Time for…

We’re on day 12 of quarantine here and starting to get a little bit of cabin fever. It’s especially tough with a toddler who has a bundle of energy all the time. We didn’t go out much, pre-quarantine, but I’m definitely missing our trips to the library, rec centre, gymnastics, and even the grocery store. ๐Ÿ˜›

Given the way we’re feeling, I thought it was time to sit down and list some of the things that we now have time for, since we’re inside all the time.

…reading

I’ve always made time to read because it’s one of my favourite things to do, but I find now I have even more time to do it! With my husband being home, I now find patches of time where they’re doing something else and I can curl up on the couch with my book. Granted, it doesn’t always last long, but it’s definitely a lot longer than before!

…playing with my daughter

This is probably going to make me sound like a bad mother, but before, I didn’t have much time to play with my daughter one-on-one. With all the chores and errands in the day, I rarely found time to sit down and actually play with her. These days we seem to have endless time for doctor’s checkups, getting my makeup done with her, going grocery shopping in her shopping cart, and then checking out at her cash register. It’s so much fun to see her imagination at work!

…exercise

I know lots of people are finding comfort in food these days, especially since there isn’t much to do when you’re at home, but I’ve been trying to lose weight. Carving out time to exercise was so difficult before; by the time the day was done, I was too tired to do anything. But now, because my husband is home all day, there is ample time to work out.

…watching movies

My brothers, husband and I are watching Lord of the Rings together! Well not together but at the same time. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve never seen them before (they came out at the same time as Harry Potter, and of course I picked HP) and my brothers have begging me to watch them for ages. With all of us at home now, it was the perfect time! We chat while we’re watching so we can pretend we’re all together but it’s a little less annoying than me talking throughout the movie. ๐Ÿ˜›

…other hobbies

So I haven’t started this yet, but I want to get back into some of the other hobbies that I used to enjoy and used to have time for, prior to Emaan being born. I have been doing lots of arts and crafts with her lately, but I want to get back to doing them for myself. I also miss doing brush calligraphy and plan to pick that up again. This is my second blog post in one week, which is a record for these days! But I’m definitely enjoying having the time for other hobbies like blogging.

…appreciating the little things

Now that now that we are home all day, we all have time to appreciate the little things. Things like going outside for a walk, going out for dinner, seeing family and friends, going to the park, socialising, etc. seemed like little things in our pre-quarantine life. But now, we realise that they weren’t little things. These were big things. We just couldn’t see it. And I have a feeling that when life goes back to normal, we will never take these things for granted again.

What are some of the things you’re enjoying having the time for these days?

Thanks for reading,

Ikhlas

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Let’s quarantine and Chill

Hey everyone! Wow, what a dramatic change of events since my last post, eh?

Never mind my last post, the last week has been insane and full of so much change and news. Every day has brought some new news and a lot more anxiety.

My family and I have been on quarantine since last Thursday when Ontario shut down all the schools. In that week, there was a lot of panic going around here in Canada as more and more cases of COVID 19 came to light. People had started panic buying, but to be honest, I didn’t get it. I thought they were overreacting.

It didn’t hit me till they shut down the schools in the entire province. I think that’s when I realised how serious this virus was and how much it had spread. School doesn’t just get cancelled like that. I was filled with anxiety for most of the weekend, as we visited our families one last time, and then hunkered down to stay at home.

Soon after that, the province declared a state of emergency, everything shut down, the whole country was told to quarantine, my husband, and many other people around the country, got sent home from work, and the US-Canada got shut down. This all happened last week.

To say that I’ve been feeling anxious is an understatement. With so much upheaval in our lives, I know many people have been having bouts of anxiety. My problem is that I have a very active imagination and I have read way too many dystopian novels. A lot of these novels document the end of the world or the start of a chaotic society, and pandemics wiping out huge chunks of humanity. So my mind keeps going there and reliving some of the scenes from those books, whether I want it to or not.

But before quarantine (and anxiety) started, I finished writing my current novel. It’s been exactly one week since I finished writing it and the feeling of being elated has only died down a tiny bit. I have been working on this book, on and off, for 3 years now. I got the idea shortly after my daughter was born in 2017 and I tried to write it in between some major life changes.

Last year was a bit of a stressful one, as I’ve previously mentioned, so my goal for this year was to finish the dang thing. And I did. It only took me 3 months once I hunkered down and made a schedule for myself. The last week was an intense one as I wrote both during the day, during my daughter’s nap, and at night, working late just so I could reach the end.

Writing the last paragraph happened last Saturday, exactly one week ago, as my husband was in the bathroom and my daughter had woken up from her nap. We were supposed to leave for my sister in law’s house as soon as she woke up, and I could hear her calling me from the bedroom, but I couldn’t break my stride. So I kept pounding the keys, relief flooding me as I heard my husband going to get her, and I wrote that last sentence. It was the best feeling ever.

I started writing novels when I was 10 years old and this is my 4th one that I have completed, but the feeling of reaching the end never gets old. It’s like climbing a very tall mountain, the peak of which you have been imagining and dreaming about for years, and finally reaching it. It’s exhilarating.

I definitely am not done my work with this novel though. It needs some serious editing. As usual, I tend to over-write and ended up with a grand total of 133,000 words by the time I was done. I need to be somewhere near 70,000 to 80,000. -_-

But I’ve sent it to my beta reader, the same one who helped me with Aisha, and am hoping she can help me cut this beast down. I spent the last week polishing it up a bit before sending it to her last night and am on a bit of a break before I get it back from her, probably in a few weeks.

So my first week of quarantine wasn’t too bad, since I was mostly working on editing my book, which kept me busy.

To be honest, staying home doesn’t bother me. I’m a homebody and always have been. I have always been busy at home and often have various projects that I’m working on or can work on. This time will be no different.

I already have a loose schedule and routine that I have created for myself ever since Emaan was born, so we usually have lots to do in the day, regardless. I’m not going to lie, not being able to go out is still hard. We are both missing going to the library, gymnastics, and going to the rec centre. And of course just the ability to be out and about. So it’s definitely tricky, especially with her, but I bought some new workbooks to keep her occupied. I also want to do more arts and crafts for, and other things that I often don’t end up having time for.

Everyone is discovering their inner chef it seems, going by all the delicious pictures of food being cooked up every day on Instagram and Facebook! And I’m doing the opposite. I’ve been on a quest to lose 20 pounds and had been enrolled in a boxing class that I drove to Oakville for every week. With everything shutting down, the class moved online, and the girls’ only gym that the class belongs to, started offering lots of online classes. When the mini gym in our building (which only consisted of 3 machines) closed down this past week, I was so bummed out about how to stay active. So when the gym started offering online classes, I was over the moon. I’ve done a workout every day this week and am still baffled at myself. Who am I???

So other than working out, I’m hoping to make a dent in the million unread books (according to my husband ha ha) on my bookshelf, some of which have been there for years. The libraries have shut down, which really sucks, but I have more than enough reading material for awhile.

I really want to bake more, but given the fact that I have ZERO self control when it’s in the house, I’m trying so hard to resist the urge. My husband is at home and can’t take the stuff to work, and we’re not visiting anyone either. So if I bake it, I will most likely eat ALL OF IT.

Other than reading, working out, trying to keep my daughter entertained and not baking, I’ll just be watching some Netflix and Disney+, cooking (as usual), doing some new arts and crafts, and maybe blogging some more. Who knows how long we’re stuck in this situation? It’s best we make the most of it.

What are you doing to keep busy in quarantine? Let me know!

Thanks for reading,

Ikhlas

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Crinkly Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Crinkly Chocolate Chip Cookies

Have you ever seen a recipe online and become obsessed with it? I have. These crinkly chocolate chip cookies have been haunting me for quite some time now.

I have been seeing these gorgeous cookies all over the Internet for a few months now, along with their slightly unorthodox method of baking. The are unforgiving in their size and have beautiful crinkly tops and crispy edges.

Making them is a bit weird: you literally bang the pan on the counter to get those beautiful crinkly edges.

I am not kidding; my family thought I was nuts as I kept banging the pans against the counter every few minutes. But they didn’t have anything to say when they took a bite of that crispy on the outside, ooey-gooey on the inside chocolate chip cookie.

Crinkly Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are not for the faint of heart. The original recipe called for 1/3 cup of dough per cookie, but I thought that sounded too big so I scaled back a bit to 1/4 cup. But they were still big and wonderfully chewy and crispy. They are about the size of Starbucks cookies and one will set you back for your sugar intake for a week (or day, let’s be honest).

They’re called chocolate chip cookies, but they actually have chocolate chunks. If you haven’t made the switch from chips to chunks, do it now! Look at those gorgeous rivers of chocolate running through that cookie. I use Ghiradelli baking bars, but you could use any kind of baking chocolate you like.

Crinkly Chocolate Chip Cookies

The key is to chop the chocolate yourself and not use the pre-chopped chunks. The pre-chopped chunks are definitely easier and I love to use them too, but it’s worth it to go the extra mile on these bad boys. Trust me.

I ended up using semi-sweet chocolate but you could also use bittersweet or a combination of both. I also added a generous sprinkling of chopped pecans because nuts make everything better. I loved the added crunch and texture in these cookies.

Enough chatting, let’s take a look at the recipe!

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Looking Back

I’m well aware that it might be bad taste to talk about the past year when the new one has already begun. It’s the first week of January and people are writing about their resolutions and goals and I’m only just sitting down to write down my recap of the past decade. Because a new one has begun.

This past decade has been transformative. That’s the only way I can describe it. I was twenty, and in University when this decade began, and I’m ending it as a thirty year old. I’m at a stage in my life that I always dreamed and fantasized about. It’s crazy that I’m actually here. But I still have a long way to go.

This decade is split into two chunks for me, literally down the middle. I spent the first half as a bachelorette and the second half as a wife, and then half of that as a mother. I went from a girl, with zero responsibilities and all the free time in the world, to a woman with a family who depend on her, and zero free time. It’s been quite the flip.

I graduated University in the past ten years, went on to do a creative book publishing program (during when this blog was born!), started working at Chapters (a lifelong dream of my book-loving heart), started and graduated teacher’s college, started another blog, got married, moved away from home, got pregnant, moved back to Canada, gave birth, became a mother, and moved into my own apartment. It’s definitely been a busy ten years!

I also wrote and wrote and wrote: novels, poems, essays, articles and much more.

During these ten years, I found myself. I found myself in the words that drift around in my head and in my heart, the words that I wish to see on the page. I found myself in the pen that I hold, rather than the pen of others. I found myself in books, in words and worlds that I devoured, page by page.

But I also lost myself. I lost myself in the battle between editing the words of others vs writing my own words. I lost myself in baking, in the mixing of ingredients, to create something delightful and delicious. I lost myself in teacher’s college, in the vision of myself I saw for my future. But mostly, I lost myself in motherhood.

University, and my subsequent schooling were amazing experiences. I have always loved school and learning, and have always thrived in a school environment, and so it’s not surprising that I loved those years of my life. They were enriching and enlightening, and I learned so much. There were subjects and areas of knowledge that I learned about during those years that I never knew about and never knew I would enjoy. And that was the greatest joy.

After leaving school, I became the master of my own fate and it was a bit of a wobbly ride as I tried to figure out what it was I wanted to do. But then fate took me for a ride to another country as I got married. It was like learning another language.

Those early years of marriage were definitely tough. I think fondly of the naive girl I was and the fairytale I thought I was about the walk into. Marriage is definitely no fairytale but I had been brainwashed by too many Bollywood and Disney movies to know any better.

Living in a new city, without any of my friends or family, meant I was again the master of own fate. I focused on blogging and baking, and discovered an unknown love of Brush Calligraphy. It was during this time that I stumbled upon my agent, or rather she stumbled upon me. And this is probably one of the greatest joys in this past decade, as it has given me the tiniest sliver of hope of being published one day.

During this time away, death took two of my family members. In 2015, less than a year after my wedding, my uncle lost his battle to cancer. And then less than a month later, it took my grandfather too, unexpectedly. I wanted to go home so badly but wasn’t able to. I still remember this period of time as a time of longing; the place I had left was the one I wanted to be.

The next year, I became pregnant and so began a new chapter of my life. Pregnancy wrecked havoc on my life as I began to pack up to move back to Canada. I moved back to Canada in January of 2017, a few months before I was due to give birth.

Coming back to Canada wasn’t what I imagined it to be. I had been away for a few years and so many things had changed in my absence. My family was no longer the same. The gaping hole I thought I had left had been stitched up so that you could still tell something had been there, but it was no longer a hole. My family was different now.

But I had my own, new family to focus on now as the birth of my daughter in April 2017 is the brightest, shining light in the entire decade. She is the person who makes me happiest, makes me smile the widest, and laugh the loudest. But she is also a challenge; she is extremely stubborn, strong-willed, active, and doesn’t sleep well.

If 2017 is a bright light, 2018 is a grey blur; I honestly don’t remember most of it. I traveled to NYC to visit my best friend, and then a few weeks later went to Chicago to attend two family weddings.

2019 is the worst year of my life. I recently revealed in my last blog post that my brother was diagnosed with brain cancer this past year in March, and this diagnosis has rocked me and my entire family to our cores. There are moments that take place in slow motion in front of your eyes, as if God is super gluing that scene into the inside of your skull. My brother’s diagnosis in Trillium Hospital in Mississauga is such a scene.

This past year has been the most physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally one of all. If I had lost myself in motherhood, I lost what was left of myself. I stopped writing, stopped eating well, stopped taking care of myself, just stopped everything. I was on survival mode for most of the year as I felt like I was sitting on a roller coaster that was going at breakneck speeds, sometimes soaring up and sometimes plunging down. I was trying to hold on for dear life.

Even when the roller coaster stopped, I was still in survival mode. I didn’t know how to do anything else. I ate a lot of junk food and packed on the pounds. I was paralysed at the thought of going outside and interacting with strangers. I liked the safety of my apartment and didn’t want to leave it. I didn’t know how to write about what had happened to me, there were no words inside anymore.

When I was younger, I used to imagine the year as a big long scroll, with separate sections for the months. So basically a big, long calendar of months in a long row. But December was the end and then you jumped back to the top of the scroll in January.

I’m on the other side now and I can see clearly. I have spent so many years of the past decade losing myself that I am ready to find myself. I know it sounds a little cheesy, trust me.

I want to find the pieces of myself that I lost years ago, the pieces that made me happy, the pieces that made me me. I want to be that girl again. Of course, I can’t go back to being that twenty year girl who had zero responsibilities and all the free time in the world. But I want to find some of the pieces that made that girl who she was: curious, inquisitive, optimistic, creative, and excited for the future.

I want to do the things that set my soul on fire. I want to create words and worlds that others will want to devour, stories that will inspire. I want to open my mind, and feel the joy I felt in learning when I was in school. I want to be the best mother I can possibly be, and teach my daughter how to be good and kind and honest. I want to take time to pause and relax, so I can enjoy the gifts God has given me. I want to thrive, and not just survive. I want to be me.

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A Bookish Year

This was the year of books! I read more books this year than I have since my daughter was born, and probably also since the year I was expecting her.

When I became a new mom, I was so tired all the time that I chose to sleep when I could, instead of chosing to read. Or, I watched a lot of TV.

But this year, something happened. My hunger for books re-awoke and I tore through them at an alarming rate, devouring and savouring the words and the worlds inside of them. I wanted to return to my old self, the self that read for pleasure and lost myself among fantastical worlds and characters.

I read a lot of books this year, 41 to be precise, according to my Goodreads account. I had aimed for about 25 and then surpassed that and then I changed my goal to 30 and then soon surpassed that.

I used to post book reviews after reading each book, and that’s kind of how this blog got its humble beginnings. But I don’t have time to do each book anymore and decided to do the whole year in one long post, a sort of year in review.

The year isn’t over yet, but I wanted to share the most remarkable ones I have read. If I read something that completely blows me away after this post is published and the year still isn’t over, I’ll add it. Let’s get started!

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)

A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES SERIES BY SARAH J MAAS

For those of you who have followed this blog for awhile might remember my love for teen books. I haven’t read many this year; to be honest, the plots of most of them just don’t excite me or interest me anymore the way they used to.

I bought A Court of Thorns and Roses the year before I think and it sat on my bookshelf for awhile before I finally decided to read it. I had read Maas’s Throne of Glass series a bit; I had tried it out and while I didn’t end up continuing the series, I enjoyed Maas’s writing.

The description of this intrigued me. It’s about a girl who kills an ancient predator while trying to feed her family. Feyre ends up killing a faerie and as punishment gets dragged to the faerie world, where she becomes enslaved. She learns to befriend her punisher, Tamlin, a faerie who keeps his face hidden, and eventually falls in love with him. Tamlin is under a curse and Feyre has to break before his mask becomes permanent. The story is basically a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, one of my favourite fairy tales of all time.

The writing is exquisite, but the story is just fascinating. Maas is a master storyteller and the world she creates is beautiful and dark. The characters are three-dimensional and filled with complexities.

While I was reading this book, I shared it on my Instagram and a fellow booklover told me that the second one is even better. I was really enjoying the first one and couldn’t imagine how the second one would get better. But it does.

The second book took my breath away. It basically took the world that Maas created in the first one and turned it on its head. Everything Feyre knew gets turned upside down. Everything seems so perfect in her and Tamlin’s world but then things change.

I have never read a series where the love interest changes halfway through the series. Granted this wasn’t halfway through the series but it was amazing to see loyalties shift. It isn’t an annoying love triangle but a complete shift.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read this series, but each book just gets better and better. Maas continues to build the faerie world with each book. Feyre changes and blossoms into a formidable young woman who can make up her own mind and can battle any faerie.

The last book left me breathless and speechless. It was a perfect ending to an amazing series; most series mess up the ending, but the final battle among the faeries was epic.

If you love fantasy stories with an amazing cast of characters, romance, adventure, and beautiful writing, you should definitely read this.

The Hating Game

THE HATING GAME

I read a fair number of chick lit/romance novels this year. They are usually easy reads that I like to read when I want something fun and light. The Hating Game did not disappoint.

It’s about Lucy and Joshua who work in the same office in a book publishing company. Lucy and Joshua hate each other. They are constantly trying to one-up each other by undermining the other person. They have different work ethics but end up competing for the same job. If either of them gets it, they’ll be the other person’s boss. But things suddenly change after a steamy elevator ride, and Lucy is left wondering if she really knows Joshua at all.

This was a fun read that felt like I was watching a fun romantic comedy. Equal parts funny and romantic, it had depth where most romance books don’t. Both Lucy and Joshua have detailed back stories about why they are the way they are, which is why when they finally get together at the end, it is so satisfying.

The One

THE ONE

This was marketed as a psychological thriller, but it definitely wasn’t that.

The One takes place in a not too distant future where there is an app that matches you to your soulmate. Science has progressed to the point that we have discovered through DNA testing that each of us has a soulmate in the world, the one who we are genetically made for. There are no more dating apps, because once you find the one, that’s it.

The book follows a series of people who are ‘matched’ and what happens to them. One character struggles in his current relationships once he realises that his current partners isn’t the one he was made for. Another travels all the way to another corner of the world to meet her Match to find out that he’s nothing like she expected. Another man is a serial killer, one on a rampage in London, killing innocent women. His life gets thrown into a disarray when he gets matched with a beautiful young woman, who ends up being a police officer, the one who is tracking him down.

There is a bit of a thriller element towards the second half of the book, but the book is more of an examination of love and how people act and react in their relationships. It was actually fascinating, since it depicted a world that isn’t too far off from our own. DNA testing is quite advanced now so it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine a world where we are genetically matched.

The Oracle Year

THE ORACLE YEAR

This was an interesting book. I feel more enamored with the concept than the actual book, but it was still an entertaining read so it makes my list for this year.

The Oracle Year tells the story of Will, a bassist from New York, who wakes up one morning with 108 predictions in his head about the future. He starts a website and quickly becomes known as The Oracle. As his predictions come true one by one, Will quickly becomes the most powerful man in the whole world. Everyone wants a piece of him, from the president of the US to local warlords in war-torn countries.

But with power comes responsibility, and before Will knows it, the whole world is on the brink of war. An unknown force is at work, so that the results of his predictions start colliding and Will discovers there is a ripple effect from his predictions. With his best friend and a journalist by his side, Will races to save the world before his last prediction comes true.

This book started off really strong and the concept of the story just blew me away. It was so different from anything I usually read and I loved that. It started to drag towards the second third of the novel, but then the ending ramped things up again as it became a race to save the world. The predictions that Will had weren’t all big, world changing predictions. Some were small, like about how a man will add pepper to his steak. It was interesting to see how small actions had small ripples that got sent into the world, and how they became bigger and bigger, until they had huge ramifications. That was probably my favourite part of the book, the idea that our actions aren’t taking place in a vacuum. Everything we do has consequences, whether big or small.

The Mother-in-Law

THE MOTHER -IN-LAW

This was the year of the psychological thriller. I read so many of them that I have forgotten what the plot of most of them were. Most of them had similar plots that weren’t very memorable or well written. The thriller high from Gone Girl is still going strong, but most thrillers coming out now are forgettable. Yet for some reason I kept picking them up.

I kept telling myself I would stop, since I was getting bored with them but they somehow kept finding their way into my hands.

I discovered that there are some plot lines in psychological thrillers that I can’t read and those are about missing children. So many thrillers feature missing children, whether it’s infants or teenagers, and I had such a difficult time reading, let alone finishing, these novels. Ever since I became a mom I just can’t do it.

This book was completely different. It was also marketed as a psychological thriller, but it was more in the vein of Big Little Lies. I think Big Little Lies was also marketed as a thriller, but it was more about the relationships between the characters and the secrets they were hiding. The Mother-In-Law was very similar.

Lucy’s mother in law, Diana, is dead. Our story starts off at the end and we work our way through the years, in a series of flashbacks, to unearth the relationship between these two women. The book is told through alternating points of views of Lucy and Diana and we discover how fraught and tense their relationship was.

I especially appreciated reading both perspectives because it made the characters more real. We got to read about Diana from Lucy’s eyes and then got to hear Diana’s story in her own words, and vice versa. Diana wasn’t the evil two-dimensional mother in law that you would expect; we get to hear about her struggles and her story and it made for a fascinating character study.

The book culminates in Diana’s murder, and it ends up being someone you don’t expect. This is the only part of the book I didn’t love, but I highly enjoyed the rest of it.


These are just a few of my favourites from this year! I read so many books this year, it was a challenge to pick a few. Here are some other notable mentions: The Runaway Princess and Swept Off Her Feet, both by Hester Browne. I love Hester Browne’s books; her writing style is similar to Sophie Kinsella, and her books are fun and light, usually with a romantic element. Both were highly enjoyable.

Some other include The Marriage Lie and Searching for Sylvie Lee.

It’s been such a great book year. My library card got frequent use this year, but I have a STACK of books on my bookshelf that I have purchases that I still haven’t read yet. So maybe it’s time to make a dent in them!

I had a lot of fun writing this post; I hope you had fun reading it! I can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Thanks for reading,

Ikhlas

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