Thursday, 31 December 2015

Goodbye 2015

2015 was a tough year. I'm glad to say goodbye to it. I've said goodbye to a few things in my life this year, and welcomed in some different things, practices and attitudes. I think it will be for the better. One big change in particular is going to make things very different next year. I'm sorry to be so annoyingly vague, but I think it would be wiser not to say what it is, until it happens.

In some ways, I feel like I've achieved very little this year. I've only finished a handful of craft projects and didn't work much in my art journals. I went out very little, except for trips to the Cat Café. On the other hand, there were a few firsts. I did my first painting on canvas, and my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. I wrote several stories and other pieces, including reviews of games on the blog. I discovered many new blogs and became more outgoing in leaving comments and interacting with people.

Unfortunately my laptop died earlier today, so I'm writing to you from my iPad while sitting at my art desk. Brushes are sticking out of glass jars all around me, waiting to be used. I can look out over the fruit trees in my backyard and I can see birds flitting amongst the branches.

But I'm getting off track. Because I don't have access to the spreadsheets on my laptop, I can't pull all of the statistics that I normally do at the end of the year, but I managed to scrounge a few. I haven't figured out whether I can post photos yet either, so sorry for the lack of visuals.

Books finished:
full-length: 14 (11)
short & manga: 38 (4)
Currently reading as of today: 13 (9)

Blog posts:
69 (17)

I'm very pleased to see that I posted more in my blog this year. My aim was to post 1 to 2 times a week, so I'm happy with that. I also read a little more and I'm hoping to spend even more time reading next year. As well as crafting, painting, gaming and other generally fun things!

Finally, without further ado, we come to the second annual:

Apartmentcat Favourites Awards
This year it was very tough to choose, in every category, so I've chosen a top three in books and movies (in no particular order, of course). As for blogs, I've enjoyed reading so many this year, both new and old, that I just couldn't choose, and I've decided to leave that for a separate blog post.

The Pillow book of Sei Shōnagon. Although it took me a long time to read this book, I adored it and found it very inspirational. I wrote about it here..
The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins. I found this book on a tram one night. I started reading it immediately and couldn't put it down. It has the clearest explanations (to me) of scientific principles that I've ever read. Weirdly, it also inspired several paintings.
The Life-changing Magic of Tidying by Kondo Mari. This is turning out to be a very strange selection of books. Oddly, it was another page-turner. I wanted to know more about this woman who inspired millions of people and changed the way they think about their possessions. She changed the way I think about my possessions. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say: confirmed and refined it.

What We Do in the Shadows. This hilarious movie from New Zealand is a spoof mockumenary about a group of vampire flatmates.
Fist of Fury. It's true. I'd never seen a Bruce Lee movie before this year. Shameful! His skill was incredible and I finally know what everyone was talking about.
Summer Wars. This cute anime is about a student who has problems in both the real-life and online world when he accidentally releases a virus that threatens to create global chaos.

That's it from me for 2015! I hope to get another laptop very soon so that I can keep working on my stories, not to mention blogging! I have so many ideas lately that I want to share.

Have a happy and safe new year everyone!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

If I Were....

Thanks to Tiny Adventures for the inspiration...

a month, i would be: April
a day of the week, i would be: Thursday
a time of day, i would be: about 10am
a planet, i would be: Neptune
a sea animal, i would be: a seahorse
a direction, i would be: North
a piece of furniture, i would be: a bookcase
a sin, i would be: gluttony
a liquid, i would be: tingly spring water collected directly from the source
a stone, i would be: an amethyst
a tree, i would be: a Monkey Puzzle Tree
a bird, i would be: a kākāpō
a tool, i would be: hedge trimmer
a flower/plant, i would be: the rose
a kind of weather, i would be: cold and clear
a mythical creature, i would be: a unicorn
a musical instrument, i would be: a theremin
an animal, i would be: a giant Galapagos tortoise
a colour, i would be: pine green
a vegetable, i would be: corn
a sound, i would be: ducks landing on water
an element, i would be: earth
a car, i would be: a Goggomobil
a song, i would be: Dream Girl by SHINee
a movie, i would be directed by: Miyazaki Hayao
a book, i would be written by: Tom Cho
a food, i would be: Scotch eggs
a place, i would be: home
a material, i would be: paua shell
a taste, i would be: melted cheese
a scent, i would be: Dutch 4-spice mix
a religion, i would be: the Old Custom
a word, i would be: flâneur
an object, i would be: a snuggly crocheted blanket
a body part, i would be: nape of the neck
a facial expression, i would be: wonder
a subject in school, i would be: Ceramics
a cartoon character, i would be: Aang (though I've only seen the first season so far...)
a shape, i would be: curved
a number, i would be: 17

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Kids' Beauty Advent Calendar

For the 2015 festive season, I couldn't resist procuring for myself this Kids' Beauty Advent Calendar from the local supermarket. I love the idea of advent calendars (I'm very much a calendar nerd) but it seems too much effort to make and fill one every year, so I always end up buying one.

This post isn't a review, just a showing of my treasures, as it seems a bit pointless to do a review of an advent calendar that this point in the year. Unless you saw it on sale and wanted to scavenge the contents, I guess....

I forgot to take a photo of it at the beginning, and I can't find any photos of it online, but here's a photo of it with most of the doors ripped off. I should probably point out that the hairy arm propping it up is Husband's, not mine!

It contained:
❦ flower-shaped mirror
❦ purple sparkly comb
❦ clear sparkly nail polish -- vanilla scent
❦ pink sparkly nail polish -- cherry scent
❦ toe separator
❦ nail file

The nail polish rubs off at the slightest touch, and washes off in water, so it's pretty much useless. I like the comb and mirror, and I've been using the comb a bit. The nail file is the thing I've used most so far!

❦ clear sparkly vanilla-flavoured lip gloss
❦ pink strawberry-flavoured lip gloss
❦ pink sparkly cherry-flavoured lip gloss (I've used this one the most so far)
❦ dark pink cherry-flavoured lip gloss

The lip glosses perform about as you'd expect for a cheap lip gloss. The scent/flavour is not very strong. They all have a little loop on them so they can be hung as a pendant.

❦ hair ties, pink and purple -- they're not big enough to tie up my thick hair, but I use them to decorate the end of my braid
❦ claw-grip hair clips in pink, purple and blue -- these don't really fit in with the way I style my hair, but they make cute decorations at my beauty station
❦ heart-shaped rings in pink and purple -- they go about half-way down my little finger! One day I might wear them if I'm going full Fairy Kei, but for now they make a cute decoration.
❦ star bracelet -- this is way too small for my wrist, so I'm using it as a hair deco.

❦ creme eyeshadow in sparkly pink -- fairly light coverage but adds sparkle to other shadows
❦ eyeshadow in blue -- so 80s!
❦ makeup brush and sponge applicator -- very poor quality, but would be fun for a kid to practice with
❦ salmon orange cherry-scented lipstick
❦ dark pink strawberry-scented lipstick -- the two lipsticks have surprisingly strong coverage and I've used them quite a bit.

I hope you're having a lovely time, whatever you're celebrating!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

My Day in the City

AKA Christmas in Melbourne AKA The Heatwave AKA I Went to the Cat Cafe Again ??! AKA Severe Photospam

It was more like a half-day really, and it was very hot (it reached 39oC / 102oF), but it was one of the most enjoyable days I'd had in a long time.

I had a coffee at Melbourne Central and picked up a book from the Little Library before heading out to the Cat Cafe. (The book was The Stone Menagerie by Ann Fine.) There were several of these neon Christmas trees throughout the shopping centre. It wasn't as dark in there as it looks in the photo!

A sign of things to come ...

This lovely pastel wreath in the window of a bar caught my eye on the way there:

The cats were all sleepy and sluggish in the heat -- who can blame them! I spent the time sitting with them, researching a few things on the internet and writing a few poems.

The Cafe has a big Christmas Tree with cat-toy ornaments. So cute!


Next I took the tram out to the Alexandra Gardens and went for a walk around.

This is the first time I've seen the floral clock up close in years! That's parsley all around the edge. The colours of the flowers were stunning in the bright sunlight.

I sat in a shady spot for a while and read, and wrote some haiku. There were a family of ducks that were just adorable! But they climbed out of the water and went to nap under some bushes before I thought to take a photo of them.

This Japanese maple looked incredible against the bright green background.

It was lunchtime, and I decided to walk back into the city proper instead of taking the tram. It's only 3 blocks, but it was 39oC after all!

I'm glad I did walk, because I got to see the lego Christmas Tree at Federation Square.

One boy of about 12 ran up to it, had a quick glance and said, "hmph, it's made out of pieces that are larger than normal!" and walked off again. I was impressed, though. And it was cool seeing it on the big screen in the square.

Really hot.

All of the trees along the City Square had Christmas-themed yarn bombing on them! I've seen a lot of yarn-bombing on the trees around the Town Hall lately, so I can only assume it's council-approved. It was particularly delightful to see the red and green colours with snowflake motifs, etc.

One man saw me taking a photo of the trees. He turned around to see what I was taking a picture of, and did a double-take with a WTF look on his face. I couldn't help laughing.

For lunch I went to Go Go Sushi on Swanston Street. It's been a couple of years since I've had sushi train, and I have to admit that I ate way too much. But it was so fun. They even had plates with mochi balls and dorayaki on them.

There were several families with children in, and it was fun watching the way they reacted to the platesful of various exotic items. Afterwards I met up with some friends I normally only see once a year, at Christmas. We always talk about our past year and what might be in store for us next year. One thing is sure, I'd like to have more days like this!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

My Christmas Tree

I thought I'd show some photos of our Christmas tree. As I've mentioned before, I don't really do Christmas, but there are just some things from my childhood that I can't let go of. The tree is one of them. Husband and I bought this tree last year; previously we had a very small one. The lights are already attached so it's very easy to set up.

The photos are pretty bad, sorry in advance for that. As it turns out, it's just as difficult to get a good photo during the day as it is at night.

At night, without flash:

You also get to see our genuine vintage wood panelling (our house was built in 1973). The previous owners added the very 1980s-looking diamond mirrors, presumably to try and lighten the place up a bit. At least they had good taste in curtains. At night, with flash:

I decided a few years ago that I would buy a few decorations each year. I bought the green flocked reindeer from Etsy, and the green sparkly bird from our local Coles supermarket, of all places.

My taste in Christmas decorations is eclectic and has a definite lean towards the kitschy, while (hopefully) staying just this side of creepy.

There's the tram from my set of 5 wooden Melbourne-themed decorations.

The only thing I'm having trouble finding is a suitable topper for the tree. As a kid, my family had an angel. I usually only see stars these days. Neither of them quite seems right to me. Perhaps I'll make one for next year.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

No. 37 : Eat Gluten-Free for 1 Month

As of today, I've been eating gluten-free for one month, and I'm going to continue permanently. I included this goal on my 101 Things list for a reason. I've been sick for a long time. I've had Ulcerative Colitis for about 12 years, and I'd been doing quite well with managing it until about a year ago. I then started to have so many 'flare-ups' that they all merged into one and I was constantly sick. I've been able to work, but haven't felt at my best and often had a run-down feeling. Colitis still isn't a very well-understood disease -- flare-ups can be caused by eating irritating foods, stress, or a variety of other factors, and it can be difficult to pin the cause down.

Over the course of this year, I've become more and more sick of being sick. (Pun intended!) Not to mention worried about how this constant irritation and poor absorption of nutrients would affect my long-term health. That's why I decided to add this goal to my 101 Things list, and make it one of the things I wanted to work on sooner rather than later.

Originally I was going to try a couple of other 'diets' as well, including sugar-free and vegetarian. I'd assumed that it would take a lot of experimenting until I found the cause of my issues. But the huge changes that occurred after eating gluten-free for only a few days convinced me that I'd hit on the cause already. My digestive issues cleared up completely. I'm sleeping better because I'm no longer waking up in the middle of the night with cramps. I feel happier because I'm no longer so worried about my health. Soon I may even feel confident enough to visit places I've never been before, without stressing about where the public conveniences are.

But there's an even more important reason. I have a friend who's been gluten-free for many years, and when I told him about my decision he said to me, "not eating bread sucks, but it's better than having bowel cancer." A wise comment.

As it turns out, I don't even have to give up eating bread. My local supermarket has gluten-free breads, biscuits, pancake mix and flour for baking. Sure, the range is small and it's a bit more expensive, but it's there. My local pizza shop has gluten-free bases and I actually prefer them to the regular bases for their corn taste and crunchy crust. I've only felt deprived a couple of times in the last month, most recently at my team Christmas lunch yesterday where everyone else was sharing Chinese dumplings. (My ma-po tofu was excellent though, and my colleagues accepted my situation very naturally.)

