Sunday, 15 October 2017

Spring Garden Update

I took some photos for this post about 3 weeks ago, but didn't get around to posting it. Things have changed so much that I took a new set of photos and thought it would be fun to do a few comparisons. If I'd thought ahead, I would have taken them from the same angles, but I think there are some good shots anyway.

First is the nectarine tree. All of the fruit trees have finished blossoming now and are starting to grow tiny fruits. This tree in particular was afflicted with bad leaf curl last year and we ended up only getting one nectarine (yes, one!). I made sure to treat it in time this year (it has to be sprayed with copper sulphate just as the buds are forming) and it's looking much better. You can still see some affected leaves, but hopefully by plucking them regularly, the tree will perk up even more.

The roses have been growing steadily and flowerbuds are beginning to appear. I can't wait to smell their scent and see the beautiful colours again.

This is a new plant that I planted last year. I wanted to wait and see if it would take before debuting it, and it has! It's a French lavender. Isn't she beautiful? I asked the garden gnome to look after her and I think he's done a marvellous job so far.

I also planted these two daisy bushes along the front fence. It took them a while to settle in, but I was so pleased when they finally started to flower. They still look so tiny though. Sometimes I think I'm not patient enough to be a gardener!

Finally: my beloved fern is unfurling its fronds again.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Anxiety and Being an Artist

This post could be about anxiety and doing/being anything, really.

Seeing Hedgefairy's latest vlog about her insecurities inspired me to write about it, too. I think it's important to talk about all the parts of our lives, not just the shiny or exciting parts.

I've had anxiety all my life, and I think I will probably have it for the rest of my life. I didn't know what was wrong with me until I was about 25 and was talking to a friend one day about her experiences. They were eerily similar to mine. I finally knew what was wrong. I went to my doctor and a counsellor, and things started to get better from there. Even still, I've missed out on so much because of it: things I've lost, never had nor never tried for, all because of anxiety.

Many other people have talked about what it's like to have an anxiety disorder much more eloquently than I could. To me, it's like when someone comes up behind you and scares the willies out of you. For a split second, your heart is pounding, you feel hot and sweaty, you're terrified, you think you're going to die. You want to jump up and run away. Imagine that feeling lasting for 20 minutes or more, and there's no reason why it's happening. There's no-one behind you -- it's the thoughts in your head that are scaring you. You learn, like Pavlov's dog, what situations might trigger that feeling, and you instinctively avoid them.

So what does this have to do with being an artist, or any other kind of creative? Or even a small business owner?

You need to get out there, sell yourself, promote your business, be on social media. You need to believe in what you do. You have to be able to face any problems that arise.You need to have resiliance and be prepared for failure or rejection. You need to ignore the haters. Anxiety makes all of these prospects so much more difficult and frightening than they might be otherwise. Anxiety is like a hater in your own head.

Drawing attention to myself is the last thing I want to do -- because I know it will lead to situations where my anxiety will rear its ugly head. When I posted on my blog and facebook page about my upcoming exhibition, I winced throughout the entire thing. I've told a few people I'm an artist, but not many. I'm absolutely dreading going to the opening night. Yet these are the kinds of things I will have to do if I want to live a creative life.

I've tried to arrange things so I don't feel too much stress and can go at my own pace. I made a deliberate decision not to give up my day job, so that I'm not under pressure to have an income from my art. I don't have to open an online shop straight away if I don't want to ... or at all. If I don't make art that people like and buy, it doesn't matter. And if, because of that, people don't think I'm a 'real' artist, it doesn't worry me. It just takes the pressure off even more. I also like being an archivist and don't want to give that up.

Lately I've been trying to act on my impulses more and do things before anxiety takes over and shuts down my plans. I try to think things through logically and decide if it's feasible or not based on objective reasons rather than just whether it's too scary. I'll announce some of these things soon, when they're ready (when I'm ready!).

If you're struggling with anxiety or depression, know that you're not alone. Please talk to someone about it. It will get better.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

My September : A New Exhibition

Last month I applied for and was accepted into an exhibition called Piece of Me. The theme is the price we pay when connecting with other people. As someone with social anxiety, the theme resonated with me. It opens at the end of this month, which isn't much time to create 5 pieces! So this has been my main focus for the last few weeks.

