{ Under The Bluegums }

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

October 19, 2016

The Dive Sites of South Africa || My Bucket List

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I have lived in South Africa all my life and still have not see an iota of what beauty the country has to offer me. I wish that I could simply caravan across the country, living on the land, bartering, taking photos. Sweet dreams these, but until then, all I have are my to-do lists! After reading Anton Koornhof's detailed 'The Dive Sites of South Africa', underwater sites have also found a way onto my bucket list of life.

Here are the top 11 diving sites I hope to visit when one day I have that skill:


1. Elands Bay

While I wouldn't go diving in Elands Bay for the common reason - crayfishing - I would love to see some kelp forests and watch the crayfish in their natural environment. Perhaps I should also learn how to surf and while I'm at it I'll visit the cave to see some ancient art, cut open my feet on Mussel Point, and visit Verloren Vlei.


2. Justin’s Caves and Coral Gardens Oudekraal

The appeal of Justin's Caves is not only its easy access; being a shore dive, it is filled with large boulders that are stacked to create overhangs, tunnels, and cave-like features. Coral Gardens is one of the top 10 dive sites in South Africa. It has stunning biodiversity and interesting topography.


3. Vulcan Rock

Vulcan Rock is close to Hout Bay and is the exposed pinnacle of a large granite reef. Below the waves, the rock is peppered with holes and caverns, and there is one cave, called 'balloon cave', with a domed ceiling - something I'd particularly like to see. There is also a long tunnel, and the site is close to Di's Cracks, another popular site. There are plenty of sponges and even some nudibranches.


4. Smitswinkel Bay

There are five diveable wrecks that were scuttled by the military in Smitswinkel Bay in order to create an artificial reef. This dive may be too challenging for me (since I'm so unfit :P ) but getting fit may be worth it simply to see the monstrosities rise up from the sea bed, and the wrecks are covered with starfish and nudibranch, as well as some anemones.

5. Partridge Point

Partridge Point's dive site features underwater caverns and swimthroughs and is filled with diverse invertebrates. I may be lucky to see some pipefish and it is practically inevitable that I'll encounter members of the seal colony that lives on Seal Rock close by.


6. The ‘A’ Frame

The 'A-Frame' is on my list because of the kelp forest and boulders, where there are also overhangs and swimthroughs. Perhaps I'll be lucky enough to see an octopus! Plus, the site is quite pretty out of the water, too!

7. Santos Reef

Santos Reef is on my list because of the 'garden of featherworms' (I know them as tube worms) as well as the possibility of seeing octopus and sea fans. Maybe I'll find a sand dollar.


8. Tapas Jetty

A graveyard of scrap metal I will mostly ignore, the Tapas Jetty is popular for the opportunity to see the Knysna seahorse. I've only seen them in aquariums and would love to see them in their natural environment - well, as natural as it can get for a shore dive.


9. Bruce se Bank

I would like to see the most beautiful reef in the country. It is known for the prolific invertebrate life, including cauliflower corals and white starburst corals. Alas, I cannot find a picture of this reef :'(.

10. Jacob’s Poort 

This one is on my list because I would love to see the dolphins, whales, sunfish and rays the area is known for.

11. Sodwana Bay

Sodwana Bay is arguably one of South Africa's most popular diving sites. Near the St Lucia estuary and Lake Sibhayi, this one's on my list for the whale sharks.

{Image credits:
Lead: By Neville Wootton from Liskeard, UK - 020 - Chasing Manta's, CC BY 2.0, Link
Elands Bay: By Ralph Malan (01 Elands Bay_1) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Justin's Caves: User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Vulcan Rock: By User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22710887
Smitswinkel Bay: By Jean Tresfon (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jtresfon/sets/) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A-Frame: By User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22709177
Santos Reef: By Seascapeza (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Tapas Jetty: Flickr/flowcomm [CC BY-SA 2.0
Bruce se Bank: By Philippe Bourjon - Don de l'auteur à Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31179214}

October 13, 2016

Book Takeaways || Shipwrecks of The Dive Sites of South Africa

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Anton Koornhof's 'The Dive Sites of South Africa' has me wanting to take a scuba diving course and explore South Africa's coast. While outdated, having been published back in 1992, its highly-detailed descriptions of dive sites are filled with facts and tips. Some of the most attractive listings, for me, are those delving into the background of shipwrecks around the coastline.

Koornhof shares literally dozens of shipwrecks that can be accessible by divers, from the novice to the experienced. Even the SA History site lists only 26 shipwrecks, obviously including only those of historical import. Koornhof lists no fewer than 64 shipwrecks along the coast, with backgrounds ranging from the tragic to the mysterious. Most of the wrecks are the result of poor visibility or suddenly deteriorating weather conditions - the reason the southern-most point of Africa is known as the Cape of Storms.

So what is it that interests us so much when it comes to shipwrecks? It certainly isn't (only) the promise of some lost treasure, is it? I believe it is much more than that. Not only is it an opportunity to look into the past, or to see something that is not everyday and something that not many people have the chance to see, but it sparks something inside us about the mystery and transience of life: the wreck used to belong to someone; someone took the time to design it and build it and pay to make it; it used to be filled with living people, each with their own stories; it (usually) made more than one journey and imagine what it saw; and we love to think, 'If only this ship could tell us its story'. We are all storytellers by nature, and it is how our minds run away that intrigues us.

Below, I have linked to information on most of the wrecks if you're interested in learning about their backgrounds:

- HMS Sybille (1901) | This ship was blown off course and hit a reef off the coast of Lamberts Bay.
- SS Saint Lawrence (1876) | Ran aground at Paternoster Point.
- The Merestein (1702) | One of the more popular dives, as there is apparently quite a hoard of missing silver Dutch ducatoons dating from the 1600s to be found; the Dutch East Indiaman tried to port at Saldanha Bay to alleviate scurvy but hit reefs near Jutten Island. Only 99 people survived the wreck out of 200.
- MV Winton (1934) | Ran aground off Milnerton Beach in heavy weather and due to the captain becoming confused by a red light in the city.
- The Reijgersdaal (1747) | After anchoring off Robben Island, the weather deteriorated, cuasing the anchor cable to break and sending the ship careening into a reef of Springfortein Point; only 15 crew members survived.
- SS Hermes (1901) | Wrecked on Milnerton Beach after dragging anchor in a north-west gale.
- SS Hypathia (1929) | Grounded on Whale Rock and pounded by swells.
- MV Daeyang Family (1986) | Wrecked on Whale Rock when anchors dragged in heavy weather.
- RMS Athens (1865) | Wrecked during a hurricane in Table Bay; the Piscataqua wreck lies on top of her.
- SS South African Seafarer (1966) | Ran aground in storm off the Green Point Lighthouse.
- The Thermopylae (1899) | Ran aground in storm off the Green Point Lighthouse.
- George M. Livanos (1947) | Ran aground at Mouille Point, burning away.
- The Vis [PDF}(1740) | AKA De Visch; Wrecked when its captain attempted to sail it into Table Bay at night.
- The Trafalgar (1839) | Ran aground after anchors failed to hold; one person was killed when a mast fell over. There are two links to this one, with one reporting a grounding at Sea Point and the other a grounding at Table Bay.
- The Fame (1822) | A north-westerly storm threw the ship onto the rocks at Sea Point; remained undiscovered until 1965 when looted by divers.
- The Schuilenberg (1756) | Ran aground near Camps Bay in rough seas and has been identified as one of the first slave trading ships of the Portuguese.
- The Kraaiestein (1698) | Ran aground in thick mist; a popular site as three of 19 chests containing treasure still remain unaccounted for.
- The Antipolis (1977) | Well known because visible at low tide; lost her two and ran aground during a gale.
- The Romelia (1977) | Broke tug and ran aground during a gale.
Condenser of the SS Maori
- SS Maori (1909) | Ran aground in a storm near Llandudno; not much remains of the cargo, while wine bottles could still be found in the 1970s, exploding when brought to the surface.
- The Oakburn (1906) | Wrecked in fog, hitting the rocks of Maori Bay.
- Katzmaru (1970s) | Sank off the coast of Hout Bay in order, it seems to create a wreck-diving site for scuba divers.
- Clan Monroe (1905) | Wrecked in a storm off Kommetjie; was used to tell the tide's height until it broke up and sank.
- SS Lusitania (1911) | Wrecked in fog on Bellows Rock off Cape Point; its wreckage resulted in the construction of a new lighthouse on Cape Point.
- The Clan Stuart (1914) | Ran aground in a south-east gale; attempts to repair her were futile as the engine room flooded when she was refloated. Her engine still stands above the water at Mackerel Beach.
- The Meridian (1828) | Only discovered in 1965.
- The HMS Birkenhead (1852) | This wreck is apparently where the 'Women and children first' protocol came from.
- Esso Wheeling (1948) | Photo
- SS Adelfotis (1956) | Ran aground in thick fog near Quoin Point.
- MV Oriental Pioneer (1974) | Sprung a leak and beached near Cape Agulhas Lighthouse.
Repulse, an East Indiaman similar to the Arniston.
- The Arniston (1815) | One of the most tragic stories, with only six out of 378 people surviving. Enveloped by an unexpected hurricane off Agulhas Bank, causing her to hit a reef out at sea and break up. Survivors were discovered two weeks later in a nearby cave.
- Galera (1892) | Wrecked in a big gully near Danger Point, Mossel Bay with a cargo of copra, or the dried meat of the coconut.
- The Paquita (1903) | Ran ashore and filled with water; lies at mouth of Knysna Lagoon.
- The Fairholme (1888) | Caught alight near Cape Agulhas and drifted to Knysna, grounding on the Knysna Heads.
- MFV Athina (1967) | Hit Whale Rock and wrecked on Robberg Beach; had three names aside from Athina: Penstemon, Galaxidi, Rosa Vlassis.
- Sao Gonzalo (1630) | The 100 survivors of this wreck were the first known Europeans to inhabit the Plettenberg Bay area. A hundred and fifty sailors lost their lives when a storm hit the bay as repairs were underway on the ship causing it to sink.
- Queen of the West (1850) | Wrecked off of the Tsitsikamma Coast, losing all crew members to the ocean.
- HMS Osprey (1867) | Wrecked west of Seal Point Lighthouse in Cape St Francis.
- Cape Recife (1929) | Washed ashore in thick fog that kept even rescuers from discovering the wreck's whereabouts; found as a result of all crew members making a noise.
- HMS Zeepaard (1823) | Wrecked in fog at Sardinia Bay.
- SS Western Knight (1929) | Wrecked at Chelsea Point; this ship was illegally salvaged by an experienced diver, who became the first person to be sentenced with South Africa's heritage laws.
- SS Ourimbah (1909) | Wrecked in fog at Chelsea Point.
- SS Queenmoor (1934) | Ran aground. An engineer was found guilty of attempting to salvage metal from this ship despite its age and heritage status.
- SS Strathblane (1890) | Ran aground.
- MV Pati (1976) | Struck Thunderbolt Reef and sunk.
- MV Kapodistrias (1985) | Grounded off Cape Recife, spilling around 500 cubic metres of oil over 15 days.
- SS Itzehoe (1911) | Ran aground off Cape Recife near the lighthouse; artefacts can still be salvaged from the wreck.
- SS Fidela (1873) | Wrecked in fog near Cape Recife Lighthouse; used by SA Air Force to practice bombing skills.
- The Haerlem (1987) | Scuttled in Algoa Bay and turned into a haven for divers, but began to be plundered as scrap metal in 2014.
- The Inchcape Rock (1902) | Ran aground in a gale.
- The Briseis (1859) | Ran aground on a reef off Port Alfred; residents tell they woke up one morning to find the ship abandoned by its crew.
- SS Valdivia (1908) | Appears to have scraped open her bottom on an uncharted obstacle. Although it requested to urgently enter the harbour in East London, port authorities did not give permission and could no longer be contacted and the ship had to be abandoned.
- SA Oranjeland (1974) | Wrecked off the Esplanade in East London, just after dropping ashore the survivors of the Produce (see below), which had recently wrecked on Aliwoal Shoal.
- The Lady Kennaway (1857) | Wrecked in the mouth of the Buffalo River after losing both anchors in a gale.
- SS King Cadwallon (1929) | Collided with rocks off and caught alight, drifting for 41 days before resting in East London. Pieces of coal, which was the ship's main cargo, can still be found along the beach on occasion.
- The Produce (1974) - | Ran aground on the Aliwal Shoal.
- The Nebo (1884) | Thought to have capsized due to a huge wave hitting her near Aliwal Shoal, while other theories say it hit a pinnacle of the reef that has not been seen since or that it was overloaded, making the possibility of capsizing more likely. It has been alleged that this ship was the third vessel sharing the name Nebo that sunk on its maiden voyage.
- Ovington Court (1940) | Anchor dragged in heavy surf and the boat ran aground; it was reported the captain called for the ship to be abandoned: the crew was packed into the two lifeboats and while the first made it to the beach safely - amidst the cheers of locals - the second capsized. Local municipal and voluntary lifesavers managed to pull all 12 occupants from the sea, although four later passed away in hospital.

{Image credit: Wreck of the Birkenhead, Charles Dixon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
SS Maori Condenser, User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Repulse, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=266224}

September 6, 2016

Book Review || The Cult of Elizabeth by Roy Strong

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I've always been partial to period dramas, possibly as a result of my studies in English literature, and Roy Strong's 'The Cult of Elizabeth' was waiting for me at the library. I find the Elizabethan era utterly fascinating for many reasons, chief amongst these the fabulous and intricate handmade clothing worn by the elite, but the way of life is so strange by our modern standards. Can you imagine not having access to a toilet? Not even the Queen had access to an indoor toilet.

Apart from these very domestic cares, Queen Elizabeth I and the intrigues of her court are so intriguing. How did she manage to rule for over four decades (right up to her death at the age of 70), especially in a world that believed that women were lesser beings? Certainly she was surrounded by many more experienced, but all the literature we have on her shows her to be an intelligent and shrewd ruler. It may have been tough for her at the beginning, but 'The Cult of Elizabeth' shows how she managed to hold on to the crown for much longer than she should have been able to, considering her age and her chief responsibility of providing an heir.

Elizabeth's supporters created a near-religion around their queen: She became the Queen of Love and Beauty, representing a chivalric code among her knights and courtiers; while she was ordained by God as the leader of England, her reign of peace served to settle her in the hearts of her subjects - then she defeated Spain; and finally, she became a symbol of the 'true religion', a saviour of her people's beliefs from the anti-christ of Rome.

nicolas-hilliard-man-amongst-roses'The Cult of Elizabeth' alludes to so many facts, events and names that it shouldn't really be seen as an introduction to the Elizabethan age. If you're interested in this, I would recommend 'The Elizabethan World Picture' as a start.

Roy Strong's book starts off with a look at the art that represented the Queen, that was done in honour of the Queen or, done to honour good works in serving the crown, showing how art in this age should be taken as symbolic and idealistic, and never representative of a single event. Art in this age did not take perspective into account, nor did it understand scale or reality: representations were more about the subjective experience of the onlooker than about any reality.

Strong looks at The Procession Portrait, initially thought to be representative of Elizabeth attending the marriage of one of her courtiers, and shows that it is really a subjective representation of Elizabeth in the context of her court. Showing all the most important people who surrounded her during the final years of her reign, it concerns Elizabeth the Triumphant and the 'dance of state'. Nicholas Hilliard's Young Man Among Roses comes next, and Strong describes the chivalry with which Queen Elizabeth's knights honoured her, as their favourite and most beautiful, yet unattainable, woman, pointing to various portraits of the Queen and explaining the symbolism within them. Finally, a look at Sir Henry Unton's memorial portrait is the perfect portrayal of Elizabethan attitudes to art, subjectivity, and honourable deeds.

The final chapters show how the workings of the court ensured Elizabeth's reign for so many years. Firstly, Elizabeth's Accession Day was celebrated by the entire nation. No governmental legislation demanded such festivities, but they were undertaken by the masses in every major city, in churches, and even in small towns. The revelries reached such a pitch, particularly after Britain defeated the Spanish Armada, that orthodox Protestants began to worry that the 'worship' of the Queen was comparable to the Catholic worship of Mary. Secondly, on Accession Day, elaborate tourneys were held in the honour of the Queen by her knights. These occasions saw the Queen's knights put on Masques in her honour before tilting in the lists with the aim of gaining her favour. Finally, The Order of the Garter was pursued as a way to instil chivalrous codes among the pageantry and reinforce the medieval feudal hierarchies.

'The Cult of Elizabeth' is an excellent choice if you'd like to expand your knowledge of the workings of Elizabethan England. The only drawback to the edition I read was that none of the artworks were in colour.

{Image credits: Elizabeth I Rainbow Portrait - Attributed to Isaac Oliver - http://www.marileecody.com/gloriana/elizabethrainbow1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3074044
Young Man Among Roses - Nicholas Hilliard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Procession Picture Attributed to Robert Peake the elder - http://tfeanda.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/elizabeth-i-her-people-national-portrait-gallery-london/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31801577}

August 31, 2016

DIY || Crochet Daisy Chain

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It's officially Spring tomorrow and there's nothing prettier than a daisy chain! While I made this for Emma when she was still little, you can follow my instructions to create a crocheted daisy chain, which you can make into a headband or bracelet. You can also simply make the single daisies on their own to use for other craft projects.

Note that you'll have to have a basic knowledge of crochet. If you're lacking in this department, check this link for help.

The size of the needle and the amount of yarn really depends on what kind of project you want to finish. I used remnants and would say I used about half a 50g ball for two bracelets, a necklace, and a headband (just a longer version of the bracelet), as well as some single daisies.

How to make the bracelet:

Start with a slip knot.
Ch 13.
Insert needle into 9th chain and pull thread through to make a circle or loop.
**Ch 6.
Insert needle in centre, pull thread through, ch 1.
Rep four more times.
Ch 7.
Insert into 4th chain, pull thread through, ch 1.
Rep from ** twice.
Ch 16.

completed-braceletTo finish off, you can crochet a bead onto the end using a simple slip stitch or create a knot. Then turn the first set of chain stitches on themselves to create a loop. If you are doing the beaded or knotted version, you will need to ensure the loop is the correct fit for the bead or knot. 
You can also add another two or three daisies, extending your final chain for about 12cm, or more if you prefer, so you can simply wind the bracelet around your wrist or finish off with the knot or bead to make a headband.


How to make the necklace:

Start with a slip knot.
Ch 10.
Join 10th chain with first.
Ch 44.
Needle into 40th chain, pull thread through and ch 1.
Work as for bracelet between ** five times.
Ch 41.
Attach bead or make knot.
Finish off.


Let me know how it goes! I would love to see your finished results!

August 25, 2016

DIY || Reuse || Fave T-Shirt Design to Mock Biker's Insignia

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I love t-shirts, especially the designs and sometimes the slogans. Because choosing a t-shirt is so personal, I find it very difficult to be rid of items that are faded or no longer fit or are never worn.

If I do brave the emotions that come with ridding myself of a t-shirt, it's technically not getting rid of it because, a) I cut up the back and other straight pieces to make my own t-shirt yarn; and b) I keep the logo or slogan.

But what to do with my pile of t-shirt designs!? I decided to make myself a polar fleece vest for braving the cold when I head to the gym and using one of these for the back seemed the perfect idea. I found a vintage pattern at a charity store and decided to make use of it.

What you'll need for this project:


- An old t-shirt with a favourite design;
- An item of clothing without any detail or seams on the back;
- Thin batting;
- General notions, such as sewing cotton, pins, and sharp-pointed scissors.

What to do:

1. Choose the design you'd like to put on the back of your item. If you haven't cut it out yet, give yourself a lot of leeway on all sides of the design for pinning.


2. Cut a piece of batting the same size as your cut-out and lay the design over the batting.


3. Centre the two items on your base item of clothing. Pin generously.


4. Now you will have to sew over your design to anchor it to your base item. I chose to do some thread painting with my sewing machine in the colour of my design's border. You could, however, applique it or if you're really brave handstitch it. It does also depend on the design you've selected. If, for example, you have a perfectly circular design, you could simply glue the item on and then applique around the circle. Another option would be to glue to design first but this depends on your fabric.

Note: If you're choosing to applique the item, remember to make your batting a little bit smaller than the design so you won't need to worry about the batting sticking out when you trim the t-shirting away.


5. With my chosen method, I ended up with a lot of loose threads. Time to trim them! Remember not to trim too much on the inside of your clothing item (ie. where the bobbin stitches are) as they will keep the top stitching anchored.

6. Once you're satisfied with how your design looks, you will have to trim the batting as close to your stitching as possible. Pull back the t-shirting and the fabric of your clothing item so you can access the batting. Don't cut around your design yet to ensure that you don't cut too much where the batting may be difficult to trim.

7. When your batting is trimmed, cut away the t-shirting that you do not need. If you've appliqued the design, you'll just trim as close to your stitches as possible.

And you're done! I'd love to know how your project came out! Please share in the comments!

August 22, 2016

Five Things I Learnt At The Dentist

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I was never a fan of going to the dentist. I'm not actually certain why, but it could be linked to the fact that my parents showed an extreme dislike of going to the dentist and I possibly caught the fear from them. I think I only ever saw my father go once throughout my conscious life and my mother has not been since before she and my father married, which was over 30 years ago.

I don't remember having a particularly traumatising experience with the dentist of my youth but as an adult I rather enjoy it. And perhaps it has to do with the dentist himself: my dentist is so interesting to talk to and forthcoming with all information about teeth and dentistry. As such, I always leave with the feeling that I have not only received excellent care for my teeth but have also learnt something.

Some of my favourite lessons include:

1. The reason 'laughing gas', or nitrous oxide, has such a giddy effect on our system is because it is giving your body a heavy dose of oxygen without all the other things we breathe in normally. And what does your brain do when you're breathing well? You feel calmer and may even think clearer. According to this article, however, it appears there is no certainty as to why nitrogen and oxygen in this formulation provides an anaesthetic effect, although it may have something to do with how tension is created in the brain between the gas, the alveoli, and the blood in the brain.

2. Why does it seem as though your the whole side of your face feels numb after an anaesthetic injection? At least for me, it was because the needle with the anaesthesia was injected into the main nerve that controls the feeling of the side of the jaw. Imagine the talents of the person performing the injection to get it perfectly numb?

3. Feeling cold on a tooth means the nerve inside is still alive. My dentist tested whether the nerve inside my wisdom tooth with the filling I had done last year was still alive with intense cold.

4. Have you ever wondered why a person has all of their wisdom teeth removed at the same time, even if it's only one tooth that's an issue? It's because these teeth require some opposition on the opposite jaw if they are to avoid erupting: something needs to be creating pressure from the other side.

5. Using an anti-bacterial mouthwash is not actually as beneficial as advertisers would have us believe. We have natural bacteria everywhere in our bodies and our mouths are no different. Using an anti-bacterial mouthwash makes sense if there is a wound or other issue but if we have otherwise healthy mouths, a simple flouride rinse is actually better. If you'd like to read more on this subject, here is something about the benefits and disadvantages of using a mouthwash, a comparison between mouthwash and fluoride rinse, and a guide on oral rinses.

What are your best (or worst) experiences with dentists?

{Image credit: 1. By Marco Antonio Aguilar Lizarraga - Template:Empresa dentadec, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8709732
2. By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/f9/b7/8b6378e59c2c136332816e827d33.jpg Gallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0005630.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35870248
3. Colgate Plax By Editor182 (talk) - I (Editor182 (talk)) created this work entirely by myself.Transferred from en.wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16407847}

August 19, 2016

Book Takeaways || Like the Flowing River by Paulo Coelho

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'Like the Flowing River' is a collection of anecdotes and notes by the esteemed author of 'The Alchemist', Paulo Coelho, and as such, it is filled with lovely inspirational stories and life lessons. It is always interesting to dip into the minds of some of the most celebrated authors in the world and this exploration of a few select records is no different. We are given a unique insight into the thoughts of a man who is knowledgeable, intuitive, and perfectly able to see not only the beauty in the world but also its secret meaning.

Coelho's anecdotes speak of everything, from milk replacements to the artistry of archery. What follows is a list of my top ten records from the collection, anecdotes that made me think, reconsider, muse, or mourn:

1. A story about how we are filled with the potential of the pencil and how we must remember: we can do great things but there is always a hand guiding us; a pencil is made better through being sharpened (or experiencing adversity or trouble); the ability to be erased (or the pleasure of retrospection) allows us to see the obvious path to justice; the graphite inside the pencil is what is really important; and we always leave a mark.

"The fool who loves giving advice on our garden never tends his plants at all." [28] 
2. The person who follows such a person's advice will only tend someone else's garden, and will miss out on valuable life experience.

3. A tale about friendship: Genghis Kahn went hunting with his falcon. He became thirsty and came across a stream, but his falcon would prevent him from drinking it. He became upset and killed the falcon, only to discover that a carcass was rotting upstream and the falcon was merely being loyal and attempting to save him. The lessons are: a friend is still a friend even when he does something you do not agree with; and, anything done in anger is destined to be a failure.

4. A beautiful statement about 'hope':
"That word that so often rises with us in the morning, gets sorely wounded as the day progresses, dies at nightfall, and is reborn with the new day." [31]

5. Confucius says: 'Be clear'. Lay down the law, set boundaries, communicate.

6. As an owner of many books, I felt a little guilty reading the thought that hoarding books or keeping them in a personal library inhibits the journey the books are meant to make.

7. Considering the distrust and terror taking place in the world today, this phrase was poignant for me:
"When a stranger approaches and we think he is our brother and all conflicts disappear, that is the moment when night ends and day begins." [82] 
The moment where we recognise our fellow man as a friend before believing he is a foe is the moment we can change the world.

8. Using the story about a meditation school believing cats were necessary for meditation practice, we are reminded that sometimes the reason we continue behaviours is unknown or has passed and the behaviour is thus no longer necessary.

9. We are told about an old man who is constantly insulted and abused by the people in his village. He does nothing but bless those who mock him and when he is asked why, he answers,
"We can each of us only offer what we have." [127-8]

10. There is a story of a new Emperor of China who needed a wife. To determine which woman in the land would be best suited, he asked them to nurture seeds that he gave them and the woman with the most beautiful flower would become his Empress. A maidservant was in love with the Emperor and did everything she could to care for the seed but it would not grow. On the day all the women returned to the palace, she was the only one without a beautiful flower to offer the Emperor. She became the Empress because of her honesty: the Emperor had given all the women sterile seeds.

Do you have your own favourite quotations from Paulo Coelho's works?

{Image credit: A-giâu, CC BY-SA 3.0 Biwa Lake Sunrise}

July 28, 2016

DIY || Simple Crochet Hanger Cover

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Plastic hangers are so annoyingly useful and unattractive at the same time. While the end result of this DIY tutorial does not entirely disguise the plastic hanger, it does make it a little prettier, while it also provides additional friction for those delicate and knitted items. This is ideal to add some pizzazz to hangers holding skirts from those cotton loops on the seams as well, as the hooks on either side are still showing. I've made covers with fabric and lace, but can only hang items over the top, or fuss with the cover over the hook.

What you'll need for this project:

A plastic hanger
A crochet hook of any size
Yarn in your colour and thickness of choice

How to crochet around the hanger:

Start off with a knot around your needle.
Place the yarn under the hanger...
...bring it over the hanger and the needle...
...and pull through the loop with the crochet hook.
Then take the yarn over and under the hanger and pull through loop again, pulling tight.
Repeat this until you've covered the whole hanger with the yarn.
The stitches should look like this - close together and covering the plastic hanger. When you reach the joints in the hanger, you use the same technique, pulling the stitch to the new position before pulling it tightly.

Do you have any other ideas for covering plastic hangers?

July 25, 2016

Book Review || Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

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Thomas Hardy became one of my favourite writers after reading 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'. I fell in love with his passionate depiction of the natural world, with his detailed depiction of a fictional town in the 1800s, and the representation of his characters. 'Far From the Madding Crowd' was no different in this regard, and I wonder why it took me so long to open the cover.

The book follows the trials and tribulations of shepherd Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene, the woman he has fallen in love with. When the pair first meet officially, she rescues him from suffocation. He is in a somewhat better position financially than she is and asks for her hand in marriage. She rejects him, however, on the basis that she does not love him. By a strange turn of events, Oak soon finds himself in a lower position than she after she inherits a farm from her uncle. She hires Oak knowing of his business savvy and his knowledge of sheep while Oak's feelings for her remain through all of Bathsheba's poor choices.

My favourite aspect of Hardy's novel is its enamored representations of Mother Nature in all its seasons and glory. His descriptions of the weather, such as the storm that breaks as Gabriel and Bathsheba rush to save her stockpiles, as well as his sketches of the beauty of forests, pastures, and coasts, dotted with beautiful portrayals of the sun and stars' movements is certain to leave unforgettable imagery in your mind.

He also presents lively debate on religion and philosophy as he describes nature, through the debates and conversations of his characters, mostly those who are classed as servants, and his descriptions of woman or man.

Bathsheba rescues Gabriel (Helen Allingham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Bathsheba is such an interesting depiction for me for Hardy does not represent her as only a woman, but so much more; even as he talks in the same breath of her feminine vices and sometimes thoughtless mannerisms he has placed her in an exceedingly powerful position for a woman of her time. Indeed Bathsheba's only downfall is falling in love with Sergeant Troy and marrying a man whom she knows very little about. However, he juxtaposes her collapse with that of one of her suitors, William Boldwood, who is a prosperous farmer until he becomes obsessed with Bathsheba to the point of ruining his farm and his life.

When it comes to talking about the people of Weatherbury, they are all interesting and amusing, from having double vision problems to being known only as a woman's husband to absolute loyalty, these folk are straight from a simpler world where there is a respect for one's place in it, a respect for oneself, and a respect for others.

In all, 'Far From the Madding Crowd' can now be seen as an elegy to the dreamlike world of agriculture and rural life before industrialisation, where the farmer and his workers lived to the tune of the sunrise and sunset, of the seasons, of the wet and dry; where time passed according to harvests and stock sales, to a time when life was simpler and man lived in harmony with nature.

While I had committed that error of errors by watching the film before reading the book, it made no matter - I turned page by subsequent page because Hardy's writing was so good! And if you're looking for one of the greatest romance novels of all time, this is one: it's tenth on theGuardian's list.

Have you read the novel?

July 21, 2016

DIY || Origami Crane Mobile

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Just after Emma was born I was obsessed with folding paper. I think this image was to blame and my idea was that I would fill the entire ceiling with origami cranes.

While I didn't get around to decorating the entire ceiling with cranes, because it slowly filled up with glow-in-the-dark stars and planets and mobiles from family, I did make an origami crane mobile hanging from a dreamcatcher.

I made two, one for my niece, which had the cranes spiralling around a centre point, and one for Emma. I wanted the latter to be random as though the cranes were flying all over the place. Sort of like it would have been had I followed through on my idea.

What you'll need for this project:

Origami cranes (I made mine out of magazine paper to add colour, but you can use origami paper or plain printer paper, too. Follow these instructions on Wikipedia to fold an origami crane.)
A steel or wooden embroidery frame
Yarn (I used DMC tapestry wool)
Clear beading thread


First, you will have to wind the yarn around the embroidery frame. Try to wind it as tightly as possible to cover the frame. Start by holding the thread on the frame with your thumb and wrap the yarn over this thread to keep it in place. When you are finished wrapping, use a sewing needle to pull the yarn through some of the loops.

Making the dreamcatcher:

First tie a knot on the frame with the yarn, then place the yarn over the frame at the position you would like the web to begin.
Pull the yarn under the frame and downwards.
Pull the yarn under and over the starting thread...
...pulling tight to create an anchor. Continue in this way all around the frame...
...and as you continue in the centre of the frame to create your web. Pull the yarn quite tightly to ensure that the web keeps its shape, and then knot it in the centre with a slip knot. You can also add a bead in the centre if you like.

Making the mobile:

The length of the thread the cranes will hang from depends on the effect that you would like. If you would like the cranes to hang uniformly around the frame, cut the threads the same length. If you would like the cranes to spiral around the centre, cut each thread longer than the last. It will take longer if you would like the cranes to fly haphazardly around the frame, since you will have to hang the frame up and position them as you see fit, adjusting the length of the threads as you go and ensuring the frame remains balanced.

The most difficult part, however, is pulling the thread through the centre of your cranes without tearing them. You will be pulling the thread through the middle of the bottom of the body and through the top. The easiest way to prevent the thread from pulling through the crane at a later stage is to put a bead at the bottom. You can also knot the thread several times, securing it in place with some clear nail varnish. Secure it in the same manner where you join the crane to the yarn of the dreamcatcher. Drop a bead or two into the cranes if you're having trouble balancing everything out.
I would love to see your efforts!