Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Re-Reading my Favourite Books : The Lord of the Rings

Here is the first in a series of posts I hope to write called Re-Reading My Favourite Books. I'm a very slow reader so they might not come out that often, but there you are.

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I first read The Lord of the Rings over the Summer school holidays when I was about 13 years old. I was staying at my grandparents' house, and there was very little else to do. I remember feeling that it was such a hugely long book that it was very intimidating. It also felt like a huge slog, especially the middle section when the Fellowship are separate and there are a lot of battles going on. I found the section with Tom Bombadil to be especially excruciating -- annoying and pointless. I did manage to make it to the end though, and I did love the book. I related so hard to the Hobbits. I even have a Hobbit-themed tattoo, but that's a story for another time.

I decided to re-read it finally, this Winter. To see if my impression of it had changed, but also because I'd always wanted to return to it, and it was high time. I purchased a box set which included the The Hobbit, but Husband and I already both had copies of some of Tolkein's works. So that means we now have two (or three?) copies of The Hobbit, three copies of The Lord of the Rings, and two of The Silmarillion. I think we also have e-book copies of all three. Never mind, in some ways it's good to have a 'working' copy of books as epic as these -- one you can scribble notes on.

I felt less intimidated by the length of the book, perhaps because this time the three parts were divided into separate books, so it didn't seem as hefty. While I was determined to read some every day, I didn't give myself a time limit or pressure myself in any way. I was also familiar with the story already, having of course read it before and seen the movies a couple of times. I was less likely to get confused by the story or lose track of things, so it felt a bit more comfortable.

Being older and more learned (if I do say so myself), I was able to appreciate Tolkein's use of language -- the evocative descriptions of landscape which fired up my imagination, and his surprisingly skillful handling of dialogue. The many songs and poems added to the text rather than seeming like a hindrance. There were some that I couldn't even help reading out loud to better appreciate them.

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I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed the section with Tom Bombadil this time. I used the full force of my imagination to bring his realm to life, and it was quite lovely. Of course, his character is meant to be enigmatic, and I was better able to grasp the nuances of that. It's heavily implied that Tom could fix the whole business with the ring very easily if he wanted to, but he chooses not to. When I was 13, I found that stance to be incredibly annoying and frustrating -- if only he'd stop being a jerk and help it wouldn't be such a long book! This time though, I was able to look at it from a more mature perspective. It can't be that easy. Hardship must be experienced and sacrifices made for the quest to be truly worthwhile.

I was also happy to report that I didn't get the same feeling of hard slogging through the centre of the book, or at any stage. Perhaps it was because I already knew the general story, though I'd forgotten many of the details. There are scenes in the book that aren't in the movies, or are different to the movies. These details helped to keep me interested.

I felt the emotion of Frodo's struggles very keenly. His ongoing trauma after completing his quest -- which some scholars have suggested is PTSD -- was something I would not have been mature enough to understand at the age of 13. His inability to lead a normal life again, and his need to emigrate with the elves to find peace was very moving.

And yes, I actually cried at one point, though it wasn't the point you might think. When Sam plants the strange seed that Galadriel had given him, and it's revealed to be a mallorn tree, growing so fast, I shed a few tears. The older I get, the more I learn about what humans are doing to the earth, and the less optimistic I am. But the tears were ones of hope.

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I was proud of myself for re-reading such a long and (some might say) difficult book. Putting aside the problematic aspects for a moment, I enjoyed it very much and will definitely read it again. I love the idea of reading seasonally, and it seems like such a good book to read in Autumn/Winter. I'm easily distracted from reading these days, and I find listening to ambient sound or music helps. There are LOTS of videos on Youtube, but two channels I like are:

ASMR Rooms. It has ambient noise set in many different fandoms from Harry Potter to My Neighbour Totoro. The accompanying visuals are beautiful and relaxing cinemagraphs from several different independent artists.
Ambient Worlds. It has ambient noise, but with gentle music from the movie soundtracks mixed into it. (The music helps if you need extra distraction-blocking power!) It features many other movies and video games as well.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Hobonichi Unboxing, Part 2: Custom Covers from Snow Cover Journal

Please see here for Part 1 in which I write about my purchase from the Hobonichi Techo shop.

