Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 in Review

It's generally being said around the Internet that 2016 was the year from hell, and in many ways I agree. In my own life though, it was a very good year, with many changes, most of them positive.

I was going to write about things I wish I'd done differently this year, but I'd rather focus on the positive, so here's a list of good things that I did or happened to me:

➸ I left my old job and had 6 months off
➸ I got a new job in the field I wanted to go into
➸ We got a cat (!!)
➸ I went on trips to the country, the beach, and a fashion show (all on my own!)
➸ I made a new friend
➸ I went to see a shaman
➸ I KonMaried my house (it's not finished yet, but I did most of it)
➸ I turned 40 and had a crafternoon party to celebrate
➸ I made jam, preserved olives, gluten-free hot cross buns, and learned how to make gluten-free pastry
➸ I started writing a zine
➸ My attitudes towards work, material things, and other people all seem to have changed

Now for the customary stats (last year's stat in brackets):

Books finished:
full-length: 20 (14)
short & manga: 20 (38)
Currently reading as of today: 9 (13)

Blog posts: 63 (69)

Craft items started: 6 (8)
Craft items finished: 6 (7)
Craft projects currently in progress as of today: 40 (I did have 52, but I made myself cull some a few weeks ago.)

Last but not least, the annual Apartmentcat Favourites Awards!
Top Movies:
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Rogue One
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Maleficent and Mad Max: Fury Road were also very good.

Top Books:
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Essays in Idleness by Yoshida KenkĊ

Have a happy and safe new year everyone!

Friday, 30 December 2016

Season's Greetings (and Presents Received!)

I hope you've been having a wonderful and relaxing time, no matter what you celebrate.
Thank you for the views and comments this year!
May your 2017 be everything that you wish for.

And now for the presents! I didn't receive as many this year, but I don't mind at all. I love everything I received. Husband bought me the board game Scoville as I heard about it from a workmate a few months ago and I mentioned it to him as a game I might like.

Lottie Fossil Hunter doll and two outfits. I ordered these online and then gave the unopened box to Husband for him to give to me.

Books -- some I asked Husband to give me, some I received from my mother and father in-law, and Cakemoji was from my best friends. My mother-in-law slips a cheesy romance novel into our Christmas hamper every year -- it seems to have become a family tradition!

Food gifts: the bottle of Kirsch has a spinning mini bottle insert in the front. Husband and I are always on the look-out for interesting liqueur bottles to give each other. The mug was a going-away gift to me from one of my workmates. I gave it to Husband to wrap and put under the tree because, it's quite pretty and why not?

Crafts: I instructed Husband to give me some sparkly gel pens and a pencil pouch. The Tsum-Tsums activity tin is from my best friends. They know I like childish things like that, not to mention tins to keep my craft projects in!

Lastly, I did indeed receive the Harry Potter boxed set that I wished for. Husband and I bought it together as a gift for ourselves, so we decided to revive an old tradition from his childhood -- we designated it a "gift from the tree". When he was a child, his parents would wrap small gifts in green paper and hide them amongst the branches of the Christmas tree for him to find. This gift was much too heavy to hide in the tree! but it was just as special. It's something I'd like to do every year, not only to solve the problem of joint gifts, but as a lovely tradition.

Happy festive season to all!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere

The photos from today's post are unrelated to the text -- I took them yesterday during a trip to the city. I included them to give a general festive feel, and I always like to illustrate my posts. I hope you like my reminiscence of Christmas in Australia.

Christmas is nearly here! The school holidays are a few weeks in; the weather's turning hot. We set up the sprinkler in the backyard, running through it squealing until we get tired and convince Mum to give us an icypole. There's plenty more time for play -- it doesn't get dark until 9pm and we're allowed to stay up late on Christmas Eve. It's hard to sleep in the sticky heat, and even harder to stick to the rule of not waking Mum and Dad up until 6am.

After opening our presents and having breakfast, we dress in t-shirts, shorts and thongs, and pile into the car. The road trip of visitations to various relatives is almost torturous in our old, un-air-conditioned car, and a towel is required to stop our bare legs from sticking to the seats. Our trip ends, mid-afternoon, at Oma and Opa's house. Despite living in Australia for 25 years, they had never quite acclimatised to the Summer heat, and their house is one of the few in the street with air-conditioning installed. At Christmas though, it labours and splutters in the 35-degree heat, not quite able to counteract the oven which has been on since early morning.

We stuff in as much gravy-smothered roast beef, pork and chicken as we're able, not to mention roast potatoes and pumpkin. The table laid out with a straight-out-of-the-oven feast heats up both us and the room even more, until we're sweating. The paper crowns we found in our bonbons stick to our damp foreheads, and our clammy thighs stick to the plastic folding chairs. By the end of the last course, we're itching to leave the table.

Sometimes at dusk, we go for a leisurely walk around the neighbourhood to help digest our dinner, shuffling along in our thongs, wishing Merry Christmas to neighbours watering their gardens. Other years, it's just too hot, and we lie slumped on the couch, staring at the Christmas tree and losing the battle to stay awake.

We might play listlessly with our new toys for a little bit, leaving sweaty fingerprints on them, before slipping gratefully under crisp white sheets in the spare room and drifting off to sleep.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Christmas Wishlist

Harry Potter Boxed Set
For the last few months, I've had a hankering to read the whole Harry Potter series again. I never had a full set because I'd borrowed the first 3 or 4 from the library to read, and had only purchased the last few as they came out. I must have donated them because I can't find them anymore. So I'm wishing for a lovely boxed set like this one:

New Phone
Actually, I have a phone, it just isn't set up yet. I'm not very technically-minded, so it's taking a long time to figure out how to do everything. (My situation is complicated by the fact that I have an old-style sim card that doesn't fit the phone, my music library is on my old laptop, and my contacts, apps and photos are spread across 3 devices.) I know I have to do the work myself, and it's a bit unrealistic to call on the Christmas elves to help, but a girl can't help dreaming, right?

Plant Pots
I have so many baby plants now that I need a constant supply of nice pots for them to live in. Spare pots are also handy for keeping craft supplies and other household items in. Specialty bonsai pots are the prettiest, in my opinion -- they come in small sizes, and many colours and shapes.

Hose Trolley
Watering the garden every day in Summer is a must for it to survive, but lugging around an unco-operative hose is no fun. It would be so much easier with a retractable hose trolley that I could trundle around to different parts of the garden.

Miss Peregrine Book
I don't often buy fiction books unless I'm sure I'll like them, but having seen the trailers for the movie, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children seems to be one I'll surely like.

I'm quite sure at least a couple of these are under the Christmas tree already!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Late Spring Garden Update

It was a very wet Spring this year, which meant I didn't need to start watering the plants until a few weeks later than normal -- they sprang into life on their own and most things are growing well. Weeds grow so fast it's hard to keep up with them! (I secretly prefer the lawn like this, with dandelions popping up all over. It's the witch in me.)

I noticed when editing the photo that the shrub in the background looks like it has bright blue fairy lights all over it! But it's just the sun reflecting off the glossy leaves.

The orange tree has hundreds of tiny green globes all over it:

The plum and apricot trees are coming along nicely. I'll need to put the bird netting on them this weekend. This is the plum:

The ferns normally start to flag a little when the weather gets warmer, but it's not quite time for that yet:

Last but not least, the roses are even more glorious this year! The Circus Gold is a little too bright for me, but I can't help falling in love with its exuberance:

I'm very excited to see that the Julia's Rose is blooming properly for the first time in the three years I've lived here. The delicate pastel copper is just exquisite, and it smells wonderful too. It's competing with the Blue Moon (background) as my favourite at the moment.

