Sunday, 25 December 2011

On the first day of Christmas ...

… my true love gave to me: a whole heap of lovely presents. I was very spoiled. Hope you were too, and that your Christmas was happy, however you spent the day.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Ninjabread men!

Remember last year when some of the black belts at taekwondo gave out ninjabread men at our last class?

I thought they’d modified regular gingerbread men shapes, but then I found these at the shops:

The packaging is a treat in itself. Some quotes:

“These stealthy warriors are set to sneak into your kitchen and stage a cookie coup!”

“your hands move like a whisper, cutting dark shapes into pre-rolled dough”

“quietly cream together the shortening” etc, “add the molasses and blend into the night”

“moving like the wind, preheat the oven”

Someone at the cookie cutter company has a great sense of humour! We couldn’t wait to make our very own ninjas. I can’t show you a photo because we ate them too fast.

Our real-life ninjas all moved up a grade at the end of the year. Baby Duck missed a lot of classes due to his hospital adventure, and spent most of the year as a yellow belt.

But he finally earned his green tips. Not to mention a $30 grading incentive payment from us, which was rather more interesting to him.

I also missed a grading due to Baby Duck’s hospital adventure, so Demon Duck pulled ahead of me, which makes her soooo happy. She loves being better than me at something! It’s quite handy for me too, as she can help me with my forms. She’s now a high blue belt, and I’m a blue belt.

I remember when we started, how pro the blue belts seemed. Now I am one, I feel a bit of a fraud. I still feel like a raw beginner. My kicks are still crap and my balance is all wobbly. I’m dreading the next form I have to learn as there’s two parts where you have to stand on one leg. At the next grading I’ll be the one falling over and looking like a complete dork for sure. Can’t wait.

Maybe I should ask Santa to bring me a new sense of balance?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Time-travelling Wednesday WIP

Well, yes, it is Thursday, now that you mention it. I’m busy, but I am keeping up with what day it is, just barely. In the blog that lives in my head there are sparkling posts flying from my fingers all the time. There are regular features on my sewing projects, updates on novels in progress, dozens of witty and amusing stories of life with the ducklings.

And of course Wednesday WIP posts happen on Wednesdays. Sadly, the blog that lives in my head bears little resemblance to the one that makes it on to the page here, so I’m just going to pretend it’s still Wednesday. Otherwise it’ll be next Wednesday, and we all know next Wednesday will be stuffed full of oh-God-it’s-almost-Christmas madness, so nothing will get posted, and then the one after will be all thank-God-Christmas-is-over lazy. Before we know it it’ll be Next Year and then where will we be? Wednesday WIP-less, that’s where.

Soooo. Welcome to Wednesday. Again. Who wouldn’t like to stuff an extra day into their week at this time of year? If only it were that easy!

Here’s an experiment in a free style of applique that gets the quilting done at the same time:

This is the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on in a long time. I usually agonise over choices to the nth degree: fabric choices, colour choices, position, everything. This was just “here’s a bucket of scraps – cut out some flowers and whack them on a background”. They weren’t even my scraps, so they weren’t the kind of thing I usually work with. This was an exercise set by the wonderful Kathy at Material Obsession at our last class. It was so freeing to play with fabric like this.

I had such a ball I came home and kept going. I finished the quilting the same day. Here’s a picture from the back, where you can see the quilting better.

It’s pretty rough, but that was part of the joy. The roughness just adds to the charm – you can’t go wrong. Who doesn’t love a project like that??

The last step to turn it from a WIP into a finished project is to make it into a cushion. Maybe when we make it over the hump of Christmas to the lazy thank-God-it’s-all-over days.

Until then it’s back to the Christmas shopping and the end of year whirl. How are your preparations going? Better than mine, I hope!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Parenting: so much easier when you're awake

I was woken recently at one o’clock in the morning by Demon Duck’s voice calling out:

“MUM! Can you come here please!”

I lurched out of bed and stood in the dark, disoriented.

“Where are you?”

“In my bed!”

So I staggered to the lounge room (which is where the girls are sleeping these days) and flicked on the light. What was wrong? Had she fallen out of bed? No, she was lying on her back, one arm flung over her face to shield her eyes from the sudden light, but otherwise seemed fine.

I knelt on the bed next to her. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.” She groaned. “Bright lights!”

Typical kid, I thought as I went back to bed. Probably calling out in her sleep.

I noticed that the Carnivore wasn’t in our bed any more. Hey, I’m sharp at one o’clock in the morning. I assumed he’d been disturbed too and taken the opportunity to go to the bathroom.

He was a long time coming back, though. When he finally got into bed, I realised from the glow through the doorway he’d left a light on somewhere.

“Why’d you leave the light on?”

He looked at me, perplexed. And maybe a little exasperated. “Baby Duck had a nightmare. Didn’t you hear him calling out?”

Whoops. Poor Demon Duck. No wonder she had no idea why her mad mother was looming over her yelling “what’s wrong?” in the middle of the night.

I try hard to be a good mother, I really do. I’m just better at it when I’m awake!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

No no Nano

Stop the presses – it’s November and I’m not doing Nano. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for the last four Novembers in a row, so not to be pounding out 1700+ words a day in a panicked scramble feels weird. Like December without Christmas.

I have all this time on my hands. Ha! I wish. Those pesky renovations. There’s always another wall to scrub or a ceiling to paint. That was one reason I decided not to participate this year. Another was that those last four manuscripts haven’t got any further. As with quilting projects, I’m great at starting new novels. Not so hot on the revising and finishing thing. Character flaw, I’m looking at you.

NaNoWriMo, in case you don’t know, is a group madness that overcomes tens of thousands of people all over the world every November. They agree to write a 50,000 word novel in a mere 30 days. There are no prizes; nobody sees your novel, or checks your wordcount. It’s purely a motivational thing. There are forums where you can chat with other like-minded novelists, finding answers or inspiration. How far can a horse travel in a day? Someone will know. What’s a good name for an alien artefact? There’ll be lots of suggestions.

There are also local groups which hold writing get-togethers if you’d like to meet writers in your area. Parties too, when it’s all over! You can become online “buddies” with others and send encouraging mail, or just chat. Your wordcount and your buddies’ will be displayed in your own little corner of the Nano website, which is a feature I really like. Watching those wordcounts creep up is very motivating. I hate getting left behind! (Who, me? Competitive??) Updating your wordcount at the end of every day and seeing the little bar edge along is very satisfying.

The girls are both doing the young writers’ version. It’s basically the same thing, but on a separate minors-only website where they get to choose their own wordcount goal. Obviously most kids go for something a leeetle smaller than 50,000. Drama Duck’s goal this year is 8,500 words, and she’s already reached it. Demon Duck is shooting for 3,500.

So at least there is some nanoing going on here, just not by me. I miss the excitement and the buzz of doing it alongside so many others, but reason had to prevail. As a kind of non-Nano consolation, I’m trying to outline a novel this month instead. I’ll still have to write it later, but outlining doesn’t take as much time as writing, and can be done while painting or cleaning, so it’s a more viable option this month. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as just making stuff up on the fly, but I figure it’s worth trying at least once. Doesn’t mean I’m permanently converting to the dark side!

It’s hard, though. Not as hard as writing coherent scenes while desperately improvising the plot, but answering the “what happens next?” question for a whole book-sized plot even in outline is brain-straining stuff. The “big idea” that makes you want to write the thing in the first place has to be broken down into hundreds of smaller ideas that all link together in a meaningful and apparently inevitable progression.

People are always asking authors the dreaded “where do you get your ideas from?” question. I think they assume the whole book falls into your head fully formed, so when they ask “where do you get your ideas from?” what they really mean is “how do I get the complete plot of a bestseller to fall into my head so I can simply transcribe it on to paper and wait for the money to roll in?”

Get the idea and the book writes itself. If only it were that simple! That bit about 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration should be in giant flashing letters. Only the people who sit down and actually try to turn their idea into a book realise that getting the initial idea is the easy part.

Everything else requires effort. And, pants it or plan it, it’s still work!

Monday, 14 November 2011

The most valuable thing in the world

I have a desk calendar that gives a quote per day. [Note to self: This year, don’t be such a tightwad. Buy yourself a calendar before the January sales so you have a decent selection to choose from.] Are they inspirational sayings? inscrutableness? philosophical platitudes? Not sure what you’d call them. Some of them state the obvious, while others make meaningful comments on the human condition. Today’s Zen saying was not one of the latter.

It asked the question, “what is the most valuable thing in the world?” Time, you might think? Good health? Love? Family?

Ah, no, grasshopper. You are too predictable.

“A student asked his teacher, ‘What is the most valuable thing in the world?’ ‘The head of a dead cat,’ the teacher replied. ‘Why?’ the student asked. ‘Because no one can name its price,’ was the teacher’s reply.”
Isn’t that awesome?? Once I stopped laughing I spent a happy five minutes dreaming up all sorts of other gross and gruesome things whose price could not be named.

It also brought to mind the book 101 Uses for a Dead Cat by Simon Bond.

Remember that? It was all the rage 20 or 30 years ago (ooh, now I’m showing my age). Cartoons of cats being used as toilet brushes, footstools, so many silly things. Can’t remember them now but I was highly amused at the time. I know I bought a few copies for my cat-loving friends.

I’m sure the Carnivore had a copy. Despite not having a vicious bone in his body, he likes to cultivate a reputation as a cat-hater. For many years he had a bumper sticker on his car that read: “Missing your cat? Check under my tyres”.

Come to think of it, a sense of humour – while not the most valuable thing in the world – is a pretty handy thing to have. Especially if you live in this house!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Tales from the building site, Part Deux

Does this face look stressed?

No? I assure you it is.

Poor Two Planks is not enjoying the whole building experience. She can see and hear all these men who would surely love to pat her and be slurped upon, but she just can’t get to them. Some bastard has put up the old baby gate at the top of the stairs so she can’t run downstairs and tromple gaily through the mud and concrete to get to the builders.

Then there’s the problem of all the loud and often worrisome noises coming from outside. Brick saws (ye gods, what a racket!), nail guns, bobcats, trucks, tiny baby bulldozers and motorised wheelbarrows, men shouting – it never stops. How’s a dog meant to protect her people from all these monsters?

And the final indignity: since she can’t be trusted not to gallop off into the sunset whenever she sees an open door or gate, she has to go outside for toilet breaks on a leash. Bad enough not being allowed free rein in your own backyard, but the worst part is that every time the leash is produced she thinks she’s going for a walk. Talk about ripped off!

This is where we’re up to now. Still on track to finish before Christmas, fingers crossed. Just hope we don’t get any more rain. No rain dances, please!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Finding the floor: Out of the Dark by David Weber

Finding the floor … my ongoing project to tackle the teetering tower of terror, otherwise known as the to-be-read pile. Up this time is Out of the Dark by David Weber.

This one was actually a loving wifely purchase for my beloved. He loves David Weber. Lots of battles, aliens, guns galore. But the blurb on the back sounded interesting so I snitched it off the pile and read it before him.

And then I had to wait for him to read it so I could fully express my outrage at the BIG FAT CHEATING CHEAT of an ending.

Ahem. Anyway, as I was saying, the blurb sounded interesting. Earth has been conquered by aliens, and a few pockets of survivors are putting up what resistance they can. Many of these we only get to know briefly before the aliens stomp them out of existence. Resistance is indeed futile, if glorious, in most cases. Sergeant Steve and a small band of soldiers are trying to organise survivors in the Balkans. Back home in the US, former marine Dave and his brother-in-law Rob, who must surely be the most insanely well-prepared-for-the-apocalyse guys in the history of the universe, are building a network of resistance across the southern states.

So far so bleak for the human race. The aliens are extremely advanced, though they almost call off the whole invasion on arrival when they realise how advanced humanity’s technology is. Their last intel was from the Battle of Agincourt, and things have changed just a little since then! They aren’t allowed to take over worlds as advanced as Earth, but fortunately for the story the alien leaders are crooked enough to ignore the galactic rules and so the battle begins.

The only saving grace for the humans is that since the aliens are used to fighting savages with spears, their armour isn’t built to withstand modern weaponry. And boy, what a lot of modern weaponry there is. Weber frequently stops the action for long – as in two pages long – descriptions of weapons. Every new gun, tank, whatever, gets described in exhaustive and loving detail. It’s like weapons porn for gun enthusiasts.

No problem there – I just skimmed through these bits and got back to the story, which was highly involving. Certainly a page-turner! The action built and built, the stakes got higher and higher, and I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how the hell the humans were going to avoid total annihilation, and then …

and then …

Well, I don’t like to give spoilers. The back of the edition I read certainly didn’t give anything away, but let me quote you from the blurb on the hardcover, which I found online:

“[things] look bleak. The aliens have definitely underestimated human tenacity–but no amount of heroism can endlessly hold off overwhelming force.

Then, emerging from the mountains and forests of Eastern Europe, new allies present themselves to the ragtag human resistance. Predators, creatures of the night, human in form but inhumanly strong. Long Enemies of humanity… until now. Because now is the time to defend Earth.”
You can probably guess from that, right? (And what sort of blurb gives away a Major Major Plot Point like that??) When the first vague kind of off-hand reference to something paranormal came up I ignored it. Nope, not going to happen. You’re imagining things. This is not that kind of book. This was late in the story, and it had been straightforward, real-world, shoot-em-up stuff all the way. No way was it suddenly going to jump the shark and veer completely off the road into the paranormal underbrush.

Except it did.

