Wednesday, 25 April 2018

New Art / Craft Project

Last weekend I had an idea for a new project, and, seeing as I have all the materials I need, I started it straight away. I'm crocheting a blanket, but it's no ordinary blanket. I want to highlight how long it really takes to make a hand-crafted item. So I decided to time myself, and change colours once an hour so there's a visual record of how long it takes.

Then I started to think about what it would be like if this blanket was being created in an office environment. How many rows would I get done in a day? In a week? Also, as anyone who's ever worked in an office would know, you don't work 8 hours straight each day and then go home. Some days you might need to work back late. There are the inevitable interruptions that pull you away from your desk: meetings, morning teas, fire drills. Not to mention the everyday occurrences like toilet breaks and getting a cup of tea. Some offices even have mandated 5-minute breaks every hour, though I've never worked anywhere like that.

How can I document these occurrences in this imaginary office job? I could attach small cards to the finished blanket highlighting different events: "team meeting", "Janice's going away", etc. Of course, those colour sections will be shorter or even non-existent to reflect the time I was away from my work. I even thought about making up fake pay slips to show how much I would have been paid if I was making this blanket at an hourly rate.

I'm really curious to know how long it will take to make the blanket -- both in real time and imaginary "office" time -- and especially how much my imaginary wage will be! (Will I get paid overtime? Sick leave? Perhaps holiday leave is pushing it a bit far!) It's this conceptual aspect that pulls this project out from being purely a craft project and into the realms of art.

Will I need to buy more wool? Yes, I think I will!

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

App Review: Forest

Forest is an app which claims to help improve focus and time management. Users are rewarded for leaving the Forest app open and not looking at any other apps on their phone for a set amount of time. A successful session will result in a tree growing in the users' virtual forest. More trees progressively appear as the user accumulates more successful sessions. This provides a visual reward for concentrating. Theoretically, it will help the user to concentrate on their work, study or other activity and be less distracted by temptation to look at their phone. As individual users reach certain levels, the creators of the app make a donation to Trees for the Future, an organisation that plants (real!) trees.

To begin a session, you select a time period, anywhere between 10 minutes and 2 hours, in 5-minute increments. When you tap on 'Plant', a tree or shrub is planted in your virtual forest. Over the time period, the tree slowly grows. If you look at your phone during the time period, messages such as "stop looking at at your phone!" appear. If you switch to another app, then the tree dies, and a sad, twiggy dead tree appears in your forest. If you successfully reach the end of the time period without looking at any other apps, a fully grown tree appears in your forest. You also earn in-game coins for each session, which can be spent on different kinds of trees.

The longer the session, the more elaborate the tree is. For sessions up to 20 minutes, the plant is a small shrub. From 25 minutes onwards, it's a tree, and the tree is larger and bushier the longer the duration is. This provides an incentive to concentrate for longer periods. After the session is over, you can view your forest with all the shrubs and trees you have earned. There seems to be a new forest for each week.

The app also includes an ambient sound setting. There is one included sound option: Rain in Forest. Other options can be unlocked with in-game coins. This function would be great for people who need ambient sound to help concentrate, or for meditation.

For the statistics nerd, there are plenty of charts to see how many sessions you've done, and how much time you've spent focussing over days, weeks and months. Each session can also have a label added to it, such as study, work, sport, etc. There are a set of existing labels to get you started, but they can be completely customised. This allows you to keep a record of how much time you've spent doing different activities. This function would be very handy for those who want to keep track for a weekly or monthly goal.

* The app is very flexible and can be used for many different purposes, from studying to meditation. I like to use it for timed, 10-minute drawing sessions.
* The idea of growing a forest is very appealing, and a good incentive for using the app. I prefer to use it rather than the standard timer function on my phone for things like tidying. It serves as an incentive to do the activity in the first place, not just to keep focussing on it once you've started.
* The design and colour scheme of the app fits the forest theme very well. The trees and shrubs are cute and there are quite a few to choose from once unlocked with in-game coins. Little details like being able to see the tree that will grow before the session starts, and seeing the growth in progress if I check the app during the session, help keep my motivation up.
* The ambient sound (I have only listened to 'Rain in Forest' so far) sounds rich and calming in my headphones. It doesn't have that repetitive feeling that you get from some sound tracks which seem to have a very short loop time.
* Many aspects are customisable, such as the labels for sessions, and the messages that come up if you look at the app during a session. This makes it more fun and motivational -- if, for example, you have a specific phrase that resonates with you, you can add it to the messages section.
* The creators haven't been stingy with the in-game coins -- they accumulate quite fast, though of course you can always purchase them with real-life money if you're impatient.
* Knowing that your efforts will contribute to growing a real-life tree is very rewarding.
* Lots of customisable charts satisfy the statistics nerd in me.
* It's possible to link your account to friends, but I haven't explored this option so far.

* The function to select the session length is a little awkward. The dial looks good and reminds me of old-style ipods, but it's a little awkward to select the time I want.
* You have to create an account if you want to contribute to planting a real-life tree. (All sharing settings are set to 'off' by default though, so the creators seem to be aware of safety and privacy.)
* The default forest view is the 'Today' forest (sessions I've done that day), whereas I'd prefer to see the 'This Week' forest by default. There doesn't seem to be a way to change this.
* The app only prevents you from looking at other apps on your phone, it doesn't prevent you from becoming distracted in other ways (staring out the window, talking to someone, etc). To be fair, I don't know how any app could do that!

The minuses are just niggling details though, and are far outweighed by the pluses. Forest is a lot of fun and has been a great help in motivating me to do various different activities. It's been compared to the Pomodoro (25-minute interval) timer technique, but I think it's more than just a timer. As I mentioned above, I've found it actually motivates me to do activities that I might otherwise have procrastinated on, like tidying and meditation. The prospect of being able to grow a tree while I do these things makes them much more appealing. It's even helped me to be on time for work, as it stops me from checking my emails and playing games as I'm getting ready.

Forest was AU$2.99 from the Apple App Store and is also available on Android.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Tea Haul from Adagio Teas

Adagio Teas is both a tea sales and tea blending company. As well as selling a large range of standard teas, Adagio have a service called Fandom Teas that blends custom teas according to the customer's specifications. The Fandom Teas section features teas inspired by movies and TV shows, fictional characters, or themed by events like Christmas and Halloween. They are presented in a tin decorated with artwork selected by the blender. These teas are then sold on the website with the customer receiving a commission. Blenders can choose to have their commission donated to charity instead.

I first heard about Adagio Teas from Princess Peachie, a YouTuber I've been following for a long time. One of her fans sent her a pair of Fandom Tea tins that she created, inspired by Peachie's two pet rabbits, Pumpkin and Pudding. I couldn't resist ordering them for myself, plus a few others that looked intriguing. I'll share the entire haul today, and do in-depth reviews of some of the teas soon (starting with Pumpkin and Pudding, of course!).

The teas come in various different size options: sample, medium and large pouches, a sample tin and a large tin. Some varieties are also available in tea bags, but I'm not sure why only some are and others aren't. The tins with their custom artwork are an inspired idea, as they can be given as personalised gifts. I decided to get the sample size tins for the Fandom Teas, plus one regular tea in a pouch. I also received a bonus free tea pouch and a $5 off as it was my first order. An envelope with 3 postcards that had information about Adagio Teas and inspirational quotes was also included.

The Fandom Teas I ordered were:

❤ Pumpkin by Sacha W
❤ Pudding by Sacha W
❤ Harry Potter by Allie Stanley
❤ Luna Lovegood by Allie Stanley
❤ Aries by Adagio

The regular tea pouch I ordered was Honeybush Pumpkin Chai, and the bonus pouch I received was Chocolate Chai, both by Adagio.

It was easy to place the order on the website and the teas arrived quite fast from the U.S. In the picture, the box looks like it's coming apart a little, but it was firmly sealed up before I opened it. The padding in the box wasn't enough to stop the teas from moving around a little bit, but it doesn't seem to have done them any damage. The only small concern I had was that small particles of tea had come out of the tins as they were packed on their sides in the gift box. However, the tins were stuffed so full of tea that it didn't really matter!

The smell when I opened the box was divine, and all of the teas I chose smelled unique and intriguing. I haven't tasted any yet, but I'm very much looking forward to it. There seems to be a lively fandom and reviewing community on the website, which makes drinking tea more fun. There's no doubt I'll order from Adagio Teas again. I already have a very long wishlist!

Monday, 2 April 2018

My March

The first signs of Autumn started to appear this month. I won't go into the customary nature-y part too much as I wrote about it only a few posts ago. This post is all about the food!

What I've been eating...
I've been doing a meditation course one night a week, and had to get dinner beforehand. Completely by coincidence, two weeks in a row the only food I could secure was vegan tacos. I'm not vegan or even vegetarian, but I'm willing to try new things. The first was from Miss Katie's Crab Shack (she has the same name as me!). I was unwilling to eat seafood in case I got sick just before my meditation was due to begin, so I went with the vegan option. The bean chilli and pico de gallo were delicious, but the tortillas fell apart within seconds, as is usual with gluten-free.

The second was from Trippy Taco, a well-known establishment in Melbourne. This time I was able to have a mixed set, with beans and tofu. The fried tofu was delicious, but the beans strangely bland. In fact the whole meal had no spice whatsoever, which I found very strange. The tortillas were very sturdy though, and I'd go back for the tasty tofu.

What I've been catching ...
Pokémon Go players will probably know that the game creators have started a monthly 'Community Day', which really means that certain rare Pokémon types will appear prolifically for three hours. It's up to the players to do the 'community' bit. Seeing as the game is designed so that more Pokémon appear when you're moving around, it's a good excuse to leave the house. Husband and I decided to go a park a short drive away from us, and accidentally ran into a kite festival! We had a lovely time walking around, catching Pokémon and looking at the kites.

What I've been cooking ...
One weekend I made sausage rolls, with the outrageously expensive gluten-free pastry I had in the freezer, and some sausage mince. I tweaked them a bit by enclosing cheese in the middle, and sealing up the ends. I also experimented by stamping the tip of a piping bag into the pastry to create a star effect.

Over Easter Husband and I made a giant batch of chilli in our slow cooker. It has beef steak, kidney beans, halloumi cheese, corn, capsicum, onion and various types of chillis. I fried most of the ingredients on the stove first to increase the depth of flavour. There was enough to last the whole weekend and in fact we still have plenty left. I love slow cooker cooking: an hour's work saved us from having to organise at least five meals.

What I've been buying ...
Sharick's old scratching board was almost completely worn down (he really loves scratching!) so we splashed out and bought him a new, fancy one. It's taller than the old one, and he likes to sit on it and peer at us over edge of the coffee table. At other times, he lounges on it like a Roman emperor at a banquet.

Selections from Instagram
This month's selections are meant to highlight the variable Autumn weather: