, I'd be km-ing often late into the night. Sometimes I'd go to bed and fidget until relenting to the urge to go through my stuff again. We call this "konsomnia".

konsomnia: the inability to sleep because there's clutter to tidy up. source:

The next morning, I'd wake up sleepy but content that a part of my... life? mind? cognitive capacity? had become unshackled from surplus. I'd leave for work wistful, wanting to just stay home and tidy up some more.

The final stage of konmari has you sifting through sentimental items. This was hard. I threw out heaps of kipple I kept over the years. Some memories really aren't worth keeping.

Then a funny thing happened. I started looking at non-material things through the konmari lens. Friendships, relationships, sentiments, assumptions, prejudices, habits, customs - everything fell under the microscope. Even lifestyle factors like my sports schedule, my career, my hobbies.

Trying to find a system for organising my kitchen is a great representation of the bigger life picture here. I need something that works for the way I work, otherwise it won't stick and I'll be back to a mess. Not that mess itself is bad. Clutter isn't even that bad, in my opinion, as long as it's comprised of stuff that does bring you joy. I don't hate anything in my kitchen now, so I don't mind the mess while I figure out a system I can enjoy.

I think konmari works by helping you develop a habit of eliminating things that don't resonate with you. Rather than holding onto something out of obligation, guilt, or "just in case"-ness, you ditch it so you can focus on what does work, and make room for what might work.

People can argue all day about good reasons for keeping or discarding things, but no one can tell you what does or doesn't bring you joy. Minimalism didn't work for me because it was too pragmatic. Hoarding didn't work for me because it was too sentimental. Konmari has turned out to be the ideal system for an in-between, here-and-there person like me, still figuring out where they stand and where they're going.

I am happy to report that this konmari experiment has been a success. :)

First and ferment

First project of the year: fermenting.

I have begun my adventures in breeding microscopic livestock. Let me tell you about this smelly and already-tasty undertaking.

Making kombucha

Just after Christmas, we bought a bottle of MOJO Ginger Kombucha after rattling around our area looking for a health food shop that a) was open and b) sold SCOBY. SCOBY is a symbiotic culture of bacteria & yeast, sometimes referred to as a "mushroom", but it's no fungus. It's the kombucha mother, which floats on the surface of a sweet tea, producing tasty kombucha through fermentation.

kombucha mother beginning to grow

I found an article on how to grow your own kombucha mother from a store-bought drink. It was a long shot. The first 4 days were intense. I'd check on my jar 2-3 times a day to see if any fuzzy mold had formed, but none did. Instead, from day 2, I saw a film begin to form on the surface of my tea. This would grow thicker and larger each day until it formed an ugly blob. My mother was born.

SCOBY mother at day 4

Last night, my SCOBY got to 1/8" thick and, according to the article, ready for another feed. Before topping up the jar with more sweet tea, I poured out half of the original liquid and had a sip.

After just 9 days, we went from having bottle dregs to something that definitely tastes like kombucha. :) It's been more than 12 hours since, and I've not been sick yet. Can't say for sure until the SCOBY is ½" thick and producing regularly, but looks like we're doing all right so far.

I've read that mother grown from bottled drinks might not make strong children, so we may end up having to do this all over again at some point. As a home science experiment, though, I'm very curious to see how well this baby mother will go. Right now, I'm brewing only black Madura Tea Premium Blend, but I've read it's worth trying other types of tea for different flavours, so there may be more experiments to come.

Making kefir

homemade kefir and muesli

Perth has been warm lately, and my little workers have been going like the clappers! Mum gave me kefir culture less than a week ago, and I've already had two little serves of homemade 'yogurt' with muesli. Did not get sick after. I call it a win.

The kefir process was less involved. I had someone to show me how to do it, which brought my stress levels way down. I don't think I could have done this before, when I was first offered kefir cultures. Yogurt wasn't on my regular menu, and I didn't understand fermentation enough to feel safe trying it. But it's easy now, and seems to fit well into my life. Let's see how long that lasts, huh?

A kefir culture looks like little cauliflower florets. They're also a SCOBY, bunch of yeasts and bacteria just hanging out. I got a culture that was wet and already working, but if you buy them from a store, they may come dry and require 'activation' (basically soaking them in milk until they're soggy and plump). I added full cream cow's milk and my kefir got to work.

It takes a little doodling to figure out how much milk to use and how long to leave it for, but a reasonable guess worked well enough for me. Again, the first few days saw me checking a few times a day. The pantry smells odd, with both kefir and kombucha fermenting together, but not unpleasant. Sour and clean.

my kefir and kombucha cultures

What else to make?

I'm only a week into fermenting, so it's hard to say whether this is a sustainable activity or just flavour of the month. The hot weather has all but destroyed my motivation to garden, which makes me doubt my commitment to everything. Ho hum. I thank last autumn's surge of activity for providing us with zucchini, basil and grape tomatoes over the last month and a bit.

We did get sunflower seeds after all. Learned it's much faster and less painful to harvest the seeds first, then let them dry. Plucking tiny kernels from a rock-hard flower head is for people made of stronger stuff.

Anyway, sourdough is next. A friend gave me a Herman the German sourdough starter today, so maybe we'll bake something wholesome and fuddy-duddy soon. :)