Included will be my first work on wooden panel. I've had to research the best kind of wood and sealant, buy them and have the panels cut. I bought three so I'll be able to practice on them. I chose wood rather than canvas for this work for a particular reason, which I'll talk about in a future post. For now, here is the rather boring background:

Here are two paintings on canvas which I began in the last few days:

I'm also making a work on paper, which I'm unofficially calling Mind Map right now. It's a hodge-podge of all the things swirling around in my head. It's only recently that it's occurred to me that I can express the way I feel through art (I know, that must seem strange!). Making this piece involves vulnerability, but I'm prepared for that because that's what authentic art is about.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Re-Reading the Harry Potter Books

I've just finished re-reading the Harry Potter books, and I found them even more wonderful than I remembered. It took me several months, as I don't get much time to read these days, but even still, I was more than a little sad when it was over. It was like a friend was staying with me, and then they left. I thought I'd write this post as a little tribute to my re-reading, and to remind myself of why it's important to read the book as well as watch the film. These are things I've noticed in the books which are different or downplayed in the movies, which really bring them to life so much more.

* Ron is really useful ... when Harry, Hermione and Ron are caught by the Devil's Snare in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, it's Ron who has to remind Hermione that she can use magical fire to defeat it. He stands up for Hermione on several occasions -- even to Professor Snape when he calls her an insufferable know-it-all in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He shows bravery and intelligence that the movies don't reflect.

* The Weasleys swear ... a lot. Obviously the movies can't depict a character swearing, and the books can't use specific words, but quite often the text will say: "Ron swore...". The brothers also get up to more teasing and practical jokes on each other, and there are a lot of family in-jokes. There's such a beautiful sense of how close the family are.

{Picture Source.}

* Ginny is awesome ... Sure, Ginny is awesome in the movies, but she's even more so in the books. This comes out in the Quidditch matches, which are covered in the later books but dropped almost entirely from the movies (presumably due to time constraints). In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Ginny easily makes it onto the Gryffindor Quidditch team as a Chaser. When Harry is ill, she fills in for him as Seeker and catches the snitch which wins the House Cup. In the books too, we see a lot more of Ginny and how her experience in the Chamber of Secrets affected her. She feels guilt for what she did to her fellow students, and worries that she might become possessed again.

{Picture Source.}

* Hermione is really good at giving gifts ... the most memorable one being the broom maintenance kit she gives to Harry, which the book mentions him using several times. Hermione might seem like the kind of person who gives people gifts "for their own good" rather than what they would really like, but this isn't the case. (Well, except for the talking planners she gives Harry and Ron in their O.W.L. year!) I think this shows her as a caring friend and makes her a richer character. I have to admit, I'm a little bit envious of this ability.

* Luna is smarter than she seems ... There's an inkling of this in the movies when Luna give Harry advice about how to deal with Voldemort's mind games. It comes out more in the books, though. At Bill and Fleur's wedding, Harry is disguised for his own protection. He uses Polyjuice Potion to transform into a random muggle boy from the nearby village and passes himself off as a distant cousin of the Weasleys. Luna, however, sees through this disguise at once, recognising Harry from the way he moves. This shows that Luna has the ability to see past the obvious and trust her own ability to make connections where others can't.

{Picture Source.}
* Harry is quite smart ... It's difficult for movies to show the thought processes of characters, without going into annoying internal monologues, so we don't really get to see how Harry thinks. There are several occasions in the books though, where he thinks something over and comes to a smart conclusion. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he sits down and thinks about how to find the Diadem of Ravenclaw, and realises that he can talk to the Grey Lady. In the movie, Luna tells him this information. As angry as Harry is that Dumbledore didn't give him all the information he needed before he died, Dumbledore trusted him to come up with the answers on his own, and he did.

{Picture Source.}

* Magic is hard work ... The first few movies are sprinkled with comedic moments where a student casts a spell and it ends up blowing up in their face or turning into a furry teacup. In the later movies, there isn't room to depict the ongoing struggle to learn magic. Even students like Draco Malfoy or the Weasleys, who have been immersed in magic their whole lives, find it a struggle to learn to perform magic effectively. The students in Harry's year had an education in Defense Against the Darks Arts that is patchy at best, and they had to work very hard to catch up. Even when a student does learn to cast a spell, being able to control it is a different matter. When Crabbe uses the Fiendfyre spell in the Room of Requirement, it burns out of control with fatal consequences.

