I love Wirecutter. Before every purchase, I religiously check if Wirecutter has reviewed the category and let their recommendations heavily influence my decision. The people at Wirecutter are that good. I have referred to their advice on coffee makers, dishwashers, stoves and ranges, stand-in mixers, kid headphones, label printers, portable bluetooth speakers, bedsheets, backpacks, even umbrellas and iPhone cases. Sometimes, I read their reviews on random categories just for fun. The products Wirecutter recommends are not always available in Singapore but the knowledge is always relevant. I like to to know what features are essential vs. desirable, what to avoid, what are the leading products in different price categories, etc.
So obviously when it comes to the RenoTransofrmation, I have been reading Wirecutter a lot. Last week we had to decide on switches and sockets, which I learned are called wiring devices. I would have never guessed. Anyway, I started searching Wirecutter for recommendations and found a whole section on Smart Home devices – smart bulbs, smart switches, smart security, smart locks and doorbells, smart home sensors, smart this and smart that. I realised I wasn’t very smart when it came to home tech. I have the required boxes for broadband, and Apple TV. And that’s about it. We don’t use Alexa or Google Assistant. Siri is used only to check the weather or to set timers or to have existential conversations.
While it is very exciting to be able to control appliances, lights and fans with an app, I don’t think we are ready for it. First, some of the devices are not really needed. Our weather is uniformly hot all year – it’s either hot, or hot and wet. I don’t have central air-conditioning and I don’t need to maintain the house temperature throughout the day. I don’t need a smart doorbell with all the bells and whistles like security cameras, because Singapore is relatively safe and there is almost always someone at home. Second, the tech is expensive. Like any new tech in early stages, smart home tech attracts a premium. Third, I don’t want to rely on an app on my smart phone. What happens when I forget to charge my device (as it happens more frequently than I’d like)? What happens if there is a blackout and I lose wifi for hours and days? Or there is just poor connection somedays (as we have experienced in 2020). Fourth, ever-present security concerns pertaining to devices connected to the Internet – am I being watched? Who’s listening through my devices? Is my data being collected and transmitted and where?
The technology is evolving. Our architect narrated a story about a client who bought expensive smart bulbs only to find out a few months later that the smart functions now rested with the switches instead of the bulb. And the smart switches work with any type of bulb. It seems installing just smart bulbs and switches takes a fair bit of planning. I reckon that developing a harmonious ecosystem of smart devices is complicated, time consuming, and expensive.
Our requirements are simple – appropriate task and ambient lighting, easy to use devices, good clean design, and affordability. It’s easy to not get influenced by latest trends and buzz words when you are clear about your needs and what does/doesn’t work for your specific situation. Even if Wirecutter has an entire section on Smart Home appliances.
I’m curious and interested but as of now I’m going to sit out the Smart Home tech movement for now. When it comes to the adoption of this innovative tech, I don’t need to be an ‘early adopter’, I’m perfectly okay being a ‘late majority.’
Sometime last year, we decided to repair and renovate our beloved house. What started as a kernel of an idea has grown into a sturdy little plant. After our wedding, the birth of our children, and our move from NYC to Singapore in 2007, this is the biggest, most transformative event for my husband and me.
We were uncertain of embarking on a renovation journey during a pandemic. But it seems that being forced to spend most of the time within four walls of a house has sent people on a renovation binge like no other. Your house is now expected to function as a home, office, gym, restaurant, movie theatre, spa, play area/recreation centre. It seems most of us found our homes lacking or in our case, in need of repair.
Our last renovation experience was ten years ago when we remodelled our kitchen and bathroom. At that time, when the contractor asked me what kind of kitchen countertop I wanted, I said “Black”. This time around you can quiz me on the relative properties and benefits of quartz, solid surface, acrylic, and natural stone as well as the brands available in the market, both local and European.
In short, I have fully committed my creative energy to this process which I have lovingly termed “RenoTransformation”. Because I don’t merely want to fix my house and make it pretty. I want to make it fit for purpose and make it lasting. I want to use this opportunity to change some bad habits (e.g. cluttering) and form some new ones (e.g. composting).
I have borrowed the New York School of Interior Design’s Home: The Foundation of Enduring Spaces from the library several times. I have read most chapters from Lighting Design Basics a book on lighting design. I’ve been reading the relevant sections of L’art de la Simplicite for pointers on living more with less.
I have learnt that my design style is transitional or modern traditional. I like the idea of Scandinavian minimalism but I know I want pops of colour and ‘stuff’ in my house. Stuff that tells stories, that reminds me of places I lived in and people I used to be. I don’t want to rid myself of mementos and keepsakes and wipe away memories from my childhood, and my college years in Bombay, my time as a newly-wed in NYC, my work life in Singapore and of course my kids.
I follow too many design and home decor Instagram accounts to count. I follow accounts for North American modern design, Indian textiles, Japanese pottery, traditional British design, Scandinavian furniture, European lighting design, local Singapore businesses and artists. I have discovered I love iconic pieces of furniture from the greats – Charles and Ray Eames, Saarinen, Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner, and company. Though I can’t afford any of them.
It’s been an intensely enriching experience.
Sometime last year, I looked at my bedroom and realised it said nothing about me. Looking at my room you couldn’t tell what kind of person I was, what my interest, hopes and dreams were. The room performed a function but it was so impersonal. It was a very depressing realisation. I want my home to reflect who we are as individuals and as a family, our heritage, our life in Singapore, our time in NYC, our current interests, and our hopes (e.g. the replica Saarinen table may one day be replaced with the original).
The beginning of a journey is always exciting, I feel like I’m at the start of an epic trek. I have a partner, a guide, my gear, the trail is mapped out, and my legs are rested and ready for the road ahead. I know there will be setbacks and missteps and compromises. They are expected. But when we reach our destination, what a view it will be.
And it’s done. Or is it just starting?
I have finished the 12-week Artist’s Way program. I’m slowly sinking into the most delicious feeling of accomplishment. Over the last several years, I started more than my share of programs, challenges, courses, routines, everything from the spiritual to the mundane. And each time I gave after a few days or weeks. But I stayed with the Artist’s Way, and though I took my time to get through weeks 8-12, I finished the program.
I set out on this journey, not knowing the end outcome but I knew the journey was necessary. I worked hard, dug deep, and stayed honest. I faced the monster under my bed. The journey has been so rewarding – I found MYSELF!
Thinking about change and nurturing myself were the key actions for Week 11. I reflected on all the ways I’ve changed since Week 1 and also made some commitment towards how I will continue to change. Reclaiming myself as a person, independent of the roles I play, has been the single biggest change I’ve made. Making time and space for myself, and teaching my family members to respect my time and space has been another major change. My daughter is welcome to use my desk, but she needs to clean up if she makes a mess. If Mom is doing her yoga class or writing morning pages, anything that is not a medical or fire emergency has to wait. Seems so simple, right? But we have been in a lockdown for three months which means we have been in each other’s presence constantly. Even now, my daughter is sitting next to me creating a game on a coding app. She is also very unhappy with my music choice pointedly asked if I could play something other than the rock music I’ve been playing all morning. My time, my music.
This week I had to plan one loving action every day. I bought an art print from Libby Chambers Art because I love her use of colour, and her painting of magnolias makes me happy. There was much baking this week, of course. There was some yoga, some meditation. Lots of music courtesy Spotify and the Lincoln Centre Youtube channel. I went for a walk in my neighbourhood and took the time to observe and photograph flowers that I’ve always ignored.
The best thing I did for myself this week was sign up for two online experiences with Airbnb. One was a vegetarian Balinese cooking class in Denapsar, Bali, and the other was a piano meditation in Paris. Honestly, I didn’t want the week to end! I have learnt that nurturing myself is possible; it doesn’t require a huge time commitment and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
It is amazing what technology has made possible. I have toured museums, gardens and cities, watched music performances, browsed Art Basel, learnt to cook new recipes, chanted and meditated, and learnt dance without leaving my home. I’m extremely grateful to the Internet Gods for a strong, reliable network connection throughout this very strange year.
In the last three weeks, I fell into the Virtue Trap (i.e. deprioritized myself), got scared of my own ambitions as laid out in the Goal Search during week 8, and almost made a creative U-turn.
I spent the major part of a week planning and preparing for my mother’s online birthday party. Being new to hosting Zoom meetings with more than 5 participants, I needed to educate myself about the meeting features and practice hosting a few times. I wrote a script, picked music, invited close family members and friends to say a few words for Mom. There were also 10,000 questions from uncles and aunties who were excited about an online party but nervous about using Zoom. Plus, my co-hosts, my sisters, had an additional 10,000 questions and concerns and doubts. It took a lot of time and energy but it was totally worth it. More than 75 people showed up for the Zoom party, and Mom is still reading and responding to all the posts on her Kudoboard. The adrenaline from the party kept me up till 3am. The next day, I went into a state of lethargy.
It took me 4 days, 3 baking projects, one furious game of badminton, and takeout from my favorite middle eastern-inspired restaurant to shake off the lethargy and get back to work.
And it seems that simple task of sitting down at my desk, opening my book and picking up a pen, sent some sort of signal because I received exactly the help and guidance I needed to continue. The Artist’s Way seems enchanted sometimes because it gives me the words I most need to read and understand at that very moment. The exercises are exactly what I need to achieve the next breakthrough. So now I’m energized. I have a set of goals to orient me, and a set of actions to keep me moving towards the goal.
My immediate goal for the next two weeks is to build consistency in my practice. The last few weeks have been a patchwork of sluggish unproductive days and scintillating days of work, exploration, and discovery.
Confronting fears is always uncomfortable and I think I’m in for a significant period of discomfort as I continue this journey. But is there really another option?
I took two weeks to get through week 8, and I’m glad I gave myself extra time for the week 8’s tasks. I felt overwhelmed thinking about goals and setting a 5-year horizon with actions for each year. It felt like I was about to make a major commitment. I was afraid to put my deepest wishes down on paper, because then they would be plans not wishes, and I would be accountable for them. I wrote a few things down and then found myself stalling. So I took a break.
I kept up with the morning pages, affirmations and artist dates. I took care of my plants, and Pandoughra (my fledgling sourdough starter). I cleaned my work space and added to my wall décor. I used Canva to create an invite for my mom’s online birthday party and used Kudoboard to design an online group card. I baked brownies using Katherine Hepburn’s recipe. But the most serendipitous of all, I started reading Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic
I bought this book when it was first published in 2015. For 5 years it sat on my book shelf. I remember reading a few pages of the first chapter and then putting the book down never to pick it up again, until week 8. At the beginning of the lockdown (March 22, to be precise) I went around the house collecting books I had bought but never read. Big Magic was in that stack. I started reading two other books in that stack but not Big Magic. Until last week. Reading Big Magic during week 8 made a huge difference to my goal-setting approach and how I think about my creativity. Instead of feeling stuck and apprehensive about planning my creative future, I started feeling light and joyful. I didn’t plan to read Big Magic during this week or anytime soon, it just happened. Once again, I’m grateful for the gentle hand nudging me forward.
I got back to the tasks on May 19, and by the afternoon of May 20 I was done. Last evening, I celebrated the completion of week 8 with homemade pizza and Chianti. Week 9, here I come!