I still can’t decide whether it was a brilliant move or a terrible deus ex machina. But it certainly felt like cheating at the time. I thought I was reading science fiction, and all of a sudden I wasn’t. Your mileage may vary, of course. The Carnivore had no problem with it, though he was surprised at the change of direction. He thinks I’m too critical.

Perhaps I am, but a lot of the problem has to do with expectations. You don’t expect paranormal elements to suddenly crop up near the end of a straight science fiction story. It feels like cheating to fix a “real-world” problem by whipping out a magic wand. If there’d been clues earlier on that such things were possible it wouldn’t have felt as if it were coming out of left field so much. Maybe that’s why the hardcover had that spoilery blurb, to try to overcome that feeling. But it would have been better to address the problem in the story rather than on the back of the book.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Eight-year-old humour

Baby Duck barely eats enough to keep a … well, a baby duck – alive. He’s always had a small appetite and been a slooooow eater. As a result he’s painfully thin. This didn’t used to bother me much. The girls are skinny too. So was I as a child, and so was the Carnivore, so I figure you can’t do much about genetics. We eventually filled out to normal-sized people, and I’m sure the ducklings will too in time.

However, it became a problem when he got so sick back in June and lost so much weight. If you or I lose 4 kilos it’s no big deal. Hell, it’s cause for celebration! But if you only weigh 22 kg to start with, it’s a serious problem. At one stage in hospital he was so thin his backbone reminded me of one of those dinosaurs with spines down their back, his vertebrae stuck out so far. Not a good look.

So we’re now making a concerted effort to fatten him up. Lots of milk, yoghurt, pasta, extra cream, nuts.

Last night we had takeaway pizza for dinner. A year ago he would only have had one slice of pizza before declaring himself too full to eat any more. Then he progressed to eating two slices, which I thought was a big improvement. Last night, for the first time ever, he ate three slices.

Baby Duck: Are you proud of me, Mum, for eating three slices?
Me: I certainly am! This is a new world record!
Baby Duck: I’m still hungry. Can I have another piece of garlic bread?
Me: You’re still hungry?? What have you done with my real son?
Baby Duck: I ATE HIM!!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Sunday sketchbook

Recently I discovered the beautiful blog of Alisa Burke. Her artwork is so loose and free, full of colour and happiness. All inspired, I dug out my art journal and messed up a few more pages, like this one:

It was such a pleasure to retreat into making art, however badly, in the middle of all the mess and stress of building. Yet another thing I’d like to make more time for … at this rate I’ll need to live to at least 150!

Friday, 30 September 2011

Tales from the building site, Part the First

This is what my house looks like at the moment. The Carnivore and I are sleeping in the kitchen; the girls have set up their bedroom in the lounge room. Everything is Chaos, Confusion and Covered in Crap.

You know when you’re on a beach holiday, how you sit on the edge of your bed every night and brush the sand off your feet? It’s like that, only with dirt instead of sand. In spite of frenzied sweepings and moppings, there’s so much dirt and clay outside I just can’t keep it out.

It will all be worth it in the end, of course. We’ll have a new office for the Carnivore, freeing up a bedroom so the girls don’t have to share. There’ll be lots more storage and a big attic room up top. Can’t wait. In the meantime we’re crammed into one end of the house falling all over each other.

Last Saturday night the Carnivore and I came home from a night out to be greeted by the babysitter telling us the girls were in our bed, as their room was leaking. Sure enough, water was running down the walls in there. The builders had taken off part of the roof and clearly done a less-than-optimum job with the tarpaulins. More problematic, they’d also removed the outer bricks, leaving the inner walls (and their power points) exposed to the weather. And man, did we have Weather that night! It bucketed down.

Not surprisingly, the power went off about three o’clock in the morning, and we didn’t get it back on till after lunch on Sunday, after the builders had clambered around on the roof in the pouring rain to make it all watertight again.

When they came back on Monday they removed those power points. Seems to me it might have been smarter to do that before they removed the brick walls, but hey, it’s all part of the adventure, right? What’s a building project without a few horror stories to tell later?

Fingers crossed that that’s as bad as it gets! At least the ceiling didn’t collapse on the bed, as happened to a friend of mine when she was doing extensions.

How about you? Survived some building works and lived to tell the tale? Tell me your horror stories to make me feel better!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Learning colour bravery

I have a pretty good eye for colour, but I still have plenty to learn. I was inspired to make a rainbow strip quilt after seeing a beautifully bright one at The Sewing Attic blog. Go have a look at it. I’ll wait.

Isn’t it beautiful? Such rich, glowing colours. I got stuck into my fabric stash (and, it has to be admitted, into the local quilting shop, to fill in the gaps in my colour collection – any excuse to go fabric shopping!). I started with orange, and carefully chose orange fabrics that all went well together, put them together …

… and then sat back and thought, man, that’s bland. All blendy and matchy, not at all the vibrant riot of colour I recalled from Catherine’s blog. So I went back and had another look. A better one this time – and realised what an assortment of different shades and patterns she’d used to get that wonderful effect. She didn’t just have one shade of orange, but mustard-orange, gold-orange, brown-orange, red-orange, all mixed up together, plus different scale patterns, and it was that mixture that brought the quilt alive.

So I got a bit braver with my turquoise blocks. Some darks, some lights, some different shades of turquoise. Big prints and small scale prints. Even – gasp! – turquoise fabrics with other colours in them, like hot pink.

Still not quite there, but much better! I love the way the different colours pop out at you.

The quilt is nearly finished now, just have to put on a border. I never did get quite as brave as Catherine, but it was a great learning experience. Not to mention a lot of fun, playing with all those lovely fabrics!

Colour choices in quilting are not as simple as in most other artistic pursuits. Apart from the colour of the fabric you have to consider the scale of the print and also its “style”. Country doesn’t go with Japanese which doesn’t go with modern – even though all three may be the same colour.

Unless of course you’re one of those brave souls who combine everything willy nilly and manage to make it look good, like the inspirational Kathy from Material Obsession. I don’t think I’ll ever be that brave, but it’s fun trying!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Random (mis)firings of a tired brain

Wow. I’m more tired than I thought. I typed that heading and my brain immediately emptied. Like sticking a pin in a balloon. Pop! No more thoughts. Completely goneski. If only I could bottle that and sell it at yoga classes.

So, yes, tired. Not enough sleep – bad. Lots of exercise – good, but tiring. Too much stress, also tiring. However, there have been some wins this week. I have a story on hold at ASIM. I’ve made it this far before and still not got published, but still it’s nice. Have also submitted another story elsewhere – two stories on submission at once! Nothing to get excited about for most people but a first for me.

Baby Duck has been endearing himself lately.

“I love you, Mum.”

“I love you too, darling.”

“I’m going to Really Miss You when you’re dead.”

Ain’t that sweet? Or, as he spelled it in an email to me yesterday: “sweat”? The editor in me couldn’t help pointing out his spelling had rather changed his intent. Fortunately he found that funny.

