Without my stories

I’m not sure why I am so attached to this watch. Sure, my dad gave it to me – but I usually prefer gold to silver. This suits me more and more every year. Those earrings have a story, too. I bought them on Bleecker Street, off 7th, in the Village, NYC. Do I usually do that much bling? No. But every year, come the festive season, these come out of my little storage boxes, and into the light.

Live the little things, guys. I love my bits and bobs, and I see myself as a collector of beautiful items that bring me joy and carry stories with them. If I were born in another time, in another place, I’d have a store/café – with one of kind items like these, and illustrated books. Oh, the stories. Who would I be without my stories? And who would you be, dear reader, without yours?

Earrings – made in Mexico, brand unknown; Watch – US Submarine

Of running out of reset buttons

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Does everyone get their own quota for reset buttons? I wish I knew.

As children, we used to change our minds about things all the time, every day – and maybe it was a little confusing and scary, but mostly, I imagine children have little clue what ramifications are, so we kept at it. I wonder if we really were ‘flexible’. It feels like this generation is asked to be ‘flexible’ and ‘hardworking’. Do the two go hand in hand? I can imagine how so, but I really wonder about this, you know.

If you’re flexible, you can bend, mould, shape yourself into different perspectives and try new things all the time. If you’re hardworking, you’re focused and true to your skills, and keep at it steadfastly. Both take energy. Not the same kind, perhaps.

I don’t think I’m asking ‘what does it take to bring balance between focus and flexibility‘? That’s best tackled by an actual zen master.

If and when you are lucky enough to  steer away from projects that do not allow you to choose balance, does it ever seem like you’re playing a game of Russian roulette? How many times can I press the reset button – and start again – before I am out of chances?

If so, I do wonder how you deal with it.

Food for thought:

“It’s never too late – never too late to start over, never too late to be happy.” – Jane Fonda




Text less, write more

Text less, write more. I grew up without the Internet. I suppose I had an email address, but I was happy ignoring that bit for the most part. Enid Blyton, secret gardens, climbing cherry trees, building forts. The girl I was wouldn’t recognise the girl (ahem, woman?) I am today. I had actual penpals. I’m always scribbling, but am I sending people mail? Not as much as I would like to. I might start with postcards.

Also, when you’re a child, your friends and family look at you with hope, and say, “Oh, golly, you’re going to be such an interesting adult!” But when we’re adulting our lives away, we don’t say it to each other. Our parents and friends are older, and quieter. So bear with my escapism, I feel like I’m perpetually on the Faraway Tree in my imagination – you are on an adventure. You are on your way to magical places, yes you are.

Let’s just appreciate the simplicity, then, of these Kikki.K cards:

Remember. Magical places.

Of chasing neither, and choosing me.


Perhaps you sometimes wonder if “all I’ve been doing is stalling because I am afraid of what would happen if I really did just focus on what I want”. I certainly feel that way. How do you move away from the guilt of wanting something else, something more but not knowing exactly how to get there?

Everywhere we look, people are hustling. On the other hand, people are telling you and I to slow down. There seems to be this tension between rushing around and taking life one moment at a time. Pendulums are the way of the world, so I choose to try to chase neither.

When people talk about mindfulness and meditation, maybe you, like me, can immediately sense, in your gut, “No, that does NOT apply to me. I have an imagination. I have tried breathing and just being, it is too much.”

The scariest thing is starting, even if it is starting small. So here’s what I’m going to try to do. Even if you and I choose to have only a  few minutes to listen to ourselves,  let’s do that. 

Maybe you’re a crafter, like me. If your hands help you centre yourself, it could be taking the time to tidy your desk. Put on one song, just one. And tidy for the duration of the song. Or write out three sentences. Or give yourself a hand massage. I’ve heard people do this in the mornings, timing themselves to get out the door by the time their playlist is done.

