Saturday, 11 July 2020

Movie Review: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a 2020 comedy movie about a fictional act in the Eurovision Song Contest. It was meant to be released to coincide with the 2020 Contest, but as it was cancelled, was released a month later on Netflix instead. It stars Will Ferrell as the Icelandic musician Lars, and Rachel McAdams as his friend Sigrit, who have formed the band Fire Saga. Their lifelong dream is to represent Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest, and they finally get the chance. Will they win? Will Lars finally gain the respect of his father? Will some terrible yet hilarious disaster ensue? And will Lars and Sigrit's unrequited love finally be realised?

To be perfectly honest, the comedy of Will Ferrell is not to my taste, and I've never seen one of his movies all the way through before. However, I was pleased to find out that he's been a fan of Eurovision since 1999 (nearly as long as me!) when he was introduced to it by his Swedish wife. The movie was crafted with a genuine love of the Contest, and is packed full of references and easter eggs for the devoted fan to dig into. At the end I felt relieved that I didn't hate the movie -- in fact, I loved it!

The storyline partially echoes that of "A Song for Europe", an episode of Father Ted in which he is chosen to represent Ireland because they don't want to win, and his song "My Lovely Horse" is the worst of the bunch. Ireland won the contest 4 times in the 1990s and it was a huge financial strain. Many of the smaller countries do have the issue of how they can afford to host the contest if they win, and Iceland really was left almost bankrupt after a banking scandal in 2008. And yes, over 50% of Icelandic people really do entertain the existence of the Huldufólk, the elves that help Sigrit in the movie.

Speaking of Sigrit, I really warmed to her character. Her genuineness and love of her home country and town cause her to resist those who urge her to be more ambitious and leave Lars behind. I loved her everyday hairstyle and outfits. And it was so cute that she knits, and when she was angry, she knitted a jumper with a frowny face on it.

The movie was filmed in Iceland and Glasgow, with some scenes shot at the actual Eurovision venue in Tel-Aviv, Israel, while it was set up for the 2019 contest. Some scenes were filmed in the real life Icelandic town of Húsavík, Lars and Sigrit's hometown in the movie -- which actually has 2,300 inhabitants, not the 15,000 of the movie. The beauty of the landscapes and cityscapes, not to mention the shots of a real Eurovision stage (with real Eurovision fans as the audience!) give the film a visual authenticity.

The songs, of course, are what could really make or break the movie. Lars and Sigrit have written many songs of various quality, but when they play live in the local pub, all the audience wants to hear is "Jaja Ding Dong", the town's local folk/love song. It's a cute mixture of sing-along folk song and innuendo. Several songs are heard during the contest itself, and all of them reference real Eurovision songs to some extent or another. Some are clear parodies, but others are more than worthy of adding to a serious playlist. The most fun song, and one of the best scenes in the movie, is the Song-A-Long at Alexander's party. There are cameos from so many past participants in the contest that my head was swimming, and it brought back so many memories, I have to admit, I was crying afterwards. Yeah, I'm that kind of dork!

I was worried that Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga was just going to be Americans having a cruel dig at a culture they're not familiar with. On the contrary, it's a romp through the quirks and beloved moments of the Contest, a delight for fans, though for anyone not familiar with the Contest, it will be baffling. While re-listening to the final song "Húsavík", sung by Swedish singer (and Junior Eurovision contestant) Molly Sandén, I had all the feels that I do when watching the competition itself. And I think that's what makes The Story of Fire Saga work.

Would I watch it again? Abso-freakin-lutely!!

Note: All factual details are sourced from the linked Wikipedia pages.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Konmariing My Emails -- Nearing the End?

When I started de-cluttering my emails five years ago, I had over 10,000. Now I'm down to under 100. Some days, I even get under 50, but I just can't seem to get rid of the last few. There seem to be two types -- new emails that come in every day, and old emails that I can't bring myself to deal with out of sentimentality or some other emotional reason.

[Picture Source.]

I've thought about my email "problem" a lot, read many articles about it, and tried different ways of tackling it. At first I dealt with them in timed sessions, e.g. 25 minutes, 5 times a week. But I found that not only does that take a lot of time out of my week, the number of emails wasn't really going down, because some of them took a long time to read. And of course, new ones are always coming in. So I switched from a time-based method to a numbers-based one. For a long time, this consisted of 25 emails, 5 sessions a week.