Not much going on here except building works. Some frenzied decluttering, to stay ahead of the builders. I’m finding all sorts of amazing things. Tonight I found a couple of sheets of paper charting Drama Duck’s language development.

Ah, the joys of the firstborn child! You think you’re so busy, but you have no idea. Fancy having the time and energy to monitor the vocabulary your toddler is acquiring. Needless to say, no such chart exists for the other two.

I have no memory of it now – just as well I wrote it down. Her first full sentence was so typical – giving orders at 18 months. “No, no, puppy, don’t touch!” We also looked at baby clothes (I kept a bag for each of them of my favourite outfits) and we all squealed over how tiny their first pairs of shoes were. Alarmingly, the hat Baby Duck wore at six months fits Demon Duck’s head now. That kid sure has a big head. Must be all the brains.

Wasn’t he cute?

Moving on from memory lane, and seeing as its Wednesday, time for a Wednesday WIP report. Nothing doing on the writing front, but I’ve made a little progress with quilting.

This is one I’m working on, playing with contrast and trying to loosen up a little. The wonky stars and stripes were great fun. Drawing the trees gave me a lot of trouble. I kept making them too realistic, when I wanted something more stylised and free, something that said “tree” without getting bogged down in detail. This is the paper pattern for the first one. They won’t be white in the end but they do look rather nice like this. Maybe I should have made them white! You can be the judge when I get it finished.

It’s fun designing your own quilt. I haven’t done it for ages, but I’ve been going to a wonderful monthly workshop at Material Obsession, which always leaves me inspired and wanting to try new things. Even – gasp! – hand quilting, which I did once and decided was far too slow for me. But Kathy, the teacher, is so full of energy and enthusiasm she could talk you into anything, so that’s another project that is inching along. I must say, I find hand work very soothing when I make the time for it. It’s just that there’s always so many other things clamouring for attention!

Still, that’s not such a bad problem to have. At least it’s never boring.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Secret men's business

On Saturday night Drama Duck, Demon Duck and I were all out at parties and dinners, leaving the menfolk home alone. Before I left I asked Baby Duck what they were going to do while we were gone. He didn’t know.

“It’s a boys’ night!” I said. “You should drink beer and fart a lot.”

“But I don’t like beer.”

Always so pragmatic, that boy! Note he didn’t object to the farting part. In fact his sisters entered the conversation with enthusiasm at that point and it devolved into an attempt to see who could burp the alphabet best. (Demon Duck, as it turns out. Why am I not surprised?)

But the idea had taken hold, and before I left the Carnivore had been sent off to procure takeaway for dinner, and they settled down to watch a trashy comic book movie together. Sheer bliss – even without the beer.

There was some confusion about whether or not the party Demon Duck was at was a sleepover. So they went to pick her up armed with sleeping bag and pyjamas in case she was supposed to be staying.

“I really hope her party is a sleepover,” he told his dad. “Then we can continue our men’s night.”

So cute! I reckon he’ll be trying to shove us all out the door next weekend so he can do it all again.

Monday, 22 August 2011


You can’t judge a book by its cover, right? Well, yes … and no.

Sure, some great books have lousy covers, and some pretty ordinary books have very attractive covers, so the quality of the cover doesn’t necessarily match what’s inside. In that sense, judging a book by its cover can lead you astray.

But in another sense, of course you can judge a book by its cover. That’s what they’re for.

Publishers spend a lot of time and money on covers. They’re a selling tool, meant to entice you into picking up the book and purchasing it. And potential buyers like to know what they’re getting.

Ever looked at the spines of the books in the science fiction and fantasy section? You can tell which ones are the science fiction books at a glance, because they nearly all have black spines, whereas the fantasy ones are more likely to have coloured artwork extending into the spine.

In the same way, if a book’s title is in flowing script above artwork of a hot bare-chested man, hot woman in a flowing dress, or a hot bare-chested man embracing a hot woman in a flowing dress, it’s a romance. Readers know what “their” kind of book looks like, and they search for more of the same.

There are trends within genres too, of course. Not so long ago, most fantasy covers featured a dragon – even if there was no dragon in the story. Twilight spawned a whole host of copycat covers after the success of its black-cover-with-single-dramatic-image style.

Different countries have different preferences in covers. What will sell a book in the UK won’t entice US buyers at all. Australian customers don’t go for European covers and vice versa.

Which means that one book may have many different covers. Different covers for release in different countries. Different covers between the hardback and paperback versions. Different again for later reprints or when rebadging a series.

What makes a cover enticing to potential readers? If publishers could pin that down every book would be a bestseller. They may know the genre conventions, they can look at past successes and try to reproduce that “winning formula”, but in the end it’s a lottery. Just because lots of YA covers have photos of girls from the neck down doesn’t mean that whacking a headless girl on yours will sell the book.

In the end, what attracts a reader to a particular cover is subjective. People’s reactions to covers are as varied as their reactions to the stories inside. Consider Exhibit A, the cover of Liar by Justine Larbalestier:

Leaving aside the whole controversial "whitewashing" aspect (a storm of protest over the white girl on the original cover -- the protagonist is supposed to be black -- forced the publisher to come up with this cover instead), I wouldn’t cross the room to pick up this book. And that’s the effect a cover needs to have. Note, I’m not suggesting this is a bad cover, just demonstrating how subjective perceptions are.

This version of Liar’s cover, however, I find intriguing. I love the way the letters change, graphically illustrating the point of the book, that words can’t be trusted. This is such a clever cover when you’ve read the book, as it’s not just about lies but physical changes from one thing to another, and these letters are morphing from one form into something else. What that something might be isn’t clear, yet their red colour suggests blood, which leads you to assume it’s something sinister or dangerous. I’d definitely walk across the bookshop to check this out.

Then there’s Backseat Saints.

This cover hits the themes of the novel, but for me the visual appeal is so-so.

This one thrills me so much I actually squeaked with excitement when I found it in the bookshop. Same great book inside each one, but wow! this cover blows me away. The glorious saturated contrast of that vibrant red and green is the first thing that hits me, and then there’s the image. OMG just look at that hair!! WHY DID SHE CUT IT OFF??? I couldn’t wait to read the book to find out. Talk about a cover that did its job.

And sometimes an author gets lucky. I’ve seen two versions of Jennifer Hubbard’s The Secret Year, and both of them have that “pick me! pick me!” quality to them.

This one’s very striking with all that black and the partial faces. Combined with the title, you just know these two are hiding things, and you want to read the book to find out.

Then there’s this one. I am so drawn in by that girl’s melancholy gaze it takes me a while to notice she’s in bed with a naked guy. She looks so troubled I wonder if it’s because she’s hiding secrets from him or vice versa. Once again I feel compelled to read the book and find out.

So what’s an author to do? How can you make sure your cover’s going to attract the greatest number of readers possible? It’s a good question but I don’t think there are any good answers. Readers’ taste in covers are just as subjective as their taste in stories. In any case most authors won’t get much of a say in the design of their cover.

The ironic part is I would have read these three books even if they came covered in brown paper. I was choosing on the author’s name and familiarity with their writing through their blogs. And the reality is that the one factor that most helps to sell a book is name recognition.

So maybe a good cover helps, maybe it doesn’t. All an author can really do is write the best book they can ... and then cross their fingers.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Resistance is futile

You know how the bad guys in corny movies always say that, usually in a fake German accent? Giff up now, Doktor Jones. Resistance iss futile.

Well, I’ve discovered (or rediscovered) it’s actually much worse than that. Resistance is stressful. Every time you consider doing something you think is going to be hard or unpleasant, and then put it back in the too-hard basket instead, you add to the size of the problem.

“One of the most stressful factors in most of our lives [is] procrastination. Avoiding a subject does not get rid of the stress associated with it. It increases it. The result is that bad time managers are always living with a considerable amount of generalised anxiety.”

Hello, and welcome to my life! I feel as if Mark Forster has been watching me.

I’ve raved before about his book Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play. I reread it again last week, and have been putting some of his strategies to good use. As before, I found using a timer to split my time between different tasks helped to relieve stress by making me feel I was making progress on a number of fronts at once.

The other thing that really helped was his technique of assessing your feelings towards the work you have to do. Resistance is not just futile or stressful, it can also be useful! Which is the task you feel most resistance to doing? Make a start on that one.

It’s amazing how good this makes you feel. It’s like a weight being lifted off your shoulders when you finally do something you’ve been dreading. I tackled a few things that have been hanging over my head this last week, and felt so thrilled to be done with them. The stupid part is how not-scary the things I’ve been scared of actually turned out to be when I knuckled down and did them.

So this morning I again asked myself the question: What am I resisting most right now? And the answer came back: Finishing the first draft of Verity. I’ve had only one last scene to write for the last two weeks, and kept finding other things that “needed” doing more urgently.

So I did it.

Yes, folks – nearly two years after I started it, the first draft of Verity Bloom and the Sea of Stars is finally finished. Imagine what a proud mother I am.

Sure, it’s probably crap. But it’s finished crap. Thank you, Mr Foster.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Finding the Floor: Chasing Odysseus by SD Gentill

Remember Finding the Floor, my project to read my way through my terrible tottering tower of a to-be-read pile? I’ve been working on it, just a little slow to report on my efforts.

One of the first books to make its way out of the pile was Chasing Odysseus by SD Gentill. The author is a friend of one of my oldest and dearest friends, so I was keen to read it. It’s exciting when someone you kinda sorta almost know actually gets published – Look Ma! Real people can make it in the publishing world! I had a sneak peek at the first few chapters when Sulari had it posted on Authonomy, and thought the premise was a good one.

Basically, it’s the story of Odysseus’ famous journey home from the Trojan War, but told from the perspective of four siblings who are chasing him. They are herders who kept the Trojans supplied through the ten-year siege, but are now fighting to clear their tribe’s name after the fall of Troy. The surviving Trojans assume the herders betrayed them, so now it’s up to Hero and her three brothers to find Odysseus, the real villain behind the fall of Troy, and force him to claim responsibility for his act.

And so we have a wonderful demonstration of the difference that point of view can make. Seeing Odysseus’ well-known adventures through the eyes of Hero and her brothers puts an entirely new slant on them. Needless to say, Odysseus doesn’t come off as quite the hero Homer makes him out to be!

Each chapter starts with a quote from The Odyssey. It’s great fun to see these familiar episodes transformed by the “real story” of Hero and her brothers. I particularly enjoyed the part on Circe’s island. In the Homeric version Odysseus is saved by divine intervention. In fact it’s the quick thinking of Machaon, one of Hero’s brothers, that frees them all from the enchantress’s clutches, in a way that makes Odysseus look a complete fool.

The only divine intervention we see in the novel is by Pan, god of the Herdsmen, who provides a magical boat for the siblings. None of the main Greek pantheon make an appearance, though I hope that may be coming in the next books, since Hero spends such a lot of time praying to them. Her excessive devotion to prayer annoys her brothers, and I grew a little tired of it myself, so I hope it will prove to have a purpose later on.

What the next books in the trilogy will cover I’m not sure, since the story is satisfyingly complete in this book. But that’s a good thing. Too often lately I’ve been reading merrily through a book, only to have that sinking feeling hit me: Oh noes! There aren’t enough pages left to wrap this up – another case of storius interruptus!!

I know some authors and publishers think it’s the kiss of death to put “Book 1 in the Such-and-such Trilogy” on the front cover. What if people don’t like Book 1 so they avoid Book 2? What if they see Book 2 on the shelf but they haven’t read Book 1 and it’s not there so they don’t buy Book 2? What if – gasp! – they won’t buy any of them till the trilogy’s complete because they can’t stand waiting a year between books?

While I can see the validity of these concerns, as a reader I hate realising when I’m almost finished a book that there must be others to come. Not that it makes any practical difference; it’s more an attitude thing. If I know going in the story won’t be finished at the end of the book, I’m prepared. If I assume it’s a standalone and it’s not I feel ripped off.

Ahem. I’ll just hop off my soapbox now. Back to Chasing Odysseus … None of that applies in this case, since the cover announces it’s the first in the Hero Trilogy. Plus – Bonus Points!! – the story arc is actually complete in this book. Complete story + promise of more goodness to come = happiness all round.

One thing I did wonder was: why three brothers? One was the sensible eldest brother, one was the wild and reckless brother, and one was the … well, just the other brother. He didn’t seem to have a lot to do, and what he did could have been combined into the character of one of the others. Perhaps he has a bigger role in the later books. I did sometimes forget which was which, since they were all rather alike. Still, that’s a small quibble; the kind of thing the writer side of my brain thinks about even as the reader side is getting swept along by the story.

Chasing Odysseus is great fun for someone familiar with the events of The Odyssey. For someone who isn’t it would be a good introduction to the world of the ancient Greek legends. Sulari writes well and keeps the story moving along. I just hope she also writes quickly – I want to know what happens next!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

You know you're a parent when ...

Baby Duck is home, hallelujah! It’s so good to have him back to his usual cheeky self. His wound is still a little tender and his appetite’s not great, but otherwise he’s back to normal.

He actually came home a week ago, but it’s taken this long to get ourselves back to some kind of normality. We did a great deal of sleeping and not much else for the first few days. It’s surprising how exhausting just sitting around in hospital is – I suppose it’s the stress. They kept him in for a full two weeks. I guess they wanted to be sure he really was fixed this time before sending him home again!

So here we are, reunited at last. “I love my family,” he said to me once in hospital. “I wouldn’t swap them for anything … except maybe [Demon Duck].” Obviously he was feeling well enough to crack jokes by that stage.

But we are enjoying being home together. It’s school holidays and very cold, so we’re spending a lot of time cuddled up together chatting or watching DVDs. Nice to have some down time before Real Life with all its activities and deadlines sweeps us away again.

But of course, this is Real Life too – the best part, in fact! The jokes and cuddles and tickles, the little things like reading books together, or having a chat while you shoot hoops in the backyard, these are the small moments that make me happy.

Like the one at four o’clock in the morning on my birthday, when Baby Duck rolled over in his hospital bed.


“What’s wrong?” I asked, coming instantly awake. Did he need pain relief? A trip to the toilet? Was he going to be sick?

He gave me a beatific smile. “Happy birthday!” Then he shut his eyes and went straight back to sleep.

I lay awake, thinking Big Thoughts about life and change and happiness. Particularly about parenthood, and how it affects all three.

So here’s the fruit of my musings for your edification:

You know you’re a parent when … your idea of a great night isn’t dinner and a show but eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

You know you’re a parent when … the movie release you’re most looking forward to this year is Kung Fu Panda 2.

You know you’re a parent when … your favourite birthday present is the poo your son finally does a week after his bowel operation.

You know you’re a parent when … you gleefully text your relatives about said poo.

Yes, we’re not in Kansas any more, Dorothy. Parenthood is a whole 'nother country – the natives are friendly but a little strange.

Nice place to live, though.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The saga continues

Just dropping in to say I haven’t run away to join the circus, in case you’re wondering why things are so quiet around here. Baby Duck is back in hospital. His “recovery” was plagued by setbacks, till he was clearly in such pain another trip to emergency was necessary. He was operated on last Friday for a bowel obstruction and is now finally starting to come good again. He even had some ice cream and jelly yesterday, his first food in over a week. The poor thing was down to 18kg on the weekend – he looks like a stick figure – but is slowly putting weight back on due to intravenous nutrition.

And in the midst of all this drama and pain, you know what he keeps worrying about? That he’ll be in hospital for my birthday.

That child is just so gorgeous I could eat him up.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Baby Duck and the very bad horrible no-good appendix

One Sunday morning about 4 o’clock, a little boy woke up and chundered all over the floor. Oh goody, thought his parents, a vomiting bug! But on Monday night it occurred to his mother that, for a vomiting bug, there was very little vomiting going on, and rather a lot of complaining about stomach pain.

“Where does it hurt?” the boy’s mother asked.

“Right here,” he said, pointing at his belly button.

Uh oh, thought his mother who, in a weird coincidence, had just been discussing this very symptom with a friend whose son had appendicitis. So on Tuesday morning she made a doctor’s appointment.

“My son has been vomiting and complaining of stomach pain,” she said, “and I just want to check it isn’t his appendix.”

Ha! Famous last words, as they say in the classics. The doctor sent the boy straight to the emergency department, where they waited. And waited. And waited, as one does in emergency departments everywhere. About one o’clock in the morning the boy was admitted to hospital, and by 9:30 the operation was underway.

Poor Baby Duck! The surgeon made a last-minute decision to x-ray, given the odd location of the pain, and discovered a twisted bowel as well. So he ended up with more than one cut. The tip of his appendix was gangrenous, he had an abcess and adhesions, whatever they are. I don’t know – they tell you things and you nod and look like you’re functioning normally, but the words just go whooshing past without sticking properly when you’re worrying about your precious baby. I heard “infection” and “almost perforated” – or was it “perforated”? – “long hospital stay” and not a lot else really.

Thursday we started getting him to take little sips of water, which all came back with added green yuck on Thursday night. “Bowel obstruction” was mentioned and I spent the night panicking. Fortunately things started to improve slowly after that, and Tuesday morning he came home after a week in hospital.

For a little while, anyway. Tuesday night he was vomiting again, so it was back for another day in emergency yesterday. What fun! Now, touch wood, he’s home for good, and feeling much better.

“Are you going to write about me being in hospital on your blog?” he asked.

I think he wants me to tell you how brave he’s been. I couldn’t exactly put my hand on my heart and swear to that one, but I guess it depends on whose definition of bravery you’re using. By eight-year-old standards he did pretty well. I can tell you he was very well-behaved. All the nurses commented on his lovely manners, and how easy he was to deal with.

It’s so good to have him home again. It was a hard week for all of us – very disruptive for the girls, and the Carnivore and I are both short on sleep. One of us was with him 24 hours a day. Nothing got done beyond the most basic necessities. It must be so hard for families who have someone in hospital for a long time.

We were lucky too, that we have an excellent children’s hospital only half an hour from home. It’s times like these I’m grateful we live in Sydney, rather than out in the country somewhere. Country life seems idyllic until you consider the whole airlift-to-hospital-in-a-strange-city aspect.

So, not a great week. Ironically, I was on a roll with Verity on the Tuesday morning, busy congratulating myself that I only had two scenes to write to finish the first draft. I’ll do some more when we get back from the doctor’s, I promised myself. Needless to say, I haven’t written a word since.

Life with kids is often unpredictable like that. At least it’s never dull.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Playing tourist at home

We had a weekend in the city recently. Check out the view from our apartment:

Admittedly the weather could have been better, but we couldn’t complain about the location! In the heart of The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, we were surrounded by picturesque old sandstone buildings, quaint twisting alleys full of tiny galleries, gorgeous harbour views at every turn … So of course the kids wanted to go see the lego at the Sydney Aquarium.

And the lego was quite impressive, if lego is your thing. Moby Dick here had nearly 400,000 pieces of lego. The aquarium is always fun, if a little pricey. I love the seahorses

and the ugly dugongs. How drunk would a sailor have to be to mistake one of these babies for a beautiful mermaid??

Of course, I would have preferred less aquarium and more galleries – but that’s life with kids in tow. They were pretty patient and put up with a few galleries and a lovely Sunday morning stroll through The Rocks markets. Bribery with ice cream always helps!

We also spent a lovely hour or so browsing a couple of big bookshops. Dinner on Saturday night was at the Summit, a revolving restaurant on top of one of the city’s taller buildings. The views were great, despite the rain, and the kids had a great time stickybeaking at everything. The food wasn’t half bad either.

Even breakfast is an adventure when you’re staying at a swish place. All sorts of yoghurts and juices presented in tiny glasses made a tempting display.

Throw in a bit of time swimming in the hotel pool, and you have a pretty satisfying weekend all round. Sometimes it’s fun to play tourist in your own city.

Now if I could just convince the kids there’s more to Sydney than the aquarium …

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Finding the floor: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Finding the floor … or tackling the teetering tower of terror, otherwise known as the to-be-read pile. First it was a shelf, then two, then a neat pile stacked against the wall. Now there are tottering piles thirty books high. There must be hundreds of books there, cluttering up my floor and my life.

Hi, my name is Marina and I have a book-buying addiction. I can hear the authors among you yelling hoo-RAH! Bring on the book-buying addicts! And as addictions go it’s fairly innocuous, I admit. But it will take me years to get through that many books. Some have been there years already – some so long I’ve lost all desire to read them, which is crazy. I couldn’t even tell you what was on the bottom of some of those piles. Yes, I love books, but this is getting ridiculous. Time to tackle that monster!

Hence my new project – finding the floor in that scary corner of the room. Whittling down that overblown pile by reading one a week and reporting my progress here. Accountability is such a good motivator!

And to kick off the project, a book that spent barely any time on the pile, Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris. (That’s part of the problem – always reading the latest acquisitions and never getting to the older stuff – but I reserve the right to read in any order that takes my fancy.)

Dead in the Family is the tenth in the Sookie Stackhouse series about a telepathic waitress in small-town America and her continuing adventures with vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures. I’ve mentioned before on the blog how much fun this series is, and I dived into this one with every expectation of my usual huge enjoyment.

Let’s just say that Dead and Gone remains my favourite of the series. This one was very slow to start. Almost half the book passed in small incidents and recapping previous events. Halfway through I was wondering “when is the Big Thing going to happen? Where is the main storyline?” Sookie seemed to be spending a lot of time thinking, sunbaking, going to work, having lunch with friends and family – all the things that make up her regular life – but without any underlying storyline driving the plot along. Something did eventually happen, but it wasn’t really big enough to hang a whole book off. So instead of one main plot and several subplots, it felt like there were just a lot of subplots.

All this sounds as if I didn’t enjoy it, which is not the case. It still had a lot of elements I love about the Sookie novels, particularly Sookie’s pragmatism and the juxtaposition of her nice Southern gal manners against the monstrous misbehaviour of almost everyone around her. That’s the undead for you. No social skills. There’s humour in the way she stands up to the monsters and scolds them into better behaviour, but a serious side too. She forces them to remember their long-lost humanity.

Harris has Sookie in an uncharacteristically sombre mood for most of the book, which affects the overall tone. Bad things happen in most of the books, but usually Sookie retains her innate optimism. This time she’s still recovering from the terrible events of the previous book, and it seems to have changed her character. I guess it’s a good thing for the protagonist of a long-running series to change as the series progresses, otherwise the series can stagnate. But now there’s a manic feeling to her bubbliness, and she’s changed to the point of trying to organise the death of a vampire who’s causing trouble for her boyfriend. A rather different Sookie to the sunny character of the first books. It will be interesting to see how far Harris takes her.

So yes, I’m still looking forward to the next one, even though this one felt more like the characters getting their breath back from the last one than a whole new story. I think there’s still plenty of places Harris could take this series – I just wouldn’t recommend starting with this one.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Wednesday WIP for really truly

Hooray! I finally have some progress to report on the writing front. Not just a quilting WIP but a really truly one. Yes folks, it took months of procrastination and a prolonged sojourn in the Depths of Self-loathing, but I finally got my butt back into the chair and started working on Verity again.

It’s been so long I had to read through it first because I’d forgotten what the story was about. Oh, yes – now I remember! Pirate ships powered by sails made of human skin, krakens and star spiders, and a bitter war between merfolk and selkies in a magical universe beyond our own called the Sea of Stars. Well, that’s not really what it’s about. That’s just the bits that make it fun. It’s about a girl’s search for her lost sister, and the family secret that could destroy them both.

Hey, say that last sentence in a movie trailer voice – sounds corny, doesn’t it! Okay, so my summary needs work. So does the story, unfortunately. Still, one job at a time. I have to finish writing the first draft first, so I can pin down exactly what happens in the story, before I can fix it all up.

You might think that, with only a couple of chapters left to write, I’d have a pretty good idea already of how it all ends. Well, and so I do, but stories have a way of surprising you – at least they surprise me sometimes! Only yesterday another tempting glimmer of an idea peeked up at me from a perfectly innocuous sentence I’d just written. And I still haven’t decided whether or not to kill off a major character in the climax. I don’t want to, because I really like him, and yet … it would be so cool for the story.

Anyway, my little wordcount widget is gradually creeping along again towards The End, which makes me feel like a real person again. A Contributing Member of Society. Bizarre, I know. Society is certainly not hanging on my deathless prose. Though I do know one little duckling who will be delighted to find out at last what happens (even though she will probably rend me limb from limb if I do wipe out this character).

Still, We Novelists cannot pander to the desires of our adoring fans, but must remain true to the prompting of our Muses. A Novelist is not a democracy, to be swayed by the opinions of others, but an almighty God in a universe of our own creation!

And right now this God’s finger is hovering over the Smite button. Hovering, I tell you! Which way will the dice fall? Only time will tell …

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Fancy a magic carpet ride?

Because if you do, I know where you can find one. Yes, I’m still here. Haven’t won the lottery and escaped to the Bahamas after all. I’ve just been horrendously busy with a combination of school holidays and costume making for a production of Aladdin the ducklings were starring in.

Talk about typecasting! Beautiful Drama Duck played the beautiful but melodramatic princess. Demon Duck lived up to her demonic name by making a splendidly evil bad guy. And crazy little Baby Duck played the evil sidekick – a wisecracking parrot. Not a bad match for a little guy with a big sense of humour who never stops talking.

The show was last Saturday night, and I spent several weeks sewing in the lead-up. Yes, I volunteered, and I’d do it again, so I shouldn’t complain, but wow, that was a lot of work. I made about 20 costumes, and let me tell you, I am so not a clothes maker. Straight lines I can do. Give me a quilt any day. But mention sleeves or fastenings or waistbands and I want to run screaming in the other direction. I guess it was a learning experience! Thankfully there was another lady – a very experienced, much more competent lady! – who made all the really hard costumes and did tricky stuff like working out sizes and fabrics. I just did what she told me, and I must say they certainly looked very professional on the night.

So the costumes were a slog (though I am such an expert at elastic waist pants now!). But I really enjoyed making the magic carpet. Look at that perfect border fabric I had in my stash. Doesn’t it just scream Persian opulence? I don’t even remember buying it, but I had just enough, with barely six inches left over. It was obviously meant to be! Oh, and while you’re looking, please admire the tassels, made by Drama Duck. She could see I was under pressure so she wanted to help out, bless her.

What about turbans? If you need those, I’m your woman. I made ten, and they looked awesome on stage, if I do say so myself. They were kind of fun too.

And the ducklings, of course, were wonderful, and had the best time. Their excitement made it all worthwhile, cliched though that sounds. I’m still very glad it’s over, though! Now I can get back to sewing my quilts. Not to mention getting to bed before one o’clock in the morning.

“You seem happy today,” the Carnivore said yesterday, in a tone of mild surprise. Guess I have been a little stressed and grouchy lately.

“That’s because I’m sewing and it’s something I actually want to make,” I said.

What a lovely time I had, cutting gorgeous fabrics and sewing them back together into even more gorgeous arrangements. I’ll show you what I’m working on soon – but in the meantime:

Sorry …

I can’t resist …

Just look at that date!

May the fourth be with you!!

Happy Star Wars day everyone!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

It's impossible

Question of the year comes from Baby Duck, who clearly has been learning about the evolutionary advantages of primates’ clever tool-using hands. We were driving along and out of the blue he pipes up:

“Mum, what are impossible thumbs?”

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

WIP Wednesday

We’ve been dining in a cave for the last month because of what I laughingly describe as my “design wall” – a sheet pinned over the curtain rail in the dining room. Since I do all my sewing at the dining table, this is the perfect place for it. Except for when we wish to use the dining room for its intended purpose, of course. Then it’s a really crap place for it, since it blocks the light and the view.

However, its very craptasticness has a motivational aspect. I’m so sick of staring at the damn thing every time I eat a meal that I’ve been working on it at what passes for light speed for me. Only five more rows to sew together and the top will be finished.

There are some great fabrics in there, and the design is a quick and easy “disappearing nine-patch”. Can’t wait for it to disappear off my curtain rail. When it’s finished it will take up residence over the back of one of my lounges to protect it from the sunlight.

I wish I could report some writing progress, but my mojo has ridden off into the sunset without me. I’ll make an effort to track that varmint down when we stagger into school holidays next week. This term has been a challenging one, so I’m looking forward to a break and the chance to regroup.

The ducklings are also keen for the holidays to arrive, though no doubt the cries of “I’m bored” won’t take long to appear. Part of the excitement is knowing Easter with its bucketloads of chocolate is just around the corner. I’m still in negotiations with the Easter bunny about that. With my changed attitude to sugar it seems wrong to purposely load my children up with so much of the stuff – almost as bad as offering them cigarettes. Not that I mean to deprive them completely, but I need to find a compromise that will make us all happy. Cue hollow laughter.

Ah, the joys of parenthood.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Beam me up, Scottie

Sorry if I got any trekkies out there all excited – this post has nothing to do with Star Trek. Just can’t resist a pun, even if the connection is pretty tenuous.

But I bring you – rather belatedly – February’s finished quilting project. Ta da! One cute scottie dog:

I saw a picture of one of these on a quilting blog somewhere (can’t remember which one, sorry), so I went hunting for a pattern. Found this one and whipped it up in a day or two. (Stop laughing! Two days is lightning fast for me.) If I was being strict about such things, it wouldn’t even qualify as finishing a UFO, since it jumped straight to the top of the queue, over all the genuine UFOs that have been languishing in the cupboard. But a finish is a finish, so I’m happy. And it’s just so cute! How could I resist?

I made it in reds to suit Demon Duck’s to-be-renovated room (if the long-awaited extension ever starts). She was very particular, and requested a proper collar with a dog tag. I was just going to tie a ribbon around its neck, but no, that would have been too easy.

I considered making a dog tag out of shrink plastic but got lazy. So I took her to the shops and let her choose a real dog tag and had it engraved. I should have gone with the shrink plastic – the tag cost way more than the dog! I nearly fell over when the guy handed me the engraved tag and said “that’ll be $15 thanks”. Ouch! That’ll teach me to take the easy way out.

The S stands for Scottarina, in case you’re wondering. Demon Duck has never been big on creative names for her stuffed toys. Her very first favourite was a blue rabbit called Bunny. Then Bunny was cast aside in favour of a purple koala called … wait for it … Koala. Finally Koala was superseded in her affections by a little brown bear called – yes, you guessed it – Little Brown Bear. “Scottarina” is positively inventive by comparison.

But none of them had a name tag worth more than they were ...

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Italian cooking: now with random green stuff

I had a craving for bruschetta – but do you think I could find a recipe? Heaven knows why I didn’t think to consult the Almighty Internet. Google is a girl’s best friend! But after ratting through several cookbooks I came up empty-handed. Maybe bruschetta’s too easy for cookbooks to bother with?

Anyway, I figured I could work it out. Bread, tomato, a little balsamic vinegar, and that yummy green stuff. Convinced the thing I needed was oregano I went to my local greengrocer to buy some.

My local greengrocer doesn’t label his herbs. It would be entirely possible for someone to come home with a bunch of mint only to discover it was actually basil. This may or may not have happened to me …

So I had a good sniff and came up with the one that smelled like bruschetta. Brought it home and made something that tasted just like the real thing (if you ignore the fact that it was slightly soggy in the middle – but my tummy didn’t care). It looked a treat too.

Only then I did find a recipe and discovered that the thing that smells like it belongs in bruschetta is actually basil, not oregano. I have a vague memory now that oregano has smaller leaves. As you’ve probably guessed by now I’d be the first one out the door in any cooking contest. It’s probably a good thing my greengrocer doesn’t label his herbs, or I’d have bought the wrong thing.

Hmmm. What do you think, internet?

Is my random green stuff really basil?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Colour my world

Feeling a little blue today. (No offence, blue, I think you’re a lovely colour.) The world seems kind of grey and miserable. (I know, I know, grey – you must get sick of being equated with misery. And you don’t even get to be a colour. You’re just a shade.) So I’m adding a shot of colour for your viewing pleasure.

Ta da! The Mighty Internet has taught me to crochet. One stitch, anyway. I’ve been having fun throwing colours together, the brighter and more clashing the better. I love the way they make each other glow, all jumbled together like this. Maybe one day these will be a blanket, like this beautiful one at Attic24 that inspired me. Or knowing me, I’ll run out of puff and they’ll end up just cushion-cover size. They’ll still make me smile, though.

Another thing that’s making me smile lately is this pretty cyclamen sitting on my kitchen windowsill.

The flowers are so delicate but, frankly, a little weird, like butterflies balancing on top of poles.

I love the way they gradually stretch and unfurl. Nature comes up with some doozies, that’s for sure.

If you need more colour in your day, go check out Loretta Grayson’s blog. Wall-to-wall gorgeousness! I used to read her blog regularly a few years ago, when I was into scrapbooking. She always did the most amazing scrapbook pages, so artistic. Now, it appears, she too has the crochet bug. Or maybe she always did, I just didn’t know about it. But when I rediscovered her blog today it felt as if crochet had taken over the world. Go, hookers! I mean, um, hooky-type crochet people. You ain’t seen colour till you see what Rett does with it!

Do you have a favourite colour? It’s so hard to pick just one – it’s like choosing between your children! They’re all beautiful in different ways. Most days I say green out of habit, but really, I love them all.

Except maybe red. Sorry red, you’re just too … in your face. Although I have been using quite a lot of it lately in quilting, as you’ll see when I get around to posting a photo of February’s finished quilting project. So I’m learning to embrace red’s brash charms.

What’s colouring your world lately?