Monday, 16 January 2017

In Progress: Top 5 Craft Projects

One of my resolutions this year was to do more crafts. I have a huge number of craft projects in progress -- 52! (Or even 56 depending on what I classify as a craft.) Even to me, that seems incredibly high, but I practice many different crafts, from crochet and knitting through to hama beads and embroidery. I realised that I had quite a few I'm never going to finish, for various reasons. I didn't like the colours anymore, or the little person it was for had outgrown it, or it just didn't pique my interest anymore.

Back in December, I decided to cull 12 projects. That would bring it down to 40, which is still high, but not quite as bad! It wasn't as hard to choose as I thought it would be. I have all of my craft projects listed on a spreadsheet, which is incredibly handy because it would take me hours if I'd had to sight each one physically, digging through boxes and tubs. Some of the projects I culled were:

✖ a baby blanket with squares that puckered
✖ a scarf I didn't like the colours of anymore. Also it was supposed to replace one I'd made years ago which is getting a bit ratty, but which I still wear. (Also, I'd rather put my energy into making a Hufflepuff scarf instead.)
✖ a scarf for my Lammily doll, though I might re-work it one day
✖ a sewn handbag which I can't find anymore. I already have a lot of handbags anyway.
✖ an experimental monster plushie which I didn't like the way it was turning out. I tried knitting it, but I've decided I prefer crocheting them.

Once that was done, my craftload seemed much more manageable and I felt lighter. However, deciding which project to work on in any given session was still a bit overwhelming. So I made a Top 5 Projects list. It includes some small projects that I can finish quickly for (almost) instant gratification, plus some larger projects that I want to have finished sooner or later. I collected them all together in my craft basket in the lounge room for easy access. Here's the Top 5:

1. Pink Flower Cushion
I bought a flower loom a while back and made this flower while learning to use it. I didn't want to waste it, but didn't know what to do with it for a long time. The obvious solution was a hair deco, but the colour doesn't work for me. I finally had the idea of making a doll floor cushion and sewing the flower to the front.

2. Polka Dot Coathangers
My dream is to have nothing but nice coathangers in my wardrobe. For some reason I always make them in sets of 3, because it seems easier to make them in batches, but also because I like the idea of matching ones. I had nearly finished knitting the second one when I found a third one I'd started ages ago which is sort of polkadotty, so the project is even further along than I'd thought.

3. Travel Bunny
It's a small, simple bunny that I'm going to make into a trackable. The method of turning it from a plain square into a bunny seems quite clever. I'll explain further in a future post. To finish it, I'll have to find the website with the instructions again...

4. Swedish Christmas Shawl
I call this the Swedish Christmas shawl because it was inspired by the shawl a girl was wearing in a TV ad comparing Australian Christmas to Swedish Christmas. The pattern is just a simple straight granny stitch, so it's good for mindless crocheting. It's incredibly long though, and I think it will take quite some time to finish.

5. Granny Land Blanket
I always have at least one blanket or afghan in progress. This one was inspired by Pinterest and I want to make it large enough to really snuggle under in Winter. I haven't thought about how I'm going to join the squares yet, but there are plenty of methods to choose from. The internet is a wonderful thing!

Friday, 13 January 2017

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a young adult urban fantasy novel, released in 2011. It is the first book by author Ransom Riggs. The story is unique in that it is peppered with vintage photographs, which do not just illustrate the story, but are woven into it. According to the author, all of the images are actual vintage photos that he found in thrift shops, etc and used to inspire the story.

Jacob Portman is a 15-year-old boy living a boring, ordinary life in Florida. He is closest to his grandfather, who tells him unbelievable tales of his youth, but is becoming increasingly senile and paranoid. One night, Jacob's grandfather is murdered in a horrific manner, and this sets off a chain of events which lead Jacob and his father to a small Welsh island in search of his grandfather's true story.

On the island, Jacob discovers an abandoned old house. After spending several weeks exploring it, he is kidnapped by a teenaged girl and taken through a portal into the past, where he finds the house intact. There, he meets the peculiar children and Miss Peregrine, their headmistress and protector. Gradually he finds out about the world of the peculiars -- fae-type people each with their own magical power who live in time loops which keep them safe from the outside world. As long as the time loop is maintained, the same day repeats over and over, and only peculiars can enter it. Jacob's grandfather lived with this magical troup in Miss Peregrine's time loop as a child, and Jacob realises that all the 'fairy tales' he told are true. There are dangers in this magical world though, and the children are vulnerable to vicious monsters and evil part-humans, if they can lure the children out of the time loop.

I liked Jacob, despite his characterisation in the beginning as a bored, bratty rich kid. He is realistically honest, having a complicated relationship with his father, and making decisions based on his hormones at times. He has some serious choices to make in the second half of the book, and makes them on his own, which shows a maturing and depth of character. The writing in the first half of the book was very enjoyable with several witty passages. Many 5 or 6 line sentences were so well-crafted that the general advice about keeping sentences as short as possible seems moot. The Welsh island and the salty characters on it were delightful to read about. I especially loved the scene where Jacob is advised to visit an old man to speak to him before "Father Ted comes on the telly".