There's so much more to the Harry Potter books that I can't even begin to cover in a blog post. I'd like to re-read them once a year ideally, even if it does take 5 months!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Temperature Scarf : Update #5

Winter has been very cold this year, and that's been reflected in the scarf. In fact, I've even hit a bit of a snag, as I've run out of grey wool! (Grey represents 10-13oC.) I will have to take a scrap with me to the craft shop tomorrow and hope that I can find a fairly good match. Unfortunately it's not a good time of year to buy wool. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

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Temperature Scarf : First Update

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Bonsai Shop Haul

About this time of year, I always get an urge to go to the Bonsai Shop and stock up on pretty little pots. I love the shapes and the glazes. Apparently all of the sizes, designs and glaze colours have their own names in Japanese. I would love to learn them one day. I also got some decorative gravel.

The large round pot at back right is earmarked for Doris, my first succulent and the one that's had the most babies. She's put out a couple of branches that seem to want to grow horizontally and put down roots, so hopefully a wide, shallow pot will facilitate that. I'll share Doris: The Re-Potting in a future post.

This time, I also purchased a couple of live plants. My experiments with bonsai have been a bit disappointing in the past, but I guess I'm feeling optimistic at the moment. The plants at the bonsai nursery mostly don't have labels, and I forgot to ask what these were. I think the one on the left might be an azalea or grevillea, and the one on the right is a pine of some sort. I'm not sure if I'll try turning them into bonsai, but now is the right time of year for it, so I'll have to decide soon.

In retrospect, photographing green plants against a green grass background wasn't such a good idea!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Hello Spring!

This is the second in my experimental series of posts greeting the seasons, the first being Hello Autumn last April. (Oops, I forgot to say hello to Winter. I'm not going to apologise or feel bad for not being consistent. I suspect I probably have Seasonal Affective Disorder but I'll write about that another time.)

Spring comes early in Australia. We first feel its effects in the middle of August, when cold days are interpersed with a sprinkling of sunny ones, with a hint of a warm breeze wafting the scent of magnolia through the air. By the end of August, the wattles are in full bloom, buds are starting to appear on the fruit trees, and bright green new leaves are peeking out everywhere.

What things am I looking forward to in Spring?

While we are lucky enough to get some flowers throughout most of the year (with the height of Summer probably being the exception), Spring is the time when the flowers are most plentiful and beautiful.

I also love the wildflowers that grow on infrequently mowed lawns throughout the neighbourhood -- and yes, that includes ours!

working with plants
Spring is the time to re-pot potted plants, and plant new things outside. My succulents have really taken off and most either need to be transferred to larger pots or divided up into even more new little friends.

baby birds
This photo isn't the best, but it shows one spot under the eaves where doves nest every Spring. Every year there has been at least one bird come into being and grow up in this spot. It makes me proud!

Wearing them, decorating with them -- just having them everywhere!

Not my table, unfortunately!
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Not my bedroom, unfortunately!
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Spring treasure box
This time I chose a pink Lavshuca eyeshadow, a floral scrunchie, and quince-flavoured tea from Daiso. A cute comb to replace the boring old one in my backpack kit. There's also a Spring-themed pond decoration for my bedroom, but I've had it for several years and a few bits have fallen off, so I'll probably spruce it up a bit.

Aside from the Spring Equinox, there are the Marimo Festival on 8th-10th October, which I celebrated a couple of years ago. Later is Halloween / Samhain / Dias de Muertos, and the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in November.

and another thing
I've decided to try another experiment, this time inspired by a small challenge we were set at school. We were asked to make a list of goals for the next term (terms run for 6 months from equinox to equinox). It was quite an easy challenge to do, but it got me thinking about that sort of thing. The end of my first 101 Things in 1,001 Days is in June next year -- that's only 9 months away! Plus there are all the other things I want to do in my life, too. I need something to motivate me that's a bit more short term. 6 months is a good time period to think about doing things school-wise. In the spirit of the Slow Time course I'm doing at the moment, I like the idea of having each season as a natural time division. 3 months seems more realistic than 6 months, but less scary than 1 month! I'm still thinking about how this will look. Having goals that tune into the seasons really appeals to me, though.

That reminds me, I've been meaning to write a post about how there are 6 seasons in South-Eastern Australia. Or even 7 according to one Indigenous culture. This could get messy!