Maybe this can help you and I not get too caught up in the world. I find I can get emotional if I give myself time, especially when I’m overwhelmed. That’s usually a cue for me to take a walk, to drink a whole glass of water, and to get away from the centre of the bustle. Resets are important. Never think you don’t deserve one, okay? 

Maybe you want to explore being more centred in a realistic way, not ways that need you to get away from your life. I found that this post helped me imagine these actual little things. It helped to begin to think about taking my first step towards being okay with where I am right now. Once you’re there, you might find that you can look towards what you want to build – without feeling like you’re being pulled back by yourself. Hence what I said up there, “It can take years to learn to get out of your own way.”

The image up top is a desktop wallpaper for you. I love exploring Unsplash for these pictures, which make me feel free and like life is full.

If you like, you can right click and download. Photograph by Teddy Kelley.

Kontrast, Lemons, Sendak!

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Contrast. Blue, teal, yellow, white. This shoot started out as me wanting to capture the gorgeous Kikki.K Kontrast 10-piece Inspiration Kit. Its simplicity calmed me, and I didn’t think I liked teal with dark blue until I spent a little time with these carefully thought-out cards.

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The Nutshell Library was said to be a childhood favourite of Princess Diana’s. Author Maurice Sendak is only one of the most celebrated children’s book authors and illustrators of modern times. You may be familiar with Where the Wild Things Are.

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But these are little books that fit into the palm of your hand. Pierre, Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice and One Was Johnny – all delightful and curious. I picked these up in The Strand, back in 2012, along with Shel Silverstein’s the Giving Tree. Have you read that?

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Did I think I would be using tiny books as a feature in my shots? No. Did I imagine that the lemons on my kitchen counter would play along, or the starfruit (carambola)? No. This just came together from an exhausted mind after work. Funny how that’s when you need to express your imagination the most.

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Kikki.K makes beautiful things, the kind of things that let you imagine where they’d fit into your life. It isn’t remote, it isn’t too complicated, it’s only sometimes too pretty to use… but I digress. I am excited to share this with you because I know how I feel when I step into a Kikki.K store – full of possibility and wonder. And I hope you get to feel that way, too.

My desk can fall in love, too.


Deceptively pretty. Really very functional. MUKK’s Desktop Organiser that arrived carefully bubble wrapped stands as tall as my hand. Here are my thoughts.

MUKK is a Malaysian design initiative that produces thoughtful, minimalist wood items. Read more about the lifestyle brand and the two young ladies that started MUKK in Design Plus Good, Jeremy Tan’s excellent design online magazine.

The wood is light in colour and smooth in texture. The three compartments have lyrical proportions. Narrow-narrow-wide. 

The narrows fit my paper clips, washi, and page flags just nicely, then in the wider, I place my Post-Its.

The darker coloured wooden plugs house the russet plastic rope, which is sturdy – and can handle even the smaller amongst my wooden pegs.

I suppose I couldn’t refuse getting my buttons out, a mishmash I found in a Melbourne weekend market several years ago.

The legs of the desktop organiser can be removed so it can be packed flat, if I need. The parts fit snugly and so, I don’t need to worry about things coming loose. I may or may not glue things in, but I might need to take this overseas – so maybe only then.

And in case you’re interested in exploring how MUKK considers using the Desktop Organiser, this is a photo the girls, Vivian and Chia Yi, kindly agreed to share with me.

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I would very much like to order the egg crates pictured below, but these were not yet ready to ship. Hoping to get my hands on these soon.

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It’s wonderful to be excited about two young ladies making it in the design world. Invest in good pieces worth keeping for years. I think you’ll find that MUKK makes just those.

For prices, contact MUKK at define@mukk.co


These cookies, I’ll share.


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Premium handmade. This is how LC Bakery describes their cookies. Looking at the ingredient list, it might look like something you would be able to whip up in the kitchen if you had a spare hour or two – but when you taste it – you know it’s been handled with care. Take a second look at what’s in them, and you’re not quite sure how it’s been priced at RM19.00 for 240g. Eggless and with reduced sugar, the mouthfeel is still smooth, and the flavours have been carefully coaxed out. More-ish – and exactly what you want when you sit around and chat in your living room this festive season.

