An Unforgettable Yeast

When a good friend passes on a recipe for challah, don’t drop the gauntlet. Do what I do, take the challenge, and bake bread. But I have a problem, I don’t have yeast. In fact, I haven’t set eyes on a package or jar since my bread-maker fell into disuse in the early 2000s. No matter, just add yeast to my growing grocery list—a list that makes the most of my grocery runs while COVID-19 ravages the world and lockdown rules confine us indoors.

On Palm Sunday I head to the store with this list. My cart fills up quickly and now there’s only one item left—yeast. I turn into the baking section and scan the shelves for the old familiar bottle. One trip down the aisle comes up empty. I try again from the opposite end. Still nothing. In desperation I ask an employee while keeping our two-metre distance. He points to the baking section where I’ve just emerged. Okay, he probably knows something I don’t. I push my cart back and this time I eyeball the labels pasted on the shelves. Success…I spot the yeast shelf. Lots of empty spaces except for a few yellow and blue jars in Fleischmann’s brand colours.

By now I am anxious to leave the store. I don’t have a mask on—we’re told that a mask provides a false sense of security—but most shoppers around me do. The jar has pictures of baked goods at the back. To be sure I should have questioned why there’s a picture of a meatloaf with gravy on the front. But I’m in a rush.

The next day I can’t wait to make my challah. I check that my water is just the right temperature before I open my newly-purchased jar of yeast. As I toss a tablespoon of flaky white stuff into the water, an inner disquieting voice asks if the yeast looks different. I ignore the warning.

With much gusto, I mix and knead exactly as shown in the recipe. Then I let the dough sit for an hour and a half to rise. When I remove the wet cloth from the dough it looks almost the same as before. Perhaps it did rise a little? Back to kneading and braiding the lumps, which I’ve now divided into two. They will, I hope, become my first bread making masterpieces. When I’m done muscling them into two long braids, I loop one into a circular loaf. Then I let them sit in my baking pans for another hour to rise. At the end of the hour, my mind’s eye gives me the thumbs up. Before I pop them into the oven I beat an egg and brush it over the top.

Forty to fifty minutes later, the moment of truth arrives. The loaves have browned nicely and the whole house smells fragrant. I take the pans out of the oven and let them cool for a bit. After I transfer the loaves to a rack, I take a picture of my masterpieces and send them to my siblings and the friend who goaded me into bread making.


When the bread cools down enough, I take a knife to one. My heart aches at having to destroy my beauties, but I slice a small end piece and pop it into my mouth. It tastes slightly sweet, as it should, but the texture feels thick. I look below the crust. In lieu of fluffy little holes, I see a dense smooth surface. It’s no use…I can’t delude myself anymore. I have baked two masses of dough—four cups of flour in each, eggs, water and a large dose of love and hope.

A day passes and hubby wants me to throw away my abominations. I can’t bear to part with them. Somehow, I want to rescue my labour of love. I take one loaf, cut a few thin slices and butter them before putting them in the toaster oven for a few minutes. When done, I put a wedge in my mouth, ooh and aah, and tell hubby that it tastes fine. But he’s not buying what I’m selling. Another day passes, and I repeat my toaster oven trick again. This time it tastes like buttered cardboard.

I have to throw them in the garbage. Miserably, I cut one heavy loaf into chunks and toss them into the organic waste. The other one I wrap and store in my freezer in hopes of a miracle that doesn’t materialize. It joins the first loaf a week later. Sadly, I acknowledge my failure as a baker of bread.

But why did I fail? First, my bread was doomed the moment I grabbed cornstarch instead of yeast off the shelf. I cringe even thinking about why I didn’t stop for a moment to read the label. It was only during my post mortem that I took out the jar, read the label and discovered my mistake. Second, I dismissed all the warnings flashing in my head—intuition is overrated. Third, my chutzpah led me to believe that I couldn’t make a mistake and my first attempt at making challah would result in a masterpiece. The road to humility is a long one.

Musings of a Staunch Hakka

The inimitable Fei Chen, bitten by the writing bug has contributed a number of articles for my blog. Here she is again, unabashedly enthusiastic about her “Hakka-ness.”

A jewel in the Chen family

We are born social creatures. From the moment we arrive on this earth, we blink with tears of joy and turn on high octave voices to attract love and affection. Emma Lily Chen, my first grandniece, arrived into the Chen family on March 17th, 2015, which is also St Patrick’s Day. Baby Emma is our symbol of love, hope and joy. She is like a pearl engaging us with her beauty. She stirs our thoughts and brings the family together with joy, conversation and laughter.

If I were…

Imagine being in my shoes for a moment—I was excited to attend a reading by C Fong Hsiung, so I arrived at the reading an hour before the scheduled time. I toured my surroundings with curiosity, wonder and fascination. Two love birds sat on an aluminum bench in the empty University of Toronto stadium, shoulder to shoulder, sharing secrets in that open space, showing off their youth and their carefree spirits. They reminded me of my younger self decades ago.

Fifteen minutes before the scheduled reading time I hurried to the second floor of the OISE building feeling like an obedient goody-goody student. As I was about to enter the room, an orator with curly hair and bewildered eyes greeted me. She said “You must be Fong.” I replied: “How I wish I were Fong!”

If I were Fong, I would bury my head under the sand like an ostrich and simply write and write and write. I have earned my experiences and knowledge through life’s journey, be they good, okay, or yet to be discovered. Perhaps I will let my stories fan out like the beautiful feathers of a fanciful peacock.

Fanciful musings aside

We now have history in the making right in the midst of our Hakka family. We are an opinionated culture, critical among ourselves, and often indulge in gossip that gets us into trouble and emotional turmoil. At the same time, I realize that these very same spoken words, emotions, culture, traditions and our language help us to connect with one another and blossom. During this past Mother’s Day celebration, the Lee twin sisters and many other sponsors put together a special luncheon for the Hakka community. During that meeting, Shaun Chen identified himself as a Liberal Party candidate for the upcoming federal election. We wish Shaun great success in our great Canadian democracy.

Go Shaun Go!!!

Mighty Sun and Its Reflection

Mighty Sun

Fei Chen is the?guest blogger for this post.

Beauty from my backyard:

Sunrise is a natural phenomenon that occurs every 24 hours.? I watch its ascend over the water from the best seat on Earth,—the beach behind my house—a visual feast for the naked eye. It pleases my senses to see the red hot ball of fire spiral out of a huge body of shimmering water that is Lake Ontario. Gently and gracefully it lifts itself out of the water leaving me just enough time to glimpse its reflection, before going on to share its solar powers with the world.

I was lucky enough to capture that precise moment with my iPad and it is my pleasure to share that picture with you.

Life is a journey:

Each sunrise marks a new day in our journey through life. When we reach the end of this trip, Buddhist conventions bring our family members, relatives and friends together. We congregate to support each other for the loss of our loved one and to pray for the departing soul’s smooth crossover.

Recently I had the privilege of sitting down in the memoriam hall of our Buddhist temple to pray for 姑丈 (Uncle), my 愛容姑’s husband who passed away.? The monks led us in solemn prayer service. The gong bell dinged at intervals accompanied by the occasional drum-beat during the monks’ rhythmic chanting. We burned incense to help the departing soul accelerate into the path of eternal peace.

During my meditation, I glimpsed my departed grandparents’ and my father’s plaques, which hung on the memoriam wall. I could not help but contemplate my own mortality. Memories of our unconditional family bonds crept into my mind to remind me of how lucky and privileged we were. These reflections of my extended family also left me with many bittersweet stories of days gone by. In that brief waking moment, I realized that life is simply a journey and we are the passengers.

Power of Yoga:

Just as my visit to the Buddhist temple to pray and meditate for departed loved ones can feed my spiritual soul, so does practicing Yoga. Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning discipline in mind, body and spirit. There are many forms of Yoga practice, and the beauty of it is that you can do it on your own with your own purpose in mind. I love Yoga as it allows me to detach myself from everything and work with nothingness. I can sink into my inner self, to find my own solace, embrace my surroundings and connect with my cheerful side.


Why You Should Work on Your Own Terms: A Book Review

Work on Your Own Terms in Midlife & Beyond

A Book Written by Janine L. Moore

I was Wrong:

When I first?came across?the book, Work on Your Own Terms in Midlife & Beyond, I had already mapped out my exit strategy from the corporate world. In my mind, I didn’t need any more help to retool for my post-corporate life. The trouble was that I bought the book–it was an impulse buy–, and I couldn’t let a purchase go to waste. So I decided to read it.

I opened it on my tablet during?my outbound flight to Portugal where a blissful week of sightseeing and socializing with friends awaited. From the first chapter, Janine Moore hooked me with her engaging style. The first quote I read, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anais Nin, drew me in. Then as I read more, I felt more and more connected to Ms. Moore. She spoke to me even though I thought I didn’t need to hear anymore. She made a lot of sense, so I listened.

Every night at the hotel that week in Portugal, exhausted from the day’s activities I’d read the book before going to bed. Ms. Moore advises the reader to read the entire book once, and then re-read one chapter each day, doing the exercises shown after?each one.?The idea is to rewire your brain by the end of thirty days when you finish reading the book. She wants you “to view the world through a different lens so you can create life on your own terms.”

The Book

Work On Your Own Terms in Midlife & Beyond: Change Your Mind, Change Your Life
Each chapter begins with one or more?powerful quotes from the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr.,?Dale Carnegie, the Dalai Lama, and others, and ends with some action steps where Ms. Moore?also lists some suggested reading materials. She?cleverly groups most of the chapters under six of our main fears: 1) Poverty, 2) Criticism, 3) Poor Health, 4) Loss of Love, 5) Old Age, and 6) Death. She addresses these fears and how to work with them.

Our fears cripple us if we let them. The author uses examples and quotes to help you tame them. For instance, the fear of poverty drives us to work hard and to amass more wealth than we need, thus?cuffing us to our jobs longer than necessary. She uses the parable of the businessman and the fisherman to illustrate how one can chase monetary gains blindly in the name of financial freedom that will allow you to spend quality time with family and friends. However, all this while, that dream is already within the businessman’s?reach except he doesn’t know it.

Death finds everyone without exception. The author?quotes Norman Cousins, “The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside us while we live.” Food for thought. She also?believes that the people who ponder their own mortality lead more fulfilling lives. She uses Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. as an example. He said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

The Message

While I haven’t gone back to re-read the book as recommended by the author–time constraints being my excuse–I plan to do it as soon as I can. I believe in Ms. Moore’s message about working on your own terms. It doesn’t even have to begin at midlife; it can apply to anyone with the right mindset.

Ten Signs to Recognize It’s Time to Retire or Retool

SignsForRetiringWhether you’re thinking about retiring or retooling, when do you know you’re ready to make the transition? It’s scary to pull that trigger, isn’t it? The safety net of a steady income entices us to keep working even when our souls yearn for freedom from corporate bondage. It’s hard to imagine life without a pay-cheque.

I don’t have any clear-cut answers either, but I’ve noticed a definite pattern when I observe people on the threshold of retirement. I’ve listed them as ten signs—in no particular order—to help you recognize that you’ve outgrown your regular job and that it’s time to retire or retool. Here they are:

1. You talk non-stop about retiring with your friends and colleagues. At every opportunity, you opine about the things you could do, the places you could see, if only you had the time.

2. Not only are your friends making plans to retire, but your colleagues and acquaintances are telling you that their retirement is imminent.

3. More and more often when you wake up in the morning, you wonder why you’re still grinding the nine-to-five millstone.

4. You start looking for hobbies in strange places. Archery may suddenly become a favorite pass-time. That book simmering inside your head may now seem imminently possible. You remember how your grade three teacher said your painting had potential…hmm.

5. Conversely, you already have many projects clamoring for your attention. You assure yourself that you’ll get to them all when you retire, or that they’re in your retooling plans.

6. Your house suddenly seems too big and downsizing becomes a major topic of conversation in your family.

7. The travel section of your newspaper can’t hold enough deals for you. The rest of the newspaper only holds your cursory attention. Your suitcase is now easily accessible, and you have toiletry kits ready to throw into your bag at a moment’s notice.

8. You’re nodding off in front of the TV, but you insist that you’re awake all the time. You claim that 10 p.m. is too early for bed, so you sleep on the couch until midnight before you turn in.

9. Many old friends you haven’t heard from in a long time suddenly reappear in your life and want to meet with you for lunch or coffee. These friends didn’t have time to see you before.

10. If you’re a fitness buff, you’re now starting to build a network of friends at the gym. It’s no longer just a place to work out, but also a place to hang out.

So what do you think? Clear signs calling out to you…maybe. Weigh in with your words of wisdom.

Why I Should Own My Identity

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Reflections on a Sunny June Day

As I sit in my kitchen on this beautiful afternoon in June, I let the sights and sounds outside take over my senses.

Whrrrm…whrrrm…whine…whine…screech! You got it; I’m not painting an idyllic scene. You see, the developer behind my backyard has started serious construction work. The green space has been razed down and the oversize digger is scooping up everything that grows there.

Earlier when I let my son’s dog, Lennon, out to do his thing, I listened for the birds. Their chirps were still audible despite the heavy equipment’s whirring. In fact, as I listen to them now, they sound like they’re competing with the whrrrm whrrrm…our spunky feathered friends doth protest in sympathy with their neighbours.

What’s that about an ebook?

No, this is not a griping session about the big bad developers. The truth is I barely pay attention to the noise now. They’ve turned into sounds of summer as I write my e-book, How to Stir the Writing Fire in Your Belly, which I plan to give away to all my email subscribers for free. I’ve almost completed the first draft.

Yippee…I said it out aloud. That must mean I’m committed to finishing the book.

Not so fast…

The trouble is that the first draft is really bad. I mean it. I will have to work hard?to polish it until it shines. At this point, my brain doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. I’m experiencing a mental cramp that refuses to unlock and let me see how to make my book worth reading. So I’ve decided to give myself a break from over-thinking it.

My right brain gave me permission to read writing-marketing-writing blog after blog until the gray matter in my head has turned into floating black clouds of meaningless alphabets. I realize that my protracted research is actually retarding my progress. I don’t draw any comfort from this knowledge. OMG…where is the panic button?

I am a Writer

I bought Jeff Goins’s message about owning my writing identity a long time ago. Read his blog here. Just as when I’m at my day job, I?own that identity too.

Yet sometimes doubts still plague me when I find myself in a slump…this is not where I want to be right now. It’s not possible to produce quality work if I only dip one foot in the water in either places.

I need to write what I know. That’s simple, isn’t it? I know myself well and I’m the only one who knows how I went through my journey to becoming a novelist.

Hmm…maybe I should change the book’s title to How I Stirred the Writing Fire in My Belly…and You Can Too. What do you think?

Picture downloaded from

Make Minor Adjustments in Your Life to Create a Major Impact



Start with a Vacation

Every time I return home from a vacation, I have an urge to make some adjustments—something small to change things up in my life. The down-time away from home allows me to think about what’s happening to me and around me.

A Change in My Routine

In 2010, my mother checked into the hospital for a surgery. What was supposed to be a one-week stay turned into a five-month nightmare. While I had been driving to work for many years, commuting 35 kilometres each way every day, I found myself driving even more. I detoured to the hospital almost daily and also drove there on the weekends. Then when I took my first trip to China around the time my mother finally went home, I spent two weeks almost worry-free. After lots of naval-gazing, I decided that when I returned home, I would stop driving to work. I began to ride the train instead, and I used the commute time to read, write or chat. I’ll bet these rides now provide more therapeutic relief than any psycho-analytic couch.

