Thursday, 6 August 2020

Tea Time: Full Moon by The Forest Witch

What is it? From the Forest Witch website: "A lovely and light tea. Floral hints, with juicy plum and a sprinkling of fennel mingle together, bringing you a cup with gentle mugwort to help with your Full Moon endeavours."
Ingredients: organic green tea, plums, organic fennel, organic mugwort, organic jasmine
Recommendations: My sample pack didn't have brewing instructions, but generally green tea should be steeped for 1 to 3 minutes.

About the Tea: Full Moon tea is created by independent tea blender The Forest Witch Mia, located in Canada. All of her teas are inspired by Celtic deities or fantasy themes such as Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Good Omens. Full Moon is from her spiritual collection.

The tea has a bright, straw-like flavour profile, with just a slight hint of sweetness, which comes from the fruit and jasmine flower. The version I have contains apple rather than plum, but I think it works just as well. Fennel and mugwort are classic ingredients in spiritual brews. Mugwort is the perfect herb for working with the full moon. It's other name Artemisia comes from the Greek goddess of the moon Artemis, and it's used for moon meditations and connecting with the feminine cycles that the moon also follows. Fennel adds strength and fertility, and is used for meditation and protection.

Full Moon is available online from The Forest Witch shop. I found the price (in Canadian dollars) very reasonable and the postage costs to Australia, too, especially compared with many U.S. sources. She also has an Etsy shop if you prefer. I loved dealing with Mia and look forward to making many more purchases with her. Her Instagram is here.

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Tea Time : The Norns by The Forest Witch

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Isolation Photo Project

Back in April, I took part in an online project hosted by NOIR Darkroom, a gallery in Melbourne. With (almost) everyone having to stay home, it was a welcome opportunity to look at the space around us in new ways. A prompt was released every day for about 3 weeks, and all photos submitted were posted on NOIR Darkroom's Instagram account.

It's a little bit belated, I know, but I thought I'd share them here for all the non-instagram folks, as well as a reminder to my future self. I've included my original comments, and further explanations in italics.

Day 1: Illumination
I know that I’m lucky to have a garden to spend time in. On sunny afternoons I lie on the grass in the shade of the fruit trees and breathe. This yellow leaf caught my eye as the first sign of Autumn.

Day 2: Still Life
aka how I spent my morning
I very rarely do my nails anymore, but I gave myself permission to do some things I normally don't feel like I have time to do.

Day 3: The Shadow
I can’t believe how well this turned out on my crappy old phone

Day 4: Repetition
Only 8 more to go!
I was making a stegosaurus toy for my friend's baby (24 plate pieces required) and this seemed like too good an opportunity to waste!

Day 5: Reflection
I’m surrounded by books and toys and games, but sometimes it’s good to just think.
This felt a bit pretentious to me, but people seemed to like it.

Day 6: Texture
[insert some artist waffle about contrasting textures here] Actually I took this the other day because #lazy and #nofilter because #brainfog #hair #grass #longhair
A couple of the photos were from the same session when I was sitting under my trees outside and mucking around with taking photos. It's unashamedly recycled from that.

Day 7: Out of Place
Out of Place is how I feel most of the time, so I thought it would be interesting to explore a visual portrayal of anxiety.

Self Portrait I lost track of what day it was after a while.
Because I’m not just how I look, but what I create.
Also, I'd done a couple of self portraits already and didn't want to repeat myself. It was surprisingly difficult to take an 'over-the-shoulder' photo of my hands without asking someone else to take it for me. I used my tripod but it held the camera so far away that the photo quality was quite bad. I think it adds a grittiness to the subject though. And yes, I'd really hurt myself on both hands recently.

Aftermath of the storm a few days ago
I wanted to do something a bit more psychological rather than literal, but everything I thought of didn't seem right. I remembered I'd seen a broken branch on my fruit tree the day before, so I took a photo of that.

I was mucking around taking some photos with my cat while I was trying to think of something for this prompt, and afterwards I liked the idea of a conceptual rather than visual symmetry.

I was bored, that's all I can say.

Moving Through
I wanted to give a sense of moving from indoors to outdoors, through the window. Maybe?

My inspiration was starting to flag, but I managed to come up with this idea for contrasting colours and textures.

The project went on for about another week, but by then I'd lost my mojo. It was a lot of fun though, and helped me to see my everyday surroundings in a new, deeper way.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Book Review: Metaphorosis 2019: The Complete Stories

Please note: this book was provided for me to read and review by LibraryThing's Early Reviewer programme. You can rest assured however, that this is (as always) an honest review!

Metaphorosis Magazine is a literary website that publishes 4 to 5 stories a month in the realms of science fiction and speculative fiction. At the end of the year, the 52 stories are brought together into an annual anthology.

I must confess to begin with -- I haven't read all 52 stories! Doing that would mean this review would take months to come out. So I read one random story from each monthly section for a total of twelve, which is slightly less than a quarter of the total.

The stories range from your traditional set-in-space, quantum-physics-problem-solving tale, to speculative ones involving animal transformations and other, more fairy tale type narratives.

I found that the stories varied in how much they piqued my interest personally, but they were all well-written and engaging. Some of my favourites were One Day in Space Too Many, in which a lone space traveller is cloned every day, and Favourites from Here and Abroad, about a young girl navigating a dystopian future in which the ruling AI beings live in cities in the sky. Somewhere To Be Going was a beautiful piece about a young boy with a strong urge to leave the earth and return home. Las Vegas Space Museum was an intriguing look into a world where bricks discovered in space are used for building, but seem to be alive. I would love to see a longer story from this world.

I will definitely go on to read the rest of the stories in the anthology, and look out for more on the Metaphorosis website. Normally at the end of a book review, I ask myself "would I read more by this author?" In this case it's not really appropriate, so instead I'll ask myself:

Would I read more from Metaphorosis? Yes!

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Movie Review: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a 2020 comedy movie about a fictional act in the Eurovision Song Contest. It was meant to be released to coincide with the 2020 Contest, but as it was cancelled, was released a month later on Netflix instead. It stars Will Ferrell as the Icelandic musician Lars, and Rachel McAdams as his friend Sigrit, who have formed the band Fire Saga. Their lifelong dream is to represent Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest, and they finally get the chance. Will they win? Will Lars finally gain the respect of his father? Will some terrible yet hilarious disaster ensue? And will Lars and Sigrit's unrequited love finally be realised?

To be perfectly honest, the comedy of Will Ferrell is not to my taste, and I've never seen one of his movies all the way through before. However, I was pleased to find out that he's been a fan of Eurovision since 1999 (nearly as long as me!) when he was introduced to it by his Swedish wife. The movie was crafted with a genuine love of the Contest, and is packed full of references and easter eggs for the devoted fan to dig into. At the end I felt relieved that I didn't hate the movie -- in fact, I loved it!

The storyline partially echoes that of "A Song for Europe", an episode of Father Ted in which he is chosen to represent Ireland because they don't want to win, and his song "My Lovely Horse" is the worst of the bunch. Ireland won the contest 4 times in the 1990s and it was a huge financial strain. Many of the smaller countries do have the issue of how they can afford to host the contest if they win, and Iceland really was left almost bankrupt after a banking scandal in 2008. And yes, over 50% of Icelandic people really do entertain the existence of the Huldufólk, the elves that help Sigrit in the movie.

Speaking of Sigrit, I really warmed to her character. Her genuineness and love of her home country and town cause her to resist those who urge her to be more ambitious and leave Lars behind. I loved her everyday hairstyle and outfits. And it was so cute that she knits, and when she was angry, she knitted a jumper with a frowny face on it.

The movie was filmed in Iceland and Glasgow, with some scenes shot at the actual Eurovision venue in Tel-Aviv, Israel, while it was set up for the 2019 contest. Some scenes were filmed in the real life Icelandic town of Húsavík, Lars and Sigrit's hometown in the movie -- which actually has 2,300 inhabitants, not the 15,000 of the movie. The beauty of the landscapes and cityscapes, not to mention the shots of a real Eurovision stage (with real Eurovision fans as the audience!) give the film a visual authenticity.

The songs, of course, are what could really make or break the movie. Lars and Sigrit have written many songs of various quality, but when they play live in the local pub, all the audience wants to hear is "Jaja Ding Dong", the town's local folk/love song. It's a cute mixture of sing-along folk song and innuendo. Several songs are heard during the contest itself, and all of them reference real Eurovision songs to some extent or another. Some are clear parodies, but others are more than worthy of adding to a serious playlist. The most fun song, and one of the best scenes in the movie, is the Song-A-Long at Alexander's party. There are cameos from so many past participants in the contest that my head was swimming, and it brought back so many memories, I have to admit, I was crying afterwards. Yeah, I'm that kind of dork!

I was worried that Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga was just going to be Americans having a cruel dig at a culture they're not familiar with. On the contrary, it's a romp through the quirks and beloved moments of the Contest, a delight for fans, though for anyone not familiar with the Contest, it will be baffling. While re-listening to the final song "Húsavík", sung by Swedish singer (and Junior Eurovision contestant) Molly Sandén, I had all the feels that I do when watching the competition itself. And I think that's what makes The Story of Fire Saga work.

Would I watch it again? Abso-freakin-lutely!!

Note: All factual details are sourced from the linked Wikipedia pages.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Konmariing My Emails -- Nearing the End?

When I started de-cluttering my emails five years ago, I had over 10,000. Now I'm down to under 100. Some days, I even get under 50, but I just can't seem to get rid of the last few. There seem to be two types -- new emails that come in every day, and old emails that I can't bring myself to deal with out of sentimentality or some other emotional reason.

[Picture Source.]

I've thought about my email "problem" a lot, read many articles about it, and tried different ways of tackling it. At first I dealt with them in timed sessions, e.g. 25 minutes, 5 times a week. But I found that not only does that take a lot of time out of my week, the number of emails wasn't really going down, because some of them took a long time to read. And of course, new ones are always coming in. So I switched from a time-based method to a numbers-based one. For a long time, this consisted of 25 emails, 5 sessions a week.

This took so much time out of my day that it became very frustrating before long, mainly due to the "long read" emails. So I created a series of subfolders where I could store emails until I had time to work on them, including:

➸ Action -- emails that need me to do something, obviously (whether urgently or not)
➸ To Read -- emails with content I'd like to read, but there's no time pressure
➸ To Watch/Listen -- same as above but with links to video or audio content
➸ To Copy -- emails which have information I want to keep in some other format
➸ and others to store receipts, correspondence from my art collective, links I've sent myself about interesting shops, restaurants, and other places to visit, etc.

I'm still getting the emails out of my inbox, but with many of them, the action consists of filing them away for later. This made my daily sessions much shorter and more pleasant, and I felt like I was making a lot more progress. I didn't have to worry about the important emails (i.e. ones to be actioned soon) getting lost anymore.

I chose some of these categories for their functionality. Once I finish sorting the emails, I head to the Action folder first to see if there's anything I need to do that day. Then, depending on what my day is like (or my mood!) I can choose whether I want to read some short or long emails, watch a video, listen to a podcast episode, etc. I started actioning/reading three of these as part of each session to make sure they don't build up too much. (No more than three though, or the session would end up lasting all morning!)

The syphoned-off emails aren't technically finished with, I know, but I hoped it was a compromise that allowed me to process the emails without taking too much time out of my day ... though I'm aware if the emails in the subfolders build up too much, I'll need another solution.

Not actually my inbox!
[Picture Source.]

After diligently working on them for quite a few months years, I finally got down to about 100. But as I mentioned at the beginning, I had trouble reducing them past that. In an effort to minimise the time I was spending on them, I tried reducing the number of emails per session to 20, but I had to increase it again as the number of emails crept up. More recently I reduced the number of sessions per week from 5 to 4. This seems to work okay, thankfully. The number of emails isn't going up too much, but on the other hand, it isn't going down, either.

As I said at the start, I have in general two types of emails in my inbox -- new ones that come in every day, and old ones I've hesitated to deal with. As for the new ones, I've already unsubscribed to countless email lists. Many of the old emails are difficult to deal with emotionally: they're from people who I've lost touch with, requests I never fulfilled, etc. I've decided to deal with one each session, no matter how hard it might be. I'll talk about this more in another post, as this one is getting quite long already!

[Picture Source.]

What will I do next?
Once I've taken care of all the old emails, I'm going to refresh the whole system. I'm going to clear out all of the automatic sorting rules that are in place and re-do them. I'm going to carefully think about every email that comes in and decide if I really need to be getting any more from that sender or about that topic. And I'll set up new sorting rules that divert the emails straight into the subfolders so my inbox stays as clear as possible.

And perhaps I'll eventually achieve the mythical Inbox Zero. (Just kidding!)

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Hello Winter! (My Garden)

Winter is definitely here in Australia. Admittedly, it's not as severe as in many parts of the world, but we do get frosts in the southern part of the country that can damage or even kill plants, and it snows in the mountains.

Here's the first good fog of the year:

I thought I may as well continue with the garden theme, as a surprising amount happens in the garden in Winter. The grass grows (and weeds, too!). Some plants, like succulents, still grow, just more slowly. The winter oranges are nearly ready to pick.

One day this area will be a rockery:

I hope everyone is staying safe, and staying warm or cool, depending on where you are.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Book Review : The Invisible

Please note: this book was provided for me to read and review by
LibraryThing's Early Reviewer programme. You can rest assured however,
that this is (as always) an honest review!

The Invisible is a noir police mystery set in the not-quite-New-York city of New Babylon. Georg Ratner is the police commissioner, and finds himself walking the tightrope of politics during an election year while investigating the murder of his former partner and the appearance of a new and mysterious drug called Synth. Not only that, but he also has to contend with a city-wide strike, a dead poet, and a secret society who believe that corruption is a living entity.

The mystery deepens when he finds that there seems to be no central source for the drug, and moreover it seems to have no negative side effects, but enhances creativity and peaceful feelings. Yet his superiors seem to want to crack down on it even more.

The book consists of very short, choppy chapters, most less than a page, and is divided into sections named after the major arcana in Tarot. This imbues the story with a mystical feel which contrasts with the gritty reality of murder and corruption in a very intriguing way. The magic intensifies when it's revealed that the Egyptian goddess Nut occasionally appears to Ratner in his dreams, giving him advice and answering questions. Music also plays an important part, with Ratner listening to songs inspired by the drug Synth and seeking out its creators. Despite the brevity of the text, the author pauses to describe a smell or the beauty of the season, which also helped to add a sense of the ethereal.

The Invisible is part of the City-States Cycle series. I wasn't able to find a numbered listing but it seems to be at least the tenth book set in this world so far.

I have to admit, it annoys me when I read a book and don't find out until later that it's one of the latter books in a series. I'm just a bit OCD that way. I was confused about some questions that presumably would have been explained had I read the series from the start. For example, the setting -- very similar to Earth but with different city and country names. Is it an alternate history or something else? Is it the kind of universe where magic is real? Can a goddess really help Ratner or is he just hallucinating?

The story also ended quite abruptly, with the mystery on the verge of being solved. It's hard to say whether the author intended it to be a self-contained ending, or if the mystery is solved in the next novel. If it's the author's style to leave major questions unanswered at the end of a novel, I can accept that, but if it's an attempt at drawing the reader in to continue on to the next in the series, it's kind of annoying.

Despite this, I did enjoy the story and found the concepts of a harmless drug and a police commissioner guided by a goddess to be intriguing, and I have to admit, the brief chapters appealed to my ever-shrinking attention span.

Would I read more by this author? Yes!