Monday, 26 January 2015

Plant Propagation : Successes and Fails

A while back, I wrote about buying seeds from 4 Seasons, and growing oaks from acorns. Unfortunately, my propagation operation wasn't entirely successful. I worried that I'd have an overload of baby pinoaks on my hands. I really didn't have to worry at all. Not a single one of the 48 acorns that I planted sprouted. I waited about 4 months, just to be sure. Eventually, I dug about half of them out of the peat moss and laid them out to dry, in the hopes that I might be able to use them in craft projects. I left the rest of the acorns in the propagating tray, just in case.

In the tray, you can also see my attempts at growing Japanese Birch seeds. I filled 16 pots with propagating mix; there are about 10 seeds in each pot. I surface-sowed them as the instructions said, and kept them moist. After what seemed like an interminably long time, eventually two grew. (I've pointed out the second one with an arrow in the picture above, as it's still practically invisible to the naked eye.)

My ability to grow plants from seed seems to be quite miserable. I still have unopened packets of False Spirea and Hungarian lilac, and most of a packet of Japanese Birch seeds left, so I guess I'll wait til next Spring and try again. How did my attempts to grow plants from cuttings go? It was mixed, but at least more successful than the seeds. Here we see a fuchsia cutting that I took when I was pruning the bush. I took several, and this was the one with the thickest stem. I was worried the stem was too thick and it wouldn't take, but it seems to be doing quite well.

Well, I think so. At first all of the leaves dropped off, but then roots grew and new leaves and flowers soon after. A similar thing happened with this geranium cutting (excuse the rain-stained window and cat toys!):

I say cutting, but it actually broke off accidentally and I stuck it in a jar. I really need to get around to potting these up soon.

I also took quite a few cuttings when I was pruning the magnolia tree (this was several months ago now). I had a lot of fun going through the branches and cutting them down to likely candidates. I put most of them on the bathroom windowsill:

I don't think this was a good location. None of them did anything, despite my loyally topping up the water every day for months. Perhaps they didn't get enough light through the frosted window? This one did a little better:

After several months of wondering if I should give up, it eventually grew a leaf. But it's very low down on the stem and there are no roots! So I'm not sure if potting it up is a wise idea. At least Crazy Potato can always be relied on to grow like crazy!:

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Noob Reviews : Junior Monopoly My Little Pony

Today I thought I'd try something new, which may turn into an occasional series -- if I feel like it!

Husband has become increasingly addicted to board games in the last few months, and to ease me into it as well, he bought me a couple for Christmas. We didn't have time to play them straight away, but our wedding anniversary is in early January, so we had a board games day to celebrate. I thought it would be fun to review them, from a beginner's point of view. The first one I'll be looking at is Junior Monopoly My Little Pony.

The Game: It's Monopoly, the classic money-making, property-buying board game, but simplified for the kiddies, and with the adorably cute My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic TV show theme.

Instead of the normal, boring Monopoly tokens, players play with one of four pony figurines. The properties are represented by ponies from the TV show -- I've only seen the first season, so I didn't recognise half of them. But that's not important in order to play the game. When a player purchases a pony/property, they are issued with a property card and they place a Rainbow Token on the space where the houses would go in the adult game. Each player has 8 Rainbow Tokens. Presumably this is to limit the number of properties that any one player can buy, giving everyone a fair chance. (Technically the game is no longer "monopoly" then, but it doesn't really matter!)
Instead of the Treasure Chest, money is placed inside the the Book of Harmony, and instead of Action Cards, there are Cutie Mark Cards. The currency is in Heart Dollars.

The gameplay is very similar to normal Monopoly, but with modifications to make it simpler and faster. In fact, when played as per the instructions, it only lasted 10 minutes. There is an advanced version with a few extra rules for older players, but this didn't seem to make much difference length-wise. Husband and I made a couple of modifications to make the game go longer and give a more satisfying experience. We gave ourselves 30 Heart Dollars each instead of 18 at the start. Also, we kept finding that when we landed on the Book of Harmony, the book had no money in it. There are two Book of Harmony spaces and two Cutie Mark spaces on the board, so there's an equal chance of landing on either one. We arbitrarily decided that one of the Book of Harmony spaces should be a Cutie Mark space instead. That way, there was more chance of there being money in the Book of Harmony when we landed on the space.

++ The game is simple enough for even young children to understand.
++ It's much faster than the original, so children won't get bored so quickly. (Or adults with short attention spans, for that matter!)
++ The bright, colourful design of the board, cards and Book of Harmony box is fun. ++ The pony figurines are fun and innovative to play with (though see the minus below!).
++ Many elements of the TV show are represented in the game, like the Cutie Marks and the Book of Harmony.

-- One huge Minus that I noticed immediately is that there are only 4 pony figurines. However, there are 6 core characters in the TV show: Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash are missing! And they happen to be my two favourite characters! So I was pretty peeved right from the start.
-- Played as-is, the game only lasts about 10 minutes.
-- The instructions were a little confusing in that you play with ponies (i.e. the player's pieces), but you also buy ponies (i.e. the properties).
-- The Heart Dollars are very boring. They're printed in black and white only, which is at odds with the bright, colourful design of the rest of the game. Not only that, but they only come in 1s. Denominations of 2 and 5 in different colours would have been great. Also, they're made of that clingy paper that's very hard to separate. So counting out 15 or more 1s becomes even more annoying.
-- It's difficult to tell the different-coloured rainbow tokens apart. I also wondered why there are property cards as well as rainbow tokens. The property cards don't have any essential information on them, just a picture of the pony. It would be just as easy to keep track of which player owns what, just from the Rainbow Tokens alone. It seems to be double-handling. But perhaps the cards are still included to get younger players used to the concept for when they play the adult game later.
-- Why is there a jail in a little kids' game?? Even the picture of the jail cell is exactly the same as in the adult version of the game. They could have made it school detention or something more kid-appropriate.

Final Comments:
I know there are a lot of entries under the 'Minus' section in my review! But I do think that, with a few modifications, Junior Monopoly My Little Pony would be a very fun game for both adults and children. Husband suggested getting some better play money to put with it (you could use the money from the Monopoly game if you have it, or any other kind of tokens or even real coins). I would like to try and get Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash figurines to complete the set.
Husband and I both decided that the game is worth playing again, perhaps as the appetiser to start off our next board games day.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Hello 2015

I always have mixed feelings about this time of year. It's bright with newness, with the promise of change. The calendar ticks over and starts again. Soon there will be sweet cakes eaten at Chinese New Year, Autumn Leaves Viewing as the weather gets cooler, the regional eating and drinking fest that is the Eurovision Song Contest, the excitement of planting time in Spring, and finally Mince Pie Season rolling around again. It really doesn't seem that far away, and it's exciting.

On the other hand, this time of year is traditionally the time for New Year's resolutions. Just the thought of them makes me shudder, and yet at the same time I'm fascinated by them. I always check other people's lists with morbid curiosity. Are they sensible or wildly optimistic? Easily measurable or hopelessly vague? Positive about the future, or just an excuse to beat up on the self of the past?

Usually by this point, I've already given in to the urge to make resolutions of my own, and I'm just looking at other peoples' to get some kind of validation. Then I look back on all of my past failures, like the year I resolved to practice piano once a week, and I didn't do it, Even Once. And the year I resolved to learn to throw a pizza -- it sounds like a heap of fun and may probably only take a single afternoon, yet I never did that either!

Then suddenly out of the blue, I remembered the Indian concept of four rooms:

“There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual . Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.” -- Rumer Godden
I definitely tend to spend most of my time in the mental room. This is inevitable at work, and with many of my hobbies -- reading, writing, watching documentaries on TV, designing knitting/crochet patterns, etc. Aiming to spend more time in each of the other rooms and make my life more balanced really appeals to me. So instead of setting concrete goals for myself that I might fail at or become disinterested in, I will just list some things I wouldn't mind concentrating on at some point -- no pressure! Quite a few of the things fall in more than one room, so I've listed them in each place where they seem appropriate.

physical: stretching/yoga; making sure I don't sit too long at work; lunchtime walks; using my cross-trainer; walks/exploring in my neighbourhood; bushwalking; dress in Mori Girl more often; continuing to wear clothes I like and sew more; doing Princess Time when I feel like it; get another tattoo

mental: read more books than last year; design some knitting/crochet patterns; blog more than last year; continue with Ralph (my weekly to-do list)

emotional: processing; fractal flowers; being more honest with my emotions; being my own Big Sister

spiritual: stretching/yoga; processing; bushwalking; dress in Mori Girl more often; get another tattoo

things that could go in 3 or all 4 rooms, really: finish unpacking my house, at least to the point where I can start using my library and hobby room properly; being more mindful; drawing; working in my art journals; visiting places that inspire my creativity; going on some kind of retreat; cooking new recipes; working on craft projects, preferably finishing at least one long-term project

Work is going to be very busy in the next couple of months, so I might not get time to post much. I'll see you when I see you.