Sunday, 29 March 2020

First Sewing Project in Years: Face Mask

For some reason I've had a strong urge to sew recently, after literally years of umming and aahing and putting it off. Occasionally I'd buy fabric but not use it; I'd just stash it. I know why I was procrastinating -- I'd lost the manual to my sewing machine and was worried I'd forgotten how to use it (re-threading the bobbin is the trickiest part). Worse than that, I was worried that my 25-year-old machine no longer worked!

With all of that on my mind, I have no idea where the strong urge to sew came from, but I got out my machine and gave it ago. I'm happy to report that the machine still works, and I made up my own 'manual' by sketching the bobbin and how the thread is arranged in situ. In fact, it seems to work even better now than it used to. Perhaps it's the patience of age which makes me run the machine slower than I used to?

I found a half-finished project from a few years ago. It was a pouch but I couldn't remember exactly how I was going to make it. When I saw this Face Mask pattern from The Stitching Scientist online, I thought it would be a good easy project to practice with. Not to mention current.

I went through my smallish stash of scraps until I found a piece of fabric large enough:

I thanked my past self for washing them years ago, though they did need ironing. Thankfully I also found some nice elastic in my findings stash. I cut out the pieces according to the pattern. I made the side bindings 1cm wider than the original, because I wasn't quite sure how that part worked, and I thought it better to be safe than sorry.

After sewing the front and back, and gathering the side pleats:

After inserting the elastic and sewing on the binding:

I'm really glad I have my pinking shears. They make it so easy to prevent fabric from fraying without having to muck around with double seams, etc. I got pretty confused about how the binding is finished off, and I think I fudged it a bit, but it still looks okay, I think: (Actually, I neatened it up a bit more after taking this photo.)

The finished product! Can you see me smiling at you?

It's a little loose around the nose, but a dart or shirring would fix that. Or use a shaped version, many patterns for which can be found online. And remember -- this type of cloth mask doesn't protect you from catching a virus.

Then I asked Husband if he would like one, and he said yes, and even offered up a spare Star Wars pillowcase that he had to make it from.

I matched it with some blue fabric I had on hand, which I think is left over from a sheet that I made into a skirt (maaaany years ago). I followed the same process but forgot to insert the elastic! Thankfully I realised straight away and was able to fix it without too much fuss.


He looks awesome, huh!
I've already started work on my next project -- a skirt. Updates soon!

Friday, 20 March 2020

101 Things in 1,001 Days #2 : One Year To Go

I've just realised that I only have 1 year left to go in my second 101 Things in 1,001 Days project! A year seems like a long time but hardly any time at all, simultaneously. I don't know about you, but when I'm in this situation, it's tempting to start thinking about all the things I won't have time for, so I thought I'd have a look at some things I can/will do in the next year.

#10 Create a Pleasing Garden
This plan is going very well, thanks to some planning, hard work and visits by various tradesmen. I have a general plan for the garden overall, and more detailed plans for some areas. As the weather is cooling down now, it's too late to plant any new plants, so I can focus on helping the ones I've already planted through the Winter, and installing some other stuff that you normally find in a nice garden. Husband and I have discussed the kind of outdoor furniture we want so we can actually spend time in the garden next Spring.

A 'before' shot!

#56 go overseas
This is (hopefully) happening! Husband, my Mum and I are going to Europe for a month at the end of this year, if everything goes according to plan. It's been 10 years since I last went overseas; here's a picture of that:

#69 Make Cheese
I'm completely obsessed with dairy products lately, for some reason, and I've already been experimenting with making yoghurt and some strained yoghurt variants (blog post coming soon!). Actual cheese is a lot more complicated, but I'm feeling an urge to give it a go.

#36 Do The Sketchbook Project
This is a new project. I swapped out an item I didn't want to do anymore and replaced it with this one. Sometimes that happens when new things crop up or I just lose motivation to do something I originally put on the list. The Sketchbook Project is an organisation in the U.S. that has a library of artist books. For a fee, you can purchase a book, fill it, and then send it back to them, where it will be held in the library forever. Many of them have been digitised and you can view them online. It's a rabbit hole that can amuse you for hours on end.

#38 Finish Duplicating my Blog
My poor blog has been through a lot in the 15+ years it's been around. A couple of years ago I started a project to transfer all of the posts from LiveJournal to Blogger. Halfway through that, the photo hosting site I was using decided to start charging an exhorbitant fee for their services. I wouldn't have minded if it was reasonable, but it wasn't. I downloaded all of my photos from that site (15 years' worth!) and re-uploaded them to Blogger. That took a really long time, too. I only have one thing left to do, and that's post a re-direct notice to my original blog so people know that it's not actually dead.

#39 finish Konmariing my emails
When I first started this project a few years ago, I had over 5,000 emails. I created a series of sub-folders for emails that need actioning, to read, links to online shops, courses, etc. Every day (or 5 times a week at least), I worked to reduce it and now there are around 100 emails. I can't seem to reduce it any more though, no matter how hard I try. I've unsubcribed to countless newsletters but I still receive 10-20 emails a day. I really want to try and find a solution so I can end this project, but I have a sinking feeling that it will be ongoing. Perhaps it's more realistic to find a way to minimalise the amount of time/work I spend on it.

#87 Sew 5 Garments
For some reason I've been intensely into sewing in just the last week or so, after a slump of many years. I made a face mask as my first, 'ease in' project, and I'm currently working on a skirt. This is the fabric I'm using. Again, a blog post is forthcoming!

#74-#78 Various Reading Goals
The obsession I had with reading for the last few months has abated a bit, but I still think I can tick off a few things. One of my goals was to read 5 books from LibraryThing's top 106 unread books list (based on the tags people use in their catalogues). I've read 2 already so I'm well on the way.
Another goal was to re-read the Harry Potter series; I don't feel like it right now but as the weather starts to cool into Autumn, it might return.
I decided a few years ago to re-read Dickens' A Christmas Carol every Christmas, just because it's a good reminder to be nice to people, and it only takes a couple of hours.

These are the books I had earmarked for my most
recent reading challenge -- I read less than half!

#62 Make 12 New Recipes from my Cookbooks
I have a tendency to go straight to the internet when I need a recipe or to check how to make something. Between us though, Husband and I have over 100 cookbooks, and we've moved them to a special bookcase near the kitchen, so it would be a shame not to use them! I've already made 2, so I have a bit of a way to go, but I love food and cooking so it seems reasonable. (Actually, I made lemon juice cheese from my cheese-making book a few weeks ago, so if that counts, it's 3.)

#101 write a New 101 List
There's almost no doubt that I'll be doing a third 101 Things in 1,001 Days, so this one goes without saying.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

I Really Need to Finish this Knitted Dinosaur!

I've been working on this knitted dinosaur since 13th June 2013 (thanks Ravelry for helping me keep track!). That's, um, rather a long time. It was stuffed in the back of the cupboard for a long time, and has moved house with us once. I started it because I just felt like making a dinosaur and wanted the challenge, but I guess that wasn't motivation enough. After my friend had a baby last year, I decided to finish it and give it to her for her first birthday.

The body was almost finished. I'd gotten stuck at the Wrap and Turn instruction for the head shaping. Now I remember why I gave up on it! It took a while nutting out, and I had to rip back twice, but I finally understood it. I finished the body; it just needs to be stuffed and a face and other details embroidered on.

Since then I've made two legs out of four. Looks like they'll be cute, stumpy legs -- the best kind!

Then I just have to make 10 back plates (two pieces for each), and the four pointy thingies for its tail which I'm assured are called thagomisers. Everyone else calls them thagomizers but, being an Australian (we follow British spelling), I just can't bring myself to spell it that way.

I have until next weekend (9 days) -- wish me luck!

You can get the pattern for the dinosaur and see a photo of a finished one here. There are also some really adorable ones on the Ravelry page. Though, looking at the photo, I can see that the head on mine is much smaller. I'm sure everything will be okay though... maybe...

Addendum: While I was writing this blog post, I got a message from my friend saying she is cancelling the party due to the virus. While I'm very disappointed, I totally understand. There isn't as much urgency to finish it now, and my rather click-baity post title is totally irrelevant. But I'm going to post it anyway. As a great Australian once said, "such is life".

Friday, 6 March 2020

Book Review: Quarterstars Awakening

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

Set in an world of high fantasy, Quarterstars Awakening is reminiscent of Tolkein yet builds an original world all of its own. Quarterstars Awakening is the second book released in the War for the Quarterstar Shards series, and I have to disclose that I haven't read the first. However, chronologically it is a prequel set a few hundred years before the rest of the series, and I have been assured that it can be read as a standalone book.

Humans and elves have been at war for centuries, and humans are struggling to survive sandwiched between their traditional enemies, dragons, and other aggressive creatures. There are two races of elves in this iteration, the Val and the Sor. Each despises the other, yet have created an alliance to best take advantage of their differing strengths. The behaviour and appearance of the elves is not your typical Tolkeinesque stereotype -- they are shorter than humans, have different physical abilities such as leaping long distances, and have a war-like streak. And, of course, two different races of elves with such polarised worldviews also adds interest.

Quarterstars Awakening chronicles the failed truce between the human King Dar Drannon and his elvish counterpart Keiyann Krowe, the star-crossed love between their children Jaerick and Traelyn, and the discovery of the first Quarterstar Shard. There are four shards in total, and if they are ever re-united as part of the complete Quarterstar Talisman, doom will come to the world. The Talisman, thought safely kept in the catacombs below the elvish city, is missing. Can the lovers, with their memories of each other only newly re-instated, overcome the machinations of the elvish king's advisor Naemyn, who wishes to bring ruin to their world?

The book unfortunately suffers from a lack of editing, but responsibility for this can be laid at the feet of the publishers, not the author. As a picky reader, I cringe at grammatical issues and find them hard to put aside. The lack of flow in some passages and switching between formal and informal language was a little grating. However, the author's flights of fancy more than make up for this. The concept of the Quarterstar shards, which will bring a vague but terrifying doom if ever brought together, is intriguing. I enjoyed the character of Traelyn, with her wisdom earned during an unnaturally long life and her relationship with her children and grandchildren. The human soldier Voll and his unlikely friendship with the dragon Aegyn was also a high point. Some of the most compelling scenes are the battles in which dragons fly overhead, and the elves' magic produces giant winged spiders and other terrifying creatures. Knowing that Quarterstars Awakening sets the scene for a whole series set in this world has me intrigued.

Would I read more by this author? Yes!

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

My Fruit Harvest 2019/2020

As you may know, I have in my garden a nectarine, an apricot and a plum tree. They were planted by the previous owners and were already raring to go when we moved in. Little known fact: I found out from old photos on a real estate website that there was originally an above-ground swimming pool in that spot, but for some reason they removed it and planted the fruit trees instead. Life is all about compromise, I guess.


We also have a cherry tree that we planted ourselves a couple of years ago, which makes 4 stone fruit trees. A mini orchard! This year I was determined to try and take advantage of the abundance of fruits that suddenly appear all at once. I wanted to be prepared, and waste as little as possible. I think I did okay, mostly. I was still recovering from my surgery, so I couldn't go full-scale canning factory or anything like that. I also tried a little experiment. I didn't want to cover the trees in mesh sheets or bags because they're a pain and also damage the branches. They're hard to put on, hard to take off, and you have to climb up underneath them to pick the fruit. Besides, birds can get to them anyway from underneath or if any fruits are too close to the mesh and they can stick their little stickybeaks in enough to reach them.

I decided to pick the fruits while they were still slightly underripe, hoping that birds wouldn't yet find them appetising, and let them ripen indoors. I wasn't even sure if they would ripen like that, to be honest. First to fruit, at the end of November, was the cherry tree. I'm guessing it's so early because the fruits are very small compared to the others? This was our entire harvest:

I'm very pleased because there was more fruit than last year, and the tree itself has also grown a lot. The fruit ripened up nicely and we had it for dessert one night with some ice cream.

As for the other trees, last year at pruning time I pruned them quite severely, especially the plum tree. (It had really gotten out of hand. So sick of plums.) I wanted to make sure that a) there weren't too many fruits for me to handle and b) there weren't any fruits growing too high for me to reach. I can't remember where I read this, but it's good advice because mucking around with a stepladder in the garden is a bit awkward!

As I mentioned before, I figured the thing about mesh-less growing (I'm just gonna call it that) is to pick the fruits while they're slightly underripe. Even on the same tree, the fruits ripen at different times. To do this right, I needed to check them every day. I have to admit, I was better at this some days than others!

Next up was the apricot tree. The fruits are ready to pick just before New Year's. The harvest was smallish -- enough to be able to eat them all fresh without them going off or being thoroughly sick of the sight of them. This photo represents about half of the total. I only lost one or two to birds.

The plum tree started yielding around mid-January. There were a lot, and they ripened progressively over the course of about two weeks. They're too tart to eat raw (for my tastes anyway) so I stewed them in batches. (I stewed them rather than made jam because, I have to admit, I couldn't be bothered with sterilising jars, etc, in the hot weather.) I ate some with yoghurt for breakfast, and froze the rest for later.

I was surprised to find I lost less than I thought I would. There were many completely ripe fruits that were still intact. I guess the birds find them too tart, too! A few had dropped on the ground. In all, I'd say I lost about one-sixth of the total.

Finally, the nectarine tree gave it up around the last week of January through to first week of February. These are the ones to wait for -- huge, juicy, sweet and delicious. Good to eat raw or cooked.

There was a pretty big harvest and I felt like I was constantly tending to it and coming up with ways to use the fruits. Even still, I got a bit behind and the fruits ripened faster than I could pick and process them. We ate many raw for breakfast, and I stewed a lot more for either eating straight away or freezing. Husband even added one to a veggie stir fry that he made and it was yummy. I got bored with straight stewing them, so I made chutney from a recipe in the Country Women's Preserves cookbook. It was freakin' delicious.

There was only a small amount (fruit sure shrinks a lot when you cook it for ages!) so I split it up into several tiny containers and popped them in the freezer. Now the only thing left to do is prune them. As I've read, I should prune straight after harvesting instead of in winter (the traditional time) if I want the trees to stay small and not produce too many fruits.

That was my fruit tree harvesting journey for this year. This long and detailed post was mainly a reminder for myself for the future. If you've read this far, thanks!

Saturday, 1 February 2020

My January

January has been a typical one, weather-wise -- days of searing heat mixed with stormy downpours and sticky humidity. I was still recovering from my surgery, but got the go-ahead to resume normal activities in the third week of the month. I still find myself very tired though, and I find I need to either have a nap mid-afternoon, or go to bed very early. In some ways it's like being a two-year-old!

What I've been harvesting ...
The plums were ready to harvest this month. The harvest was about half what it was last year -- but I wasn't complaining. There were just too many for us to handle. This year, there was enough to fill about 4-5 plastic takeaway boxes once stewed. I just didn't have the energy to go to the bother of making jam (sterilising jars, etc) so I stewed them, packed them into boxes and stored them in the freezer.

Aside from that, most of my time in the garden has been employed in watering the plants, trying to keep them alive in the heat.

What I've been painting ...
I painted a landscape for a bushfire fundraiser exhibition/auction. This photo shows it still in progress. It's a bit different to my normal style: I was trying to be more realistic and make something that someone might want to buy.

What I've been journalling ...
I decided to do Rainbowholic's New Year 2020 Kawaii Journalling challenge. I've done 3 so far, not including the intro/title page. Here is my first page:

What I've been doing ...
I went for a walk in the park.

What I've been eating ...
After a trip to the dentist I went to a place I remembered from where I used to work over 10 years ago, which sold delicious French baguettes. It was still there! Emmenthal cheese, salami, whole gherkins and mustard -- just how I like it!

What I've been playing ...
Husband and I played Tsuro: Phoenix Rising, a variation on the popular Tsuro game. I think I enjoyed it even more than the original. I won't write any more now; I'm planning a full post in the near future.

What I've been reading ...
I've joined two readathons this year already! The first was Bout of Books, which went for a week. I managed to finish 4 books, one of which I'd had on my Currently Reading list for a year. That felt good. Currently I'm doing Pondathon, which is a story-based, co-operative reading challenge organised by CW from The Quiet Pond blog. Readers earn points for every page they read, and they affect the outcome of the story as its revealed over the 6 weeks of the challenge. There are cute characters, stamps to collect and, of course, books to read! Here's my character card with my first stamp:

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Book Review : Speak No Evil

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

We first meet Melody as a 16-year-old, being dragged to an appointment by her exasperated foster carer. Clearly she has been through some terrible trauma, as she does not speak and is seeing a psychiatrist to try to bring her out of her shell. The only way she can communicate is through music. Melody's story gradually unfolds between the present and various times in her past, beginning as a happy 5-year-old spending time with her loving parents. Where are her parents now, and what are the terrible events that led to her silence?

Melody's story is a harrowing one. There are themes that some would find distressing, including myself. Often content notices are also spoilers, so I've added them in white text (highlight to read):
[snakes, animal cruelty, sexual assault, rape, physical violence, bullying]

To be honest, it's not the kind of book I would normally read. I prefer fiction with lighter themes. The author has added an end note explaining why she chose to write about such themes, and I understand that it's important that these voices are heard. Putting my squeamishness aside, Gardner has woven a compelling tale that kept me reading. I sympathised with Melody and wanted to know her story, and of course, if she finally finds a place she can call home. The way that Melody's emotions and thoughts are expressed through song lyrics was evocative, and not something I've seen before. Both Melody and the supporting characters are well-rounded and diverse. The only reservation I have is that about two-thirds of the way into the book, several new characters are introduced, in both the present and the past, and I had trouble keeping track of who was who and when. I gradually overcame this, though, as the past and present were knitted together harmoniously.

Would I read more by this author?
(for the subject matter) Maybe! (for the writing style) Yes!