The Wake (a Sonnet)

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A peachy dust upon a dimpled cheek;
A waft of lilies in an airless room;
Within friends’ eyes, friends consolation seek;
The food untouched in that forbidden gloom.
She rests, oblivious to the convention;
Reclining in her dress of whitest silk;
Last night, admired without dissention;
Today, lying still amidst her mourning ilk.

As is the blush upon her pretty mug
An artist’s stroke upon a rotting lug.



Quickest Guide to Florence: 3 Things You Need to Know

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How lovely that you’re planning a trip to Florence! It’s a charming city packed with magnificent art, excellent food, and lovely people. And because fishing for advice in the wide waters of the web can be overwhelming, here are my three essential pieces of advice for when you’re heading towards this renaissance mecca of Tuscany.

1. Read “Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance”  

Imperative. I usually try not to push into anything, but unless you’re a history buff there’s simply no point in coming to Florence without reading this book. (Or, at the very least, looking up some rudimentary information about the Medici family.) This book is your key to the city, and the only guide you’ll need. It doesn’t hurt that it opens up like a Quentin Tarantino movie and continues on much like The Godfather, either.

2. Go in the off-season 

Florence in February (as in any other off-season month, ranging from November to March, excluding Christmas and the New Year) is delightful. There are no crowds and hence no queues. You have the city’s treasures largely to yourself. Yes, it’s likely to rain, but since you’re going to be spending most of your time inside museums, it won’t bother you too much. Just bring a brolly, comfy waterproof shoes, and a warm windproof coat and you’ll be quite content.

3. Splurge on a Firenze Card 

The value of the official Florence museum pass is in fact much larger than the sum of its cost (72 EUR). While granting you free entry to virtually all of Florence’s sights, it also allows you priority access, meaning that you needn’t make any advance bookings (except for a single one – to see the Dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore) or wait in queues. It’s a huge time-saver which allows you to explore more of the city. The card is valid 72 hours and mine paid itself back in its entirety.

Firenze 2.jpg

If you follow the above instructions, the rest should fall into place quite easily. Florence is a compact city and you won’t have any trouble seeing it all in as little as 3 days.

Bonus tip: the best, freshest pasta I’ve ever had was had at La Primeria by Pasta Fresca, a tiny kiosk on the ground floor of the Mercato San Lorenzo (also known as Mercato Centrale) dishing out heavenly portions at 5 EUR a plate. Molto buono!

{all images by Blue Jay & Bumblebee}



Before and After

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Sunny laughed too, and the two friends went back downstairs to the coffeehouse to drink wine, listen to music, and enjoy the rest of the evening. But the words ‘before and after’ echoed in Sunny’s ears. As she surveyed her coffeehouse and looked at her friend, she thought about the experience that had changed her most. It was obvious: there was already a ‘before Kabul’ for her, and, should she leave, there would forever be ‘after Kabul’.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, by Deborah Rodriguez



Fellow Travellers on Separate Journeys

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I rolled my ankle seconds before entering the bar.

An eerie indication of my state of mind, as I wasn’t at all sure how I would carry myself inside.

* * *

It was, unquestionably, what is called a karmic relationship. A rite of passage that shifted my inner axis and adjusted my world-view. I thought that I was holding destiny’s hand, and that the hopelessness I was experiencing was a natural part of the struggle of life. Yet, after he finally broke us up, I was overcome by the strangest emotion: I soared.

* * *

Riding the tram back home later that evening, an echo of that ancient emotion settled in me again. Not as exhilarating, no. But no less monumental. Like a soundless, glass-shattering exhale: I felt release.

I’ve long since wholeheartedly accepted the pain I experienced during the relationship. I cherish those memories like precious gemstones, returning to them once in a while to turn them over and admire their malicious gleam. They are my most valued legacy. They remind me of the lessons that I never want to forget. However, what I wasn’t able to let go of, for the longest time, was resentment. Immune to my rational resolve to be magnanimous and forgiving, I harboured inside me a tiny, angry seed that refused to stop sprouting even as I continued to stomp it back into the blackest corner of my soul.

Until last week, when I forced myself to dig out that tiny, angry seed and examine it thoroughly. And I experienced an emotional epiphany. Suddenly, I was able to forgive myself. Just like that.

* * *

My hands covered his shoulder blades when I hugged him for the last time. Delicate like porcelain, and thinner than I remember him, he seems to be losing substance – as if the material person were dissolving in proportion to the dissolution of our bond.

It had been a pleasant evening. A bunch of lovely people turned up to say goodbye to my ex-boyfriend and his partner, prior to their moving across the ocean to start a new life on a different continent.

Four years after our break up, eight years after our first encounter, the circle is closed and my education is complete. I am free of anger and resentment. I am standing on my own two feet emotionally. Even my rolled ankle, under the care of a compressing bandage, ice packs, and elevated rest, is on its way to permanent recovery.

I am ready to tackle the next challenge. I fear it will be infinitely more difficult, and require all the compassion and love and resolve and grit I can muster: my relationship with my mother.


The Year I Only Read Books Written by Women

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In 2017, I made only one resolution: to read books written solely by female authors. (To be fair, I did read 5 books written by men, but I feel that this in no way discounted the experience of sticking overwhelmingly with female company throughout the year, perhaps the contrary).

What prompted the decision was something I read (although I can’t for the life of me remember where, and it’s frustrating because this happens to me more often than I’d like) about women running the risk of viewing themselves in a certain (unfavourable) light as a result of reading about themselves portrayed in that certain (unfavourable) light – predominantly in books written by men. Of course, this isn’t the case for every single book penned by a male author featuring female characters, but the implication did strike a chord and I decided to make a conscious effort acquaint myself more intimately with the kinds of stories that were told about women – by women. (Although, apart from female authorship, I set myself no limits as to the subject or form.)

What followed was a year of discovery and wondrous variety. Never have I felt to have read so many different stories or met so many different heroines, who found themselves in distinct circumstances and dealt with varied issues. I travelled the world guided by brilliant, insightful women, and learned so much about our struggles – for our place under the sun, for our rights as human beings and our freedom to emancipation and self-expression – and our worries – about our families, our friends, our everyday chores and the future of our societies.

For whatever reasons, I’ve never formed deep friendships with women (or men, for that matter), although I do enjoy a good heart-to-heart every now and again, which is probably why spending a year reading books written by women felt especially intimate: like sitting around a campfire on a midsummer night – melting s’mores on sticks, piping hot tea warming chilly fingers, fireflies roaming lazily among the stars, and tales being spun out of the darkness into a warm blanket, conjuring up a sense of belonging, and wonderment, and catharsis.

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m going to continue, in 2018, to make an effort to read more books written by women. Expanding your views is always an enriching experience, and I encourage you wholeheartedly to reach outside your comfort zone and explore new territories. Chances are you’ll find great joy in places you never expected, and make unexpected discoveries, and find dear friends.

As for the books that I read in 2017, here’s the list. All the books were hugely enjoyable, but if I were to recommend only one (argh!), it would be Hillary Clinton’t What Happened. Not only is this book a valuable chronicle – a poignant diagnosis – of our times and societies, it offers a way forward that is dignified, compassionate, and kind. And that’s just what we need.

  1. Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters
  2. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
  3. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
  4. Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
  5. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
  6. Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue
  7. Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith (i.e. J. K. Rowling)
  8. The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson
  9. Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
  10. I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai
  11. Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, by Giulia Enders
  12. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
  13. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  14. What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
  15. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg
  16. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
  17. The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty
  18. A History of Britain in 21 Women, by Jenni Murray
  19. The Little Locksmith, by Katharine Butler Hathaway (currently reading)

Brush Lettering for Beginners

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All You Need to Know to Get Started

I don’t know about you, but when I got into brush lettering (or hand lettering, or modern calligraphy, as it is also known), I couldn’t find a simple, straightforward, instructive guide that would plainly list the tools and techniques I needed to acquire and master in order to start churning out Instagram-worthy inspirational quotes. There’s a wealth of information on the internet, of course, but I found that most of it was unnecessarily detailed and gave me too many options without really explaining how to make an informed decision. (Do I need a soft brush pen or a hard brush pen? And should I use a fancy Rhodia pad instead of plain office paper?)  If you’re in the same boat, I created this little blog post just for you. Although I’m still a beginner, after many, many trials and errors, I’ve acquired quite a bit of brush-lettering wisdom that could save you lots of time, frustration, and a bit of bob, too.

1. Paper

Shockingly, it’s not the pens, but the paper that’s most important in brush-lettering, and her’s why. Brush-lettering requires perfectly smooth paper. Since regular office paper is actually slightly perforated, a) your brush lettering won’t look as nice on it and b) you’ll ruin your brush pens because they’ll fray before your eyes. (Especially as your technique won’t be great in the beginning.) That’s why many brush-letterers use Rhodia pads, and while I’ve also found Moleskine notebooks to work, I don’t recommend either. FIrstly, they’re expensive and, at least in the beginning, you’ll go through insane amounts of paper; secondly, many Rhodia pads and all Moleskine notebooks have off-white paper, which isn’t ideal if you want to use coloured brush-pens. (And I encourage you to!) Instead, be thrifty and get a ream of super-smooth paper, such as HP Premium Choice Laserjet (or similar).

2. Pens

All you need are a handful of Tombow Dual Brush Pens in your preferred colours. The advantages of these pens are many: a) they’re affordable, which means you won’t have to break your bank even if you ruin a couple while practicing; b) they’re of excellent quality and really easy to use; c) practically all brush-letterers use them, which means you can watch hours of YouTube videos to copy techniques and find inspiration; d) you can do amazing things with them, like blend or mix colours! (The nibs are self-cleaning, so your pens won’t suffer.)

3. Technique

Brush lettering uses a very simple technique, but you need to understand its principles and get the hang of it before you get into developing our own unique style. This video is instrumental in explaining the process of brush-lettering, and I absolutely recommend it for all beginners. Even if you deviate from the rules later on, understanding the technique will ensure lovely results at all times.

4. Improving

Start by learning to write the alphabet (don’t worry if it doesn’t look great straight away) and then follow up with a pangram to practice writing all the letters of the alphabet. Experiment with different angles of holding the brush pen. Practice is essential. I cannot count the times I wrote ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’. And then, after a couple of weeknights of struggling, it suddenly worked! What I also found in the beginning was that I needed to go really, really slow. I’m used to writing very fast but with brush lettering, you need to give every letter the love and attention it deserves.

Once you’ve got the hang of brush lettering, it’s useful to watch YouTube videos of people brush lettering live. (I really liked this, this, this, and this video.) You’ll see different writing styles and pick and choose things that work for you. Bounce lettering is a popular form of brush lettering and there are many tutorials online. Funnily enough, I found that I learned most by watching other people do it and by just going with the flow when writing myself. Again, practice makes perfect, so relax and play with your lettering.

Once you’re ready to move on, I heartily recommend AmandaRachLee’s videos on YouTube (like this one!), which are super cute and full of useful ideas and advice on what pens to buy (I’m intending to get the Tombow Fudenosuke next, which is good for smaller writing) and what projects to undertake with your pens. Also, tell your friends about your new hobby! Having projects that are meaningful is a great way to improve, and you’d be surprised at how many people are awed and willing to “commission” brush lettering work!

That’s it! The best of luck with your brush-lettering!


{all images (and brush lettering) by Blue Jay & Bumblebee}


How to Research and Plan the Perfect Holiday

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I‘m so bad at this because I get really anxious and stressed over prices and what to do and how to find the right thing, as though there is a “right” thing! I rationally know that there are many wonderful ways to experience a place, but I get in this mindset of only one way and iI mess it up with the “wrong” flight or hotel or restaurant all will be ruined!

You are so good at researching and planning trips – how do you do it? For instance, I want to go to Norway, but I have no idea where to start.

I received this immensely flattering email from my friend C. some time ago, and the subject matter got me so excited I could hardly think about anything else for the next couple of weeks. The funny thing is I don’t really travel that often, but despite (or perhaps because of?) that, I always seem to enjoy myself greatly when I do. And because I also love giving advice and have always dreamed of having a good excuse to make one of those cute workbooks that the internet is littered with, I made my friend (and you lovely people) a really cute workbook that you can download for completely free below.

This workbook is for you: if you identify with what C. says in her email above. It will help you figure out where you want to go, for how long, with whom, and what kind of experiences would make you most happy. (Because, as C. says quite correctly above, there aren’t any right or wrong things!) It’ll get you started on researching and planning your next holiday while giving you the freedom to go into as little or as much detail as you’re comforatble with.

This workbook is not for you: if you’re trying to save up for a holiday (while the workbook does address matters of the budget, it doesn’t give any monetary advice) or if you’re looking for specific travel tips, such as where to stay, what to see, and where to eat in specific locations (however the workbook does provide you with the tools for finding these places for yourself based on your own preferences).

The most important element of enjoying anything is knowing what you want (and what you don’t want) and what makes you happy (and unhappy), and a very important part of that (particularly while travellign) is how we spend our money. I highly recommend you take a shot at Sarah Von Bargen’s – of Yes and Yes fame – More Money, More Happy Bootcamp (it’s completely free and it’s revolutionised so many people’s spending habits already, including mine), which will help you further fine-tune your travel experiences.

Title Page
Are you ready to take off? Get the workbook by clicking on the link below!

How to Research & Plan the Perfect Holiday (PDF, 7 MB)