{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

February 5, 2016

10 Instances Proving Animals Are Emotional Beings

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In the middle of January, the social world became obsessed with viral photographs appearing to show a male kangaroo grieving for his dead female. The Guardian called the moment heartbreaking and the image a capture of a 'marsupial family's grief, while the Mail Online called the images 'heart-wrenching'. However, our anthropomorphisation of these creatures was quickly struck down by experts claiming that it was more likely the male kangaroo was simply attempting to raise the female so he could mate with her, and was most definitely not grieving for her.

According to The Washington Post, University of Sydney's senior lecturer in veterinary pathology, Derek Spielman, said that if the kangaroo was taking an aggressive and protective stance over the dead female, it was not because it was being sentimental - it was just part and parcel of male kangaroos' general aggression during courtship, where the female can sometimes accidentally be killed.

It may be that the sentimentalisation of the moment stemmed from photographer Evan Switzer's own interpretation of what was taking place, but scientists and researchers are determined: "This is a male trying to get a female to stand up so he can mate with her," Australian Museum principal research scientist Dr Mark Eldridge told ABC, and wildlife rescue officer Leonie Petrie added to the paper that while it was a nice thought that he realised the female was dying, us humans were doing nothing but putting our own feelings onto these animals' actions.

So the brunt of the argument, then, is that it is simply not possible for animals to show grief because they just do not have the same emotions we do, despite studies that show that animals do indeed have a depth of emotion that we humans can relate to, though we cannot actually know what they are feeling for certain (just as we cannot know how our fellow man is feeling).

It is with this in mind that I want to share some affirmations that animals do indeed have feelings: they grieve, they sob at rejection, they elate at freedom. While I will not disagree that the male kangaroo was attempting to mate with the female or that he was perhaps the cause of her death in the first place, it is just like us to claim that he was just being an animal.

1. Relief

Raju, an elephant held captive and abused for 50 years, was rescued by Wildlife SOS UK. The rescue team claimed to have seen "tears roll down his face during the rescue".

2. Rejection and Sadness

Zookeepers at a Chinese zoo had to intervene when newborn elephant Zhuangzhuang was stomped on by its mother after she gave birth. When baby was returned to the mother two hours later, she started to stomp on him again and keepers claim he cried for five hours because of her rejection.

3. Joy

Cows meant to be sent to the slaughterhouse are released into an open field, jumping and running and playing in a certain display of joy.

4. Fear

Dairy cow Emma was put on a strange trailer headed for a strange place. She can be seen crying during the journey, certainly tears of fear, and when she is released into the pasture she is greeted with friendliness by the other cows.

5. Friendship

This dog waits by the body of his dead friend.

6. Love

A cat jumps into the arms of a soldier arriving home.

7. Jealousy

A Great Dane is upset that his master is giving another dog attention.

8. Excitement

A dog gets too excited when visiting the petstore

9. Anger

A cockatoo really doesn't want to go the vet.

10. Empathy

Animals helping animals...

Or Koko the gorilla responding to a sad film.

To me, this handful of instances shows that we cannot merely condemn animal actions of empathy and emotion to the table of coincidence, simply because they are animals and cannot express feelings.

To really gain some insight into animal emotion, I suggest you watch the series, "Animal Emotion: Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry".

What are your thoughts about this concept? Let me know in the comments below!

{Image credit: By Alfred Edmund Brehm [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}

February 4, 2016

Here's to you Mrs Robinson... Wait, what?

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I had never watched 'The Graduate', but because of the popular culture surrounding Mrs Robinson's mythical figure as a liberated and liberating woman, I always believed that she was some sort of positive influence - a woman younger than her years educating a younger man on ways older than his years.

Mrs Robinson is, however, not a positive influence - not in the graduate's life, not in her daughter's life, and definitely not in ours.

The character of Mrs Robinson is disappointing to me for three main reasons, as I shall lay out below.
Her attempted seduction of Benjamin at the beginning is disturbing. She does everything she can to get the boy in bed with her; Mr Robinson arrives in due course and we wonder whether he would indeed have slept with her if he had had a longer time alone with her. But his repeated cries of 'No' are not exactly the consent that is required for a healthy relationship. It is this lack of consent that leaves me to wonder, had Mr Robinson not arrived, if Mrs Robinson would have forced Benjamin to have sex with her. 

This is an important point in the tenets of society's so-called masculinity, for while Benjamin had repeatedly said no, if he was taken advantage of he would have been loathe to name it rape in terms of society's rape culture for men. Furthermore, if he had never contacted Mrs Robinson again to embark on a sexual relationship, he would have been ridiculed - by himself at least - for not being 'man enough'. Thus he was in essence forced to do what he did, as everyone around him constantly told him he was now a 'man'. Can we really assume that his call to her to agree to her offer is simply because he was a horny young man? Why had he waited so long to indulge in sexual activity if this was the case?
Though Mrs Robinson taught Benjamin the ins and outs of sex, she certainly did not become a positive influence for him. Understandably, this should not be her position as she is not his parent nor his mentor, but it becomes increasingly obvious that she indulges him as she would a child. Their sexual encounters appear to be entirely one-sided: aside from practically forcing herself on him at the start of the film, Benjamin is often seen lying prone on the bed as she undresses herself and him, where he remains as she enters and leaves. Indeed, his trysts with her do nothing but seem to point Benjamin into unhealthy and yet more selfish acts, such as smoking and thinking of his own discomfort when choosing to break his promise and take Mrs Robinson's daughter out on a date. Certainly I am perhaps overlooking Mrs Robinson's own selfish motives for accepting a young lover, such as a need to be desired or overcoming a marriage she felt forced to enter into. I am also projecting my previous belief in a Mrs Robinson onto the character, and this shows what an effect popular cultural beliefs can have on you when you haven't actually seen the reference personally.
By far the most disappointing aspect of Mrs Robinson's character is lying to her daughter that Benjamin had raped her. Mrs Robinson's free sexuality is a representation of the free sex era of the '60s in which 'The Graduate' was made, but this reference is appalling to me: not only was it an unnecessary lie (she disliked her husband anyway and it was only a matter of time before she would leave him), but it points directly to the culture of rape and victim blaming, falling right into stereotypes of women as seducers and deceivers, of how they set honey traps only to blackmail and punish men. Not that the truth would have changed anything...

And then, though we, the viewers, know that Mrs Robinson is lying, her daughter does not and yet either regards it as a lie after hearing Benjamin's side of the story or completely overlooks the fact that the man she runs off with at the end of the film is a rapist!
I don't intend to criticise the filmography of 'The Graduate'. By all accounts it is an iconoclast because of what it attempted to do on film and also because it was one of the few films at the time to include a soundtrack almost exclusively performed by Simon and Garfunkel (it actually knocked The Beatles' 'White Album' off the top of the charts). It managed to make Benjamin's post-college doldrums utterly real and threw in some comedic effects that made the audience question itself rather than simply laugh at the movie. Indeed it is a forerunner to some of our most inner-looking films. But as it holds this position and is held up as an example of what relationships with older women should be and can turn out to be, its views on rape and women leave much to be desired.

Criticisms aside, Mrs Robinson's character is in fact the only interesting character in the film. I read reviews where Benjamin was lauded as a man of his generation, but which generation was that? The generation of youngsters who have no idea who they really are and are perfectly happy to float at the bottom of swimming pools in scuba suits? It was only out of pure luck that Mrs Robinson decided to make use of him. Indeed, he was more symbolic of his parents' generation, being set on a traditional marriage rather than creating a loveshack with Elaine.

Mrs Robinson is the single most interesting character of them all, with wit, sarcasm, articulation, intelligence, a dramatic past, and courage to do what she wants to do. Even her divorce from Elaine's father by the end of the film was something looked down upon in those days. As cinema's first cougar it is however obvious that her representation was not dependent on reality and neither is today's view of the cougar.

Just take 'The Boy Next Door' as an example: If he doesn't fall in love with you, stalk you, and try to kill your loved ones, he'll do it to your daughter instead.

{Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0}

January 29, 2016

Refashion || Summer dress to skirt

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I've had this sundress in my closet for years. The last time I wore it I was pregnant with Emma and the bump didn't make the dress look as much like a sack as it did when I was not pregnant. Why was I keeping it, you ask? Well, it has this pretty lace at the bottom that I couldn't part with and so was ideal for a refashion.

And I wear skirts more often than dresses, so refashioning the article was the obvious choice. Follow my tutorial if you have a similar dilemma. (And yes, I am aware that I am in desperate need of a body form!)

What you'll need for the project:

A sundress
Elastic at the width for your waist (or where you'd like the skirt to sit)

How to refashion the dress:

Lay the dress on a flat surface and cut off the bodice as close to the seam as possible. Mark the centres of the back and front with a pin.
Join your piece of elastic with zig-zag stitch as below:
Divide the elastic into quarters and place pins in those positions. Match the pins to the side seams and centre points of the skirt and pin on the wrong side of the skirt. Serger the elastic onto the skirt, carefully stretching the elastic to match the fabric as you go. What works best for me is to work from pin to pin - but carefully! You don't want to damage your blades!

Finally, fold over the elastic so that you cannot see it and stitch the seam closed.
I've been thinking of taking this project a step further and dying it. What do you think?

January 27, 2016

Addendum: Movie Review || Atonement (2007)

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As a lover of both film and literature, there is a certain pleasure to reading a novel and then watching the film based upon it. Many times, the end-result is disappointing but I think the screen rendition of 'Atonement' hit the nail on the head with regards to character representation, plot, pacing, and setting.

The film, released in 2007, starred historical drama heroine Keira Knightley and was a stand-out performance for Saoirse Ronan, who went on to garner an Academy Award nomination for her ability to perfectly present Briony - whose thought processes are revealed to us in the novel and so taken onscreen in gestures and flawless facial movements. It was also, in my opinion, an excellent performance by James McAvoy, whose acting talent has been somewhat underused in the role for which he is now known as Professor Charles Xavier in the 'X-Men' film reboots (although I enjoy him in those, too).

The film's nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and award for Best Original Score were also well-deserved, particularly the latter. The score is one of my favourite parts of the film, especially in the beginning when sounds of the typewriter create emphasis for the editing, highlighting certain scenes, juxtaposing others, and keeping the pace of the film tight. With regards to the novel's theme of writing, it's a beautiful way of honouring the writing that went into both the screenplay and the novel.

The manner in which the different versions of the day are expressed was impressive and the film carried over the feeling one gets when reading the novel that the readers/viewers know much more than the players. I also really appreciated the research that went into finding settings similar to those described in the books and no artistic licence was taken to alter McEwan's vision.

Wikimedia/Hugh Mortimer

Favourite scenes of mine include the moment when Robbie arrives back at the house with the two lost twins only to be confronted with tension, suspicion, and anger, and one of Robbie's final scenes in the film where he is walking through Dunkirk, through hordes of broken and battered soldiers, to stop in front of a cinematic screening of a black and white romance film, certainly from Hollywood. The scene is really tragic because elsewhere in the world there are people making and watching films, so far away from the tragedy of the war and retreat.

While changes from the original are inevitable, the changes that occurred in no way detracted from the story that McEwan must have envisioned. There were only a few changes that made me wonder at their purpose. One was the scene when Leon, Paul Marshall, and Cecilia are sitting at the pool instead of fully-dressed in the garden. Perhaps this was meant to show how carefree they all are. Another was the fact that Briony really did see Marshall with Lola. In the novel, this is not said expressly. Briony was indeed afraid for Cecilia, as she believes she saw the pair in a violent encounter. However, the timing of Robbie's memory of Briony confessing her love to him also makes Briony's accusation of Robbie seem all the more vindictive and cruel. Perhaps the purpose of this was to make Briony's guilt all the more intense for the viewers.

I know that there are fans of the novel that did not enjoy the film and while the original book is much more delightful, watching a film is a different artistic activity and I truly enjoy seeing its adaptation, its interpretation, through different eyes.

I read in a review of the film that the standout scene in the film is the sweeping view of Dunkirk when the soldiers are awaiting the rescue boats. The scene is most certainly aimed at representing the pinnacle of life's loss and regret, but I really feel that the scene, while tragic and unforgiving, should not be representative of the film. Instead, the concluding dream vision of Robbie and Cecilia having the love and freedom they deserved should be, because it truly represents the loss of an entire generation.

Recommended links:

Book Review || Atonement by Ian McEwan
Just Read and Watched: Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

{Image credit: Hugh Mortimer [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

January 26, 2016

Book Review || Atonement by Ian McEwan

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'Atonement' has been hailed as Ian McEwan's 'masterpiece' and, while I haven't had the luck to read any of his other novels, I am not inclined to disagree. The novel has a resonance that takes much talent to perfect, and I thoroughly enjoyed its rich stream-of-consciousness characterisation and flawless, timeless descriptions of the world of the 1930s and '40s. Thinking about the novel's imposing status as being shortlisted for the Booker Prize and winning a National Book Critics' award, one would think the novel is more literary, sitting with the likes of 'Possession' in its intricacy. Indeed, the novel is intricate but not in the way that AS Byatt's novel was: it is intricate in premonitions, retrospectives, and psychology in a way that makes the novel resonate through your day as you're trying to concentrate on your menial tasks, drawing you to it and its inevitable end.

The novel is deeply psychological and thoroughly involved in eking out the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Although the novel is set in a particular time, this gives the novel a timelessness, applicable to everyone. We are alternately told what to feel as Briony, Cecilia, and Robbie who are so consumed by their worlds and thoughts that their worlds become our own. I loved how the characters had an awareness of their own thoughts, categorising them, describing them, involving us in their development and growth. The psychology of the characters, or at least, access to it, makes 'Atonement' a book of feelings and metanarratives that have everything to do with life experience.

Another aspect I enjoyed was Briony's thoughts about writing, which seem more an ode to writing:
"...a story was a form of telepathy. By means of inking symbols onto a page, she was able to send thoughts and feelings from her mind to her readers'. It was a magical process...Reading a sentence and understanding it were the same thing; as with the crooking of a finger, nothing lay between them."
It is Briony's musings, however, that form the most resonant part of the novel. There is a lovely moment when she is left on her own and considers the time lapse between when she means to crook her finger and her finger crooks. There is none: there was the 'dividing moment between not moving and moving', between what she intends and when it takes effect. This is exactly what happens when she decides to accuse Robbie of raping Lola - it is the moment between her intention to make the accusation and making it that alters the lives of at least three people. She remembers her sister telling her, "Come back", after she has had a nightmare and the phrase is echoed when Cecilia asks Robbie to come back to her, but it is clear that there is no coming back once an intention takes effect.

From the three differing points of view at the start of the novel we are also offered the opportunity to know more than all the other characters, raising our empathy for the situation and also our shock. Thus at the end it feels like a betrayal when Briony reveals that Cecilia and Robbie were never together the way she had represented. I wanted Cecilia and Robbie to be together, to have what Briony took away from them. However, upon deeper introspection the purpose was not to betray but to inspire a retrospective empathy for all those young people killed in a war that was not of their doing: while Briony delayed their union, if it was not for the war the pair would likely have been together, obliviously and deliriously happy, along with all those other young lovers who were murdered for anothers' war.

January 19, 2016

Tips and Habits That Will Get Your Toddler To Eat

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Feeding babies and toddlers is certainly the nightmare of every parent and parent-to-be. Visions of pureed foods splattered down the fronts of high chairs, spilled down trouser legs, and thrown into eyes and nostrils has many a parent dreading the possibility of having a picky eater for a child.

We have been very lucky with Emma as she has almost never fought about not wanting to eat. On the off chance she fights with us it's usually because of something else that is bothering her, such as her being tired or thirsty or simply not hungry. However, I do think that we have done some things correctly in training her to eat well.

These are six things I think you should introduce to your feeding routine as soon as possible, habits you should form to encourage good eating, and some tips that can help difficulties at breakfast, lunch, and dinner:

1. Offer your child a variety of foods as soon as they are ready. When a baby is ready for solids - usually when they are around 10 months old or their tongue-thrust reflex has disappeared - make sure you feed different types of food than the prepurchased pureed items available at the grocers. Many times the stores will stock only a few different flavours and if you really wish to prepare your baby for solids, they'll need to be familiar with different textures, too. Mash a variety of fresh fruit or vegetables together so that the texture is different. The taste will be different, too: even you won't eat canned pureed foods because they all taste the same, right?

2. When baby is comfortably eating and chewing solids (and even before then), allow them to eat the same meal you are eating. They like to feel as though they are a part of what you are doing. If they see they only get mashed potato while you also have peas and carrots, they won't be able to tell you they're feeling left out. This is important for toddlers, as they have very clear boundaries about what is 'mine' and 'yours'. If you're concerned that feeding your children what you eat will not be healthy, perhaps it's a sign that you're not eating healthily enough.

3. Offer the meal as a selection of finger foods combined with food they'll need to eat with a fork or spoon. Toddlers live very tactile lives and need to touch the things around them. For example, if we're having chickpea burgers, I will slice the patties, cheese, tomato, pickles and whatever else we have on our burgers into pieces equally large enough for either the fork or the finger. Supply a fork but don't force your child to eat with it. If you don't want a mess when you're eating at a restaurant or are a guest elsewhere, feed your child yourself instead of scolding them because their coordination is not perfect - while you say you're scolding them because they've made a mess, you're really showing disappointment that they cannot feed themselves. And they're toddlers still learning to use their bodies.

4. Encourage good eating manners from the beginning. Don't allow them to throw food at you or on the floor. However, once again remember that their coordination is not as good as yours, so recognise mistakes as just that. It is purposeful bad manners you wish to avoid. All this being said, an extremely formal eating environment will only breed mistakes: sitting in a high chair makes toddlers feel left out; they do not fit at tables and they have to reach and bend in awkward positions to feed themselves, inevitably messing on themselves. Invest in a booster seat that you can fix to one of the dining room chairs or join your child on the floor.

5. Encourage your child to drink water from an early age. While juices have their place, they should ultimately be regarded as a treat rather than the only means by which your child can consume liquids. Juices are high in unnecessary sugar so rather ensure that you have a bottle filled with water handy all the time. Take a bottle with you wherever you go and offer water often. Water is a much healthier option to sate your child's thirst, while it will also aid your child's digestive processes. Certainly juices provide additional nutrients but they might take away your child's hunger for food.

6. If your child is refusing food, ensure that there isn't something else they want instead. Is their nappy dirty or do they need to use the toilet? Are they thirsty? (This is a big one - Emma is tempestuous without her water) Perhaps they had a banana for lunch for the last three days or simply do not feel like one today, or perhaps they are still full from the previous meal. Offer healthy snacks during the day as well: Emma loves nuts, wholewheat biscuits, or unsalted popcorn. Involve your child in deciding what they want to eat. If their desire is not appropriate, explain why, offer it later, or be sneaky and misdirect. I know that it is much more convenient to plan meals ahead of time but involving your child is better than having a 15 minute fight because they don't feel like whatever's on the table.

I would love to your own tips on feeding toddlers or any of your feedback!

{Image credit: Flickr/simpleinsomnia (CC by 2.0)}

January 16, 2016

App Review || Pick My Style

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A while ago, I reviewed three mobile fashion planning applications that I had played around with after purchasing an Android phone. In using the apps I hoped to find one that could broaden my fashion horisons by offering an overview of my current items, thereby giving access to every item at the touch of the button. I decided that My Dressing was ideal for me because of its ease of use and its outfit creation abilities.

After that post, I was asked to review the app Pick My Style, a nifty fashion networking application that allows you to gain valuable input from its users on whether the outfit you have created for yourself is really stylish or not.

Pick My Style can be very useful and valuable if you want to avoid a fashion faux pas that will make people giggle after you've walked by, and you can use it in combination with your current fashion planning app of choice to make it go that much further in aiding your style.

Pick My Style offers a combination of style help and inspiration.

screenshot-pickmystyleFirstly, if you're not sure whether your outfit will be widely welcomed by the outside world, you can simply snap a photo of it or choose the image from your gallery for the '1 Style' option and send it to Pick My Style users who will either 'Pick' it or 'Kick' it. You can then gauge the outfit's success by a percentage rating, showing how many users picked each option.

Secondly, if you are having difficulty choosing between two outfits or items, the app can also help you with that by allowing you to snap '2 Styles' together and users will then choose one of the items. The scoring is the same with a percentage showing you which item is more popular.

It is also helpful that you can specify what your requirements are for the outfit when you post it, so if you're looking for approval on an outfit meant for the beach or a party, the users can better gauge whether it is appropriate for your needs.

Thirdly, the app will inspire your style because of the sheer amount of ideas that will come your way: you will learn how to coordinate items, shoes and accessories to achieve a better rating, improving your own style as you go. You can also save a post you have voted on to your saved list, which is awesome for your styling sessions, keeping your favourites close at hand. You can comment on posts you have voted on as well, offering your own advice, showing your appreciation for other users' efforts, or even asking where a particular item is available. You can even report the image if you deem it inappropriate.

If you're using a fashion planning app, you can save your outfit board and load it from your gallery to see what responses your outfit garners.

My favourite aspects of the app include the option to save favourite posts and also the information about the age and location of users. This allows responses to be more thoughtful, as users can take age groups into consideration as well as season and culture.

The only complaint I have about the app is that it can be a bit slow to load once you have been browsing for a while but otherwise it's quite addictive if you're a fashion fanatic. If you're looking for fashion inspiration or help on becoming more stylish from a growing community of people living and loving fashion every day, this is the app for you.

If you'd like to try Pick My Style for yourself, download it from Google Play here.

January 14, 2016

DIY || Pouches, pouches everywhere!

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I had a large amount of random fabric that was sitting in storage waiting for me to do something with it. I went on a spree to use it all up and while a lot of the fabric was set aside for specific projects, I used a lot of it to make something really simple: pouches!

You know how your cupboard is filled to the brim with random stuff and you need to filter through it to find what you're looking for? Pouches can solve this. Pouches can also protect your favourite shoes from dust and damage, keep together your accessories such as bracelets and brooches, or seperate necklaces or jewellery sets to prevent them from becoming tangled. While many of the pouches are colourful, I embroidered some of my own designs on plainer fabric and turned those into pouches as well.

Follow these simple steps to use up some of fabric swatches you couldn't bear to throw away but otherwise have no use for.

What you'll need for this project:

Fabric swatches in your pattern and colour of choice
8mm eyelets
Matching ribbon to make four 48cm lengths (You can make the ribbon shorter, of course, to your personal preference!)

Making the pouches:

1. Decide what you want to put in pouches and come up with some measurements. I've found 35cm x 42cm pouches are sufficient for a pile of tablecloths or a bed linen set. A 20cm x 15cm pouch is perfect for your brooches, while jewellery sets will fit beautifully in a smaller 10cm x 10cm pouch. Of course, if you have something specific you want to make a pouch for, such as a pair of shoes, it is best to measure the item to get the correct dimensions, taking height, width, and depth into account.

2. Cut the fabric to your desired size, adding around 1.5cm for the seam on the bottom and sides and around 3cm for the top seam. You can overlock the pieces separately now for a neat finish.

3. Place the pieces right sides together and sew around the bottom and sides, neatening the seams with your serger/overlocker if you had not already done so.

4. Clip the corners and turn inside out.

5. Fold over the top seam 3cm and pin in place, sewing about 5mm away from the edge of the fabric.

6. Mark the points in the top seam where you want your eyelets. They should ideally be between the top of the pouch and the top seam. If you divide your pouch width into four, the eyelets should be at the first and third quarters. I put them around 8.5cm away from the edge of the side of the pouch. Depending on your tools, you may have to cut out some of the fabric to make a hole for the eyelet.
7. Cut your ribbon into 25cm lengths and tie one length in each eyelet.

Your pouch is done! To close it up when you have your items inside, simply tie opposing ribbons together in a bow.

January 13, 2016

Is our ignorance of wildlife to blame for their disappearance?

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The Guardian published a story today (13 January 2016) about a woman who discovered a rather venomous snake under her fridge that was pregnant and almost ready to give birth. There is no mention of the snake being particularly violent or defensive and seemed simple to catch and remove, which I am pleased occurred. But it left me wondering how many times a snake like this would simply be killed. The story gave me the strangest feeling of absurdity.

I couldn't pinpoint why I felt this story was so absurd. But I think it's the fact that it appears in the media as though it is unusual for anyone to find any wild animal in their home, something that happens rather often, I suspect, but is certain to become less. I feel it is rather a prediction of how seldom we will come to welcome wild visitors into our home.

Shock is the same reaction any of us have when a spider strays into our room from outside or we have rats in our ceiling or a bat welcomes himself in, fluttering along the ceiling. But why are we so shocked when nature enters our home? We live in nature, depend on nature, and yet we are affronted - and even become violent - when an animal wanders into our homes. Why do we feel we need to protect ourselves from a majority of animals that are completely harmless to us, are more afraid of us than we are of them, and are merely battling to survive in a world that has become overrun by humans?

The geological and environmental effects humans have had on wildlife's habitats cannot be measured. The era in which we live has indeed made such an impact on the world that it has officially been named the Anthropocene era. The effect we have had on our oasis has clearly not been positive and it is certain to end in destruction, suffering, and perhaps even fire in much the same way the dinosaurs were possibly wiped out by a fiery asteroid.

Except this time the end will be of our own making.

I suppose what I am saying is that our shock and horror at finding creatures in our home should not be shock and horror. It should be wonder for the wildlife that we share this planet for; we should have respect for them and be interested in learning about them and we should already have knowledge about the animals we are likely to encounter in our lives.

Is this what is at the heart of the destruction we have wrought on this planet? If we do not have wonder and respect for the animals and other life with whom we share the environment, we have no reason to care for them and it is no wonder that we are killing millions upon millions of animals every year - indeed half the animal population was killed in only the last 40 years and we slaughter over 56 billion animals for food every year. We refuse to bother to learn about the animals of the world apart from our basic preschooler knowledge of what the animals in the zoo are. Then when we suddenly develop an interest in some exotic animal, like a tarantula, we learn about them and look at them in delight at how complex and beautiful they are. But this wonder is limited to the animals we choose to learn about. Imagine the wonder that will come from learning about every animal beyond basic biology lessons?

With our lack of wonder and respect for wildlife, it is in my opinion inevitable that we will come to share the planet with no one but our uncaring selves and the animals we deem easy enough to breed and kill for food in the future.

{Image credit: By Matt from Melbourne, Australia [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

January 9, 2016

The Importance of the 'We'-fie

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The selfie has taken the world by storm. Could it be we are merely emulating our idols, those narcissistic Hollywood celebrities? Could it be we feel so lost in the population explosion that we are desperate for someone - anyone - to notice us, desperate to make our mark, desperate to say, 'I'm here!'? For parents, selfies with your children should be the order of the day. And, no, it's not because you are vain.

The entire premise behind the selfie was to include yourself in photos you were taking of your favourite memories with friends, family, and lovers. But somewhere along the line, the selfie turned into a means for self-representation.

I personally believe the success of the selfie is not simply vanity and insecurity, but also recognition that one exists in this life, and people should be taking advantage of it, but in a deeper way.

I am lucky that my parents were so quick and eager to shoot photos of family occasions, at least until I was about 10. Many of our old family photographs for example are missing my father, who was taking the photo to begin with. And we weren't a normal family at the time, as my dad always had a camera strapped around his neck and had ample opportunity to snap his family while many other families did not have the luxury.

My dad's hobby slowly gave way to work, however, and photography was reserved for special occasions such as trips to the zoo or family get-togethers. It all changed for me when I was given my own SLR camera for Christmas, and I shot photo after photo of my family, separate and together. It is at this point I can come to the crux of my point: none of these photos had me in them. There were only four people in my family at that stage: my parents, my sister, and my gran. Without me anywhere, no one would know I had even existed aside from a vague wondering about who was taking the photograph.

I've never been one for having photos of myself taken. It was only when I wished to appear together with someone in a photograph that I took what today we call the selfie, but it was really a 'we'-fie, meant to capture the essence of the emotions we were going through at the time. And it is only now when I have my own child that I realise how important it is for us to have 'we'-fies together, for her to see me in photographs, just the way I am.

I read an article a while back about the presence of mothers in photos of their children and its importance in allowing our children to see that we are human and imperfect, yet share certain traits of their beauty. With the proliferation of Photoshopped women and Hollywood ideals everywhere she looks, I believe it is important that she sees images of me and more importantly that I appear in the images with her. So while I still dislike my appearance in photographs, my real presence in my daughter's life will filter through to the image, making me a more 'real' reference for her body confidence than any photo of a celebrity will ever do.

My child ... our children ... will not look at photos of us with criticism but with affection, for it is we who brought them into the world. We are their mommies and we carry with us their happy childhood, the smell of cake baking in the oven, the sound of dishes being done, the feeling of being tucked in with all their favourite toys around them, the certainty that if the thunder is too loud, we will be there, and that is what they will look for and remember when they see us in the photo smiling down at them with our rumpled shirt and undone hair and the love only a mother can have.


7 Things I Would Have Done Differently With My Baby
Mothers: Aren't They Important?

January 6, 2016

DIY || Colour-Coordinated Patchwork Cushions

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I was given a pile of coordinated upholstery fabrics that I did not know what to do with, which is in itself quite a surprise since cushions are my go-to creation.

What else to do with lost fabric than cut it up and make exactly that: patchwork cushions!

What you'll need for the project:

Fabric in coordinating colours
Matching sewing thread
Sewing machine

How to make a patchwork strip cushion:

Decide on the width of your cushion cover. If you have an inner already, ensure that your fabric will fit it. It is simpler if you're planning to make an inner to match.

Cut strips of differing widths but equal lengths in two of your fabrics, making sure to include seam allowances and that the end product will fit your inner. The best is to draw a rough sketch of how you want the end product to look.

Sew the strips together. Don't forget to press the seams open with the iron after every seam you sew. I know it sounds like a pain to do, but it really does make the end result look better.

Cut the strips to the size required and cut rectangles for the back of the cushion (Follow my tutorial for an envelope cover here), sewing a seam on one side of each rectangle.

Place the front piece and the two rectangles right-sides facing, pin in place, and sew it all together.
Serger the seams, clip the corners, and turn out.

These instructions will give you a cushion like that in the bottom left-hand corner of the above image.

square-patchwork-cushion How to make a patchwork squares cushion:

Working on a 40cm by 40cm inner, cut two 22cm by 22cm squares in one fabric and another two 22cm by 22cm squares in a coordinating fabric.

Sew two different coloured squares together (with a 1cm seam allowance), repeating with the remaining two squares.

Matching the centres, pin and sew the strips together.

Repeat as for the patchwork strip cushion for an envelope cover.
As you can see in the very top image, I made yet other patchwork cushions using the remnants that I had in my stash. If your pieces are too small for either of the above options, make up your own design with a pencil and paper first before cutting the fabric.

I'd love to see what you make!

January 5, 2016

Book Review || The Cats of Seroster by Robert Westall

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Robert Westall is known for his novels revolving around cats as some of the main characters. I have read his acclaimed ‘Blitzcat’, which I enjoyed, so expected even more from a novel that fits into my taste for fantasy and adventure and also has cats in a starring role.

The novel starts off interesting and excitingly enough: an unnamed city set in medieval France sits silent and safe on a cliff until its Duke is assassinated. The Duke’s family pet is a large, golden cat, which is really a special kind of cat - a Miw - that has psychic powers and happens to be the queen of these kinds of cats. She helps the Duke’s son kill the assassin and escape, and decides to take a hand in rescuing the city from the usurpers. In order to do so, a mythical being needs to be summoned: a friend and defender of cats, the Seroster. Luckily, the man who is to become the Seroster is already on his way, having come into contact with a magical knife that always hits its target, has a thirst for blood, and bears a strange magnetic attraction to the man meant to be the Seroster, meaning Cam cannot escape from the knife, nor from his destiny as the Seroster. 

Throughout the story, the Miw aid their less powerful Brethren, who are being relentlessly tortured and killed in the city because Small Paul dislikes them so and aid their human consorts and friends of cats in reclaiming their city with the aid of the Seroster.

It is a very ambitious story. The Miw are intriguing and so is their representation as an ancient sect of cats that hark from Egypt who worship the Sun God and Cat Goddess. I like the idea that they’ve had a part in the doings of humanity and made right the wrongs against their own kind, recognising the kindness of those who love them and standing up for them. They are also unusually represented as being loyal to a fault, with many giving their lives in aid of rescuing their loved ones or aiding the Seroster. I read a criticism of their manner of speaking, but I applaud Westall’s representation of their language and see it instead as an attempt at translating into English how cats communicate with each other through ideas and images.

I also liked the creation, purpose and destiny of the Seroster as an immortal energy that is summoned when needed. Cam’s battle to be himself instead of the Seroster is convincing, and this battle between fate and choice is one I enjoy thinking about.

However, I feel that somewhere along the line, the intricacies of the politics and the plot became all too much to take in. The last quarter of the novel seemed to be filled with a mash of plot-lines and intrigue and the reader was required to fill in a lot of empty gaps with assumptions and guesses to make the story work. I get the feeling that at this stage in the book, too many ideas came together to create chaos instead of climax.

Regardless, if you enjoy political intrigue, battles, destiny, and cats, and don’t mind clearing your schedule to really concentrate on some of the parts of the book, I think you will enjoy the story.

December 31, 2015

10 Things To Do in 2016

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It's the end of 2015, already, and I know you haven't met at least one or all of those silly resolutions you made last year. I stopped making them long ago since I don't think I've ever kept to any of them.

But this year will be different. It is the year of 9 in numerology: a year of universal love, faith, and a completion of things to come. It is the year of the Fire Monkey, when every person on Earth is meant to meet some divine and profound inspiration into themselves and the world around them.

In line with these two predictions for 2016, I have made a list of 10 things you have to do this year:

1. Be kind. 

Think about what you say and how it will be interpreted before you say it. Think about the effect your words will have on others. Think about how your actions, vocal tone, and body language can emit negative undertones that bring negativity your way and inspire negativity in others.

2. Be grateful. 

No matter what you are without, you have much. Be grateful for what you have and, more importantly, who you have in your life. You never know when it will be too late to show your gratitude.

3. Tell your loved ones you love them.

If you're estranged for any reason, if you don't get along for any reason, if you forget to call because life is just life, a simple message of love is all someone may need to improve their mood for the day.

4. Send unexpected letters, notes or texts to those closest to you to share your love with them. 

Research has shown that unexpected messages from people you love instantly lift your mood.

5. Improve your posture. 

My posture is one of my worst problems. I hunch over without even thinking about it. I feel taller when I correct my posture but it becomes slouchy again within minutes. I hope to change that this year with some posture-improving yoga exercises, since good posture positively effects health, happiness, and self-confidence.

6. Listen to mainstream news less. 

The fact is that major news outlets are owned by individuals in the guises of corporations, so remember that when you watch coverage of any particular event. Many media outlets focus on the sensational with the specific aim of urging you to click on that link or tune into that report to make more advertising money. How is that trustworthy? If you want to know what's going on the world by watching the media, supplement this information with good research. Don't form opinions based on a single news report. It also makes you feel happier. After all, there is nothing you can do about most of it except pull out your hair. And that won't benefit anyone. Except advertising companies and corporates. They benefit, even when you're bald.

7. Read more books. 

I think this is something that appears on everyone's New Year's Resolution list. I haven't even met my target this year *blush* though I have accomplished things that cannot be measured. Firstly, books make you happy. Happiness makes you healthier. Reading makes your smarter, it makes you think for yourself. It teaches you to be alone, to enjoy being with yourself. It makes your more empathetic and increases your brain function. Tactile reading also helps your memory. So go ahead and challenge yourself to read books this year. Stick to it this time.

8. Don't become a lazy consumer. 

Read the labels of the products you consume and research items you're not certain about. Many cereals and crisps in South Africa are produced with products that contain genetically-modified organisms. Many items that are put into your food are only there to enhance flavour, so think about what it is that the food is lacking that it needs to be enhanced. Consider what inorganic ingredients in your soaps, dishwashing liquids, shampoos, and toiletries are doing to the environment. Recycle. Think about the animals you eat and make informed decisions about what you consume.

9. Laugh more. 

Do whatever you have to do to laugh more.

10. Appreciate your pets. 

If you don't have one yet, get one. Pets are always said to be the entry vehicle for those training to care for children later in life but everyone who has ever owned a pet know that every single one of them are your children and have significant other benefits aside from testing whether you'd at the very least keep a baby alive or not. Keeping pets welcomes lessons in responsibility, fear, regret, and empathy, lessons we all need in this day and age.

Here's to a 2016 that meets all your expectations, declines to meet those that won't suit you in the end, and gives you a reason to be happy every day!

{Image credit: By Magnus Johansson (HAPPY NEW YEAR!!) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}