The story begins to falter about halfway through. I felt as if some parts were awkwardly stretched just to fit the photos in, and the monsters are quite cliched and out of tone with the rest of the book. At the start, it seems assumed that the readership is older teenagers -- the vocabulary is mature, horribly violent events happen, and Jacob displays symptoms of PTSD. But as the book progresses, it feels like the target audience is getting younger and younger. By the end, the plot has become simplified and sees the children fighting boogieman-like monsters. Compared to the creepiness of the vaguely alluded-to horrors earlier on, the monster fight seems quite crude. The childrens' characters are reduced to nothing more than what magical tricks they can produce to further what needs to be done. The witty tone falls away and it's as if the author has run out of steam and is just plodding towards the end.

One thing that confused me was that Jacob finds many photos of children from the home in his grandfather's photo album, which led me to believe there was quite a large population. However, at the end of the book, a count of ten children (including Jacob) is specifically mentioned, and there is no reference to any other inhabitants who may have left, etc. Where are all the others? Were those photos just included in the book because they looked cool?

Another thing that irked me was the ending which left such an obvious opening for a sequel. The back cover of the book mentions that it is the first of a trilogy, but I have a newer edition and readers might not have known that when it was initially released. My edition also plugs the movie heavily, both on the cover and inside. (Though I have to admit: it would make a good-looking movie.) On the other hand, there were many things about the book I loved: the creepy vintage photos, the 1940s setting, the colloquial Welshness, a tiny island with its clunky museum and proudly displayed bog-man, a time travel concept that's not brain-shrivellingly difficult to understand. Physically the book is quite impressive too, with a weightiness that comes from all the ink used in reproducing the many photos, as well as the Victorian-styled chapter headings.

The world of peculiars and time-loops that Riggs created is a fascinating one, and I wish it had been revealed further, rather than devolving into a typical light horror tale. I was intrigued by the children, who are really 70-and 80-year-olds in children's bodies, living the same day over and over again in Miss Peregrine's time loop. Are they playing the role of children to pass the time in what is essentially an endless prison, or are they actually in deep denial? I would like to have known more about their lives and thoughts. That's why I'm going to read the rest of the trilogy, but I'm not going to expect as much as I did from the first book. Next though, is to watch the movie which came out in 2016.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

First Cativersary!

As of yesterday, we welcomed Sharick into our home one year ago. It doesn't seem that long, but at the same time I can't imagine life without him! He's a complete huggle-fiend, insisting on a cuddle from each of us if we've been out all day. He's an incorrigible lap cat -- as soon as we sit on the couch, within a minute you can guarantee he's there. Even in hot weather!

He's truly a Prince of cats, with his grey tiger stripes and imperious glances. At other times, when the weather is unsettled, he clings to me in the most adorable way. When I'm painting or writing at the computer, and he jumps up, insisting on a cuddle, it's a reminder to take a break and enjoy the little things in life.

I'll leave you with some kitty photo-spam selected from my Instagram:

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Apricot Harvest

The apricots from our tree seemed to come early this year -- they were ready for picking on New Year's Eve. This picture shows about 80% of the harvest. We kept a few back to use in cocktails and eating fresh.

I love how easy apricots are to process. The stones pop right out!

I decided to make stewed fruit instead of jam, as I wasn't quite ready for such a big undertaking, and also the harvest not quite big enough to justify so much effort. Stewed fruit is healthier than jam as well, as you only need to add a little sugar, or none at all if you like. I added about 3 tablespoons of sugar. The downside of stewed fruit compared to jam is that it must be stored in the freezer.

They only need to be cooked for about 15 minutes. The camera lens steamed up in this shot!

I put the apricots into small containers to make it easier to defrost and use them later.

Here are a few uses that I thought of for them:
⋆ pie filling
⋆ fruit crumble
⋆ serve with ice cream
⋆ topping for breakfast porridge
⋆ use in smoothies
⋆ apricot chicken dish

Monday, 2 January 2017

Hello 2017

This time of year is always the same for me -- I declare boldly that I don't make new year's resolutions, but I have an urge to make some anyway ... and trawl the internet to spy on other people's resolutions! This year I've also come across various lists of questions to ask yourself about the past year and the coming year -- each set longer and more excrutiatingly intimate than the last.

Although I mentioned in my 2016 wrap-up post that I had a pretty good year overall, there were a few things that I regretted not doing more of or would like to have done differently. So I decided to write out a few goals wishes (Havi at The Fluent Self calls them 'gwishes'!) for 2017. There are many more things I'd like to do, but I limited it to 9 so they don't seem so overwhelming. For now, they're just outlines. In the coming few days, I'll sit down and figure out more concrete ways of making them happen.

1. Spend more time outside. I think this will improve both my physical and mental health. Whether it's going for a walk, finding things to take photos of, or gardening, all of these things make me happier.

2. Share more on the blog. I've done so many things that I didn't write about on the blog, and regretted it -- from making hot cross buns to my crafty birthday party! I want to share more and be more personal on my blog from now on.

3. Finish KonMari'ing my house. I'm about two-thirds of the way there. I just know that I'll be happier and be able to enjoy my house more once it's finished.

4. Plan a regular yoga practice. Aside from being on my 101 Things in 1,001 Days list, this is another thing that I know will improve my well-being.

5. Continue my rune studies and other spiritual pursuits. In 2016 I concentrated much more on my spiritual side, and it really did wonders for my confidence. I'd like to extend this more in 2017.

6. Spend more time doing crafts. I only completed 6 crafts projects last year -- that statistic makes me really sad! In the second half of last year, I focussed more on art and writing, but I missed doing crafts. I'd like to find a way to bring all of them together.

7. See if my sewing machine still works; if not, buy a new one. About a quarter of my in-progress craft projects require sewing to finish them off. I've also been meaning to start sewing clothes again. This would very much help me to achieve the next gwish, too...

8. Explore fashion more and take more photos of myself. Since I gave my clothes the Kon-Mari treatment in the middle of last year, I've been much more interested in fashion again. I want to add more pieces I really love to my wardrobe and create some thoughtful co-ords. I also want to take more photos of myself: to document my outfits, and I also find it helpful for my confidence and increasing body positivity.

9. Play with my dolls more, and make/design things for them. I posted that I received a Lottie doll and some outfits for Christmas. I have to admit I have at least two other dolls that I haven't even unboxed yet. My interest tends to wax and wane in this particular hobby, but I think that if I have a spot to display my dolls in, I'll be more likely to want to do things with them. (And again, that will make me happier!)

I also have something really big coming up later this month, which I'm still proctrastinating about announcing, even though I've known about it for a while now. Soon, I promise!

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 in Review

It's generally being said around the Internet that 2016 was the year from hell, and in many ways I agree. In my own life though, it was a very good year, with many changes, most of them positive.

I was going to write about things I wish I'd done differently this year, but I'd rather focus on the positive, so here's a list of good things that I did or happened to me:

➸ I left my old job and had 6 months off
➸ I got a new job in the field I wanted to go into
➸ We got a cat (!!)
➸ I went on trips to the country, the beach, and a fashion show (all on my own!)
➸ I made a new friend
➸ I went to see a shaman
➸ I KonMaried my house (it's not finished yet, but I did most of it)
➸ I turned 40 and had a crafternoon party to celebrate
➸ I made jam, preserved olives, gluten-free hot cross buns, and learned how to make gluten-free pastry
➸ I started writing a zine
➸ My attitudes towards work, material things, and other people all seem to have changed

Now for the customary stats (last year's stat in brackets):

Books finished:
full-length: 20 (14)
short & manga: 20 (38)
Currently reading as of today: 9 (13)

Blog posts: 63 (69)

Craft items started: 6 (8)
Craft items finished: 6 (7)
Craft projects currently in progress as of today: 40 (I did have 52, but I made myself cull some a few weeks ago.)

Last but not least, the annual Apartmentcat Favourites Awards!
Top Movies:
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Rogue One
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Maleficent and Mad Max: Fury Road were also very good.

Top Books:
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Essays in Idleness by Yoshida KenkĊ

Have a happy and safe new year everyone!

Friday, 30 December 2016

Season's Greetings (and Presents Received!)

I hope you've been having a wonderful and relaxing time, no matter what you celebrate.
Thank you for the views and comments this year!
May your 2017 be everything that you wish for.

And now for the presents! I didn't receive as many this year, but I don't mind at all. I love everything I received. Husband bought me the board game Scoville as I heard about it from a workmate a few months ago and I mentioned it to him as a game I might like.

Lottie Fossil Hunter doll and two outfits. I ordered these online and then gave the unopened box to Husband for him to give to me.

Books -- some I asked Husband to give me, some I received from my mother and father in-law, and Cakemoji was from my best friends. My mother-in-law slips a cheesy romance novel into our Christmas hamper every year -- it seems to have become a family tradition!

Food gifts: the bottle of Kirsch has a spinning mini bottle insert in the front. Husband and I are always on the look-out for interesting liqueur bottles to give each other. The mug was a going-away gift to me from one of my workmates. I gave it to Husband to wrap and put under the tree because, it's quite pretty and why not?

Crafts: I instructed Husband to give me some sparkly gel pens and a pencil pouch. The Tsum-Tsums activity tin is from my best friends. They know I like childish things like that, not to mention tins to keep my craft projects in!

Lastly, I did indeed receive the Harry Potter boxed set that I wished for. Husband and I bought it together as a gift for ourselves, so we decided to revive an old tradition from his childhood -- we designated it a "gift from the tree". When he was a child, his parents would wrap small gifts in green paper and hide them amongst the branches of the Christmas tree for him to find. This gift was much too heavy to hide in the tree! but it was just as special. It's something I'd like to do every year, not only to solve the problem of joint gifts, but as a lovely tradition.

Happy festive season to all!