Wednesday, 28 October 2015

My "NaNoWriMo"

No. 32 on my 101 Things List is to do NaNoWriMo (or a variant of) every year. I say 'a variant' because I'm just not the novel-writing kind of person. I don't think I have it in me to write a full novel. I do plenty of writing though, in the form of journalling, blogging, essays and poems. I've heard of people changing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to suit their own style -- writing a poem a day, or a blog post a day. (I think it would be a little unfair of me to suddenly go from one post a week to one a day, so don't worry, I'm not doing NaBloPoMo!)

I've hesitated in participating in NaNoWriMo before, for a couple of reasons. It seems like a very structured thing. There are rules, specifications, and word counts. The "Na" part is very Amero-centric. Also, November is a very busy month -- with the weather getting warmer, it's a busy time in the garden, there are birthdays, and the preparations for the festive season take up a lot of time as well. Yesterday I was thinking to myself, "why does it have to be in November?? It's so busy, and the weather's finally nice again. I don't want to be cooped up inside writing. I just want to be outside!"

At that thought, I had a lightbulb moment. Why don't I write outside? It doesn't matter what I write or how long I write for, as long as it's outdoors. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I'll call it: KaWriOutMo (Katie's Writing Outside Month). I'd better set some rules guidelines:

1. Must be out of doors.

2. Being on the train doesn't count as being outside!

3. Must be at least 10 minutes per day.

4. Can be any type or style of writing I choose.

5. Can use any tools to hand: notebook and pen, ipod, ipad, laptop, etc.

To be honest, I'm not hugely confident that I can do this successfully. Both finding the time and thinking of something to write about every single day are daunting prospects. Perhaps I'll give myself a big treat at the end if I do. I'm sure I'll think of something suitably enticing.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

A Noob Reviews : Exploding Kittens

The Game:

Exploding Kittens is the result of one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in history. Designed by the creators of the popular comics website The Oatmeal, the perfect pairing of kittens and explosions has seen this card game take the tabletop gaming world by storm. When Husband saw the game on Kickstarter and asked me whether he should back it, my response was: "It has kittens, and explosions!! HOW IS THAT EVEN A QUESTION??!!"


The Kickstarter deluxe version of the game consists of the original Exploding Kittens deck of cards housed in the First Edition box. An optional Not Safe For Work deck was also available, which we of course availed ourselves of. The first edition box has room for both sets of cards, and is styled to look like a kitty litter tray. There's also cute surprise in the box, but I won't say what it is as I don't want to spoil the surprise! Each of the cards has an illustration on it from the Oatmeal -- the Action cards, Explosion cards and Defuse cards all have unique illustrations, while Cat Cards have a range different but repeating pictures, enabling them to be paired.


Exploding Kittens can probably be described as a cross between Russian Roulette and Go Fish, with a dash of Uno thrown in for good measure. The aim of the game is to survive until the end by not picking up an Exploding Kitten card. As soon as you pick up an EK card, you're exploded and out of the game, unless you have a Defuse card in your hand to cancel it out. Likewise, if you can force other players to pick up cards, you increase their chances of exploding. All of the Action cards assist you in this mission. For example, the Attack card forces the next player to take 2 turns, doubling their chances of picking up an Exploding Kitten card. The Skip card means that you skip your own turn and you don't have to pick up a card -- sort of like reverse Uno.

The rest of the deck is made up of Cat Cards. This is where the element of Go Fish comes in. If you collect a pair of Cat Cards, you can use them to take a random card from another player. The main purpose of the Cat Cards seems to be to pad out the deck and make the game last longer. They also add an unpredictable element, in that your opponent may have a Defuse card or another useful card which you can steal away. As the game goes on and the draw pile gets smaller, it gets more exciting because there's more chance of drawing an Exploding Kitten card. Depending on the pre-game shuffle, all of the players might be out after a few rounds, or the draw pile might be whittled down until there are nail-bitingly few cards left. That's when those Action cards start to look pretty darned useful.

The playing time is approximately 10-15 minutes, depending on the number of players. The original deck can accommodate 2 to 5 players, while adding in the NSFW deck or a second deck brings that to a maximum of 10. While the game can be played with 2 players, in my experience a minimum of 3 makes for the more fun. I have also watched a 10-player game, which worked just as well -- as long as you can remember whose turn it is!