This year I wasn't very enthused with the covers that Hobonichi were offering. I was in the market for 2 covers, because in the first couple of years, I didn't buy a cover, thinking I'd make one myself. That never happened, so now I'm trying to catch up by buying one extra cover each year until all my diaries are covered (so to speak!). There were two covers in the shop that I quite liked, but I wasn't sure. (These were the Candy Plaid and the Floral Handkerchief, for any curious Hobo fans reading.) Then I realised that I didn't like the interior colours of either of them! They were beige and black respectively -- my two least favourite colours! I spend at least as much time looking at the inside of the cover as the outside, as it peeks out around the edges when the book lies open. I don't want to spend a whole year looking at a colour I don't like (sorry Hobo!). So I decided to seek my fortune elsewhere.

After extensive searching on Etsy I found a shop called Snow Journal Cover in China. The seller makes custom covers with your choice of design for the exterior, and a selection of 12 interior colours. I liked many of the cover designs, and the interior colours were pleasing. The bookmark ends could also be customised. When factoring in the postage and the inclusion of a cover-on-cover, the cost came out to be only slightly more for the customised Snow Journal covers. So I decided to go for it!

I placed my order for the covers on 28th August, knowing that custom orders take time to make. It turned out perfectly as they arrived one day before my Hobo order did! It wasn't deliberately timed, but it couldn't have worked out better. My order was packed very well, even with bubble wrap and cute wrapping paper tied up with string.

The two designs I chose were Fuji-San with Sakura in grey, and van Gogh's Almond Blossoms. I chose the option which includes a cover-on-cover for both (a clear plastic cover which goes over the cover proper to protect the fabric). I definitely insist on the extra protection as I leave my diary out on the coffee table most of the time: it's in danger of tea spills and sometimes the cat sits on it.

This cute postcard came with it. It says: "Sometimes when I'm with you, I forget myself." It will make a lovely pocket deco. This photo shows off the custom bookmark ends as well. They're exactly as I requested.

These covers have one less pocket (I think) than the Hobonichi brand covers, but there are still plenty, in my opinion.

The biggest problem I will have now is deciding which cover to put on my 2020 Hobo, and which to put on my old one! I still work with my older Hobos quite a bit though, as I like to go through and fill up the blank/spare pages with paintings, practice drawings, quotes, ideas for art projects, etc. Or sometimes I find old ephemera (brochures, movie tickets, restaurant business cards etc) that I can add to the relevant year.

In the end I decided to put the Almond Blossoms cover on my 2017 Hobo. This photo shows well how the interior of the cover is visible when you're working in it.

Even though it isn't full (yet!) my 2017 Hobo is still quite chonky!

Here it is with my current/2019 Hobonichi side by side for comparison. This is the plain pink cover matched with the Night Forest print cover-on-cover. The Hobonichi cover looks slightly bigger in this photo, but it's not -- I think it just looks like that because it's (even) thicker. And it's still very much a working item so please excuse the bulldog clips and ugly sticky notes! As you can see, the Hobonichi cover-on-cover has a matte finish, whereas the generic cover is shiny. This doesn't matter in everyday use, only when you're trying to take photos, ahem. It has a different, smoother feel, but I personally find it just as pleasant.

Here is a comparison shot of the interiors. The Snow Cover Journal is on top, and the Hobonichi cover underneath. You can see when looking at the corners that the generic cover-on-cover doesn't fit quite as closely to the cover itself. I'm not bothered by this, but others can always stick to the Hobonichi brand cover-on-cover if they prefer.
P.S. I did a course on colouring-in as therapy back in 2017. XD

I am absolutely thrilled with my covers from Snow Journal Cover. They're exactly what I wanted and will make my diary-writing experience more pleasurable all year long. I'll definitely keep them in mind for next year.

Hobonichi 2020 Unboxing, Part 1

(Gosh, it felt strange to write '2020' instead of '201-something' in the title!)

This is Part 1 of a 2-part post. Because of the huge amount of photospams, I decided to break this post up into two. Don't worry though, I'll be posting both at the same time so you don't have to wait! Part 1 covers my purchase from the Hobonichi shop of the journal itself and accessories. Part 2 describes my experience with purchasing custom covers for my journals, and a comparison with the Hobonichi brand covers.

Once again, I purchased Hobonichi's Techo (journal) for next year. It seems to have become a yearly tradition for me. While I don't always fill out my diary entry every day, I always have my diary near me, and I use it for various other purposes as well. As per last year, the product onsales were staggered over a 3 day period, but all of the products I wanted went on sale on the first day, so I didn't have to bother myself with placing a hold on my order.

Postage time from Japan was about ten days, plus a couple of extra days until I was able to go to the post office and pick it up (always an impatient wait!). This year's box is a stunning lime green colour. The first couple of years I cut up my boxes to use the cardboard for displays, etc, but I think I'll keep this one to store things in. (My previous Hobos, for example?)

This year, the traditional quote on the box says:
Once, words were engraved in stones.
Once, words were exchanged from mouth to mouth.
I guess people could not help it,
because they were so precious.
We all want to keep words alive.

As per normal, everything inside was packed well.

The free gifts were the usual tri-pen, this time with a red barrel, and a pack of Hyakunin-isshu ("100 poets 100 poems") playing cards. The cards are illustrated by manga artist Radio Wada. Unfortunately I can't play the game as I can't read Japanese and the only poems I know are a small selection of haiku, but the cards themselves set my witchy heart a-fluttering. Can I turn them into a divination tool?

The Techo also came with a fold-out mini poster with a graphic story on it, which I also unfortunately can't read, but the illustrations are adorable and I will keep it as a memento. There was also a lovely card with a link to this website, which seems at first glance to be stories of Hobonichi users. Thank goodness for goog translate because otherwise I'd have no clue of anything whatsoever. I'll have a better look later after I've finished sharing my Hobonichi excitement!

Here are the accessories I purchased. I didn't get too much this year because of my circumstances, but I did get some sticky notes, washi tapes and stencils, plus the adorable Hobo rubber stamp. The two washi tapes are based on traditional Japanese lottery/divination systems so of course I had to get them.

Here is a better look at the stencils. They are much smaller than I thought they'd be. I think I'd need a fineliner to use them properly, but I'll experiment.

See here for Part 2, in which I review my custom covers purchase and compare them to Hobonichi brand covers!

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Early Spring Garden Update

Spring is definitely in the air here in Australia. I can feel it on the wind. It's still a cold wind, but there's a fresher quality to it somehow. So I went outside on the first sunny day that came along, to see what was happening.

The fruit trees are blossoming and looking very beautiful right now. The wind has blown some of the blossoms off, but I think we should get a medium-sized crop of both nectarines and apricots this year. The plum harvest should be smaller as I pruned it much more severely than the others last year. There was just too much to deal with and, I have to admit, a lot of fruit (of all kinds) went to waste. I want to do things better next time.

Some plants that I was fond of have died, but others (both old and newer) are growing better than I've ever seen them. Like this daisy I planted about 3 years ago. It's doubled in size in only a couple of months. Unfortunately its twin isn't doing so well due to an apparent whippersnipper incident (I guess the mowing man didn't see it as it was so small) but I didn't bother to take any photos of that.

The hardenbergias on either side are also growing better than I've ever seen them. They didn't even flower the first few years that we lived here. I'd like to make a trellis for them to grow on one day, seeing as they're actually vines.

The lavender I planted last year also suffered from a whippersnipping accident but it seems to be recovering. Also you can see here, the grass hasn't been mowed for months. I have to admit, I secretly like it this way. It's best this time of year: the clover and those plants with the yellow flowers create a beautiful soft green carpet, but the actual grass hasn't exploded yet.

The fernery is looking a bit scruffy. The second of the three large ferns has died now (the stump is visible in the right side of this photo). I waited a year to be sure, but I don't think it's coming back. I will need to decide whether to put in another fern, or do something different. The spider plants are growing well though, and the azaleas are looking beautiful right now, if a bit long in the stems.

Even the hanging plants are growing well. The first photo, of the Winter cactus, was taken a few weeks ago. They're a bit limper now. I haven't re-potted them for a couple of years, so I should probably think about doing that soon.

Husband and I want to plant a lemon tree in our front yard, in a nice retro-looking garden bed (the retro part was my idea, in case you weren't sure!). That will be a bit of work to set up though, we're busy/tired/sick, and the window of lemon-planting season is already here, so I'm not sure if we can get organised. I'll post any updates if and when they happen!

Meanwhile, happy Spring/Autumn!

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

My August, and, September Reading Challenge

August has been a typical Winter month: cold every day and rainy most days. But Winter is in my top two seasons, so I don't complain. My health has been a bit iffy again -- still getting over a virus and then a cold more recently. I was able to go out a couple of times though, and kept myself busy otherwise. There's been a lack of regular posts recently, it's true. Nothing felt like it was important enough for a full post, hence why this one has lots of bits and pieces in it.

What I've been reading ...
I completed my goal and finished The Lord of The Rings on the last day of the month. I might write about my experience with re-reading it later. I'm still very much enjoying reading so I set myself another monthly challenge. For September, I will read at least 1/2 hour a day, and try to finish as many quick reads / short books / short stories as I can. My optional challenge ('stretch goal', I guess you could call it) is to finish one book I've had on my 'currently reading' pile for a long time.

Here is the page I made up in my Hobonichi to track my progress. I don't know why I put such a large piece of washi tape on the left side. I guess I can stick a plain piece of paper over the top of it later if I run out of room on the right hand side. Also, can you spot the several spelling mistakes? Writing vertically and coming down with a cold aren't a good combination for concentrating.

What I've been cooking ...
I tried a new recipe ... Japanese Cream Stew, using the recipe from Japanese Cooking 101, here. It's made with a plain white sauce, which I thought would make it taste bland, but the meat and vegetables are cooked in chicken broth, and it ended up being rich and very tasty. I would definitely make it again.

What I've been drawing ...
I wanted to try doing more drawing this month, because if I want to learn to draw, then I have to practice! I only drew a couple of times, and ended up retreating to 'comfort' subjects, like the fantasy maps I used to draw when I was a teenager. I do most of them in my Hobonichi because they have so many spare pages, it fills them up. I quite like the layered effect on the trees in the centre of this one, though it was mostly accidental.

Speaking of my Hobonichi, I haven't been writing in it every single day, but when I do, I've been trying out different styles. On these pages, I layered the washi tapes, and added small notepapers for highlighted points. To be honest, most of the 'notepapers' are just textured backgrounds that I printed off the internet, cut up into the appropriate size/shape, and edged with a highlighter. And also to be honest, most of the time I just end up writing what I had for dinner or what I watched on Netflix. But I think they give the page an interesting extra dimension.

What I've been working on ...
I'm still working on this yet-to-be-named art project. Things tend to take longer than I thought because I tend to get obsessed, go down rabbitholes, try everything, and research every tiny detail. Currently I'm creating a conscript (constructed script) for it, and I'm trying out different shapes and forms for the letters. (Again, using up spare pages in my Hobonichi.)

What I've been growing ...
Here is a plant that my friend had at work, and needed some tlc. I brought it home and put it with my other indoor plants. It's starting to look nice and plump already. When the weather gets a bit warmer, I'll re-pot it.

What I've been seeing ...
I took a trip to the city to have lunch with some friends, and saw this street art in one of the laneways: