Sunday, 30 August 2015

7 Things I Love About Melbourne -- Part 1

Today is Melbourne Day. I'm embarrassed to admit I only found out about this anniversary for the first time this year. Obviously if a Melbournophile such as me hasn't heard of it, then it needs promoting, so I thought I'd assist by writing this post.

My home town of Melbourne was founded on 30th August 1835. It was one of the wealthiest cities in the world during the 1850s gold rush, the capital of Australia from 1901 to 1927, and continues to be the capital of art, good coffee and the sophisticated wearing of black today. In honour of Melbourne Day, I'm going to look at the things I love best about my hometown Melbourne.

I've decided to split this post into two because it was getting so long! While I was compiling it, Museum Victoria also announced a new online image collection, so there are even more pictures than I had originally planned. Today I'll be looking at the history and physical features that make Melbourne stand out.


Melbourne was founded in 1835 by a group of settlers led by John Batman. Yes, you read that correctly ... my hometown was founded by Batman. Rationally, I know that it's a complete coincidence -- the surname Batman actually means friend of Bart (short for St. Bartholomew). Even though I'm not a huge superhero fan, it still makes me smile every time I think about it. Consequently, there are many roads, parks and even a train station named Batman.

A meme only a Melbournian history nerd would get.
I used this meme generator.

Picture source.

Picture source.

The layout of the city centre appeals to the maths nerd and orderliness nerd in me, too. The grid layout of the streets, designed by Robert Hoddle in 1837, is exactly 1 mile long and half a mile wide. Each city block is exactly 1 acre. Many of the streets, once they leave the CBD, travel in a dead-straight line for kilometres and kilometres. Others, just to be contrary, bend at a 45-degree angle and continue on from there.

1948 map of the Melbourne CBD (at the top) and surrounds,
as issued to new migrants. Picture source.
A view of the CBD from the north in 1948. Picture source.
Early Morning: Collins Street, looking east towards the top end.

And then there's the tram nerds....


Melbourne has the largest tram network in the world, and it's the only commercial tram network still operating in Australia (all of the others have shut down, but a few were later converted to tourist attractions). Melbourne's first tram line, opened in 1884, was horse-driven, and the network has gone through cable and electric versions over the years.

Cable Tram. High Street, Northcote. c. 1890s. Picture source.

In the early 20th century, rapid expansion of the city led to entrepreneurs building private tram lines to entice land buyers, helping to ensure a widespread network. While many tram networks throughout the world were closed down in the 1970s, supporters of Melbourne's system won out and it remained open. Programmes to build line extensions and upgrade stops have been implemented recently, so it looks like Melbourne's trams will be around for a long time yet!

The E-class tram: your "Next Generation Tram".

I have loved trams ever since I saw the comedy caper film Malcolm when I was ten years old. The film's main character is a socially awkward kind of guy (he reminded me of myself) who is obsessed with trams.


When I moved out of home to go to University in the city, I finally had a chance to ride on them, and I took every opportunity I could!

Aside from the fact that trams are an instantly recognisable symbol of Melbourne, there's just a different feeling to riding on a tram. It's hard to explain. Perhaps because there are less people than on a train, and everyone is on a single carriage, there's more of a sense of camaraderie. Because trams travel along roads, there's a chance to observe the people and life of the city as it goes past. This is vastly different to trains, where you mostly see people's graffiti-covered back fences by the side of the track. It's also fun to find out what sort of tram you'll be travelling on when it pulls up at the stop: an ultra-sleek modern model, or a 1920s Red Rattler.
(Well, technically, these days most lines have the same model of tram running on them consistently, and the Red Rattlers are only used in the CBD as a free service for tourists, but I still love seeing them!)

Early electric tram. Camberwell. 1930s. Picture Source.

W Class Tram, aka the Red Rattler. Picture source.

Old trams, new stop: this upgraded stop at the corner of
Collins and Elizabeth streets was only re-opened a few months ago.