++ It has kittens and explosions, what else can I say?
++ The unique illustrations from the Oatmeal and cute extra touches on the box make it a very collectible game. The fun pictures and bizarre scenarios are amusing even if you weren't previously an Oatmeal fan. The game's repeatability depends almost entirely on them.
++ The deck can be customised so that a few or many people can play.
++ The concept is very simple so players can hit the ground running. There's even a video on YouTube explaining the rules for the non-rule-reading types.
++ The game is fairly short and engaging, which makes it good for kids as well as adults.
++ There's a mixture of luck and strategy involved, so whether you like one or the other, there's something for you.
++ The optional NSFW deck makes things more interesting. The individual cards have varying degrees of NSFW-ness, and a few or many cards can be removed to suit the age level of the players. This doesn't affect the gameplay at all.


-- Although the rules are easy to learn, the dynamic can be a little daunting for new players. Each round, the player can play as many cards from their hand as they like, before picking up from the draw pile at the end. When you're still at that newbie stage, it's hard to decide which and how many cards to play and what the consequences will be.
-- The presence of both luck and strategy in the game could be off-putting for people that like one but not the other.
-- For someone who was hanging out for months for their deck to arrive, the game is possibly a little too short. But, you can always play it again....

Final Comments:

Exploding Kittens is a lot of fun for all ages. The unique illustrations on the cards make it a very repeatable game. It's a good game to play when you only have a short amount of time, or as a warm-up on a games day and, being a simple deck of cards, can be taken travelling, etc.

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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

What I Wore -- to Ikea

I'm too shy to show photos of myself, but occasionally I like to share things to do with fashion. These What I Wore drawings are a good chance to do that as well as get in some drawing practice. I wore this outfit quite a long time ago, back in June, and I've been meaning to share it all this time. Oops! It's also been a really long time since I've done a What I Wore drawing, or at least finished one. I found several half-finished sketches in my drawing book, which was a bit sad, but it made me determined to finish this one.

I tried a slightly different technique. Instead of doing a pencil outline and then filling it in with ink, I skipped the pencil part. I also drew in a looser style than normal. I think the proportions came out fairly well considering I didn't have a preliminary sketch. Also, apparently I wasn't willing to have a go at drawing hands that day. Perhaps next time.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Japanese Festivals : Marimo Matsuri

#14 on my list of 101 Things in 1,001 days is: add a new holiday to my calendar every year and celebrate it. I thought I'd start with the Japanese Marimo Festival, which is celebrated on 8th to 10th October. I first heard about this festival last year but didn't get time to look into it much further. It also falls at the perfect time for me to get a good start on my 101 Things List!

Marimo is the Japanese name for balls of Cladophora algae that form at the bottom of lakes. In English they are known as Moss Balls, though this is technically incorrect. Normally the algae grows either attached to rocks or as free-floating filaments, but under certain conditions, the filaments form into balls. The ball form is quite rare and is only found in a few lakes in Japan, Northern Europe and the U.S.A.

Picture Source.

Marimo are particularly cherished by the indigenous Ainu people of Japan, who call them torasampe or Lake Goblins. The largest colony of Marimo in the world grows in Lake Akan, in the Ainu heartland. The adorable little fuzzy balls first came to wider attention in Japan in the early 1900s, and people started to take them home for their aquaria and to keep in jars as 'pets'. Over the next few decades, the colonies declined so much that they became endangered. In the 1950s, Ainu elders decided to celebrate Marimo and promote their conservation by inaugurating a Marimo Matsuri. These days, the festival not only serves to highlight Marimo conservation, but also wider Ainu culture in general, and is an important source of tourist revenue.

Picture Source.

And of course, it wouldn't be Japan without a creepy mascot!

Picture Source.

I can certainly see the appeal of Marimo. For a non-descript green ball of algae, they're absolutely freakin' adorable. I find watching videos of them almost mesmerising. I did consider purchasing some, but in my research I found conflicting information about whether it's legal to import them into Australia. I would also hate it if I weren't able to take care of them properly and anything happened to them. So I decided to leave Marimo 'breeding' to the experts. If you are considering Marimo ownership, some being sold online are fakes, so be careful!

It would be amazing to visit Japan and take part in the festival, but I'm not in a position to travel right now. I will just have to admire them via the magic of the internet. Although Australia does seem to have a Marimo connection -- a bunch of them washed ashore north of Sydney last year! They don't seem to be true Marimo as the expert in the article mentions they were make of seaweed, not algae, but it still must have been a magnificent sight.

I asked myself, not having any Marimo, and being on completely the opposite side of the earth from where they live, how will I celebrate the Marimo Festival? Like I celebrate any occasion or holiday in my life -- with food and craft, of course! At first I thought to make a meal of traditional Ainu food, but, as interesting as it sounds, I don't have access to ingredients like wild deer and Hokkaido garlic. So I contented myself with coming up with a 3-course meal made entirely of ball-shaped foods. For the appetiser I made mini cheese balls:

For the main, there was Swedish meatballs in milk gravy, baby potatoes and brussels sprouts. At the supermarket, Husband also found some Thai green curry balls and pomme noisettes (mashed potato balls, I'm not sure what these are called in other countries?). We made the gravy from the pan juices left over from cooking the meatballs and it turned out very thick, but trust me, the meatballs are under there somewhere!