This time next week, the weather is forecast to turn hot. The nightly cycle of sprinklers, hoses and watercan-hauling will soon begin. I like spending time with my plants though, it's calming and a relaxing thing to do after work when it's too hot for baths and tea.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Mini Challenge : 6 Things in 6 Weeks

Recently, someone at work pointed out that there are only 6 weeks until the end of the year. Instead of getting stressed about everything I have in progress, I decided to set myself a little challenge. Before the end of the year, I'd like to finish:

* 3 books
* 2 paintings
* my zine
* walking 200 kms (12 kms to go)
* 2 craft projects
* my 2016 Hobonichi (catch up on blank pages)

I've been looking into Bullet Journalling lately. The system as a whole isn't for me, but I was inspired to make a 'bujo'-style tracker for my challenge. I didn't pretty it up too much, as I'm not going to keep it beyond the end of the challenge. For each day there are 6 squares, and if I did something towards any of the goals that day I get to fill it in. I haven't been able to do much as I've still been sick, but the tracker helps to remind me of what I have done, as well as keeping me motivated.

It's true, there were more than 6 weeks until the end of the year when I began, but it doesn't hurt to give myself a head start, does it? I also have another possible project coming up which would be quite exciting if I can be involved. I'll write more about that later!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

SPOILER ALERT!: I have tried not to give away too much of the story in my review, but nevertheless, but if you have not seen the movie yet, you may wish to wait before reading this post.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a movie set in the universe of Harry Potter. It is loosely based on J. K. Rowling's book of the same name. In the Harry Potter universe, the book is a non-fiction school textbook, a guide to magical creatures. The movie is the story of the book's author Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), and one of his many adventures.

The movie is set in New York in 1926. Newt Scamander has just arrived from England to find that wizards do things rather differently in the U.S.A. Muggles are called 'Non-Maj', and there is a law against having any contact with them except strictly for business. Newt has with him a Tardis-like suitcase full of magical creatures, some of which escape. In trying to catch them, he reveals himself to a Non-Maj and is caught by an investigator (Tina, played by Katherine Waterston) from the American version of the Ministry of Magic: MACUSA. At the same time, darker events are happening, for which his creatures are blamed.

Before the movie, very little was known about Newt Scamander's character beyond his profession as a magizoologist. More devoted fans might know that he was a Hufflepuff at Hogwart's. Eddie Redmayne was absolutely perfect as the devoted animal-keeper. Forthright, socially awkward, yet brave and curious, he embodied the ideals of a Hufflepuff and the eccentricities of a wizard.

The female characters were also satisfying. Tina Goldstein, the demoted ex-auror had a complex history and a quiet yet strong demeanor. Her sister Queenie could have been told as yet another blonde bimbo, but her character also had depth. The pathos of Queenie's beauty and sometimes-uncontrollable Legillimency (ability to read minds) was quite moving.

The story is set against a background of fear and oppression. A dark force strong enough to destroy buildings is ravaging the city. An extremist group called the New Salem Philanthropic Society are campaigning to expose and eradicate witches and wizards. Despite the audience being half young children the day I went, I would say this is not a movie for little ones. There are themes of death, abuse and oppression. Some of the imagery, especially that of the political rally and the New Salemer's speeches, was quite chilling.

Despite all this, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ends on a positive note. There is a satisfying amount of duelling and disapparating, and the animals both small and large were fascinating to discover. There are several nods to Hogwart's and the Harry Potter era, such as echoes of the music in the score, and Newt's yellow and grey-striped scarf. Any concerns about the movie feeling 'samey' however, are dismissed immediately.

The ending ties back into the main history of events that occurred in Europe, and I have a feeling there will be at least one more movie on the theme. I certainly want to know more.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them receives a definite thumbs-up from me!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Art is Important

Today, I worked on my art for the first time in 2 months. I kept hesitating because I was worried I'd screw up the canvases. Because they might not come out like the image in my head. Because my art is different to other people's. Because I can't draw as well as other people.

Today was different though. I decided to be brave. As I worked, I was listening to some old cassette tapes. Weirdly, when the song Kids in America started playing, the events of the last week must have caught up with me. Normally I never cry, but cried then, for all of the decent people of the world. By the time the song ended, I knew what to do. I remembered showing a friend some of my paintings a few months ago. Among other comments, he said that looking at them made him happy.

That's what I want to do -- I want to make people happy. Something shifted in me. I worked all afternoon, made some steps on a painting that I'd been hesitating to make, and started a new one. I can't imagine letting those doubts get in my way now. They're nothing compared with what I need to do. I hope this means that good can come from bad, not just for me but for the whole world.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

My Hogwarts House

Yesterday, I finally created an account at Pottermore and found out my official Hogwarts House! I don't know why it took me so long to get around to it. I first started reading the books after the third one came out, so that makes it 1999. At the time, I was instantly drawn to Ravenclaw -- it fit my personality perfectly.

When the online quizzes and tests appeared, I did a couple and the result was always Ravenclaw, too. I was a dyed-in-the-wool Ravenclaw! Or was I? When chatting with Husband and some friends earlier this year, they said I struck them as being more of a Hufflepuff. Were the tests wrong, or perhaps I've changed?

About a month ago, I came across a sorting system based on personality psychology. It's quite complicated, and there's no quiz -- you have to read through the desciptions and decide which one fits you best. The site is here and I would recommend it as an interesting exercise if you're interested in psychology. The system is two-tiered. Your Primary sort is based on your value system: why you do the things you do. Your Secondary sort is your methods: how you achieve the things you want to do. It also explains the concepts of Modelling and Performing.

Choosing my House for the Secondary sort was easy: it was Ravenclaw far and away above the others. I had a very hard time choosing a House for the Primary sort, however. In the end, I tentatively chose Hufflepuff first, with Ravenclaw a close second.

While this exercise and learning more about the psychology-based sorting system was very interesting, it left me even more confused than before. Can you be a RavenclawxHufflepuff? That's why I decided to join Pottermore, do the sorting quiz there and get the 'official' truth. Which is: I'm a proud Hufflepuff!

It wasn't much of a surprise actually, when I think back on the last 15 years. I've changed in many ways. Learning and knowledge are still very important to me, but so is community and supporting others. (The rise of the internet is probably partly the reason for that.) In the last 3 years especially, since buying our house, gardening and plants have become a new and passionate hobby for me. That, more than anything else, is probably the reason my friends now think of me as a Hufflepuff!

I am very happy to be a Hufflepuff, as I think it suits my personality the way it is now. And who knows, perhaps I would have been the student to build bridges between the Houses and show that Hufflepuffs aren't "duffers" after all! There's only one drawback to being a Hufflepuff. The House colours -- yellow and black -- are the same as a football team here in Melbourne. None of the other House's colours suffer from that problem. I suppose that if I ever want to deck myself out in Hufflepuff regalia, I will have to make sure the crest with the badger is clearly visible. I don't mind though, because the badger is the most adorable and foresty of all the animals!

I actually think that if I lived in the Harry Potter universe, I would have been a Ravenclaw. If I'd been admitted to Hogwarts at the age of 11, where would the Sorting Hat have put me? I was such a strong Ravenclaw back then. If the hat had given me a choice between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, I would certainly have chosen Ravenclaw. Now, I would choose Hufflepuff. And J. K. Rowling agrees.

TL;DR I'm a Hufflepuff!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

6 Comforting Things to Do

I'm sure that many of us are feeling troubled right now. It's especially difficult if you are the kind of person who feels the emotions of others, even just a little. My first instinct at the moment is to go back to basics -- focus on what's most important to me and the core things I believe in. It's hard to do that though, when so many unsettling things are happening right now. So I thought I'd write this post to help in some small way.

1. Go for a walk in the fresh air, or do yoga or stretching. Gentle movement will help to relax the mind as well as the body. It may help you to sleep better as well. When I go for a walk, I like to look out for the little things along the way, like a bright flower or the ripples of light on the water.

2. Connect with your loved ones. Talking about your worries can help you feel much better. Or perhaps you might prefer to avoid the issues and talk about light-hearted things. Whichever you choose to talk about, knowing your loved ones are there is very important for your well-being.

3. Read some favourite books from your childhood. Try to remember the happy feelings that you felt the first time you read them. Or try reading some new books.

4. Play with toys. Just like reading childhood books, playing with toys can take you back to a time that was more innocent. Choose toys that you played with as a child, or ones that involve making up stories or using your imagination.

5. Be creative. Work on your hobbies. Whether it be writing, painting, gardening, etc., return to the hobbies that you find relaxing. Perhaps try a new one that you have wanted to try for a while. The process of learning something new may help you to take your mind off things.

6. Check that you're prepared. When I'm feeling worried about the state of the world, it makes me feel better to check on practical things. For example -- review my savings plan, make sure I have things I need in my backpack, arrange a place to meet with Husband in case of an emergency, etc. Once these practical things are in place, then I have a bit more peace of mind.

I hope some of these suggestions help, and if you are worried about the world at the moment, know that you're not alone.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

My October

It feels a little late to do my monthly update one week into the next month, but I'll forge ahead anyway. I didn't do very much last month, as I've had a virus which left me with constant headaches and feeling tired. So there's not much to share anyway. However, I did some preparation for a few blog posts, so there's more coming up soon.

Spring this year has been a little wetter than normal, which the plants love, so my garden is doing well, in the main. Despite being sick, I've had a few lovely times. My best friend surprised me with this amazing Pikachu backpack that she sewed just for me!

Of course, I wore it to PAX, the computer game and board game expo. Unfortunately we weren't able to spend the whole day there as Husband came down suddenly sick, but I did buy these two games on impulse:

What I've been knitting ...
I decided to concentrate a bit more on finishing old craft projects, and the one I've chosen first is a set of 3 coathanger covers with a polkadot theme. I suppose I'd finish it much quicker if I just made one, but then I'd only have 1/3 of the satisfaction! I've finished the first cover and started the second one. This one is in a simple slip stitch. I thought I would also keep the colour theme consistent as I have quite a bit of the blue yarn in my knitting bag to use up.

What I've been drawing ...
Sometimes when I'm low on motivation, I get behind on my Hobonichi daily art journalling. On days when my motivation is high though, I try to go back to the earlier blank pages and do an extra drawing, partly for the practice and partly to catch up.

What I've been reading ...
A few days ago, I came across an old blog I'd written between 2010 and 2013. I always knew in the back of my mind that it was lingering somewhere on the internet, but last week I thought I'd have a look at it and decide what to do with it -- delete it, salvage some of the posts, etc. I ended up deciding not only to preserve it, but to revive it. It's a personal blog, so I'm not quite ready to link to it from here. However, it's a public blog, so you may end up finding it if you use some creative searching skills!....

My Dias de Muertos Altar
Ever since my Opa passed away, his framed photo has been the centrepiece of the altar every year. This year I added some Dutch items that I came across while I was unpacking, as well as a few things I found while on nature walks. For the first time this year, I also added the female figurine I made many years ago in ceramics class. I'm not sure why, to be honest. I've been thinking a lot more lately about feminism and why it's important, so perhaps that's why.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Cherry Blossom Viewing Picnic for One

The cherry tree is blossoming at the moment, and I feel like marking the occasion somehow. Last year I was too busy and didn't even get a chance to take photos before the blossoms fell, which was a little sad. On a whim, I decided to turn my lunch into a picnic.

I accompanied my leftover chicken stiry fry with baby cucumbers, a boiled egg, some dried fruit and nuts, and some orange segments.