Now, I don't want to be that person who discovers a new fad diet and then starts raving on to everyone in their life about how amazing it is and how everyone should try it. I know as well as anyone that everyone is different and needs to do what works best for them. So my blog won't suddenly be filled with "gluten-free raw nut-free vegan palaeo dairy-free snack balls" or anything like that. (Of course, I have nothing against people who are into that sort of thing!) I still love cooking, and I love blogging about the things I love doing, so I'll continue to do my "In the Kitchen" posts. I'm a bit sad that I won't be able to indulge in the old-fashioned baking that I see on the other blogs that I enjoy reading, but there are always modifications and alternatives to experiment with.

All images from Pinterest, and all were labelled gluten-free.
To the kitchen!!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The Mori Year -- Summer

At the start of every season, I make a list of about 8 to 10 Mori-themed activities to do. I started this mini tradition a few years ago. I wanted a way to honour the seasons, and be more Mori in my lifestyle at the same time. (For any readers not familiar with Mori, there's a good introduction here.)

After I made my Summer list a few days ago, I realised I've never posted about this on the blog before. I think the reason for this is: I usually don't manage to do more than 2 or 3 of the activities on the list! But it's the spirit of the thing that counts, and in my newfound determination to share both the good and slightly wobbly, I give you my Summer list for this year!:

I also looked in my treasure box and found these items that seem to fit a Summer theme:

- a pair of strawberry stud earrings
- a little wreath with flowers from Daiso
- a little wooden tray with compartments, again from Daiso
- a mint coloured bunny-ear headband, which I'm wearing right now and it's adorable!
- bear socks from YesStyle which would look very sweet with sandals
- a pair of leaf-shaped vegetable cutters, which I could use to make my salads more pretty

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The Perfect Potion Christmas Party

Last night I went to the Perfect Potion Christmas Party / VIP Night. Perfect Potion is an Australian small business specialising in essential oil blends and skincare products. All products are strictly certified organic and environmental concerns are at the core of their ethos. The founder is very passionate about quality and the therapeutic effects of essential oils; this was immediately apparent when listening to him speak about the products.

{Picture Source}

Unlike some other VIP Nights I have been to recently (*looks sideways at a certain tea shop*), the whole atmosphere was very relaxing and welcoming. The space was not overcrowded, there were plenty of drinks and nibblies for everyone, and the ratio of staff to customers was low enough to allow us to ask questions and have a chat.

I went there intending to purchase one or two things for myself, and for Husband to give me for Christmas, but I ended up buying all this:

The Noel essential oil was definitely already on my shopping list. I miss the smell of real Christmas trees from when I was a child and I have a feeling this will be the perfect substitute. I'd considered getting the book and perhaps one or two other items as well, but the atmosphere was just so lovely and fun that I couldn't help myself. I might review some of the products later on, especially the hair serum, as I want to embark on a mission to take better care of my hair in future.

As well as champagne and really good vege-chips and dip, there were door prizes -- and my number was drawn first! I won the Noel-scented candle. I was very chuffed. Along with the essential oil blend and soap, I now have the full Noel-scented set.

I regretted having to leave before the speeches ended, as it was very interesting listening to the stories behind the products. The whole experience was really lovely, and made me eager to return in future and secure myself many more of the beautiful products. I've been to several VIP Nights in the last few years, and if they're well-done, they can give a huge boost to the reputation of a small business. If the customer has a good experience, then he/she will remember it for a long time to come. I know I will!

I've had my doughnut oil diffuser for a few months now,
but this is its debut on the blog. =)

Thursday, 3 December 2015

NaNoWriMo -- An Almost Unmitigated Failure

Well, perhaps 'failure' is a bit harsh. I did write 4 pages, plus a few haiku. And a couple of blog posts, but I would have written those anyway. These days, not blogging seems as unthinkable as not eating.

In the last few days, as blog posts have popped up in my reader bringing news of NaNoWriMo successes, I've been genuinely happy for the winners, but became more and more depressed for myself. I wasn't going to post anything about my NaNoWriMo experience, my failure, but I haven't seen anyone else writing about it, so I thought it was important. (Though having said that, googling "I failed NaNoWriMo" comes up with quite a few hits and some good advice.)

During the month, I read back through some stories I wrote earlier in the year and thought, "I wish I could write more like that. I'm not able do that anymore, why is that?" It went downhill from there with darker thoughts that I won't elaborate on here. All this led to a downward spiral where I convinced myself that playing computer games was much easier and relaxing than writing, not to mention easier to concentrate on while the TV is on. Before I knew it, it was December and I had not written a single word in 3 weeks. Or drawn a single stroke, or crocheted a single stitch, for that matter.

An article I happened to come across during the month made me think. It was about a ceramics teacher who decided to do a little experiment with his students one semester. At the beginning of the first class, he divided the students into two groups. He told one group that they would be graded purely by the quantity of pots they produced: an A for 20kg or more, a B for 15 to 20kg, etc. He told the other group that they were only required to produce one pot -- the most aesthetically pleasing, perfect pot that they could possibly create.

Can you guess what happened?

The students in the first group churned out as many pots as they possibly could, and most of them achieved top marks. The students in the second group became so bogged down in research and philosophical questions about beauty and perfection, that many of them didn't have even one pot to submit at the end of the semester.

These are not the actual pots, just
random pretty pots from the internet. =)
The other big surprise?
Many of the pots considered to be the most beautiful and innovative designs were created by the first group, those who spent the most time creating rather than those who created the most carefully.

So many books and articles have been written about how important it is to practice your art or craft every day, pointing out that even the great Renaissance artists practiced drawing every day of their lives. I've known that message for a long time, but for some reason it didn't really sink in for me until I read that story about the pots.

I titled this blog post an Almost Unmitigated Failure, because at the end of it all, I'm much more motivated to write now than when NaNoWriMo began. Now ... after my complete failure to write for just 10 minutes a day. My brain is a strange beast. A blog post I read yesterday mentioned Figment, and I signed up. It seems to be a lively writing community which may hopefully provide some inspiration. I feel an urge to write a grand closing statement about exciting new things coming up soon, but, eh, no promises.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

My November

This month has been quite difficult. Work has been very stressful. I've had to say goodbye to two colleagues that I considered friends, so it's been a sad time too. Consequently, I haven't had much time or motivation for making things, however, I made sure to take care of myself by buying some relaxing essential oils and getting another massage. It sounds so decadent, but I get a 65% discount on massages with my health insurance, so the indulgence is more in taking the time for myself rather than the cost.

What I've been playing ...
At the start of the month I went to PAX AUS, a huge computer-gaming and tabletop-gaming expo. I've never been to anything like it before, and it was a real eye-opener. I was amazed by all the people, games, cosplayers and things to do. I was too dazzled to take any photos at the time, but I did buy some games. Most of them were from an Australian indie game design company called Make and Rule. I'm already working on a review!

What I've been watching ...
Towards the end of the month, I started watching a series called British Gardens Through Time. The first episode focussed on Great Dixter. This eclectic garden surrounds a Mediaeval hall renovated in Arts and Crafts style, and was shaped by the diverse tastes of its owners. Roses are juxtaposed with semi-tropical palms, and strictly-shaped topiaries are dotted about an unmowed meadow filled with wild flowers. When the narrator was talking about the meadow section of the garden, I said to Husband, "our lawn is like a meadow!". And the orchard: "we have an orchard, too!". And the section that was designed to look like nothing had been done to it: "our garden looks like nothing has been done to it, too!" I enjoyed it very much and I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the series. It's renewed my desire to visit some of the open gardens in Melbourne, and to start making some plans for my own.

{Picture Source}

What I've been reading ...
A strange set of coincidences has led me back to a hobby that I haven't practiced for over 10 years. I started reading a new blog a few weeks ago, and the writer mentioned that she does BookCrossing. Last week, I was Christmas shopping at Melbourne Central and came across the Little Library, which I'd heard of about a year ago and forgotten about. It's a small shop front set aside as a book exchange space. A few days ago, I went op-shopping and found that the shop nearest my work now has a flat rate of $1 for all books.
These discoveries solved all of the issues I'd had with BookCrossing originally, and the reasons why I'd given it up. I was worried that the books would be damaged or discarded -- the Little Library is a safe place to put them for fellow book-minded people. I thought that the books might be discovered by people who didn't understand or weren't interested in trackable books, and their journey wouldn't be logged. The BookCrossing website shows that books are dropped off at the Little Library regularly, so there must be people who are interested in it. And my concerns about not wanting to part with books for financial reasons are solved too -- $1 per item is vastly cheaper than many other hobbies I've looked into!
So, it looks like I'm doing BookCrossing again. Well, as long as I have time to finish reading the books I bought.....

What else I've been doing ...
As I mentioned before, I haven't done very much noteworthy this month, and forgot to write a few things down too, I'm sure. In the end, my list consisted mostly of new computer games (Neko Atsume, SimCity, The Sims) that I started playing after I bought my new ipad mini. I furthered my 101 Things in 1,001 Days List by bathing in rose petals, and experimenting with eating gluten-free.