Monday, 30 January 2017

A Balcony for a Tiny House

A new year = new ideas for my fictional dream tiny house. I'm even tinkering with the idea of building a miniature version so I can actually realise it in some form but this is perhaps more a 2018 project. 2017 is about daydreaming over the minutiae.

Today's daydream? Balconies.

Tiny townhouse with symmetrical balcony

I love a good balcony. Somewhere you can sit out with space for at least two chairs and a small table because if you had a balcony and good weather you would of course be having breakfast out in the open air. When a friend pays a visit, it's a nice place to have lunch. And it's a great place to watch the sun going down on a warm summer evening, with a glass of wine and perhaps a cat on the lap.

Balcony, log cabin stylee

Being a tiny house, would it be the kind of balcony that I could walk out of a room on to, or one that could be reached by a set of stairs on the side of the house? Hmmmm. No clear preference as yet. Is it even a balcony if it isn't attached to a room? If it were just on the roof, would it be called something else? A terrace? This is where my lack of architectural knowledge comes out.

A tiny cabin with balcony

Covered balcony or uncovered balcony? Uncovered I think - daring as that might be given the English weather. Greater exposure to sunshine, though this also means a greater exposure to rain, sleet, snow etc and thus a diminished window of opportunity to use said balcony. Whatever. Uncovered it is!

This small house is not that far away from me, located in
Aldeburgh in Suffolk

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Reading Challenge: A book with career advice


In 2008, J. K. Rowling gave a speech at Harvard University. Very Good Lives is that speech in book form. These pages contain thoughts on success and failure, and how imagination can be the greatest gift of all. As Rowling says, there was a time in her life when it appeared she had failed at everything. No money, a failed marriage, a young daughter to support, no work, no home except what the council could provide. In a society that counts possessions, money and social status as the best ways to gauge success, Rowling was near the bottom of the pile. Skip ahead to now and she is a bestselling author known to millions whose story has been held up as a fairytale of rags to riches. Has her change of fortunes erased her memories of the bleak times she had? No. It has given her a healthy respect for failure and for the rewards it can bring. 

The speech given to the graduating class of 2008 refers to the expectations of parents; explains that there is 'an expiry date for blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction'; takes in her experiences of working for Amnesty International. She goes through her highs and her lows, her appreciation of her friends and her satisfaction at having finally set aside the directions of others in order to pursue her desire to write.

One thing that came through to me while reading this was Rowling's sense of gratitude. Gratitude is getting more attention these days as a means of improving your life and mental health and I think it must be something Rowling practises. She is thankful for friends who stood by her in the dark times, and for the opportunities life has given her and continues to give her is clear.

This book doesn't contain personality tests, aptitude tests, questions on how much you want to earn, how to be a better manager, how to be the best salesperson - all of which you'd find in standard career advice books. And that's why I chose it for this part of the reading challenge. There's so much material out there on how to fit into the machinery of 'success' and not enough attention paid to connecting us with life and what it means to be alive.

My favourite quote of the book?

I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.

8 out of 10 graduation caps

Are you undertaking the #popsugarreadingchallenge?

Tempted by this book, but already have your book with career advice covered? These are other categories in the Reading Challenge this book could apply to:
A book with a subtitle
A book written by someone you admire (if you admire J. K. Rowling, obviously)
A book with pictures

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

January Refashion

So. My first piece of refashioning for the year, in accordance with my thrifty wardrobe plans!

I used the dress that I bought for £1 in a Felixstowe charity shop last summer. The fabric is some kind of stretch fabric and the big, bold print and colours were impossible for me to resist. No label so I have a feeling this dress is a market stall special.

I think it was meant to be a one shoulder strap affair but the strap was the oddest scrap of fabric I've ever come across on a dress. As you may be able to tell from the picture below, it was a weirdly twisted thing with serged edges here and there. I tried wearing it all number of ways and it never laid flat or neatly so I knew when I bought the dress it would need surgery.

Sewing with stretch fabrics has not gone well for me in the past. Every now and then I toy with the idea of getting an overlocker but it would be something I use rarely and wouldn't really have anywhere to store, plus being costly for the number of times I would use it. I took a wander over to the Tilly and the Buttons website and found this helpful how to, which aided me in my time of need.

Step one - neaten the bodice and remove the dubious strap. Both were easy to do. Is it neat on the inside of the bodice? Um, not so much. But the outside of the bodice is much tidier than it was so I'm considering that a win.

Step two - add straps. Surprisingly, as I'm quite short, the dress is the right length so I didn't need to faff about with the hem. The one drawback here was that I didn't have extra fabric for the straps. I thought of getting a couple of black headbands from somewhere like Primark and turning them into straps but thought this might be against my 'no new clothes' buying rule so instead I went to a craft shop and bought a strip of black lycra.

Were the straps easy to sew? Yes. Is my work as neat as I would like it to be? It's fine on the outside but on the inside? Again, it's a bit scruffy. While I'm not overly bothered at this early stage in my refashioning attempts, I'd like to think I'll pick up some tricks on amending clothing with a greater degree of neatness by the end of the year.

Was it satisfying to do? Yes! The cost of the lycra was £1.48 and I only used half of the strip I purchased, so a new dress in my summer wardrobe for £1.74 is a bargain.

Now to decide what my next refashioning project will be . . .

Monday, 23 January 2017

Reading Challenge: A Book where the main character is a different ethnicity to you

Animal interest stories are always popular in this country. The Guest Cat was a surprise bestseller partly due to the fact it had a cute cat drawing on the front. If however you are expecting this to be written along the same lines as A Streetcat Named Bob or Dewey the Library Cat you will be disappointed. This is fictional and told in a very different style to a lot of the animal books that are so popular.

How to describe this book? It does have a narrative with the progression of the characters lives, how they need to move house and so on but it doesn't have the drive of a mainstream novel. Hmm, not being very clear, am I? Okay. Think of the book as a whole as being a big open blue sky. The chapters are clouds that pass across that sky. They float, they meander, they sail across that sky bordering occasionally bordering on the insubstantial. That's what the chapters of the story felt like to me.

This is not to say this book was difficult or something I didn't enjoy. I did enjoy it. It's just told at a different pace and in a different style to the average story. Or perhaps that should be Western story? Maybe this style is very typical of Japanese fiction? Aside from Banana Yoshimoto I can't recall reading other authors from Japan and now I come to think about it there are some similarities in style there.

The book is very tied in nature. There's the observation of the cat Chibi, and the other cats in the area, and there's also awareness of the zelkova tree that dominates the area, of the large garden next door, of the animals and insects that frequent the environment of the writing couple at the centre of the book. There's a recognition of the elements too. At one point the doors and windows of their home are flung open and the wind whistles through, toppling furniture, scattering papers, and it is only when this instinctive ritual has been completed that the house feels more like theirs. Attention is paid to the sun, the moon - there are some quite beautiful images here.

The cat is part of this focus on the natural world. The fact she belongs to a different family means she shows a different side of herself to the writing couple she takes to visiting - at least, that's how they perceive her. She is a creature of instinct, precious and beautiful because she is in essence a wild thing. Anyone with a love of animals will empathise with this, the way they look at Chibi in fascination. In spite of her small size her life force is tangible and holds them in awe.

Some of the chapters go off down rabbit holes. The narrator will focus on a specific type of art or a means of accomplishing something and that is the focus of that chapter. In 'standard' western fiction a reader might think 'a-ha! This will come into play later!' - no, by and large it doesn't. That does not detract from the book though. Attention is paid to being in the moment, to following through thought processes, to seeking an end before something fresh can begin.

One irksome thing I want to point out is that the blurb refers to the two main characters as no longer having much to say to each other. I did not think that was the case from my reading of the book. Was this how it was advertised in Japan? Or was this more for the Western market because possible marital conflict attracts more readers? No idea. Anyway, I'm one of those readers who gets irritated if the blurb isn't accurate to the book and wanted to point that out.

7 out of 10 cover cats

Are you undertaking the #popsugarreadingchallenge?

Tempted by this book, but already have your book where the main character is a different ethnicity to you covered? These are other categories in the Reading Challenge this book could apply to:

A book with a cat on the cover
A book by an author from a country you've never visited (if you've never been to Japan)
A bestseller from a genre you don't normally read

Other books I'd recommend for a book where the main character is a different ethnicity to you:

Hardboiled/ Hard Luck - Banana Yoshimoto (if you aren't Japanese)
The House of Madame Tellier - Guy de Maupassant (if you aren't French)

Saturday, 21 January 2017

More Bullet Journal Ideas

I have a notepad and have made a start! In the end I spent nothing. I found another A5 book at home with narrower lines than my previous one, a magnetic closure and a pocket at the back. It was a gift, a Flame Tree Notebook, and has two ribbon bookmarks rather than the standard one. The pages are cream rather than white.

Picture from The Bullet Journal Addict

As I'm doing a reading challenge this year, I think this will be a more entertaining way of tracking my progress than just crossing off lines from a list. I like the idea of each shelf of the my bookcase filling with colour until it is complete.

From that_journal

I do enjoy watching films, though I don't tend to have the time to watch as many as I used to. Often I will borrow DVDs from friends and they will often sit next to the TV and get forgotten. If I scribble them down in my bullet journal I am more likely to be reminded they are there waiting.

Paper & Pin how to

While a bullet journal does have an index, I like the idea of making up these kind of markers for specific pages I know I will be returning to again and again over the coming months - like the book challenge spread as mentioned above. I could use washi tape for these markers but think it likely I will also have a go at making some with ribbons, thread and fabric. I've never made a tassle before, so this would be a perfect excuse to try that. Or a mini pompon marker! The urge to accessorise with craft is upon me . . .

From The Vision Guide

I am not very good at drawing and that's something I've been wanting to improve for decades. What else will a bullet journal provide me with? An excuse to doodle! Pinterest if FULL of easy, quick ideas for doodles. I'm drawn to those with cats, trees, flowers, household objects . . . well, let's be honest, lots of different types as evidenced by my Pinterest Bullet Journal Ideas board.

What have I learned thus far from my relatively short experience in bullet journalling?
  • The paper in Flame Tree Notebooks is thin. I can see dark biro through it. I now see why doing research on notepads with thick paper is a must. I still balk a bit at spending £20 on a notebook but as I often have a hard time thinking of things to ask people for around my birthday this could be a perfect way of getting my mitts on a Leuchtturm1917 without buying it myself. I'm thinking an orange one would be good . . .
  • I can't draw for shit. But I am enjoying trying! While I doubt that practice will make perfect in my case, repetition will hopefully improve on my basic skill.
  • I love the index. I've never used an index in a notepad before and it's just a genius idea - thank you Ryder Carroll!

My favourite page so far is the one I have created to track the remaining blocks I need to do for my Katja Marek New Hexagon project. I cut out a couple of colourful recipe pictures and used my hexagon hole punch to cut the number of pieces I needed.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Planning my First Bullet Journal

I'm a stationery geek and have been for as long as I remember. I'm also a serial list-makerCombine these two facts and it stuns me that I only heard about bullet journalling for the first time on 15th January. Of all the random, irrelevant stuff Facebook has flung at me over the years, this is the one gem I have come across.

With articles out there with titles like 8 Swoon-Worthy Notebooks for Bullet Journaling you know the kind of crowd you're talking to. I discovered that a friend of mine keeps a bullet journal and she uses the Gold-standard of bullet journals, the Leuchtturm 1917. Notepads with dots or squared or plain paper seem to be preferred, offering more freedom than lines. With this in mind the Argenzio grid notebook from Paperchase could be suitable. Moleskine notebooks appear to be another popular choice.

Though these notebooks look delicious, £12-£20 is a lot of money for a notebook. Or, more accurately, £12+ is a lot to spend on a notebook if bullet journaling proves to be a flash in the pan for me. On Sunday, I did make a start setting up an A5 notebook I already had in the house but after a short while I realised that the lines on the paper were too wide for the detail I wanted and some of the pages you're advised to set up in the various 'begin your bullet journal' articles and vlogs were ones I didn't think I'd use.

So. My goal at the moment is to come up with an idea of what I want in my bullet journal and to source an A5 notepad that doesn't cost more than a Subway meal deal. While I recognise that a bullet journal will be an evolving thing and the practical keeping of one will mean I evolve what I want from it and what I need it for, I think it's better for me to start off with an idea of what I think I want from it and a low-cost set up.

Here are some of the ideas I've come across in my Pinterest and Google questing that I'll be incorporating.

Above picture from this article on Bullet Journal ideas

I love the idea above - not so much the meal prep one, but drawing a border on a page and using a post-it note for the list. While certain things like goals achieved are things I would like to look back on, revisiting an old list of household chores would have no benefit for me. Using a post it and replacing it when needed is perfect. I have a lot of post-its. Even when I don't buy them for myself, I tend to get at least two packs from friends at Christmas. Too often the bigger ones gets overlooked but here's a genuine need for me to whip out those Paperchase delights and get them used.

Picture from Sublime Reflection

A monthly gratitude log. That would be an upbeat thing to look back on. While I tend to think about what I'm grateful for at the end of the day I don't write anything down so some items - like the robin serenading (or swearing at?) me while I fed the chickens at the weekend - might end up being forgotten if I don't write it down.

Image taken from here

This is one of those ideas I'd adapt so instead of one jar I'd have a couple dotted about on a page to show saving for a variety of things. I want to attend a training course this summer which will cost £400+ and I'm saving for that; I've not been to Brighton and would like to get away there for a long weekend in later summer so that's something else to focus my put-away pennies on. I respond well to visuals and I have a pack of Bic Conte colouring pencils I rarely use so it would be another example of a bullet journal prompting me to use my stationery while giving me a sense of achievement.

Picture from Bojo Berry

A monthly tracker is something I'd like to try but I'm not entirely sure I'd keep up with it. The visuals would be useful for me to check out how often I make things, upload stuff to my Etsy shop, manage my 5 a day - that kind of thing. Would I return to it every day to update it? Hmmm, not sure. It needs to be tried and tested.

If anyone reading this is a bullet journal addict/ aficionado/ advanced expert then I'd welcome any tips for a newbie like myself. If you've only been doing bullet journalling a short while and have some ideas, that would be groovy too. 

Monday, 16 January 2017

Reading Challenge: A book from a genre/ subgenre you've never heard of

This looked like something I'd have trouble fulfilling as part of the challenge. I read all kinds of books and couldn't think of any type of fiction I hadn't tried. Off to the interwebs to get a list of genres and see what cropped up. The three I was able to find that were new to me were:

Splatterpunk - the name is apt with violence and bloodshed at a XXX premium.

Jiangshi - a horror subgenre, this one apparently dealing with the scarier elements of Chinese folklore.
Bizarro - a Google search for 'bizarro fiction' brought up a number of books with titles like Space Walrus, Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland and Shatnerquake, I knew I had a winner . . .

Why this particular book? Well, Carlton Mellick III appeared to be one of the more popular bizarro fiction writers and the blurb on Amazon said the story was partly based on And Then There Were None, the first Agatha Christie book I ever read and one of my favourites of hers. The title also stuck with me - how many books have you ever heard of with a reference to menstruation in the title, beyond non-fiction aimed at teenage girls? Just the one for me - and this is it.

The story is narrated by John and set in present day America. He’s a bit of a nobody, neatly hooked in to consumer culture which requires he works the hours he doesn’t shop so he can afford to do the shopping. The mall is one of his favourite places and he drifts from shop to shop, buying things he doesn’t really need, deriving pleasure from his purchases and how pleasurable it is to buy things. He finishes his shopping trip and goes to leave the mall. And can’t. To begin with he doesn’t read too much into it and does a bit more shopping. As closing time approaches and further attempts to leave the mall end in failure he begins to understand he is stuck there. A couple of days pass and he realises he is not alone.

Any similarity to And Then There Were None is brief. There are ten trapped in the mall, and they do start getting picked off one by one, but that's where the similarities end. The first victims perish via mundane types of murder but as the book progresses the deaths gets stranger. Having said at the top of this post that I'm not a fan of extreme gore, there was violence in this book. Chloe (John's love interest) gets hold of a bat'leth and uses it, as you can see from the cover above. At one point, someone gets the attention of another character by throwing a bit of their innards at him. There’s sex too and the language used is pretty frank so if you like your lovin’ fluffy with hearts, flowers and not a single reference to dildos this is not the book for you.

I enjoyed TMM, reading it in two sittings. The pace was quick with no great tracts of dawdling description. What description there was set up scenes that were easy to visualise though at times (especially the piece in the cinema with the animal bits in a mound) this was a bit disturbing. I would have liked more characterisation but as one of the central themes of the book was how lacking in individual character the main players were I think this was purposeful. The book is laced throughout with contempt of consumer culture and the compulsive spending generation. The concept that you can buy individuality through expensive purchases is vilified – the killer leaves a message to the survivors challenging them to break their moulds and many have no idea how to do this, changing their clothing style with the belief that this changes who they are.

Carlton Mellick III

Did this book live up to the bizarro tag? Oh hell yes! It began deceptively 'normal' but by the end had become something utterly other. Knowing what genre The Menstruating Mall was definitely helped as I was prepared for things to get weird. If you are someone who can take a book at face value regardless of how strange things get, you will do well with bizarro fiction. If however you need answers to questions like ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘WHAT?!?!’ then turn aside, fair reader, and pursue other genres. 

Would I read anything else in this genre and/or by this author? Yes. Getting this genre of book from libraries will prove an issue so I think these will be kindle specials but I can definitely see myself investing in some more bizarro fiction.

7 out of 10 mall burgers

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Reading Challenge: A Book with a Cat on the Cover

This is a very English book. How to explain what I mean by that? Well, take the premise of an evil, murderous, devil-worshipping cat with eternal life cutting a bloody swathe through those who stand between him and his long-lost companion and imagine how different people might handle it. Were someone to take the idea and turn it into a book aimed at teenage girls, you'd have a vulnerable-but-strong heroine and a moody hero perhaps. Giving it an action slant and setting it in America, the hero might be square jawed, ex-services, and the cat would be pure evil with no nods to English Literature. As it is, this story is set in England with a number of unlikely protagonists from the floppy-haired and instinct-lacking Wiggy to retired librarian Alec who doesn't realise that a hearty meal is recommend before a showdown with the forces of darkness.

This story is told in prose, emails and screenplay sections. The main narrators are Wiggy and Alec so it’s mostly first person. Casting suggestions for Roger, the lead talking cat, are discussed - without wanting to give spoilers, it's decided that an actor known for playing James Bond would suffice. The book begins with Alec getting away from his home shortly after the death of his beloved wife. During his time away, he reads through some documents sent to him by a man who knew his wife which provide information on a talking cat and his evil creator. People are pawns in a story of two cats who were once friends and are now enemies. Alec finds himself drawn into the mystery, bodies (human and non-human) start piling up and events take him to a showdown in the country where evil cats may or may end up extinguished from the world.

I mentioned English literature above and there's lots of references to Sherlock Holmes, Jane Eyre and other classic works. These gave the book a lot of charm. In spite of the subject matter, the story is humorous in places and I laughed out loud a number of times. It's worth saying that some of the deaths (again, human and non-human) are pretty grisly so don’t pick up this book expecting fun, fun, fun all the way. This is the first book I have read as part of the challenge that I intend to buy.

If you like cats, I would recommend this. If you believe all cats are inherently evil and mean no good to the human race then I'd recommend it to you too as this book will support you in your view.

9 out of 10 cats (Moneypenny kindly posing for evil cat photo)

Are you undertaking the #popsugarreadingchallenge?

Other books I'd recommend under a Book with a Cat on the Cover category:

Cat Walk by Jackie Morris
No! I Don't Want to Join a Bookclub by Virginia Ironside

Tempted by this book, but already have your book with a cat on the cover - er - covered? These are other categories in the Reading Challenge this book could apply to:
A book that is a story within a story
A book with a red spine
The first book in a series you haven't read before
A book by an author from a country you've never visited (if you've never been to England)

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Recent Makes

A birthday gift for my sister - she needed a pencil case specifically for her colouring pencils and I got to use this retro print fabric I bought a couple of months ago.

I made myself a needlebook specifically for my sewing machine needles. While I use a fresh new needle for each big new project, I prefer to use older needles for practice pieces so I get as much wear out of them as I can.

The numbers printed on the side of the needles are very small, so I have idiot-proofed my needlebook by printing the numbers big and bold on each 'page'. Made four other needlebooks to go on my Etsy shop, in case anyone else out there feels the need for such a specific needlebook. They were nice little projects to sew 😊

Can't remember now if I was given The New Hexagon for Christmas 2015 or for my birthday last year - whatever, it has proved to be a fantastic present, still giving me things to do months later. I've been cutting new templates for the pieces and working on new blocks.

The pic below is of a fox scarf I made for a friend for Christmas and haven't been able to post about for obvious reasons. Didn't use a specific pattern, made one up to create this crochet critter.

I'm working on my first refashion project of 2017. Picked up this book in the library today which I think will help me with other future projects.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Reading Challenge: A Book by a Person of Colour

I saw this book in the library last year and the Reading Challenge is a perfect opportunity to get round to reading it. I read The Colour Purple, arguably Walker's most famous novel, years ago, and I have chickens myself, three pekin bantams, hence my interest in this book. 

The Chicken Chronicles is non-fiction, made up of nearly 40 short essays relating to Alice Walker's chickens and/or to memories/ideas that they give rise to. It's also an excellent insight into the woman that she is. Her humanity shines through; her regard for all living things is present on practically every page. Some of the essays cover mundane day to day events like sitting out with her chickens; others involve her travels in the world including meeting the Dalai Lama. The 'pecking order' of the chickens becomes a microcosm of bigger human society with parallels drawn. On the surface, some of these essays might seem like cosy little thoughts on feathered dependents but look a little deeper and there are plenty of profound ideas just below the surface.

I learned new things reading this book. When a chicken is growing up, you can tell if it is laying because it's comb will be red. If it is not yet laying, it's comb will be pink, Just as Walker goes off in digressions as she learns things, I found myself wondering if this just applied to when the chickens were young or was an indication throughout their life on their laying abilities. It's winter here now and the combs of my chickens have lost their fierce red colour and they aren't laying so perhaps . . .

When should you not approach an elephant? When it is standing still and not flapping its ears. Apparently this is the type of stance in a pachyderm that you should be wary of. I don't know if I will ever encounter an elephant in my life but if I do this gem may come in useful.

I found this lovely pic on Amazon

Hundreds of miles away as she is with a life experience very different from my own, I can read her comments on how chickens like to dig into the soil and nap and know from experience that this is true. My chooks love grapes as much as hers. Their meanness to each other can be unpleasant to watch and accept - we agree on that. They are fascinating to watch. Walker makes the time to sit with her chickens and be present in the moment and I can empathise with that also.

Her style of writing is enjoyable and easy to access but she doesn't shying away from referencing things which some might find uncomfortable. Her history, the history or her parents, grandparents and her people as a nation, is mentioned here and there. Where she perceives oppression, her memory triggers comparisons of her own experience and often those of black people and the cruel heritage of slavery. Owning these chickens helps her piece together memories where before she had only blanks. In repeating physical tasks she undertook as a child she recalls scenes, people, events that her mind has hitherto closed off owing to painful experiences, many brought about by poverty.

One piece of wording which struck me and has already made a permanent niche in my memory is when she is discussing how brothers and sisters left when she was a child and she had to learn to let her heart shrug. A simple image but a powerful one. There is definitely power in this book, a warm, loving, strong power - the short piece of the nuns of Dharamsala singing the song of the feminine was another beautiful image that will stay with me.

I would recommend this to those who want to know more about what makes Alice Walker tick; to those who know chickens and enjoy their company; to those with nomadic souls like Walker. The short essays mean this book can easily be fitted in at the end of the day, maybe while you have something cooking, maybe when you're on the train. Enjoy!

8 out of 10 chickens (Sue Ellen posing for the photo)

Are you undertaking the #popsugarreadingchallenge? 

Other books I'd recommend under a book by a person of colour category:

Trumpet by Jackie Kay
Beloved by Toni Morrison

Tempted by this book, but already have your book book by a person of colour covered? These are other categories in the Reading Challenge this book could apply to:

  • A book with a red spine
  • A book by an author from a country you've never visited (if you've never been to America)
  • A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you (if you're a different ethnicity to Alice Walker)
  • A book about an interesting woman
  • A book written by someone you admire

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Random thoughts on the Company of Dogs

Something I wanted to do in 2016 was spend more time with dogs. Sound like an odd thing to aim for? Let me explain . . .

I don't own a dog for various reasons. My live-in chef is allergic and we work the kind of hours that wouldn't suit a canine companion anyway. We have two cats who would be mightily opposed to a dog, and I don't know if the level of neediness you get with dogs as opposed to cats would be something I could cope with that well on a day in/day out basis. However, I do find dogs to be delightfully happy souls. They seem to be incapable of hiding any emotion whatsoever and their ability to live energetically in the moment is a blessing and a useful lesson. Since having problems with anxiety and depression a couple of years ago, part of my self-prescribed treatment is to do what I can to feel more connected to the outside world, to nature, to life and to my local community, be it of the two or four legged variety.

I joined Borrow My Doggy last spring but found the experience to be a damp squib. I made one connection in 6 months and as a result closed my account before my initial year was done. Next I signed up to The Cinnamon Trust as a volunteer dog-walker and that has been a lot more successful. Unlike Borrow My Doggy, The Cinnamon Trust is a charity rather than a business and looks to match up possible fostering and dog-walking volunteers with people who are of an age where they find it difficult to give their dogs as much exercise as they would like, or those who have a terminal illness. I was matched up within about a week and have been contacted about a couple of other dogs since then as well. I love walking in the local parks anyway so this has given me even more excuse to get out in the fresh air.

Poppy - my friend's cavapoo. Born in 2016, I have been very
lucky to spend some quality time with this adorable puppy,
though her energy has at times left me glad when she goes
back to Mum and Dad!

I've borrowed Cesar Milan's Short Guide to a Happy Dog and Why is my Dog Doing That by Gwen Bailey from the library and picked up some tips, but as the dogs I walk belong to other people it's more about me understanding dog behaviour than retraining any of the ladies and gents I step out with. Last year had some informative shows on TV too, form Choose the Right Puppy for You to The Secret Life of Puppies. Something these shows lacked for me was attention paid to rescue dogs. So many animals out there already need a home that it seems a shame that a lot of people feel the need to buy puppies to order. If I am ever in a position where I can have a dog, I hope that I would look to get a rescue first. I follow Steve Greig on Instagram and love his updates on how his menagerie of senior pooches are getting on.

I look forward to other match-ups I may have this year courtesy of the Cinnamon Trust. It's been so lovely to know I'm helping people while also getting to spend time with some very sweet dogs.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Reading Challenge: A bestseller from a genre you don't normally read

Manga is a genre that I have very limited experience in and, according to the New York Times, Black Butler is a bestseller, so . . .

Set in an alternative Victorian London, BB follows the exploits of Sebastian, the eponymous butler, to Ciel Phantomhive, a business magnate who specialises in children's games. Volume 1 contains four chapters which act as different stories. In these tales, Ciel entertains with the help of Sebastian and then tolerates a visit from his fiancee following dance tuition from his Butler. The last two chapters are part 1 and 2 of the same story, meatier than the first episodes and having more action. Ciel is kidnapped and Sebastian comes to fetch him with the family silver primed and ready for use against assailants.

I didn't do any research on what are recommended books for those new to manga and perhaps that was an error. Initially I approached the reading as if it were a standard book and found the style jerky and confusing. The setting is an alternative Victorian London but even so there are lots of anachronisms which the historian in me stumbled over. The story goes straight in with very little scene setting. The first two chapters are a bit fluffy with lightweight plots. When I started reading the book with a more cinematic approach, it became easier. While I haven't read manga before, I watched a couple of manga films years ago, one of which was Akira, and I remember needing to let go of the need to have characters and events explained and just flow with the story. I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first as a result. The storyline of Ciel's kidnap and rescue had a faster pace and greater action which meant I felt more swept up and less inclined to dwell on things I didn't quite understand. There's also a bit of backstory as to how Ciel acquired Sebastian as a butler and what the ultimate price for this loyalty will be.

Favourite bits? Ciel's fiancee decking Sebastian out in a bonnet; the aforementioned use of cutlery to dispatch a number of henchmen.

As with any genre, the more you read the more the style and subtleties of that genre sink in. Will I be reading any more in this series? In the short-term, no. Would I be interested in reading more manga? Yes, but after a bit of research on what would be the best starting point for a newbie like myself. I'd be interested in re-reading BB after getting some more experience under my belt to see if that extra knowledge and familiarity with the genre meant I could enjoy it more.

I'm sure that when I signed up to Netflix late last year, the TV series of Black Butler was available. Having checked today, I can't find it. Maybe it will materialise again and if so then I would like to give it a watch.

6 out of 10 butlers

Undertaking the #popsugarreadingchallenge and tempted by this book, but already have your bestseller from a genre you don't normally read covered? These are other categories in the Reading Challenge this book could apply to:
A book with pictures
A book by an author from a country you've never visited (Japan)
The first book in a series you haven't read before
A book with an eccentric character

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Reading Challenge: A Book with Pictures

Book 1 of the Reading Challenge is done.

I wanted to start the year with an upbeat story and this is a Neil Gaiman book I hadn't read before. I also love Chris Riddell illustrations so happy 2017 to me!

Fortunately, the Milk . . . is a children's book but if you're an adult don't let that put you off! Just as the average Pixar movie these days has enough nods to adult humour and knowledge to keep mum and dad entertained, so too does FTM. While being pitched at children, it does not talk down to children, as lines like:
Being a geological formation gives you a lot of time to think
Why is your gorilla holding a trans-temporally dislocated milk container?

The story begins with Mum about to go off and deliver a paper lizards, leaving Dad in charge with a list of things he needs to remember to do. He forgets to get the milk. After he has headed off to the shops, his son and daughter entertain themselves as best they can wondering why he is taking so long on his errand. On his return, he tells them the reasons why he was delayed, a tale that takes in globby aliens (who think plastic flamingos are high art), pirates, a time-travelling stegosaurus, piranhas, vampires and what actually happened to the dinosaurs.

There's a gentle dig at Twilight and a point made on gender assumption. This book also answers that most pressing of questions - what is a grundledorfer?

The illustrations are perfect for this story, complete with the entertaining level of detail you always get with Riddell. My favourite details? The fact that the mermaid tattoo on the pirate had a name, and that a dress was decorated at the hem with a row of skulls. Take time to look at the pictures while reading this book, it's worth it.

9 out of 10 milks

Other books I'd recommend under the Book with Pictures category
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

Undertaking the #popsugarreadingchallenge and tempted by this book, but already have your Book with Pictures covered? These are other categories in the Reading Challenge this book applies to:
A book that is a story within a story
A book involving travel
A book involving a mythical creature (vampires)
A book with an unreliable narrator