Their Raya 2016 offering: Dark Chocolate Cookies with a dark couverture chocolate centre, and Cranberry Orange Cookies speckled with bits of dried fruit.

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This one is buttery, yet light – perfect with a cup of earl grey tea if you like pairing citrus with citrus. Cranberry and orange may be a ‘classic pairing’ but I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it. Just because people like dessert doesn’t mean they want to be bludgeoned with rich fudgy creamy everything.

LC Bakery has been careful not to leave the cranberries whole – the fruit’s been evenly distributed within each morsel – which the fussy chewer might appreciate (present company included). I wonder how these would fare as fingers/shortbread. I almost feel like they’re a little too small (the size of an old 50 sen coin) but upon reflection, I’m sort of grateful I can take my time with them. Inhaling the scent of the orange zest perks my mood up – and I admit that they’ve been my breakfast twice this past week.

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I’m a little strange about chocolate. I only really like it by itself. I don’t require it in my cake or biscuits – and seldom choose it over, say, butter cake/cookies. But the dark couverture chocolate centre had me wondering. Contrasted neatly by a crunchy exterior (owing perhaps to the icing sugar and cornstarch in the recipe), this is really quite a balanced mouthful. It isn’t too sweet, and when you bite in, there’s just enough chocolate richness to round it off. I’d have this with coffee – and I think chocolate lovers would find this a welcome respite for their palate as it is a gentle nudge rather than a punch. Really quite lovely.

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They come really beautifully packaged, with tape around the lid – but I’ve demolished these cookies. Don’t mind me!

For more information on these, you might check this post out.

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Thanks, loves.

Why I Come Here

If you need a holiday not very far away from KL- you should sneak away to this corner of calm. Now making 60% of its profits off FNB, this is a very, very special place. Why? Because those who service it know that it is an odd duck.

What you need to know about this Shang is that the building is not built-for-purpose. Originally meant to be a transit home for Putrajaya employees, a little bird tells me that Tun Mahathir, at the time personally reached out to Tan Sri Robert Kwok – and had him adopt this under the brand.

No other hotel chain was interested. None wanted the challenge of a service kitchen originally meant for government employees – not outfitted with 5-star amenities. Or a hotel tucked deep inside meandering lake-garden style grounds – far away from the city bustle.

Why did I choose it? Because it is gorgeous. Classically-styled. You might chase the sunset, just watching it from behind the large glass windows in the lounge. It’s architecture is unique. You feel like you’re on a ship. It is low-rise. There is so much natural light. The plants are selected carefully, the carpark is a beauty in itself. I hesitate to talk about the swooping songbirds about the property at 8am, lest I stray from the point of my review – which is: it isn’t everything you might expect from a Shang, but by gods, is it uniquely comfortable. You step into a time-sphere the moment you turn into the premises.

As I hinted at, it has its faults which I’ll happily launch into – but first, take my word for it – the staff here care. More so than any hotel I’ve travelled to. It’s prompted me to jump into TripAdvisor reviews, for Pete’s sake. The eye-contact and genuine curiosity is surprisingly un-Malaysian, yet you feel they are this way because they trust each other. It’s home to them.

They anticipate your needs; they are trained and they are responsive – with a touch of joy. They truly like it here. One usually encounters this on beach resorts, if ever (and for me, only in the 90s). Few, if any, were grumpy or troubled. It is a sign of a well-run household where they love what they do. The Marriott, The KL Hilton, The Majestic – none can hold a candle to the efficiency and warmth (never overbearing) I have felt here. I feel they hire very carefully. I am so damned relieved for it because there is a shortage of this sensitivity in hospitality (dare I grumble again?).

The cons: You can tell there’s water damage in some places, even the exterior. It’s a damp place. And that some things are a little wobbly, like the long bath handles. Food is decent, especially local fare – but don’t set the bar too high here. Your breakfasts will be pleasant – service is the very best, but you can sort of tell that the kitchen may not be best suited to task. Having said that, there is a bounce in everyone’s step and one’s requests, however unusual, aren’t countered with anything but a desire to understand. There’s no nervous laughter or lack of confidence here. Answers. My goodness. Actual answers, whether in BM or English. If you have any questions, I recommend you speak to Suresh, an old hand, who has plenty of experience and is so very thoughtful.

I tell you, there are nooks and crannies for everyone. The relaxation room near the pool. The beautiful tiles outside the Palm Hill Cafe. The walk to the carpark, even. It is quiet and alive at the same time. And the people? Baffling. Feels like I was stuck in the 90s before people relied on phones and actually knew how to deal with themselves/others.

Saiful has insight into room choice, and understands exactly why the space is unique, as well as the direction it needs to go in. Amira, at check-in, is a joy and quick to offer options. If you’re a Golden Circle member, NorSarena, quick on her feet, will sort you/ any questions. Marzuki on logistics outside the lobby is perceptive, and actually takes the extra effort to suggest locations for a walk, speaking directly to the buggy driver to ensure I could be dropped off for a walk and picked up promptly. (Driver – I had Izan, who was willing to go the extra mile to let me peek at the grounds. He was so tickled that he could help me enjoy myself more. Gosh.)

I’m sure it’s very obvious to you that I love the service industry and that I spend a lot of time observing and dreaming up suggestions and ideas. (1) There are things I will put up with if I feel the staff are trying and are resources (2) I am sitting in the lobby of this Shang long after check out just because I can. With a glass of ice water which they asked me if I wanted. By name. These things count.

I do not come across spaces like this often. I would come back here in a heartbeat, and I am fussy. Very. It may be imperfect but to me, it hits the spot.

It’s gorgeous for families. Special. Bring your team here – especially if you’re in marketing or communications or anything that requires human connection. Let them understand how – when it’s done right – a place, a service, a product can hum at just the right note, and people will come back for more.

So come here. Gardens, more tea than you can dream of, view, people, heart. Sunlight.

Come here.

Art I Obviously Found on Etsy

I have a few art pieces here for you that you can actually purchase if you like. Some are rather inexpensive. Etsy puts me in these imaginary redecorating moods, you know what I mean? Tell me what you think. I’ll tell you what I think now, then ^_^

I suppose this has absolutely nothing to do with my Catwoman obsession. Warm painting, cold eyes? I can’t quite decide. Print from The Black Apple, who ships from Portland, Oregon.

In Justice League : Doom, the Flash had to run into an iceberg to detonate a bomb on his wrist, and he got quippy about it with Bats. We all know how fun it is when anyone gets quippy with Batman. Looking at icebergs make me reflective, and a little sad. I think of ice shelves melting, breaking off due to global warming. And sinking ships. But more importantly, I love the misty, nebulaic view of this iceberg. Almost friendly, but mildly morose as well. Like a cream-coloured Eeyore. This gorgeous print is from Jeremy Miranda who ships from Dover, New Hampshire.

Claire Elsaesser seems to be making quite a wave on Pinterest with her portraits. Figures, oft alone but sometimes paired, faces obscured, but so strongly coloured with feels that you just sense her genius. I feel very cloudy and grey, and just short of despairing when I look at her work. This here is an abstract that does just the same. Don’t think I’ve ever found an artist whose work I could imagine rotating throughout a house. There’s a bubbling sense of starkness, but a glimmer of reaching out. Just enough to make it unobtrusive – and I’d say this about her figure work as well. I know the colours in this piece are on trend at the moment, but it’s Scandinavian enough in its sensibilities for me to say this will stand the test of time. Both the original and the print are available from Claire who ships from Inverness, California.

à bientôt

xx ash

Disclaimer: These images are from each Etsy page that I’ve mentioned and linked within the text above.