Dessert consisted of rum balls and peanut butter snack balls. Husband can make rum balls with his eyes closed. I made the peanut butter snack balls from this recipe. I ignored the wierd selection of cereals I'd never heard of and just used rice bubbles. If I was going to make it again, I would probably add some spice or vanilla.

With the feast underway, I turned my mind to what else I could do to celebrate the Marimo. Making some craft or doing a drawing didn't seem like enough. The festival has a strong component of conservation, so I decided to do some research and see whether there's anything practical I can do to protect and improve our waterways. I have already started this and I will write up a blog post with my findings in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Lammily Rocking London Clothes Set Review

Today I will be unboxing and having a look at the Lammily Rocking London clothes set. I have to admit, the set arrived in the mail some time ago. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll have realised that I have many interests, and they tend to wax and wane seasonally. Or perhaps my dolls just like to hibernate over the Winter?

There are 7 outfit sets available for the First Edition Lammily Doll, themed by cities/countries of the world. It took me some time to decide which set to pick. Normally I would have chosen brighter colours -- for example, the Strolling in Paris set appealed to me very much. However, my main interest in dolls is making clothes for them, so I chose the Rocking London outfit because I thought the colours and components would match best with clothes I'm planning to make for Emmy. The set includes:

★ grey turtleneck jumper
★ tartan skirt
★ tweed jacket with attached belt
★ black leggings
★ black shoes
★ houndstooth scarf

My order was sent in a padded mailer bag, enclosed in a plastic satchel. I thought the packaging was adequate and the contents were protected well. The clothes set comes in a flat cardboard package with a plastic window. The window isn't that large and it's difficult to see the clothes themselves, but there's a half-length photo of Lammily wearing the set on the front, so you can have a preview of what's included. On the back of the package, there's another full-length photo of Lammily rocking the outfit, and some fun facts about London.

The outfit components are arranged on a backing board and attached to the board and to each other with thread and pintags. Many many many tiny little pintags that took a lot of delicate scissor work to extricate. I'm not that good with scissors at the best of times, but I finally managed to separate all the clothes without damaging anything. From here I'll look at each component separately, in the order that I put them on:

* the leggings: The leggings seemed to be made of a thick polyester with very little stretch. They were extremely tight and difficult to put on. In fact, I didn't think there were going to go over the hips at all for a while. I was worried about pulling too hard in case I cracked the stitches. I did eventually get the leggings all the way up, but I was pretty close to giving up and throwing a tantrum! A small child would definitely need adult help to get these leggings onto the doll. Even though they're made of thick, good quality material, I was disappointed at how difficult they were to put on.

* the skirt: The skirt is made of a checked material which frays easily. There were a lot of loose threads which I snipped to neaten it up. It might have benefitted from being overlocked rather than straight-sewn to avoid this problem. The tartan pattern isn't as vibrant as I might have expected, but it's the same fabric as shows on the box and online, so you can't complain about that. Once on, the skirt fits nicely and the mid-thigh length works well with the leggings. The curved seams fit well over Lammily's hips and show off her curves nicely. Once the loose threads were neatened up, I was happy with this garment.

* the jumper: The grey marle turtleneck jumper has 3/4-length sleeves and a matching ribbed fabric at cuffs and neck. It was a little difficult to get onto the doll, but not any more than clothes I've had experience with previously. Everything seemed fine until ......

The jumper doesn't fit over Emmy's hips! It's not wide enough to meet properly at the bottom and forms an open V-shape. Also, the velcro on one side is shorter on one side than the other.
However, from the front Emmy looks so good that I have to forgive the issue at the back. The figure-hugging fit is very sophisticated.

* the jacket: The jacket is well-made with some lovely details like the notched collar and silver buttons. The lining is made of the same tartan fabric as the skirt, and also has a lot of loose threads around the armholes. A bit of careful snipping solved this problem. The jacket has an attached belt made of shiny black ribbon with a silver buckle. A small child would need help doing up the buckle as the ribbon needs to be threaded through. The buckle is not attached to the belt and could easily slide off and be lost. Sewing the buckle onto the end of the ribbon would have been a simple solution and I will probably do this myself at some point. Despite this, overall I love the jacket. It fits Emmy well and looks very smart.

* the shoes and scarf: The houndstooth scarf is made of nice fabric with no loose threads. It's long enough to tie in a knot around Lammily's neck. The black low-heeled shoes are good quality as well. They slip on and off easily. However, Lammily's feet are moulded flat, so heeled shoes don't really work. The the toes point upwards, it's more difficult to stand the doll up, and it just looks strange. It seems that, just as Barbie can't wear flat shoes, Lammily can't wear heels! On the other hand, it's nice that Emmy finally has something more dressy than a pair of sneakers to wear.

I only purchased one outfit for my Lammily doll, as they are rather expensive and I wanted to see what the quality is like before spending more. I purchased this set for an introductory price of US$19 -- the price of all the sets has now gone up to US$25, the same as the doll itself. The exchange rate is very poor at the moment and that works out to be about AU$35. That's a pretty steep price for an accessory set!

The set has some really nice pieces in it -- the jumper and jacket in particular, and the leggings will match well with many different outfits, so I'm glad I purchased the Rocking London set. Bearing in mind the cost and my wanting to make outfits though, I have to conclude that I would not purchase any other sets from the official line. Well ... unless it was something amazing like a Mori or Decora outfit....

Friday, 2 October 2015

My September

Spring came early this year ... and then it went away again. At the end of August, the Spring wind began. It's the same every year: the breeze is just as biting as ever, but there's a different feeling to it -- a feeling of anticipation. The fruit trees feel it and begin to bud. The birds start to sing again. Just when you think it's too late to turn back, the weather turns and it's just as cold and rainy as it was in the middle of Winter. It wasn't until the last week of September that Spring began in earnest. September was the month for apricot blossoms, fruit tea and billowy scarves.

What I've been writing ... 
My main interest in the last month has been in writing posts for the blog. I have at least 6 unpublished posts in the pipeline on everything from dolls to food. I haven't written any stories or essays in a couple of months though, and sometimes I feel bad about it. Then I remember all the blogging and I tell myself that it's good practice.

What I've been  making ...  
I've developed a sudden interest in my Rainbow Loom again. Creating simpler ones using the Finger Loom is a good brainless craft for TV-watching time. I thought of making some necklaces too, but depending on the colours I want to use, I'll probably need to buy more supplies. There's just no other way!

What I've been  reading ...  
I finally finished Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. I put it down for a long time, and in the end it took me almost 2 years! Alice B. Toklas was the life-long companion of the modernist author Gertrude Stein. The "Autobiography" is written from Toklas' point of view, but is not only written by Gertrude Stein, but almost entirely about Gertrude Stein as well! Poor Alice comes across as merely wallpaper in her own biography.

As I've mentioned before, I found the first half quite slow-going, as it mostly consists of Gertrude's repetitive name-dropping of artists and writers she hung out with. Stein's stream of consciousness style of writing, while radical for its day, is quite passe now and at times, a little annoying. The stories of delivering supplies to the troops during World War I are much more engaging, as is the tale of her stormy friendship with Ernest Hemingway. I was also impressed by the time when Stein wrote a whole essay by the light of a streetlamp, sitting outside in the cold waiting for her car to be fixed. Now that's a true writer.

Alice, Gertrude and Basket the poodle.

It wasn't until I neared the end of the book that its implications occurred to me. Can an autobiography that isn't written by its own subject really show the truth? To what extent did any of these events really happen? Did Stein truly try to write from the point of view of her companion or was she experimenting with an alternative form of biography? What purpose did it serve to pretend to be someone else? Did writing with this buffer between her and her audience affect what she wrote? ... And what did Alice think of all this?

One last thing -- I read the book on my ebook reader and my epub conversion software did a very good job in converting all of the French names in the book, however at one point near the end, it converted 'Gertrude' to 'Germstrude'.

What else I've been doing ...  
My "reverse bucket list"....

became addicted to SpudBar ~ got the Epic Breeding Cave and a 3rd and 4th island in Dragon Vale ~ saw 2 plays including Antigone ~ decided not to re-subscribe to the theatre next year as there was only one play that interested me ~ finished reading 3 books ~ was assertive ~ ordered a new doll ~ was given my first pathtag, ordered several more and joined the pathtag club ~ made a Chan-Rio ~ started playing Tiny Tower again ~ picked some oranges from my tree ~ ordered more clothes for my Lammily doll ~ tidied my shoe area ~ joined Gaia Online ~ bought another new doll ~ went to Daiso ~ wrote a list of 101 Things in 1,001 Days ~ found and saved the LibraryThing Top 106 Unread Books list ~ Kondo-ed my email account ~ made Pasta Naporitan [blog post coming soon] ~ tidied my collage materials ~ went to 2 new restaurants ~ had a board games day ~ went clothes shopping ~ pre-ordered the new Lammily doll ~ put my Unseen Ninja phone-call-making skills to use ~ wrote a couple of haiku ~ got the souvenir Faire Dragon and Weather Station in Dragon Vale ~ got a massage