According to the boffins at the Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne's notoriously changeable weather is due to its location at the head of Port Phillip Bay, where cool sea breezes mix with warm continental air. A common phrase to describe our climate is "four seasons in one day". Crowded House even wrote a song about it.

Think this is just another meme? This really does happen!
Picture source.

I can confirm that this is accurate. Actually, "four seasons in half an hour" is more accurate! I'm not kidding about this: the sky will be bright and clear, then suddenly dark clouds will move in and it will pour rain. Within 15 minutes, the clouds will have moved on and it's sunny again. It can pour rain all day in the middle of Summer, and there can be sunny short-sleeve weather in the middle of Winter. I feel sorry for those poor boffins! The head of the Bureau of Meteorology recently retired, and he wrote this cute article on Melbourne's weather as a parting gift.

Rain map showing a thunderstorm hitting Melbourne,
Summer 2003. Picture source.

Lightning hits 120 Collins Street, Spring 1994. Picture source.

You can't let the weather stop you from getting on with life.
Summer 2010. Picture source.

I couldn't resist adding this one, from
a reader-created series of fake movie posters. Picture source.

To quote the Crowded House song, "doesn't pay to make predictions", but living in Melbourne, I've learned that it pays to be prepared. I carry an umbrella and sunglasses in my bag every day of the year. I put on sunscreen every morning without fail, not just because beauty experts recommend it, but because the middle of Winter is just as likely to be sunny as rainy. Melbourne does have semi-predictable weather however, otherwise I suppose the Bureau would have given up years ago! Which brings me to my next section...


You might think from the above section that Melbourne's weather is crazily unpredictable all year round. Melbourne does have seasons though -- distinct enough to be noticeable, but not so extreme as to cause much inconvenience. Thunderstorms herald Spring. Summer is hot, but not humid, and the changeable weather means there are usually never more than a few 35oC (95oF) days in a row. Autumns are mild and hazy, and Winters, though quite cold, have nearly as many sunny days as rainy.

Swanston Street on a sunny Winter's day.

The indigenous Brambuk people of this area recognise six seasons. I found the Brambuk Calendar online a few years ago and, paying note to its cycle over the last couple of years, I do think this is true. It certainly seems to fit the Southern Australian climate better than the traditional 4 season model that we have inherited from Europe.

This version is from my personal calendar.

Our climate is warm enough to stimulate the double growing season that many in the Northern Hemisphere can only dream of. Some plants only flower in Winter when the rain is abundant, so we have colour nearly all year round. Southern Australia is quite a good place to be a gardener.

These geraniums in my garden just won't stop!

In my time I've seen heatwaves, torrential storms, flash floods, hail the size of tennis balls, the Great Dust Storm of 1983, a quadruple rainbow, many willy-willies, and a lenticular cloud. The only thing which I've never experienced living in Melbourne is snow.

The Great Dust Storm of 1983. Picture source.

Personally, Autumn is my favourite season. Picture source.

You don't have to go too far for snow, though.
Woodend, 70km from Melbourne, June 2007. Picture source.

Stay tuned next time for Part 2, in which I'll cover food, culture and more!

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The KonMari Bandwagon

I'm sure almost everyone has heard of Kondo Marie and her innovative de-cluttering method by now. It's been all over the blogosphere for quite some time now. There are many, many, many articles out there which go into the method in more or less detail. In the last few days, it's captured my attention. As the second anniversary of buying our house approaches, it's been more on my mind that my house isn't the way I'd like it. In fact, much of my stuff isn't even unpacked yet! There's a story behind that, but I won't go onto it today.

Serene-looking Marie Kondo and her book.

When reading about Kondo Marie and her KonMari method, I have to admit that I was in two minds about it. I did go ahead and order the book, but in the meantime while I'm waiting for it to arrive, I thought I'd note my initial impressions of what I've read so far.