This took so much time out of my day that it became very frustrating before long, mainly due to the "long read" emails. So I created a series of subfolders where I could store emails until I had time to work on them, including:

➸ Action -- emails that need me to do something, obviously (whether urgently or not)
➸ To Read -- emails with content I'd like to read, but there's no time pressure
➸ To Watch/Listen -- same as above but with links to video or audio content
➸ To Copy -- emails which have information I want to keep in some other format
➸ and others to store receipts, correspondence from my art collective, links I've sent myself about interesting shops, restaurants, and other places to visit, etc.

I'm still getting the emails out of my inbox, but with many of them, the action consists of filing them away for later. This made my daily sessions much shorter and more pleasant, and I felt like I was making a lot more progress. I didn't have to worry about the important emails (i.e. ones to be actioned soon) getting lost anymore.

I chose some of these categories for their functionality. Once I finish sorting the emails, I head to the Action folder first to see if there's anything I need to do that day. Then, depending on what my day is like (or my mood!) I can choose whether I want to read some short or long emails, watch a video, listen to a podcast episode, etc. I started actioning/reading three of these as part of each session to make sure they don't build up too much. (No more than three though, or the session would end up lasting all morning!)

The syphoned-off emails aren't technically finished with, I know, but I hoped it was a compromise that allowed me to process the emails without taking too much time out of my day ... though I'm aware if the emails in the subfolders build up too much, I'll need another solution.

Not actually my inbox!
[Picture Source.]

After diligently working on them for quite a few months years, I finally got down to about 100. But as I mentioned at the beginning, I had trouble reducing them past that. In an effort to minimise the time I was spending on them, I tried reducing the number of emails per session to 20, but I had to increase it again as the number of emails crept up. More recently I reduced the number of sessions per week from 5 to 4. This seems to work okay, thankfully. The number of emails isn't going up too much, but on the other hand, it isn't going down, either.

As I said at the start, I have in general two types of emails in my inbox -- new ones that come in every day, and old ones I've hesitated to deal with. As for the new ones, I've already unsubscribed to countless email lists. Many of the old emails are difficult to deal with emotionally: they're from people who I've lost touch with, requests I never fulfilled, etc. I've decided to deal with one each session, no matter how hard it might be. I'll talk about this more in another post, as this one is getting quite long already!

[Picture Source.]

What will I do next?
Once I've taken care of all the old emails, I'm going to refresh the whole system. I'm going to clear out all of the automatic sorting rules that are in place and re-do them. I'm going to carefully think about every email that comes in and decide if I really need to be getting any more from that sender or about that topic. And I'll set up new sorting rules that divert the emails straight into the subfolders so my inbox stays as clear as possible.

And perhaps I'll eventually achieve the mythical Inbox Zero. (Just kidding!)

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Hello Winter! (My Garden)

Winter is definitely here in Australia. Admittedly, it's not as severe as in many parts of the world, but we do get frosts in the southern part of the country that can damage or even kill plants, and it snows in the mountains.

Here's the first good fog of the year:

I thought I may as well continue with the garden theme, as a surprising amount happens in the garden in Winter. The grass grows (and weeds, too!). Some plants, like succulents, still grow, just more slowly. The winter oranges are nearly ready to pick.

One day this area will be a rockery:

I hope everyone is staying safe, and staying warm or cool, depending on where you are.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Book Review : The Invisible

Please note: this book was provided for me to read and review by
LibraryThing's Early Reviewer programme. You can rest assured however,
that this is (as always) an honest review!

The Invisible is a noir police mystery set in the not-quite-New-York city of New Babylon. Georg Ratner is the police commissioner, and finds himself walking the tightrope of politics during an election year while investigating the murder of his former partner and the appearance of a new and mysterious drug called Synth. Not only that, but he also has to contend with a city-wide strike, a dead poet, and a secret society who believe that corruption is a living entity.

The mystery deepens when he finds that there seems to be no central source for the drug, and moreover it seems to have no negative side effects, but enhances creativity and peaceful feelings. Yet his superiors seem to want to crack down on it even more.

The book consists of very short, choppy chapters, most less than a page, and is divided into sections named after the major arcana in Tarot. This imbues the story with a mystical feel which contrasts with the gritty reality of murder and corruption in a very intriguing way. The magic intensifies when it's revealed that the Egyptian goddess Nut occasionally appears to Ratner in his dreams, giving him advice and answering questions. Music also plays an important part, with Ratner listening to songs inspired by the drug Synth and seeking out its creators. Despite the brevity of the text, the author pauses to describe a smell or the beauty of the season, which also helped to add a sense of the ethereal.

The Invisible is part of the City-States Cycle series. I wasn't able to find a numbered listing but it seems to be at least the tenth book set in this world so far.

I have to admit, it annoys me when I read a book and don't find out until later that it's one of the latter books in a series. I'm just a bit OCD that way. I was confused about some questions that presumably would have been explained had I read the series from the start. For example, the setting -- very similar to Earth but with different city and country names. Is it an alternate history or something else? Is it the kind of universe where magic is real? Can a goddess really help Ratner or is he just hallucinating?

The story also ended quite abruptly, with the mystery on the verge of being solved. It's hard to say whether the author intended it to be a self-contained ending, or if the mystery is solved in the next novel. If it's the author's style to leave major questions unanswered at the end of a novel, I can accept that, but if it's an attempt at drawing the reader in to continue on to the next in the series, it's kind of annoying.

Despite this, I did enjoy the story and found the concepts of a harmless drug and a police commissioner guided by a goddess to be intriguing, and I have to admit, the brief chapters appealed to my ever-shrinking attention span.

Would I read more by this author? Yes!

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

In The Kitchen : Vegemite Scrolls

A few weeks ago I had a craving for cheese and vegemite scrolls, which, being gluten intolerant, I haven't had for years. I had a packet of gluten-free bread mix in the cupboard that I'd bought on a whim at the gourmet supermarket that we visit occasionally. I don't eat much bread (gluten-free or otherwise) anymore, so I thought it would be fun to try and make it up into something a bit more special.

Thankfully scrolls aren't that hard to make, really. I followed the instructions on the box to make the bread dough. I have to say, this bread is one of the best gluten-free ones I've tasted.

Then I rolled out the dough to about 3 centimetres thick, trying to keep a rectangular shape. Then I spread it with vegemite (warming it slightly first helps) and sprinkled cheese on it.

I rolled up the rectangle into a scroll and cut it to make the buns. Some of them were smaller because the scroll was a bit uneven at the edges, but that's okay. They just fit into the pan. I used a springform cake tin so that the buns would use the side of the pan (as well as each other) as support while they rise. It worked very well.

After rising, I sprinkled on some more cheese before baking. They didn't take very long to bake!

The scrolls look divine, especially when the photos are taken with Husband's much newer phone camera!

I liked that they all came out different shapes and sizes. They are most delicious served warm with lashings of butter in the middle and a cup of tea.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Hello Autumn!

Autumn must be my favourite season, because I haven't skipped a single year since starting these Hello seasonal blog posts, and I think I've forgotten about at least one of all the other seasons! I love the cooler, rainy weather that the season heralds, the hazy sunlight and occasional thunderstorm. So many of my favourite activities are best done in cooler weather, so I'm going to take a look at some of them today.

In the middle of Summer it's too hot to do most kinds of craft -- holding wool and having it on your lap isn't the most pleasant experience, and trying on self-sewn clothes can be a sticky experience. Right now though, my urge to do craft has returned in the biggest way. I've started several new projects, and even taught myself the new-to-me craft of tablet weaving, which I wrote about in my last post. Here's a sneak peek of another project I started recently:

snuggly things
Speaking of scarves, getting to wear them is heavenly, too. One of the best things about cooler weather is that I get to wear layers -- cardigans, scarves and closed shoes with socks. Maybe even legwarmers if it's cold enough! I have a large collection of all of these things and am always working on making more, so it's nice to get to wear them. I really like the way a scarf looks and feels in particular. P.S. I've been practicing my photography and modelling lately.

As soon as it's cool enough to put the oven on, I feel like baking, whether it's biscuits, cakes, fruit or vegetables loaves or buns. Husband can whip up a cake without following a recipe (a gluten-free one, too!) which is an enviable skill to have, in my book. We stopped eating bread late last year, so baked products are a bit more special than they used to be. I had a craving for vegemite scrolls, so I baked these last week:

Nothing goes better with the baked goodies I mentioned above than a nice cup of tea. I'll drink any kind of tea, but my favourites lately are a fruity flavoured black tea, and herbals like peppermint. I like to re-organise my tea cupboard and refresh my inventory this time of year, so I'm looking forward to doing that soon.

I'm not a big one for following the Sabbats, but this time of year my mind always turns to the more esoteric and spiritual matters. As the days grow shorter and the light dimmer, now feels the time to turn inwards. I feel like building altars and lighting candles. Plus, I want to finally experience the other joys of the season as everyone in the Northern Hemisphere got to do six months ago.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

I Learned Tablet Weaving!

Tablet weaving is a very old craft. It's been known since the Middle Ages, and it's thought to have been around since the Iron Age. That's nearly three thousand years ago! It was a favourite craft of the Vikings, and was quite common throughout Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia. This great (and short) video shows a demonstration of a traditional pattern being woven at an Iron Age reconstruction farm in Norway.

But what is tablet weaving? It's a form of weaving that uses tablets or cards to weave a narrow band. The finished work is usually used for belts, straps, or decorative edgings for garments. The cards allow for coloured patterns to be created relatively easily, in just about any number of colours. Here's one of the finer examples I've seen; it's a set of bookmarks showing some of the different patterns achievable using the same set-up:

Picture source.

I've known about tablet weaving for years, but when I first saw pictures of the process, it seemed so complicated and intimidating that my brain shut down straight away. I never even gave it a second thought. Then a couple of weeks ago, Youtube recommended a video to me at random, and the comments underneath complimented it as the clearest and easiest-to-understand video on tablet weaving that they'd ever seen, so I thought, there's no harm in watching it. Here's the link. And actually, they were right! The video isn't even in English, and I got it straight away. I was so excited that I thought, I have to try this!

I got out my old embroidery frame and ripped off the sad, stained cross stitch piece that had been on it since I was a teenager, and converted it into a weaving loom. I found some wool in vaguely old-timey colours and went for it!

So, are you ready to see my janky first piece? Here it is!:

Hoo boy, is it janky! But I learned a lot from making this piece. I mean, A LOT. Firstly, don't use acrylic wool! It's too stretchy and fuzzy. You need a yarn that's smooth and shows up the pattern crisply. Also, I must have threaded the cards wrong because it was supposed to be a diamond pattern, not a weird wave and dot pattern. So be extra careful on which colours to put in which holes in the beginning. Also, you need to pull quite tight or it ends up rather cushy. Which is good for something like a blanket or a cushion, but not a bag strap or a belt.

But you know what? I'm really proud of it! It's been probably twenty years since I made something this crap and been so proud of it, not since I was a kid. It was actually quite a good feeling.

This guide was also incredibly useful to get me started. It has some simple patterns, and also diagrams which show how the mechanics of tablet weaving work very clearly. My second one was a bit better:

I started to experiment more with things like different patterns (chequerboard vs stripe), flipping the cards so the stitches slant one way or the other, and added a nice plaited loop to each end. I read somewhere that there has yet to be an example found of a historical tablet-woven piece in which the pattern was consistent throughout the entire length (at least, in the earlier period before it became institutionalised). That is, the maker changed up the pattern as they went along, usually several times. So that made me feel a lot better about experimenting! Here's a close-up:

I also learned that handedness is a thing. Yes, left handers are discriminated against even in weaving! (Sort of.) Basically it means that the cards have to be facing the way (i.e. left or right) that the designer specifies when you're setting the piece up. Which is almost always to the right, of course. In fact, most designers don't even bother to specify it because it's so common. If the cards aren't facing the correct way, the pattern appears underneath, and you're seeing the 'back' of the band as it's facing you. It's not the end of the world, but I have to keep flipping the loom over to check that the pattern is going well. (And to admire my handiwork, if I do say so myself.) I forgot about it for my third band, so again I'm having the same problem.

Here are some photos of it in progress, anyway. Firstly is cutting the threads and threading the cards according to the pattern. This is honestly the most complicated part and takes up a lot of the time in creating a band.

This photo shows the weaving project after I've started to get a good length going. I use the big pin to stop the cards from slipping backwards/forwards or just getting jumbled when I'm not working on the piece. For some reason I'm having a lot more problems with tension than the previous band, even though I set it up on the loom exactly the same.

Note it's slightly wider than the last one, and I added a third colour with a border on each side! Because of the handedness issue I mentioned before, you're seeing the back of the band in the above photo, so here's one with the loom flipped over so you can see the proper pattern:

And here's a close-up because it's just kind of cool. It's not perfect -- the edges are a bit untidy and sometimes there's a kind of double-long stitch where the direction of turning changes and I have no idea why -- but I like it!

I made my tablets out of thin cardboard (from a pasta box), but they don't last for too long unfortunately. They eventually get mashed up from all the handling. The first set was already ruined after only the second band. Yet you don't want to use thicker cardboard because it has to be smooth so the threads don't get caught when you turn them. It's a bit of a catch-22. I want to upgrade to wood once I'm able to order things from overseas again. Here's a good video on how to make your own tablets. I would recommend rounding off the corners -- you can use scissors or a corner punch.

The variety of patterns that can be made is almost endless -- abstract shapes, words, florals, and the typical Viking dragons. Apparently there are double-faced patterns where it's the same on each side so I wouldn't have to worry about handedness, but they're very complicated and I'm not ready for that yet. Perhaps one day!

Now I just have to figure out how to use all of these strips of weaving!