On the death of your loved ones

“There’s a club, the dead dads club. And you can’t be in it, ’till you’re in it.”


Grey’s Anatomy’s quotes are almost always on point, but out of the hundreds quotes the show shared during its 10 years of airtime, this one stays with me the most. When my father died, I thought I would never recover from that. In some ways, I still have not recovered, maybe I will never, but one thing for sure, I learned to live with it.

It’s the new year already, crazy to think about it. Crazy to think about the many, many things I could’ve done had the pandemic is finally over. But I sit here and think, that it’s crazy to let this whole pandemic made me think of the many many things I could’ve done, while I probably am not doing the many, many things, I could only do during this pandemic.

Like maybe spend more time with family, or decorate my room, or yoga more often, or video call a friend.

It’s painful now that all of us has a story about covid. That maybe a lot of us has lost someone, or consoled our friends and loved ones over losing someone, to covid.

When I lost Chandra, a friend whose spirit I admired, I kept thinking to myself: how do I not learn? How do I not learn, that life is fragile? That it is very possible for people to vanish, that they were here yesterday, and not the next day.

There’s that numbness, that emptiness, and that awe, on how the world goes on. It doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop for him, to mourn him, it doesn’t stop for anyone.

As much as I want to be stoic about it, I can’t.

This brings me back to the number one loss I still sorrowed over.

A decade.

My dad has been gone for a decade. Much has changed and yet, some things stay the same, like grief.

I tried to imagine a world where he still exists. Could it be he’s still working and I could relate to some of that aspect ? Could it be he’s still golfing regularly and by now would’ve acquired more friends on the course?

I would never got the answer to these, so I tried something else. I tried to remember the world where he did exist. Fragments and pieces of moments come back to me. Of him wrapping his arms around me when I’m sick and wanted absolutely no one else but him. Of him hugging me every single time I cried when he’s leaving for business trip – all the way till I was in high school. I still cried and he would always hug me and every time, told me he will be back before I know it. Except this one time, he did not. Of him giving me life advices: to have savings, to go explore the world and to look for the stars and to know that not everyone is kind.

Of him driving me to school and picking me up when I pretended to be sick. Of him taking me to special lunches, the secret that we don’t share with anyone else.

Of him telling me that working for NASA designing spaceship to venture beyond the Milky Way is possible – same thing for wanting to become a secret special agent or to work for the Interpol or to become a profiler and prevent crimes.

Of him asking me if I would stay by his side when he’s too old and weak and couldn’t walk on his own.

Dad, I would have.

I would have.

The teenager me might not understand what you were going through, the loneliness and pain; the teenager me might not know how to act around you. But eventually, I would have.

The scariest part is, after a decade, my memories started to blur. I couldn’t recall his voice on command, I had to concentrate to call it back. I can feel the details of events slipping through my brain, or maybe it’s buried deep back, they said the brain doesn’t forget, I just can’t find the key to unlock that suitcase of memories.

The somewhat grown-up version of me, the wiser one, understands that this is just how things naturally played out.

Parents don’t usually outlived their children – their love does.

That version of me had accepted that I am bound to move on and grow older and with that, decreasing my ability to retain old memories. That version probably agrees that along with age and declining function of memory, I would have to sacrifice some memories to make room for more.

But there’s also a part of me who thinks all of that are mere excuses.

I don’t have it all figured out, but, maybe grief is not something we’re supposed to grow out of. Maybe instead, we’re supposed to grow around it. Grief itself will stay the same, it’s this gaping hole of the same size still occupying your heart years after and it stubbornly weighs the same. But maybe as we grow bigger, we carry it better.

If you’re mourning, I’m sorry. If this is your first time in the club, I’m sorry you had to join us. I promise you it gets better. Little by little, it gets better. Hang in there.

5 Things That I Learned a Little Too Late

A friend of mine sent a cute gift in the form of Conversation Starter cards for couples. There are 100 cards with different open-ended questions, supposedly to start deep conversations. Honestly, I think you can use it with a group of friends too, although the questions might be a little too private. One of the cards I pulled asked me “What did you learn a little too late in life?”

It did not require too much thinking back then. At night I reflected a little bit more on the question and jotted down these 5 things that I learned a little too late in life:

It’s okay to let go of toxic people and to choose yourself.

A few years ago, I started using this imaginary spray I called the “anti drama spray”. Every time I encounter toxic interactions or sense an incoming drama, I dramatically put out a spraying motion into the air and literally leave the room/person/conversation.

The result? Oh boy, incredible inner peace.

Was it easy? Nope, not at all. Initially, I nearly hated myself for walking away. For being weak, for giving up, and for not caring. That was excruciatingly painful. More than often, I stumbled back into the old pattern. I would ignore the toxic vibe signs, I’d do anything to stay in the mentally abusive friendship, believing “they did not mean it” and that “I’m too sensitive”. Over time it takes a toll on my self-worth. I endlessly question my worth and spent time thinking if I was too hard to love.

As I grow older and (hopefully) wiser, I started to understand that toxic people do exist and unfortunately, not everyone is kind. I don’t have it in me to hate people, but eventually, I learned to choose myself.

Now that I look back, the frequency of me having to spray that “anti drama spray” decreases a lot over the years, and it felt good.

Bad behaviour is bad behaviour, even if it’s family members who’d done it.

Strongly related to the point above, “anti drama spray” should apply also to the closest circle. I learned to recognise bad behaviour and/or attitude, and that I should not justify it. Instead, I acknowledge it and try to understand the reason behind those bad behaviours as best as I can. Understanding does not make it right, though. You should not rationalise, justify or normalise it, it will just add to the vicious cycle.

Plan your finances early, plan it well, and for the love of Harry Potter, get an insurance.

There’s a famous 50/30/20 rule of where to spend your salary. Generally, 50% should go to your essential spendings such as rent and food, followed by 30% discretionary spendings like entertainment and recreation. The rest of 20% goes to saving. Of course, you can adjust it according to your preferences and personal needs too.

I learned that looking into investment early is a good idea. For a year now, I have been learning about investments and passive income. Turns out there are a whole lot information out there! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but here, try from Doddy Bicara Investasi. I set up a time, usually not more than 2 hours per week, to watch or read news and articles about investment to keep myself informed. These days there are also lots of ways to start investing. I came across LandX ID about two years ago and Bibit earlier this year. Both are investment platform – LandX mainly for properties with crowdfunding a.k.a patungan system) and Bibit is basically a smart mutual fund a.k.a reksadana app. Look for ways that you are comfortable with and start planning your finances.

(also if you decided to use Bibit and want extra Rp25,000 to start investing, here’s my referral code: CuanSamaRia.)

BUT. Do this only after:

1. You’ve covered everything else; your monthly expense, saving, and emergency fund.

2. You’ve purchased a protection plan or insurance.

I went without insurance half my adult life and have learned my lesson that it’s not a good idea. Don’t rely solely on your company’s insurance, except if they offer to cover you even if you can’t work anymore.

You can’t change your parents. 

It’s a brutal truth, but you just got to face it sooner or later. Our parents are who they are. Whether they approve you or not, it’s not within your control. Love them hard for bringing you into this world and raised you, leave the rest at the doormat.

You can definitely bake small batch brownies.

I’m a baker at heart and have enjoyed baking all sort of cookies, cakes, and baked stuff. Usually, I go for bigger batch recipes but sometimes I really just want to have brownies for me and K.

Turns out, it is totally doable. I have been craving for good chocolate treats, but didn’t want to bake a whole pan of brownies. Therefore, blessed is the soul of Elif, whose recipes are intended for single or double serving. When I made the dough, I was confused to see how small in amount it was! But the recipe created fine two brownies cookies, with crispy top and fudgy inside, it was heaven.

Recipes here on her Instagram, but I wrote it for you with slight adjustment:

Dark Chocolate Brownies
serves 2

You need:
1 tbsp coconut oil ( 15 g) I used unsalted butter here
1 tbsp maple syrup (21 g) I used sugar here
Drop of vanilla, pinch salt I ran out of vanilla, but the brownies still smell and taste so good!
1/4 cup flour, gluten free if desired (30 g) I used all purpose flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder (6 g) I used dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
A little milk, I used almond milk here
1 tbsp chocolate chips (15 g) Pretty sure I put more than 1tbsp of choco chips
I also pressed dark chocolate chunk on top of the brownies after they’re done, for extra flavor yum yum

and then:
Preheat oven to 350F (176C) and line a cookie sheet with parchment.
Melt butter, add sugar and vanilla, mix ’em all.
Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt.
Combine the two, it’ll look like it won’t be enough for two brownies, but seriously, it works!
Add milk little by little to form dough, it should be somewhat between brownie batter and cookie dough. You should be able to shape the dough in your hands.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Put the dough on the cookie sheet, shape it to your heart’s content.
Bake 8-10 min only so they stay fudgy like brownies inside – I baked it for 9 minutes, suuuper fudgy I LOVE it
Let them cool and firm up a bit.
Eat them with ice cream!

Valentine’s day around the corner – I guess this brownies recipe could come in handy too!

Have a lovely weekend you all x

Photo Diary: Snowy Boston

When I moved to Boston, I wasn’t aware of how moody the weather can be. One day it’s all gloomy and rainy, the next day the sun shines like it never did before. Some nights the storm and wind raged vigorously outside that I found myself curled under the soft thick blanket – a reminder of how lucky I am to have a roof over my head. And then some days, it snows beautifully.

It hasn’t snowed that much beyond early December last year. I captured the serene Boston through my lens and I hope it brings you gentle, warm, and peaceful feelings to start your 2021 (we’re almost at the end of January – congrats guys, we survived the first three weeks of the year!)

“she said, I think I’ll go to Boston…”


Bundle up and have a lovely January x

So This is Christmas

As I wrote Christmas cards for our friends and families this year, I kept repeating “this year has been a crazy one” and alternated it with “this has been an unusual year”. After a while, I paused and was a little annoyed with myself. But no matter how hard I tried, “this has been an unusual year” is just the plain truth I couldn’t coat with anything sweet.

Of course there were many things to be grateful for amidst all this chaos. There were weddings, births, job promotions, healthier body and all that. Still, I feel that 2020 will always be remembered as “that year when Covid-19 played a joke on us all.”

That being said, I managed to pour my hearts out in picking the right Christmas cards for everyone and wrote my wishes for them. Not surprised, but I almost forgot how peaceful and joyful writing cards can be. I was also happy that most of the cards arrived before Christmas (yay!), although it will probably take another week or two to reach those back home in Indonesia.

There was a lot to be excited for this Christmas. For instance, it’s my first Christmas with K as a family, and in Boston nonetheless. Christmas has always been a big thing in my family. Our old Christmas tree takes the centre stage and my mom would take boxes of Christmas ornaments and made us all decorate it together. Christmas lights will be up and our staircases covered in plastic wreath, festive ribbons, and flowers. I adore that tree and my favorite part of Christmas over the years has always been the lights. The gentle, dim, soft yellow light of the tree. I fell asleep so often on the sofa by the tree, lulled by the lights (mom half yelling “go to your room and sleep properly” on the background, though). Growing up, I would associate gentle things, warmth, and happiness with Christmas.

I think throughout my life Christmas has been redefined so many times. T’was Christmas as a child, t’was Christmas as my father passed away, and this year, Christmas with K as a new family. In the spirit of experiencing US Christmas (haha), we actually got a tree!

Meet Mini the Christmas tree. I am obsessed with her. I have heard that Christmas trees smell great, but did not fully comprehend that until Mini sits in our room. The room was filled with Mini’s fresh smell since day 1. It’s only one tree but each time I go into our room, it feels as if I was walking right into a pine forest.

For a while, Mini just sits there quietly. K and I got busy at work and we promised ourselves to go shopping for some Christmas decorations on the last weekend before Christmas only to find everything was sold out already. We did get that one thing that matters the most though: the lights.

Tell you what, at this point, I don’t think we need any other decoration item.

Back home, Christmas trees are decorated with ornaments that you buy at the stores. My mom used to take me to the stores and get one or two new ornaments every December. When I told K that we should get our own, he looked confused. He said, “Christmas tree is decorated by memories and gifts from friends.” My initial reaction was, “Huh what? People give Christmas ornaments as gifts?”

What K was trying to say is that the tradition here for Christmas tree is to adorn it with mementos. Things that marked your journey. If it was your first Christmas tree together and it was somewhat bare, that’s perfectly normal. You can get yourself an ornament each year and sort of build the tree year by year.

I like the idea. It was a little different from Christmas tree tradition at home, but hey, as depressing as 2020 could be, it was also a year of many firsts for me. I remember my father used to put all the Christmas cards he received from his friends on the tree. He said he doesn’t understand ornaments and the art of decorating, but he loved receiving Christmas cards. This year, I’ll celebrate him that way.

I am grateful for all the friends from different part of the world who took their sweet time to send us their wishes. Christmas is merrier with them, even in this pandemic time.

On to Christmas morning! It was certainly a busy one. We woke up and joined my family for a Christmas prayer and reflection, and proceeded with opening presents. You know, I firmly believe that no one is too old for Christmas, Christmas mornings, and Christmas presents. I had a fun Christmas morning filled with giggles and the sound of paper wraps being torn, even if it was just me and K. Absolutely love all the presents and the warmth it brings in this cold season, but my favorite got to be this one:

Your girl simply adores personalised stuff.

Talk about seasoning the kitchen with love, I made this easy and super yummy Black Berry Crisp for Christmas dessert. K and I couldn’t stop eating it, it’s yummy both cold and warm. If you’re feeling fancy, you can also add ice cream and pretend you’re sitting in a cafe somewhere – don’t we all need some good quality time drinking cappuccino and eating dessert while trying to read in a coffee shop. Anyway, the recipe works with most berries, just be careful if you’re using strawberries, since they tend to be a little more watery.

Other than that, I’ve been enjoying some Christmas movie marathon (movie marathon got somewhat tricky these days when you’re full and warm from wine and comfy blankets – is this a sign of getting older?) and building snowman with K (definitely not getting older, then).

for those cozy, wrapped in blanket, and cuddly nights

We managed to watch Christmas Break In – pretty much home alone all over again, but instead the setting was in a school; After We Collided – I don’t know if it’s a Christmas movie, pretty sure it’s at least a PG-13 and boy, I can’t believe that girl Tessa. How toxic can a relationship go?; Case #39 – which was an old 2009 movie about an evil child (I knew there’s something wrong with Lilith.); and finally, Klaus – Please, please, please watch this one on Netflix. I know you guys are probably all over Pixar’s Soul, but give this beautifully animated movie a chance. It’s such a beautiful and warm Christmas movie, the kind that makes you feel ooey-gooey inside and melted all your worries and hardship.

This holiday season was filled with mixed feelings. To say that I am happy to celebrate Christmas in a winter wonderland with that one person I want to spend all Christmases with will be an understatement, but I am also away from everyone else I care about and it makes me sad. I thought I’m done grieving for my father, but I still broke down crying every time because December reminds me too much of him. I am content with staying home and craft different menus for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner, but I long to travel and explore East Coast all the same.

When I take a quite moment of reflection like this though, I realize that above all else, I am grateful. And so this is Christmas: a joy no one can’t take away, not even a pandemic. A time to appreciate all the good and the bad things that happened in a year, a reminder to share the warmth of friendship, hot chocolate, Christmas lights, and warm cuddles. And especially this Christmas – a grateful heart, that after so many years, we finally celebrate Christmas for what it really is.

Merry Christmas xx

On Making a Home

When I studied in Japan, I stayed in a dorm of 18 students, ran by a Japanese family. We called the Sugimoto family okaasan and otousan, literally translates to “mom” and “dad”. I remember okaasan as a very strict figure. My relationship with her was complicated as often times, I saw her as a bully. In many ways, she was.

Bekka Ryou (Bekka Dorm’s common area. Spent most of my time here with the rest of the family.

Living abroad alone when you don’t speak the language was one thing, living under her reign on top of that was on another level entirely. A set of strict rules was in place, designed to keep the dorm a happy, clean, and healthy home. I did not mind the rules, but I think there were better ways to enforce them back then.

Almost 10 years later, as I am making my own home with K, I think of okaasan a lot. K and I spent our weekends to get settled in our tiny (and cute!) apartment and I was reminded about the gazillion rules okaasan imposed on her dorm kids. I don’t admit it so often, but my time in Japan and ultimately living with okaasan hold a major role in shaping who I am today.

I found myself almost unconsciously applying everything she taught me – to clean the sink after I drink or wash dishes, to clean microwave immediately every single time after I used it, to have two different napkins for cleaning the table and drying the dishes, to not wait until there’s a pile of dirty dishes, to not leave the stove on unattended, to value family time and be brave enough not to run to my room every time, to cook with love; everything I can sum up into one sentence: to live harmoniously with others and always, always, respect and think of them first.

It seems like a common sense, but after a few more years of staying with other housemates, I assure you not everybody has common sense.

I did not agree with okaasan ways, I still don’t. But now I see why she had to do what she did. Essentially, she opened her door for 18 strangers – young adults prone to partying, rebelling, being ignorant, so convinced we were adults and know what we’re doing all the while lacking the discipline and barely aware of what responsibility means. I don’t blame us, and okaasan needed to be strict exactly because of that.

Being married is something new, and I am content. At the same time, living with someone else and sharing a space 24/7 was also new. K is extremely clean to the point of obsessed haha, therefore I am grateful for all the time okaasan drilled her cleaning rituals and all the lectures she made about making a home… well, a home.

Speaking of home, K and I moved into our very first apartment together last week!

We’re slowly turning it into “our place”. For thanksgiving last week, I wanted to get a bouquet of flowers for the table, but then K suggested to get a potted plant altogether. I was immediately sold to the idea, and gladly took Spotty here home.

I’m doing my best not to murder Spotty – I don’t want plant blood on my hands. I also don’t know how houseplants survive in the winter, since I came from a warmer part of the world. So, any tips for taking care of this sweet little gold dust is welcome!

My favorite part of the apartment is the kitchen. It is where I spend most of my time working magic through cooking, brewing coffee, and of course, pouring my heart out through writing! K helped me set up a functional kitchen that I can turned easily into my own writing, reading and coffee time spot. I absolutely adore it. Since the previous owner has a couple of things designed for small spaces, like folding table and chairs, K and I just keep them there.

Aware of the limited space we have, K and I have been having fun finding different ways to maximize the space and design a living and working space. “The trick with tiny spaces”, K told me, “is to stack upwards” hahaha. I also found that hooks are your best friends, you can practically use it to turn any flat surface into storage.

Found random places to hang clothes

To think that we finally found a place was a blessing on its own. The process of finding an apartment in the US is quite an interesting, almost bizarre one. But then again, a lot of things are bizarre here (like why in the world everything is still using imperial system? but they also sell both baked and unbaked pie crusts in the supermarket, so no complaint here). You go to sites like craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, find an ad, and arranged a viewing. You don’t really have to meet the owner or landlord, they can just give you the code to a lockbox – I was so fascinated when I saw a lockbox haha. I was also unaccustomed with the practice of visiting an apartment without the owner’s presence. I felt like I was violating someone else’s privacy.

Lockbox, where you basically leave keys. I guess under a pot or mat just don’t cut anymore.

Depending on the lease system, you can either deal with a landlord, or you can sublet someone else for the remainder of their lease and pay monthly fee to them, often at a discounted price.

The biggest element to our search is the fact that this, too, feels like a temporary thing. We don’t want to spend too much on a temporary place, but also excited and want to find a place that is “ours” all the same. My mom then said something along the line of “stop being stubborn and learn to accept trade-offs”.

K and I fell for this place, and other apartments we’ve checked out before just blurred into the background. You kind of just know that it is the place. Well, probably not exactly like that. In situation like this, in the back of your mind you’ve probably calculated everything else, like if there’s a grocery store on a walking distance, if it’s close to a train or tram station, if there’s a park and coffee shops or restaurants nearby et cetera. All translated to “this is the right place” vibe.

Moving in was a big milestone to me, it finally sinked that I am actually living with my husband and having a place we call our own. The sudden realisation of adulting hit hard. Before this, it has been a chain of events building up to our departure to the States, and I have always been “on the go” mode, always living out of a suitcase, always being a nomad. I am used to and comfortable with it.

That’s why settling down a bit like this is entirely new.

As always, when making sense of things, I ran back straight to my sanctuary – writing. Sitting down in the kitchen, reflecting back on where I am right now and what has been happening, my thoughts lingered back to okaasan. This time I would love to have a cup of coffee with her (maybe she drinks tea, I’m not sure). I want to thank her for everything she taught me, the things and wisdom she shared, that I’ll carry with me as I embarked on this new journey of homemaking. I want to thank her for that “think of others” and “live harmoniously” concept she carved so deep in me.

And of course, for her famous Spring cleaning and tips to keep your kitchen clean hahahaha.

Stay safe everyone.