Not my house, but it could be!
Picture Source.


* Minimalism. I've always had a lot of stuff. My family has always had a lot of stuff, and I grew up being used to that. We're not hoarders - we'll quite happily throw stuff away, and we like to have everything tidied away where possible. Admittedly though, that doesn't always work out in the bustle of everyday life.
* Working from items you're least attached to, to most. I think the concept is great, but Kondo suggests starting with clothes, then books, then other items. I'm very attached to my clothes and especially my books! I guess my concept of sentimentality is a little different to hers. If I haven't read a book, then I will not get rid of it.


* The main title of the book uses the words 'tidying up' rather than 'de-cluttering' or 'organising'. I've always had a resistance to those two words, but my brain can cope with tidying up.
* Kondo's method involves working by category rather than by room or area. For example, you need to collect together all of your clothes, no matter what room they are in, before you start deciding what to get rid of. That makes a lot of sense to me and appeals to my sense of completism.
* It's a one-shot prospect. Kondo says that if you follow her method faithfully, then you should only ever have to do it once - ever. In fact, she even says that once finished, you should give her book away, as you will no longer need it. I love that detail, as it shows that she is genuinely dedicated to her method. It sounds exciting but, to be honest, I'm a bit sceptical. I tend to buy a lot of stuff on impulse, which I then need to find spots for in the house. But I'm open to the possibility that this might change once I have a nice, tidy house.
* She's against buying elaborate storage systems, but she's big on putting things in boxes and trays. I do this a lot too, so it makes sense to me.
* She folds her t-shirts and socks the same way I do! We're folding twins!
* She acknowledges that people have trouble getting rid of things because they have emotional attachments or feelings of guilt associated with them. Her method turns traditional de-cluttering ideas on their head and looks at why we should keep things, rather than why we should throw them away.
* She has a spiritual way of looking at physical space and belongings, which I can relate to.

The beauty of socks.
Picture Source.

In the end, I decided to buy the book because I was intrigued by Kondo Marie as a person. She has been preoccupied with tidying and arranging physical space since the age of 5. She worked for many years in a Shinto shrine, where she became accustomed to thinking of physical space in a spiritual way. In some ways, she reminds me of myself. I've been known to spend an afternoon happily sorting hama beads into different colours, and can't wait for the day when I'll have time to get right into the compactus and get all those files properly sorted out.

Now ... when is that book going to arrive??

Sunday, 23 August 2015

7 Things I Do When I'm Depressed

I accidentally deleted the first version of this post, and didn't realise it for about 3 weeks. Thankfully that doesn't happen to me very often, though I found myself thinking, why this post in particular??! It was difficult trying to remember that far back; and the second version never seems as good as the first, but I'm going to persist!

I do think this is an important topic to write about. Most people only show the best side of themselves on the internet -- and who can blame them? I like to stick to writing about my hobbies and fun things I do on my blog. I try to avoid anything negative, because this is my fun place, where I come to escape. It's easy to forget though, that blogs and instagrams are just one aspect of a person's life, a carefully edited version. I can't count the number of times I've started feeling 'blog envy', thinking that the person I'm reading about must have a perfect life. No-one's life is perfect. I have the same issues as everyone else. I work 6 days a week, and my job can often be very stressful. Most times, at the end of the day I'm tired, and I don't have as much time for art, craft and writing as I would like. This can often lead to depression. I also have anxiety which sometimes makes it difficult for me to go out and do/experience the things that I would like to.

Having said all of that, at heart I'm a very positive person, so I thought I'd make today's post about some of the tactics I use to cheer myself up when I'm feeling depressed. I hope that they might help anyone going through the same things I am.

When I'm at the dentist having my teeth drilled, I think about playing with puppies and kittens. Believe it or not, it actually makes the experience a lot more bearable. The Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus was the first one to suggest this idea: when his followers were in pain, he encouraged them to reminisce about past times enjoyed with friends. If I feel depression or anxiety getting the best of me, I imagine myself as a character in one of my favourite films (one with a happy ending!), or I think about being in a beautiful garden, or playing with baby animals. This has been a lifesaver many times when I've been in a crowded train feeling overwhelmed.
I can't remember where I read about this next trick unfortunately, but I read of a girl who relaxes by imagining herself painting with beautiful sparkly glowing paints, paints that don't exist in real life but her imagination makes them come to life. Sometimes I find it relaxing to imagine myself crocheting or knitting. I call it 'head crafting'.

Your body is an amazing and very complex organism. Sometimes there might be physical as well as mental and emotional factors at work. A few months ago, I went to my doctor to get a general check-up. I was surprised when he told me that my Iron levels were extremely low -- so low that the lab's instruments don't even measure such small amounts! I wasn't surprised to hear this, because I'd been feeling down for a long time. I thought it was just Winter that was making me feel so tired and sad and cold. I started taking Iron supplements the next day, and within a few days I felt much more myself. I had much more energy and felt like doing my hobbies again.
If I'm feeling depressed and grumpy for no apparent reason, I check where I am in my cycle. Yes, it's PMT time again! I tell myself that it'll only last for a few days, and that means I have permission to pamper myself in the meantime.

This one is for those weekends when I can't bring myself to get out of bed and the thought of doing anything is excruciating. Having a shower is such a simple, everyday thing that it doesn't feel like a luxury and so I don't have to feel guilty about it. Usually though, once I've done it, I have more energy -- I feel like getting dressed and doing something. Even if I end up getting straight back into bed, at least I'm clean and I smell nice.

This is what Barbara Sher calls the Complete Willingness Unit and Havi Brooks at The Fluent Self calls One Tiny Thing. I love One Tiny Thing myself, because the acronym OTT is the same as Over The Top, and that makes it sound outrageously fun! You might be thinking, but that's just another way of saying the old cliched phrase, "baby steps!". In some ways that's true, but you're only taking one step. And it's a step that you're absolutely willing and able to take. If you feel any resistance whatsoever, then don't do it!
For example, one of my biggest bugbears is putting away clean laundry. I have a huge pile of it in my bedroom, and just looking at it is depressing. My wardrobe is all disorganised and it's a complete nightmare. I say to myself, "I will put away one thing. One Thing. I can definitely cope with that." Once I've done that, if I feel like going on, I do. If I don't, it's perfectly fine.
Another time I was feeling depressed because I hadn't written anything in such a long time. I realised that my notebook and my pen tray were in different rooms. I retrieved the pen tray and put it together with the notebook. Even though I didn't actually do any writing, I felt better. I knew that it would be easier for me to find my materials if and when I felt like writing again.

The most vital part of this technique -- and yes, I admit, the hardest -- is giving yourself permission. Letting yourself take the credit for doing this one thing, acknowledging that it is enough, and not letting guilt in. Something that really helps me with this is a concept I heard of a few years ago from The Fluent Self called Fractal Flowers. The idea is that everything in your life is connected to every other thing in an infinite pattern, like a fractal. So, no matter what you're doing right now, it's having effects in other parts of your life.
I had to work on this for quite a while before it clicked in my head, but now it's one of my favourite techniques.

(Incidentally, while looking up the relevant links for this section, I also found this funny and inspiring post on brushing just one tooth.)

On my ipod, I have a playlist called 'Happy Songs'. It brings together all of the songs that make me happy from all genres, from Kpop to Disco. When I'm feeling down, I set it going, and I instantly feel better. Lately I've often been listening to it at other times, as well. Now that I think about it, when things are really bad, I could make listening to a song my One Tiny Thing.

I'm sure many people will be familiar with that voice in your head telling you not to bother writing that story or doing that drawing because it'll be the worst thing ever created in the history of man. I used to let that voice take over, but with a lot of work, I've learned to defy it. I do a bit of reverse psychology and try to prove the voice right! I'll deliberately do a really bad drawing, or just grab a bunch of textas in my fist and scribble all over the page. I'll choose some paints that clash horribly and just smoosh them around. Other times I might butcher the craft of writing by creating a story with no ending, or using horribly cliched words that I would never normally use. I turn making the worst possible creation into a game. Usually, I end up having fun and feeling a whole lot better.

No matter how small it is, I make sure I have something to look forward to. I find that this one is most helpful when I'm in situations where I can't just run off and sit in a corner or spend time daydreaming, etc. It's nice to have a holiday booked in, but of course I don't always have the money or opportunity to do that. Even small things can lift me out of depression though, like having a session booked at the Cat Cafe, or arranging lunch with a friend. Declaring Friday to be pizza night. Deciding to walk a different route at lunchtime. It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, just something that will break up the everyday routine of work.

That's right, sometimes I just do nothing. I would have been ashamed to admit that until recently. All my life, I've always felt like I have to be doing something, anything, but never nothing. This is another situation where the concept of Fractal Flowers is really helpful. For example, sometimes all I want to do is lie in bed and stare at the ceiling for the rest of the afternoon. It sounds awful, but perhaps that's what I really need to do at those times. One time when I did that, I fell asleep and had an amazing dream that inspired a story. That story would never have come about if I'd gotten up and mechanically forced myself to do housework or cook dinner. I might even have gotten the extra rest that I needed to avoid coming down with the nasty cold that everyone else was getting. Who knows? Anything could happen.

If none of these wacky ideas work for you, there are plenty of others out there on the internet at your fingertips. If nothing seems to be working, please talk to someone in your life or online. It will get better. It's getting better for me, and it will for you, too.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Pen Update / Review

I didn't write about the arrival of my order from Jetpens straight away, but I can assure you, I was very excited! I've tested out a few of the pens so far.

I bought the Zebra Sarasa Gel Ink Pen in Grey, to compare it to the grey Pilot Juice pen that I have. Just as I suspected, I prefer the Zebra Sarasa. The colour is much more saturated and easy to read. I wrote some spontaneous bad haiku in my notebook to demonstrate:

I also purchased a Uni-ball Vision Elite BLX Roller Ball (0.5 mm) in Purple Black, mainly because I was curious about the colour. I don't normally like this sort of pen: I like a thicker line and I often find them a bit scratchy. It was beyond my expectations, though! The colour is lovely, it's comfortable to hold, and it's not scratchy at all.

I finally completed the Pilot Petit set and got the Petit3, the brush pen. I loaded it up with the clear blue cartridge that it came with and had a muck around with it. It's not like any other brush pen that I have experience with. The tip is only slightly more flexible than a sign pen. Perhaps I'm not enough of a pen afficionado, but it just seems like a thinner version of their Petit2 sign pen. Nevertheless it'll be fun to draw with, and I do love the way the writing ink looks in drawings.

The star of my haul though, was this fountain pen, the Jinhao X750.

I saw it when I checked out the New Products section of the website and couldn't resist. It looked amazing on the website, and even if it turned out to be no good, it was incredibly cheap at $8.00. For the price it also included a converter. There were 6 colours to choose from, and I chose the Ice Flower Red. It's compatible with the international standard short cartridge, which is produced by several brands in a large range of colours, so there's a lot of choice. I chose the more affordable Kaweco cartridges in Caramel Brown; they come in a pack of 6.

When I first unpacked the pen, I was instantly struck by how heavy it was. The barrel is metal and the whole pen seems to be of very good quality. Inserting the cartridge was easy, but unfortunately I had a lot of trouble with it after that. It took a little bit of effort to get the ink flowing, and then it would only write a few words or a sentence before the flow would stop again. I tried cleaning it and that still didn't fix the problem. Eventually I hit on the idea of storing it vertically, nib down. It seems to work fine this way so far. I can't store it in my pen tray with my other pens, but that's only a small inconvenience.

Now that I have it flowing well -- my gosh, this pen is a pleasure to write with! More bad haiku to demonstrate:

The line is lusciously thick, it moves over the paper smoothly, and the heaviness of the pen balances well in my hand. This pen is like a shy friend who is prickly at first and only shows her beautiful qualities after you persevere.

I haven't yet used the pen with the converter, but according to the reviews on JetPens, it works well. Now, where did I pack my bottled inks?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A First...

This .... is my first painting on canvas!

I've been thinking about taking this step for about 6 months. One day at work, a communique went around that a senior executive was looking for one or more artworks to decorate her office with. Did we paint? Or know anyone that paints? Well, I paint! But only in art journals, and that isn't the kind of thing you can hang on a wall. If I ever want to share my art with others, then it has to come out of the journal and onto something displayable. "What???" the voice in my head says, "share it with others? Are you crazy! The first time anyone criticises it, you'll be completely crushed and crawl back into your hole and never create again!"

Enough of that, voice!

In the end the painting came about because of the fortuitous convergence of my Mum's 60th birthday, and a 50% off sale on canvases at Riot Art & Craft stores. I wanted to make something special for my Mum, and seeing the sale in my email gave me the idea to do it. I tried to choose colours that she would like, and they're colours I like too, so the painting is actually very similar to what I create in my art journals (except I actually finished it!). There's luscious colour, patterns, mark-making and collage bits. And -- the bit that's been missing from my art journal pages -- there are a couple of my creatures. I dreamed of them once, they've been appearing in my sketches for a while, and now they appear here. This particular painting shows two, emerging from a hole in the ground. Are they mother and daughter? Probably. Are they me and my Mum? Possibly. Is the 'hole' a womb, or an emergence from the 'Stuff' we both struggle with in our lives? Who knows?

I made the two figures the same size because we are both adults now: sometimes she leads me, and other times I lead her. Or they might not be us at all. I deliberately made it ambiguous. The only sure thing is that they are moving up towards the rainbow-coloured light above the canopy of the forest.

When I gave Mum the painting she said, "Wow! You've come a long way!" Later, when we were saying good bye, she said, "thanks for my painting!" I did notice however, that she didn't actually say she liked it. I had a slight crisis of confidence, thinking that if even my own mum doesn't like my art, then who will??! Thankfully it passed fairly quickly with the help of some sketching in my journals, and I'm ready to try another one.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Pruning the Roses

It's that time of year again: time to prune the roses, so I dug out my gloves and secateurs yesterday and hacked away! Last year (my first year) I left it too late. By all accounts you're not supposed to prune when new growth has already started, so I wasn't able to do much except tidy off some old dead branches. That's why the roses still look so tangled and out-of-control this year! I used instructions from here with diagrams from here as my guide.

The roses in the side garden, before:

and after:


And after:

The rose at the front next to the garage, after:

I don't seem to have a before, oops, but I didn't chop much off this one. As you can see, it never died back over Winter, so I was worried about chopping too much off. It's interesting that each rose bush is different. Each one grew at different rates, started and finished flowering at different times, and died back to different degrees once the weather turned.

I didn't prune this poor fellow at all except for cutting off a few tiny dead twigs. It had a bad case of black spot over the Summer and didn't grow at all, so I let him be.

I'm very pleased to see lots of new buds growing very strongly on it, though:

Just as I was packing up, it started pouring rain and this amazing double rainbow appeared! You can't see the second one very well in the photo, but it's coming up from behind the power pole.

The double effect had gone away by the time I took the second one, but it's so bright! I stayed outside for a little while under the porch, watching and listening to the rain falling onto the plants in the garden. At times like these, I can almost feel their joy at soaking in the rain, the heat of summer just a distant memory. Morning sun and afternoon rain -- it's perfect.