A Significant Step

During the past few years, I had been toying with the idea of winding down from the corporate world to spend more time doing what I love. After much soul searching and number crunching, and after another vacation late last year, I decided to drop one day from my full-time job in March. I’m now writing another book…make that two. I started writing the sequel to Picture Bride a few months ago, and I’m one quarter of the way into an e-book that I will give away on my website. I might even write a series of Kindle books…maybe I need another vacation to give me the impetus to take that on.

A Word of Advice if I May

Use your vacation time to relax and let your mind take you in any and every direction. When you let yourself go, you just never know where you’ll end up. I highly recommend bringing home one little tweak to your routine to spice things up a bit. You don’t need to shift gears as much as I did in my examples above. I’ve tried to adopt a minor change each time I came home from a holiday. Some lasted and some got lost in the sea of tasks that greeted me as soon as I stepped inside the office. Just add or subtract something that makes you feel good.

And Finally…

The key is to aim for those little adjustments; they might accumulate into a big and rewarding lifestyle shift.

Is Retirement Over-rated?


Retoolment: A Real Word?

We work towards retirement like it’s a state of utopia. All our lives we save so we can retire and live happily ever after. What if I say that instead of chasing the retirement dream, we look forward to RETOOLMENT. Don’t bother looking up the dictionary for the word—I made it up.

Why Retire If You Can Retool

The word RETOOL is defined as “to reorganize or rearrange, usually for the purpose of updating.” If you retire without any new purpose, what’s going to happen? You’ll travel, you say. Right, for how long and have you saved enough to travel endlessly? And if you did, don’t you think you’ll be tired of the gypsy life after a while? What else are you going to do when you retire? Look after the grandkids, play bridge with your buddies, go to the gym…where’s the purpose?

So I’ve decided that the best way to look at retirement is not take the word literally. You retool. You learn to do things you’ve always wanted to do but denied yourself because life got in the way. You need a whole new bag of tools because your career may have ended, but a new life-calling is about to begin. You need to know how to go about living that new life.

I’m Doing It, You Can Too

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but the average writer doesn’t make enough to live on. So I climbed—perhaps clambered sometimes—up the corporate ladder to clothe, feed and educate our boys, and to save for the ultimate retirement. A few years ago, the light bulb flickered first, and then shone bright after lots of kicking around in my head and soul searching. I came to the realization that retirement is the wrong word. I’m not ready to retire and drift with whatever tide comes my way. During my RETOOLMENT years, I will have a new bag of tools. I want a new purpose and continue to wake up every morning ready to tackle my day using my new toolkit.



How is it possible that another year has gone by?? As one gets older, time doesn’t move at the pace of the hour glass; it slips and slides like sand between the fingers. All too soon, I’m chasing that last minute before the day is done, and then I lie in bed wondering if I could have done some more.

The end of the year is a good time to reflect on what we have done these past twelve months with our careers, families, friends, and interests. What have we done to change or enhance our existence? Did our careers get a boost or a nudge, or did it plateau and maybe even take a beating? What were the highlights in our family events? The ones that made us laugh, love, or cry? Did we reconnect with an old friend, make a new one or simply kept our friendships active? Where did our interests take us this year—developed a new hobby or nurtured an old one? Did we try to make a difference to someone’s life?

So much to reflect upon.

I am blessed. I am grateful for many things in my life, and I remind myself of these as often as I can—sometimes daily—with even just one thing that makes me smile. One joyful bundle entered my life this year. My granddaughter, born during the first quarter, never fails to lift my spirits every time my eyes fall on her cherubic face, in many expressions, on my computer screen.

My family, at my side all the time, cheers me on as I measure each success by my writing milestones. A new contact or friend, attendance at a new author’s book launch, my first reading, my name amongst other writers—still unknown, but hopefully not for long.

I have edited more than a quarter of my first novel. The fact that I even finished my first draft this year is an achievement I never thought was possible. For so many years I had dreamed of writing a novel, but never got past the first couple of pages. So I am indeed thankful.

For anyone reading this blog, I hope you’ve had a successful year, however you define success.