Sunday, 28 June 2015

Mid-Winter Garden Update

At this time of year, it's pitch dark by the time I get home from work, so I can't go out into the garden except on weekends. It's a little depressing, but not so much happens in the garden in the garden at this time of year -- or so I thought! As it turns out, I have even more photospam for Winter than I have for any other season so far!
It was such a dull day that the flash went off for most of the photos. It looks like I was wandering around my garden in the dark, but I really wasn't ...

The nectarine tree has gone to sleep for the Winter. It'll need pruning and copper treatment soon. It's strange to see the orange merrily fruiting in the background, but I'm not complaining.

Winter oranges, yum!

The little cherry tree that we planted last Summer is dormant as well, but these buds have appeared, so I think it's OK.

After growing strongly for much longer than expected, the sweet potato is starting to die down. According to my information, once the leaves turn yellow and die down, it's time to dig up the sweet potatoes. Looks like that will be next weekend!

The one thing we've been most successful in growing so far is chillis!

See what I mean?

Many plants are thriving, even in the middle of Winter. I've read that gardeners in colder climates are jealous of our double growth cycle, and was never quite sure what they meant until I started seeing our daisies flowering again, after having flowered already in late Spring.

I'm not quite sure what these are, but they're loving the cool, rainy weather as well.

The Winter cactus (called Christmas cactus or Thanksgiving cactus in some places, I think) is about to flower as well. It's a sentimental favourite!

Cool moss on a tree stump.

The fig tree that we dug up and potted. (The previous owners of the house had planted too close to the other fruit trees.) For a long time I thought it hadn't survived the transfer, but I was very happy to see some leaves growing from near the base about a month ago.

The rosemary plant is flowering like nothing else! Do they normally flower in Winter? I don't know, but it's beautiful.

Remember a few months ago when I planted some bulbs? I said that I'd have to wait until Spring to see if they would grow? Well, apparently not. Most of them have sprouted already. I think I might have to fertilise them soon, I'd better look that up.

And finally, these plants, which look kind of manky most of the year, suddenly sprout these amazing fire-orange flower clusters right in the middle of Winter when everything else is dull and grey. Husband and I have discussed digging them up, but how can I when this happens? Amazing.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Giant Pens Review and Wrap-Up

I've been writing a lot more lately, both processing-type writing and stories/poetry, and that means I've been more focussed again on ... pens! Some are running low now, and I've decided that it's time to place another order with Jetpens. But which pens to get? Or re-get? I had a look at some of the pens I currently have to see if they were worth re-purchasing. All of these pens have already passed one test -- they were packed away for over a year when we moved house, and they haven't dried up. Some of the pens which didn't pass that test are mentioned near the end.

Gel Pens

At the moment, I have to say my favourite pen by far is the Zebra Sarasa Push Clip Gel Ink Pen. It ticks every box: it's comfortable to hold, writes smoothly and comes in over 20 colours. The colour saturation is very good (in the picture, the Port Wine variation is starting to run out, that's the only reason that it looks a little pale!). The only criticism I have -- and it's a very minor one -- is that you have to unscrew the pen to see when it's running low, unlike the Pilot Juice below, which is slightly see-through. I'll definitely be getting more of these.

I also quite like the Pilot Juice Gel Ink Pen. It also comes in over 20 colours, and it also comfortable to hold and write with. It can be scratchy at times, however. To my mind, the colour isn't as saturated as the Zebra Sarasa above, but that could be because I chose lighter colours. I was especially dissatisfied with the grey. It's actually difficult to read what I've written. Perhaps I'll use it for drawing subtle illustrations instead of writing. I'll stick to darker colours only with this pen from now on, but I would still re-purchase.

Next is the Pentel Hybrid Roller (shown in purple in the last picture). I didn't expect too much from this pen, as I've had similar-looking ones before that conked out permanently after only a few paragraphs. I was impressed by its longevity, comfort and colour saturation however. Unfortunately this pen has been discontinued.

I also have the Pilot Pockel Mini Pen in a couple of colours (shown in pink in the last picture). I have mixed feelings about this pen. It's comfortable to hold, but it's a bit scratchy and the line a bit thin. These are no longer for sale at Jetpens, so it's a bit of a moot point, anyway.

Felt Pens

I have two types of felt tip pens here. The first is the Marvy Le Pen Marker Pen: Fine Point. I knew before even purchasing this pen that it wouldn't be comfortable to hold, with its narrow barrel, but I just couldn't resist. It comes in nearly 20 beautiful colours, and the silver-embossed logo and silver clip are just so elegant. It's very reasonably priced as well, just over half the cost of the Typo pens, though I don't have to pay postage costs with Typo pens, I can just walk 2 blocks to one of their outlets.

The Typo Needlepoint is shown here in both the old and new versions. The old (orange) has a black, round barrel. The newer version, renamed the fine point, has a hexagonal barrel which is the same colour as the pen, the words "I'm so fine" embossed on it. Unfortunately, the hexagonal barrel makes it even more uncomfortable to hold than the old version.

I wouldn't repurchase either of these pens for the purposes of writing. For the ink to flow properly, the pen has to be held vertically, or else it's scratchy and skips. To hold a pen in this position for more than a few paragraphs really hurts! Not to mention the hard, narrow barrel. These pens are great for writing short passages like a greeting card or in my calendar diary though, with their beautiful colours and colour saturation, so I won't rule them out in future.

Fountain Pens

First up is the Pentel Pulaman JM20 Disposable Fountain Pen. As I've discussed before, this isn't actually a fountain pen, but a variety of felt tip pen, but it writes quite like a fountain pen. It has a flat nib which only writes properly when held in one position. It's a small bugbear that I have, as I have a habit of twirling the pen in between words! This pen only comes in black, blue and red, which is a bit disappointing. The thick line and colour saturation makes me want more, though!

Finally, it's the Pilot Petit1 Mini Fountain Pen. This is the only one of my fountain pens which didn't dry out while they were packed, the others being a Noodler's Konrad Flex, Platinum Preppy (several in different line widths) and a Sheaffer M. (See more about my Noodler's Pen in this post.) Unfortunately this pen isn't comfortable to hold for long periods, but that's outweighed by how cool it is in most other respects. It draws a nice thick line, its ink cartridges come in 8 pretty, saturated colours (blue-black is shown here) and, as I've seen, it doesn't dry out easily. The body is clear so it's easy to see when it's running low.
The Petit1 is part of a three-pen system -- there's also the Petit2, a sign pen (i.e. felt tip pen) and Petit3, a brush pen. These pens will only take the specialised Pilot Petit cartridges however, as I've said there are 8 nice colours and they're quite reasonably priced. Drawbacks aside, I really like this pen and find myself grabbing for it most of the time when I want to use a fountain pen.

Phew! Thanks for sticking through this massive review. For me, it's really helped me decide which pens I like the best and which I'll repurchase. I'll post again when my order arrives!

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Saturday, 13 June 2015

Tea Cupboard Makeover

I actually did this a few months ago, just as the weather was turning cold. I'd been planning to do it for a while, but I had a sudden urge to drink as much tea as humanly possible... ASAP! Having a well-organised tea cupboard makes that a much more pleasant experience of course, so I finally got down to it.

As you can see, before the cupboard had two shelves -- the bottom one for tea and the top one for storing unopened condiments, etc. There is way more tea than will fit on one shelf, so it's all stacked up higgledy-piggledy. It's hard to find anything, and it's annoying when you grab one thing and five more fall out!

So... Husband went to our local big-name hardware store and bought a shelf and some lugs. He cut the shelf to fit and installed it so now we have three instead of two!

All of the teas we drink the most and the equipment are on the bottom shelf, and other open teas are on the middle shelf. Unopened ones are at the back. I also went through and labelled all of the tins so we can find things easily. And of course, I made an inventory of all our teas, because lists are my thing! It's on my Listography here.

Happy tea drinking!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

A Scarf for Emmy

I'm quite ashamed to say that I put my Lammily doll aside for a long time. I was making some Summer clothes for her, and the effort of designing them and writing down the pattern was too much. I bought some furniture for her as well, but I didn't have anywhere to set it up. Not to mention set-up for photography, which gets more and more difficult as Summer turns to Winter. I slowly gave up and went back to my zombie-crafting projects.

A few weeks ago though, I received an email about Lammily TV, a new youtube channel with amazing-looking projects like a parachute and an X-Wing Fighter. It must have stirred something deep inside me, because a few days later I had a dream that I was buying clothes for her on Etsy. At the time I bought my Lammily doll, there was nothing like that out there -- no clothes for sale (except from the official store, and those are out of my price range), no knitting or sewing patterns. I'm pleased to see now that there are quite a few crafty people making clothes for the Lammily doll. I bought an adorable retro dress and I'm waiting for it to arrive. So you see, my dream came true!

Meanwhile, I've been very motivated to knit or crochet some Winter accessories for Emmy. I found a pattern for a scarf and hat. I tried making the scarf first, but the pattern didn't make sense to me.

Worsted weight yarn with a 2mm hook?
DC into the chain below when there
is no chain below??

After several false starts, I gave up and made up my own stitch pattern. Well, it probably already exists out there somewhere, but this version of it came out of my own brain. I was going to write it up as a pattern if it went well, but I don't think I will. The fabric is very thick and stiff. It would be better for a coat or even a floor rug. But still, I persisted with it and now Emmy has a nice warm scarf that even doubles as an ear warmer!

I really need to make her some pants, poor thing. Brrr!

Monday, 8 June 2015

In The Kitchen ; plus Mori Girl Challenge

With Winter having settled in properly in the last few weeks, I've had a strange urge to buy a pumpkin and do things with it .. but more on that later. Just yesterday, I found out about the Mori Girl Challenge. One of the lovely girls in the International Mori Girl facebook group has devised a 31-day challenge, or more a set of challenges, called Draw, Snap, Write, Cook. The complete list of challenges can be found here at I Don't Know But I'm Learning, and is also available as a pdf download. As with all things related to the Forest Girls, there are no hard-and-fast rules -- you can do all four sets of challenges, or pick and choose. Myself, I certainly don't have time to do one every single day, but I would like to try them all. I really like the idea of exploring the same theme in different media, and as I've mentioned before recently, anything that gets me motivated to start practicing drawing again regularly is welcome.

Back to the cooking now! The first thing I decided to do with my pumpkin was to cook Pumpkin Bread from the recipe here. Coincidentally the recipe was from a link I saved from the same blog as above. (This really was a coincidence!)
Here is my beautiful butternut pumpkin.

All the ingredients gathered together, including the microwaved pumpkin. The recipe calls for canned pumpkin, but we don't have that here in Australia, and besides, I'd already bought a fresh pumpkin! I cooked about half of the pumpkin, and it ended up being too much, but I used it all and adjusted the amounts of all the other ingredients to fit around it. And I do agree with Kathryn's blog post to add less flour than the recipe calls for. I also added a bit less sugar as well. Husband and I are used to eating less sugar these days, and the cranberries should also make up for it.

Adding all the dry ingredients. Instead of separate spices, I used the St Nicholas Spekulaas spice mix from Gewurzhaus in the city. It has cassia, coriander, clove, ginger, allspice, cardamom and nutmeg, which differs a little from the traditional Dutch recipe, but it's nice to try new things.

Adding the eggs. By the way, I tried using my Daylight lamp for lighting, and I think it's coming up pretty well.

Adding the chopped walnuts and cranberries. I just used whatever I could find in the cupboard!

Mixing the fruit and nuts into the batter. I can't believe that I don't have a cute wooden spoon to mix with. (I have a few normal ones, but no cute ones!) But then I realised -- I think I prefer mixing with the flexible spatula. It really gets into every corner of the bowl. Perhaps I can deco it?

The batter goes into the loaf tin. Buttering and flouring the tin is actually my favourite part of the whole process. Aside from eating the finished product, of course.

The pumpkin bread!

It was not possible for me to follow the instruction of waiting until it was cold before serving. It went down extremely well with some butter and a cup of Russian Caravan tea.

I'm not sure if I should count this as my first Mori Girl Challenge, as I was planning on doing it anyway! Either way, I think there'll be more pumpkin in my near future...