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Anime -- Kuma Miko: Girl Meets Bear

Kuma Miko: Girl Meets Bear (くまみこ) is a 12-episode anime created in 2016, based on the manga of the same name. Machi is a 14-year-old girl and miko (shrine attendant) of a shrine in a small, remote village. The shrine is no normal one, however -- it is dedicated to kuma (bears) and uniquely, is attended by a talking bear, Natsu. Machi has no immediate family or friends and Natsu acts as her friend, guardian and protector.

Machi is sick of her life of constant ceremonies, dances and the practice for them. Her life is dictated by the structure of tradition and the whims of the villagers that she serves. In one episode the villagers even create a selection of new shrine maiden outfits for her, each more risque than the next. Then there's her cousin Yoshio, who works for the local council and is passionate about increasing tourism to the village. He manipulates Machi into ever more awkward situations in the name of promoting the village.

Machi wants to get away from all this and go to high school in the city. Natsu is understandably worried that she won't cope, and devises a series of challenges for Machi to complete. These include buying clothes from a department store and buying a DVD from Village Vanguard. Other endeavours that she takes on herself, such as using a rice cooker, also end in disaster.

There are lots of cute details and funny moments throughout the series. The people and situations found in a remote town are parodied. Imagery of food and mountain scenery was plentiful enough to satisfy Mori folk and others who like this aesthetic. The depiction of the miko lifestyle and Shinto religion was also interesting. The episodes veer between different genres and defy categorisation as a whole. One episode focuses almost entirely on Machi's creation of a cold rice dish for dinner, turning it into a slice-of-life recipe story. Another has Machi trying on scanty outfits shown from angles reminiscent of a schoolgirl anime (close to being panty shots but still tame enough for younger viewers). The opening and closing songs are cute and catchy.

I loved this series and wished it didn't end so soon. The relationship between Machi the miko and Natsu the talking bear is so unusual and sweet; I found it very memorable. I had the theme song stuck in my head for a long time afterwards. I can see myself watching it again one day.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Happy Melbourne Day!

Today is Melbourne Day. 182 years ago today, the city of Melbourne was founded.

This year Melbourne has again been chosen as the world's most liveable city, and I'm proud! Sure, it's not perfect: gentrification of the inner suburbs is squeezing out cultural and artistic individuality, and high house prices have led to increasing urban sprawl. As sad as it is, that's happening in most places. On the other hand, the crime rate is relatively low and public transport has vastly improved recently. I've written here about why I personally love Melbourne (though I haven't gotten around to writing that elusive Part 2 yet!).

Unlike many people who can't wait to move away from the place they were born, or wander from place to place never feeling like they fit in, I'm extremely lucky to be living in my home: the place where I belong.

Happy birthday, Melbourne!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Slow Time

Recently I purchased Slow Time: Recovering the Natural Rythm of Life by Waverly Fitzgerald. It had been cropping up in recommendations for a few years now, so I thought I'd give it a try. The book is based on the author's 12-week course on time and our perception of it. From what I've read so far, there seem to be two aims:
1. changing our relationship to time to bring more peace and calmness to our lives;
2. creating personal rituals to acknlowledge and celebrate the passage of time.

I've always been interested in time, calendars and festivals, so my interest was piqued straight away, and I could always do with more calm in my life. As soon as I began to read the book, I knew that there was something important about it. I spent some time nearly every day reading it and working on the exercises (which are called 'Time Plays' to be less intimidating). I've been making sure to really take the time to let each section sink in before moving on to the next. I guess the concept of the book is having an effect on me already!

I completed Week 1 earlier today. Tasks for Week 1 included a reflection on my relationship to and beliefs about time, and how these have developed in my life. Another task was to think about how I want my relationship with time to be. I thought the most interesting task was to imagine that time was a friend, and write about your relationship with that friend: what you like about them, what you argue about, etc.

As well as the exercises designed to stimulate you to think differently about time, there are also observations about different cultures and how humanity's perception of time has changed. I found these very interesting and I'm looking forward to continuing.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

My DNA Analysis -- Part 3

See Part 1 of this series to find out what I knew about my
family background before having a DNA test done. See Part 2 of this series for the results of my first test.

As I mentioned in my previous post in this series, I eventually decided to get my DNA tested again through a different company. It was a difficult decision to make -- the cost was even higher and, to be frank, I think Husband thought I was a little mad. But I had to know.

The second analysis was done through 23andMe, a company based in the U.S. The process was exactly the same as the other test. Because the kit was sent to me and sent back via courier, it was actually much faster than through AncestryDNA. The kit arrived at their lab within 3 days, and I had my results 3 weeks later. The analysis from 23andMe has reports from 4 different areas, not just my ancestry analysis, so I was interested to see what those were, too. (U.S. customers have access to health reports too, but these are not available for Australian customers. Some kind of annoying legal thing, typical...)

Here is my summary result:

And my detailed result:

British & Irish: 55.5% (includes U.K., Irish)
French & German: 15.2% (includes Austrian, French, German, Belgian, Dutch, Swiss)
Scandinavian: 0.8% (includes Danish, Norwegian, Swedish)
Broadly Northwestern European: 27.8%
Broadly European: 0.6%

North African: < 0.1% (includes Algerian, Bahrani, Bedouin, Egyptian, Jordanian, Kuwaiti, Moroccan, Mozabite, Palestinian, Saudi Arabian, Tunisian, Emirati, Yemeni)

Broadly Sub-Saharan African: < 0.1%

Native American: < 0.1% (includes Colombian, Karitiana, Maya, Pima, Surui)

If you've read my previous post about my results from AncestryDNA, you'll notice a few differences!

There is no Caucasian or South Asian DNA in this set of results. There's a lot less British, and barely any Scandinavian. There is no trace of Finnish or Russian in this set. However, there is African and -- a huge surprise -- Native American. However, remembering what I learned from my previous test, I reminded myself that these results are all probabilites, not definites.

The way the analysis is done is different too. My DNA is compared to samples from 31 regions, rather than 26 with AncestryDNA. The regions are split up differently, too -- British and Irish are one entity in this set. "French and German" is broadly equivalent to Western European in the other set, but the boundaries are different. My DNA was compared with 10,000 samples, which is more than Ancestry's sample size of 3,000, and of course the sample set comes from different people, so therefore the results could be different.

When I started looking deeper into these results, I saw that the way probability was handled is different. My data is displayed in the form of a 'Chromosome Painting.' I can choose the probability certainty of the results using a slider: from 50% through to 90%. 50% is the default, and this is what was displayed when I first saw my results. It means that for every piece of DNA examined, there was a 50% chance that it matched with a specific regional group. Actually, 50% doesn't seem a very high percentage to me! When I played with the slider, things looked very different.

Here is the slider set to 80%:

Now, the percentage of British & Irish DNA has dropped to 16.1%. The broader categories have risen. All of the lower-ranked regions have been relegated to the 'Unassigned' basket. Even with the slider set to 60%, the Native American portion of my DNA was shunted over to 'Unassigned'. It took a little while for this to sink in, but eventually this fact clicked in my brain:

Less than 1% of my DNA could be Native American, and
of that less-than-1%, there's a 40-50% chance it's from somewhere else.

And where that 'somewhere else' is, nobody knows. Perhaps I should be upset by this vague and unlikely result, but I'm not. It just confirms how difficult it is to pin down our DNA heritage.

This series of posts isn't meant to be a review or comparison of the two different tests. Both have different criteria, and different ways of displaying the results, neither of which is better than the other, I think. This website has a very comprehensive page on all the companies that offer genetic testing (currently 5). All offer slightly different services, so it's up to the individual to decide which one to choose. Apparently some hardcore genealogy fans have had tests done through all five!

Having a DNA analysis done is an experience that's hard to describe. It's a very emotional experience. Perhaps the emotions are different depending on whether you get along with your family or not, but they're there nevertheless. There's a chance that your DNA heritage could be different from your cultural heritage, and this could impact on your relationship with your family. There's also a financial component -- the test costs between $180 and $250, depending on the company. It's a big investment, and you want it to be worth it.

If you're thinking of having a DNA analysis done, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

* Decide what kind of results you are looking for first: genetic testing, genealogy research, getting in touch with relatives, etc. and choose your service based on this.
* Don't expect precise results. DNA technology can't (and probably won't ever) be able to give you answers beyond a certain probability.
* Let go of any expectations. You may not be what you thought you were. Treat the analysis as a fact-finding mission, not a confirmation of what you think you know.

I, according to the results, am more Neanderthal than most people: