Sunday, 1 December 2019

My November

November seemed to go by very slowly for me. It was a typical late Spring / early Summer month, perhaps a little more rainy than usual. There were a couple of really cool thunderstorms, and only one very hot day. I was feeling better health-wise than I have been, and I managed to get out to see a couple of exhibitions and do some shopping for some things I needed (art supplies) and things I already have a lot of (books!).

I tried to do NaNoWriMo, vowing to write a short story every day, but I didn't get very far unfortunately. I think I wrote 6 before I ran out of steam. I think I will have to actually crack on and write a novel one day though, just to prove to myself that I can do it.

What I've been growing ...
Here is our cherry harvest for 2019! It doesn't seem like much, but it's more than last year. The tree itself has grown quite a bit too -- not taller but wider. We decided to try picking the cherries while they were still unripe, to prevent them being ravaged by birds. It worked very well. They ripened up in about 3 days sitting on the kitchen bench, and we ate them for dessert last night.

The larger fruits are coming along nicely too. They take a bit longer to ripen up -- the apricots here should be ready at the end of December. I really want to be ready to harvest them and process them properly this year.

The roses are blooming strongly this year, too. They seem to be in larger clumps (as opposed to single flowers). Perhaps it's because we've had slightly more rain? They smell divine, too, and when I leave the side door open, the smell wafts into the house.

What I've been planting ...
The garden bed I showed in last month's update post is coming along nicely. It's taken a long time because it kept raining, and we needed a few sunny days near the weekend so Husband and I could lay the concrete base, let it dry, and then later lay the bricks and let them dry. After that was achieved, things went much faster. We bought some bags of garden soil and filled up the bed with them, then put in the lemon tree. The final steps to go are adding a layer of pebbles over the soil, and planting some smaller decorative plants around it. I already have some chosen out. Stay tuned for the final result!

What I've been painting ...
I've been having fun with watercolour painting lately, and also drawing human people, which is different for me. I had a dream that I painted this, and then I turned it into reality. There are a few more too, and I'll show them in a separate post soon. P.S. the painting is still attached to the stretcher board in this photo.

Where I've been shopping ...
I finally visited a Melbourne institution -- City Basement Books. It was pretty overwhelming at first, but after browsing the whole shop I felt settled in, and I think it's become my happy place! I only bought 8 books on my first visit, and I'm resisting going back again too soon. It's one of the few bookshops I've been too (new or secondhand) where you can go in with a shopping list of books by certain authors or on certain topics and have a reasonable chance of finding most of them.

What I've been designing ...
I created a meme, and yes, this is really happening to me tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Bonus pic ...
I dressed up for a fancy birthday brunch for a friend earlier in the month, in my fancy dress in a fancy pose, against a fancy background. Excuse the fancy look on my face! I've let my fringe grow out in the last few months, which you can see quite well in this photo. I like how it looks.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Re-Reading my Favourite Books : Dragonriders of Pern

Dragonflight, the first in the Dragonriders of Pern series, was written by Anne McCaffrey and originally published in 1968. It is set in world where the chosen ride huge beasts bred to defend the world of Pern against a deadly interplanetary threat that returns every 200 years. This threat comes in the form of the Red Star which, when it nears Pern, gives off silver Threads which burrow into the earth and kill every living thing. Last time though, that threat never eventuated, and while traditionalists still hold onto the training schedules and teaching songs, many don't believe it will ever return, and much knowledge has been lost. Too, the population of dragons is no longer big enough to protect the planet effectively should the Red Star throw off the deadly Threads on its return.

I first read this book somewhere around 13 to 15 years old, and I remember really enjoying it. I went on to read several in the series (there are now over 20 books in all, some written by McCaffrey's son). The world the series is set in is unusual and intriguing, enhanced by the terms used for some common words, such as 'turns' instead of years. It has a strange mix of technology and archaism, with flamethrowers used to combat the threads, but knowledge is passed on through songs because they no longer have a reliable way of writing it down.

And, of course, dragons!

I can see how the particular way dragons are presented in this series would appeal to a lonely teenaged reader. Each dragon is matched to a rider, who Impresses on it when hatched, much the same way a mother duck impresses on its baby. From then on, the dragon and its rider are physically and emotionally inseperable: a love beyond any mere trivial human emotion. Dragonriders are a class above the holders, the ordinary people who do the farming, cooking and cleaning to support the riders. I'm sure I would have imagined myself as a Dragonrider, soaring through the skies on a magnificent golden beast, not to mention understood and loved by it unconditionally to boot.

Upon reading this time, however, I was brought back to earth with a jolt. This book is so problematic that I just couldn't enjoy it. It smacks of racism and sexism. There's domestic violence, unchallenged adultery, disturbing sexual references and repeated fatphobic commentary.

The main character, Lessa, is a woman in her early 20s, hardened by 10 years of domestic slavery. Her status as the rider of the golden Queen dragon makes her joint leader of the riders along with her male counterpart. However, he dominates her, mocks her, treats her like a child and physically abuses her by grabbing her by the arms and shaking her. She responds by gradually coming to feel affection for him and feeling jealous of his cheating on her. In a moment of danger and fear, her first reaction is to be afraid of his being angry at her. She is clearly a victim of domestic violence, but the text presents this unchallenged. She is expected to serve him and his visitors food and drink. The treatment of women in general is little better than of servants.

The sexual references in the book are also disturbing. Every time the Queen dragons mate, their two riders are compelled to mate also, no matter how much they may hate or be repelled by each other. It made me feel sick to read these passages.

The previous Queen leader and her dragon failed in their duties to produce enough offspring and keep the numbers of dragons up. She is repeatedly referred to as lazy, incompetent, obese and obstinate, and contrasted with Lessa, who is slender and delicate. She is blamed for all of the riders' current ills, and her death celebrated as a case of good riddance. The dragonriders are in their current situation partly because of past failings, but they are all blamed on a single person, and her physical appearance is irrelevant to what happened. The repeated references to the appearance of the female characters seem to say more about the author than the characters.

Dragonflight was published in 1968, so it must be remembered that it's a product of its time. It's also set in a fantasy world, where social norms are different to our world. Having said that, I'm not arguing that these flaws can be excused. The Lord of the Rings, which I wrote about in this post, was written slightly earlier, and while it doesn't have any central female characters, the ones it does have are treated with dignity. There are many more and better examples, but I'll leave it there for now.

I tried reading the second book in the series, Dragonquest, in case it was any better, but unfortunately it was worse. I only got a couple of chapters in before I had to stop. I didn't even get time to talk about the florid writing style. I have no problem with a more formal writing style, but it was so highblown as to be annoying and distracting at times. I can't help but wonder if the author felt she had something to prove.

Unfortunately I have to conclude that on re-reading, this is no longer one of my favourite series. Part of me thinks I should continue reading the series to try and find some redeeming qualities in it, but there are too many other books and too little time!

Saturday, 2 November 2019

My October

October has been a typical Spring month here, alternating between cold, wintry days and 34C (93F) scorchers, with everything in between. There was only one thunderstorm, but it was a pretty impressive one. I had my ups and downs too -- feeling sick, feeling good, tired/energetic, enthusiastic/sad. I could make the usual apologies for not blogging more often etc etc, but I didn't feel like writing, so why force myself? I'm here now, that's all.

What I've been building ...
It's not much to look at yet, but Husband and I are building a garden bed in our front yard. If everything goes according to plan, it'll be an adorably retro, white-pebbled brick-bordered oval bed with a lemon tree in the middle and some quirky succulents or something dotted about too.

What I've been drawing ...
I went to my first ever life drawing class, and it was a very interesting and inspiring experience. That voice in my head which tells me my art is rubbish was very persistent for the first hour or so, but eventually it got quieter and I was able to get into a kind of flow state. If you can call a lot of scribbling and grimacing a flow state! I found that being forced to just sit there and draw non-stop for a couple of hours a really interesting experience, and it left me very excited about my art and the future.

There have been quite a few developments in my art lately, so I'll do a separate post on that soon.

What I've been photographing ...
A few weeks ago I did my first flatlay! I don't know why I became suddenly obsessed with them. I went down a rabbithole of research and finding pleasing examples for inspiration. I decided to base mine around a manga I'd recently read, because of the interesting colours on its cover. I was worried I wouldn't be able to find enough orange-coloured items around the house, but it turns out that wasn't a problem. There were plenty more I could have squeezed in! I'm generally quite pleased with it, though I notice a few gaps and the lighting could be better.

Where I've been visiting ...
Husband and I and our foodie friend went to visit the Geelong Agricultural Show, and it was so much fun, embracing our inner kids (and inner bogans, somewhat). I got to see baby animals and prizewinning vegetables, though unfortunately we couldn't find the handicrafts and I was too tired by the time we realised where they were. I can always see them next year!

What I've been reading ...
I didn't set myself a reading challenge in October, because I decided to participate again in the Dewey 24 in 48 Readathon, which was on the last weekend of the month. Reading for 24 hours out of a 48 hour period is almost impossible for me, but on the other hand I'm known to jump into improbable challenges pretty often. As usual, I used a page in my Hobonichi to keep track, reading in 20 minute increments this time (or half an hour if I was feeling like I could concentrate for a bit longer). I read about 13 hours out of the 24, and got several books and stories finished, but not the ones I was aiming for. That's life sometimes!

Thursday, 3 October 2019

My September

For a short month, it seemed like so much was packed into this September. And yet, it seemed like nothing much happened at all. I was still very sick for most of the month, due to a sort-of-new, sort-of-ongoing health issue (yeah, my health is complicated lately!), and wasn't able to leave the house. Finally in the last week, I was given some medication which has let me live a bit more normally again. However, I'll need to have an operation to fix it permanently, hopefully in a couple of months. That's left me in a strange limbo where I'm well enough to work, but there's probably no point in getting a job until after I've recovered from the operation. Oh well, may as well take advantage of the situation.

Let the art and craft commence! (Or continue, really...)

What I've been reading ...
I completed my personal September reading challenge very successfully, in my opinion! I read several short books and stories, and discovered some new authors that I'd like to follow up on in future. I've decided that for the month of October, I'm not setting myself a formal reading challenge. I'm still planning on reading, but some other things have piqued my interest lately as well, and I want to make sure I have enough time for everything.

What I've been showing ...
I seem to have neglected to mention it here, but I had a piece in an exhibition called Fat Feminism at NOIR Darkroom (actually it's still on until 6th October 2019!). I'm too shy to show my piece, so here's a photo of some of the other amazing art from NOIR's website:

What I've been drawing ...
After procrastinating for months, I finally started to draw a little bit again. I created a Terrible Drawing Challenge, in the hope that it would be less pressure, and I think this reverse psychology worked ... some days, anyway.

Here I copied a picture from the Voynich Manuscript. This mysterious book in an undeciphered script has been endlessly fascinating to me lately. The original is on the left and my drawing is on the right.

A Terrible Drawing of Saiki from The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. I really should have started further down the page! I really enjoyed this anime and liked the bright colours so I wanted to give it a go. I coloured it in with pencils because I don't have any watercolours bright enough for his hair.

A baby monitor. Don't ask me why. I just love the combination of smooth curves, soothing colours, buttons and what's basically a spy camera.

What I've been eating ...
Husband and I went with a foodie friend to a Rotary Hotpot restaurant, a new thing for us. It can be described as a cross between hotpot soup (or shabu-shabu) and sushi train. The soup is cooked at the table on an induction cooker, while the ingredients pass by on a conveyor belt for the diners to choose and add. (For anyone worried about food safety, the meats are kept separately in a freezer. They are cut very thin so that when added to the soup, they cook almost immediately.) There were several different soup bases to choose from and, as you can see from the photo, there's an option to choose two bases with the divided bowl. With all the different ingredients to choose from, the potential for different soup flavour combinations is truly endless. It was a lot of fun as well as delicious, and I would definitely go back!

What I've been observing ...
Spring happened. It's getting quite warm.

What I've been knitting ...
Aaaaaand, right at the very end of the month, I became interested in craft again. I was all crafted out after finishing my blanket. I guess it took me a few months to recover. Plus the nerdy/obsessive part of my brain seems to be quite perverse, as it always seems to point me in the direction of crafts that are inappropriate for the season. After visiting my friend and her baby, I was inspired to finish this dinosaur plushie which was supposed to be a birth gift. I might be in time for her first birthday, though. I have just under 6 months, and it's already half done, so I'm quietly confident.

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.

[picture source]

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.

[picture source (video)]

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.

[picture source]

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!