The weather is particularly changeable in Spring (even more than normal!) but thankfully it cleared a little by lunchtime. The tree is still too small to sit under, but sitting next to it was perfectly adequate.

In Japan, sakura are the essential symbol of the transience of beauty, and a reminder of the passing away of all things. However as I sat, I was thinking of the future and new growth. Of the cherries that will grow later in Summer, and what the tree will look like in coming years.

This is one of my favourite parts of gardening -- imagining, if all goes well, how the plants will grow, how they will experience the seasons and my part in keeping them well-maintained and happy.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Springtime Salad

Last weekend, I did one of the things on my Springtime Mori by making a Spring-themed salad for lunch. I didn't use a recipe, but was inspired by what I saw at the supermarket. The first thing I saw were some adorable button mushrooms, which I put in whole. What a shame it would be to cut them up!

I also added thinly sliced cucumber and red onion, ham, ricotta cheese and rocket. I very much wanted to add some fresh strawberries, but there has been some controversy around the price of berries in Australia lately (I'm not sure on the details) and some supermarkets have stopped selling them. So I settled for some dried cranberries. It really makes me think I should look into growing my own berries, though!

Husband whipped up a delicious dressing with some balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lime juice and a few other things.

The salad was delicious and just perfect for the beginning of Spring. The only thing I would have changed was to perhaps soak the cranberries in juice for a while to plumpen them up. Next time I'd like to try something with asparagus, I think.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

My September

It's Spring here in the southern half of the world. The days are longer, the trees are waking up, and the cat spends his mornings lazing in the sun. It's taken a while for the weather to warm up -- even now there are just as many cold and rainy days as Spring-like ones. As inspiring as Spring is, I'm not one to love the Summer heat, so I'm enjoying the cooler days while I can. I've been working on lots of creative activities, though not being able to focus on any one thing on particular, so I feel like I haven't made much progress.

This coming month is Inktober, and also the next round of Creative Sprint. I know many people love Inktober and I'm looking forward to seeing their work, but I have decided to participate in Creative Sprint. Because of my dilemma above, and the ridiculously long list of WIPs I have at the moment, I have decided to focus on working on current projects of all types. I will try to post my progress on my Instagram every day, and also weekly updates here on the blog. But now, back to what I did in September...

What I've been painting ...
There are so many interesting e-courses out there, many free, that it could take me a lifetime to get through them all. I finished the Fluent Self Journalling course, and began Tara Leaver's 10 Days to Making Art You Love course. The first assignment is to do a very simple, quick landscape in any medium you like. I've been very inspired by dreams lately, so I did this dreamlike scape, like something from a primitive myth or an alien world.

What I've been visiting ...
During the month I was very busy with events. Well, one event per week is 'busy' for me, I have to admit! I went out of my anxiety comfort zone and went alone to the Bad Girls' Club exhibition, at a pub in the trendy part of town. There was so much amazing, feminist work there, and I met up with my new friend, one of the artists. I was very inspired and spent all my spare time in the next few weeks writing for my zine, designing plushies, etc.

Bad Girl Zine and bottle shrine work by @possumparcel

What I've been reading ...
I had a renewed interest in reading last month, mostly sticking to the older junior and young adult books that I found while unpacking. There's a library near my new work, and I've set myself a little challenge of reading and donating 12 books before I join. My favourite, which I remember from my childhood, was Helen Keller's Teacher, about the life of Annie Sullivan, who taught Helen Keller to communicate and was by her side most of her life.

Selections from Instagram
With clearer weather, I've had a chance to go for walks before work in the mornings. After rainy nights, the early morning sunlight has a soft, hazy feel to it, and even in the city there are some beautiful shots to be had -- especially when water is involved. It seems I've had a fascination with reflections lately.

The Native Mint plant in my garden. It smells divine, but I haven't yet been able to find out if it's edible: