Description

A creativity blog - including reviews, photographs and discussion on a variety of things; such as dragons and other things almost but not quite completely entirely unlike tea.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Asiria update #14

I finished page 10 today. I need to put the red guidelines in place for the next page, so not looking forward to that. It's nice to get a page finished, especially since I don't have so much time for the stitching currently. The total sum of stitches is currently at 72'620 (+3 or so), which is 22% of the whole. More than a fifth done already! ^_^



Saturday, 15 August 2015

Current cross stitch projects

Apart from Nene Thomas' Asiria, I've also started with two other cross stitch projects. They are Tsuru Kame by Haruyo Morita and the large Middle-Earth Map. First I thought I'd work on both Asiria and Tsuru Kame side by side, but then I decided to concentrate on just Asiria - the Middle-Earth Map I started mainly because I wanted to try out tent stitch and decide whether I'd like to tent the whole thing - it just might be I will. Pictures down below (dark, so dark...) to prove my huge amount of progress in both of the aforementioned works.




Needless to say, I'll continue working solely on Asiria for the time being. Page 10 is progressing nicely, I might even get it finished by the end of the month.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Time and time again...


If I was a superhero, my superpower would be to control time. Or, I'd like it to be that. Of course, you don't often get to choose your own superpower, but still. ^_^

I'm deeply fascinated by time. I love all sorts of clocks and watches as interior decoration pieces or as accessories. I'm also keenly following all sorts of fictional characters that have a relation to time in whatever media I encounter them. So far, my favourites are Hiro on the tv-show Heroes and Miranda Lotto in D. Gray-Man anime. I've heard there's a mutant with time controlling abilities in the X-men universe as well, but I don't know anything else about her.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Asiria update #13

 Finished another page on Asiria. Page 9 took me forever: I've started it on 9th of February and finished  it today on 23rd of June. During this time, I've bought a house and moved, again, and had a pretty busy time at work, too, so it's no wonder, really. Hopefully the next pages will go more swiftly and I'll see the end of the row by the end of the year... My current stitch count is 65'260 ouf of 328950, which is 19,8% of the whole work. And you can already see a little bit of Asiria's hair on the edge of the page. ^_^



Memories of Ice

The title of the third novel in Steven Erikson's Malazan -series hints at a historical ice age within the realms of the book. Said ice age was a time of the Jaghut, a powerfully magical race, with an affinity to ice, among whom arose tyrants to rule those they deemed lesser. The tyrants were opposed by a people of Imass, who went as far as undergo a ritual to be able to hunt down the Jaghut for all eternity, Tyrant or otherwise. The book begins when such a hunt is ongoing and an Imass warrior takes pity on a Jaghut woman's children and sends them through a rent in space, unknowing that said rent is not a gateway to the Jaghut warren, as she believed, but a wound within which a monster has been sealed away... This is a backstory, which becomes clearer and clearer the more you read the novel in question as well the series as a whole, and it is the event that sets in motion most everything that happens within Memories of Ice.


On the surface of things the reader follows the story of who two armies, once opposed on the battlefield, now join forces to battle a common enemy. On the continent of Genabackis where we left High Fist Dujek Onearm and Sergeant Whiskeyjack along with his Bridgeburners, a cult of sorts has arisen, which has begun to devour the lands and people around it. To battle this new threat, the Genabackan mercenary forces led by warlord Caladan Brood and former high king Kallor take Dujek and his Host as allies after they've been outlawed by Empress Laseen of Malazan Empire. Dujek and Whiskeyjack decide to become mercenaries and come to the aid of the Genabackan forces. The behind the scenes stories involve yet again the struggle between the gods and the ascendants, the ancient races and the newcomer humans.

In the armies of Genabackis there is also Silverfox, a mysterious child who is growing up way faster than is natural. Hers is a strange power and those around her are more or less rattled by it - not knowing whether her power will be for their benefit or not. Silverfox has a link to Captain Ganoes Paran of the Bridgeburners and thus acts as a mediator of sorts between the two armies, even if Captain Paran himself avoids her company.

Another part in the stories that unfold is played by Toc the Younger, who has been thrown all across Genabackis, to the other side of Pannion Domin. He is joined by an undead warrior, Onos T'oolan and the sorceress Envy with her formidable companions. Their trek through Pannion Domin describes the enemy's territory and forces from the inside, as Toc tries to rejoin his command in the Malazan army. Their journey is marked not only of travelling, but also of storytelling  and investigation and throughout all that a background history starts to emerge.

And if there aren't enough main characters to go along with already, there's an ex-caravan guard / mercenary Gruntle, whose name describes the man himself rather spot on. A reluctant warrior-turned-hero, his role in the course of the tale is rather similar to that of everyone else's: tell the gods to stop messing around and let the mortals mind their own business.

Other minor characters are introduced as well, who have their roles to play within the events of the novel. It is also the first time Erikson shows the readers how a god's mortal army is structured; something that becomes a recurring theme throughout the series later on. There are barbaric tribes, civilized city people, necromancers, herders and scaly monsters to take into account and for the first time it starts to feel that the world Erikson paints up is rather more complex than one could surmise from the two earlier books to the series. Each installment of the story is told from the point of view of someone or the other, usually one in a low status or in a difficult situation, at least. The whole book centers around a military campaign, after all, and the desperation of it slips through the pages almost constantly, even when not actually centering upon the actual warfare.

In another sense, the book is all about pain, brooding, resentment, anger and hate, and how those can be dealt with once they run over. Pain suffered usually leads to causing pain to others, which then leads onwards to more pain. Within this all, however, there is love, caring, nurturing and forgiveness, which one should hope wins out in the end... However, Erikson doesn't settle for anything that simplistic, but has a much more cunning twist to the ending of the novel. The Memories of Ice can be said to lay down some pretty heavy foundations for the main story arch of the series. The fall and rise of the Crippled God has thus far been only hinted at, but now begins to take on a more definitive form. Some of the characters become more familiar and new ones are introduced who will appear again later. The world is also expanded a little more, almost like in expectation of the fourth novel that takes the story not only to a different place, but also to a different time. And thus the series has finally begun.

Monday, 18 May 2015

It's Elementary, really

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson! Yay! I suppose most everyone on the planet are in a way drawn to Arthur Conan Doyle's creation, the intelligent deductionist and his trusty companion. Over the years Holmes and Watson have been immortalised in all sort of media and actors portraying the couple range from Jeremy Brett and David Burke / Edward Hardwicke to Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. 

One of the modern day developments in the Holmes / Watson story is the portrayal of the couple in the current time, i.e. the 21st century. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have donned the roles in the British tv-series Sherlock, while across the Atlantic the same characters are being played by Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. Of the two renditions it is somewhat shocking to admit (to Yours Truly at least) that I favour the American one.


The story of Holmes and Watson has been given a more thorough edition here than in the British version (in my opinion) - in Elementary, taking place in New York, USA, the action begins when a Mr. Holmes from London, England hires a sober companion (i.e. Joan Watson) to facilitate the recovery of his son (i.e. Sherlock Holmes) from a plunge to the world of heroin and depression. Holmes offers his services as a consulting detective to the New York's finest as a part of his recovering process and at first Watson only accompanies his to-be partner strictly on business basis as his sober companion. Their relationship evolves during the first season of Elementary and Watson leaves her former job to become a detective-in-training under Holmes' tutelage. Their first cases involve the cream of New York's murder scene and the season is brought to its conclusion with the capture of Moriarty, who had a great part in causing Holmes' erstwhile drug addiction.

I'm a huge fan of the crime series. I've enjoyed a good many episodes from series such as Matlock and Columbo and I've followed series such as C.S.I. (the original, in Las Vegas), Castle, Bones; to name a few - I'm also a fan of shows that take on the opposite perspective on crime, such as Burn Notice, Leverage, Hustle (British series) and so on. My bookcase is rather thin on detective novels, however, as over there I prefer the classics such as Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and the topic of this post, one Mr. Sherlock Holmes.


Thus, it is no wonder that I'm drawn to the new renditions of Doyle's characters, as they combine the classics of intellectual crime solving to the tv-series-based episodic portrayal of "the crime of the week". What separates Elementary from other series of the genre is along the lines of why Dr. Gregory House or Doc Martin are so popular with the public - the main character is brilliant, but rude. His (for some reason they're all male... now, why's that?) intellect is nothing short of a miracle, but his manners leave so much to be desired - all of the main characters in the aforementioned shows are ready to take pretty much any kind of action in order to achieve their goals. While House and Holmes take it somewhat over the top (being American series accounts for most of this, I reckon), Doc Martin doesn't beat around the bush, either, in his social dealings as a countryside doctor in Cornwall.

Johnny Lee Miller's Holmes is crude, efficient to a fault and - especially in the first season - rather intolerable as a person. This is brought nicely into balance by Lucy Liu's character Joan Watson, who is empathetic, believes in the overall goodness of people without being naive, and has a sense of the social situations. Holmes for his part strives to avoid following society's norms, denounces them as artificial and thus, useless, opting out of it for the betterment of his chosen techniques of deduction. Holmes' and Watson's relationship evolves plenty already in the first season and by season two the pair is much closer to each other. Holmes gradually gains some of the good sides of Watson and vice versa. The change is very gradual and happens in lieu of the overall story arch, which makes the series very addictive to follow from start to finish. And the cases they work on are nothing short of intriguing. Some mirror Doyle's original stories with a modern twist added, while others come more directly from the American crime culture with its mobs, drugs and troubles in the marriage.

Watson being a woman is also no problem at all with me. The sexual tension is there, no matter the sex of the characters. So it the equality, the disparity and above all, the friendship that defines the crime solving duos of all ages - the partnership of Holmes and Watson.

All in all, a very good series that I heartily recommend.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Thoughts about teaching

During the last two years, I've been involved in the Finnish education system from the other side of the classroom than the past 20 or so years of my life. As a young teacher I've met and conquered or walked around or been defeated by several obstacles, be it the work itself, the material, the students, the co-workers, the parents, the distinction between free time and work time, the use of technology and social media in relation to school and/or learning or pretty much anything else in this thing called life. After these almost complete two years as a teacher I've learned a lot about my students and co-workers, I've learned about the school and about the surroundings where I work in, I've learned about the material I use to teach, I've learned to forgive myself and learned to chastise myself, too, I've learned to learn and I've learned to teach and I've learned that so much is still left to both learn and teach.

The Finnish education system is going through a phase, which might or might not make some changes for the future. There are several active people in the field, so to speak, who are campaigning for the change of the whole system, the school, the material, the practices, the savoir-faire, and what-not. At the same time there are teachers and parents and students, even, who want to keep everything the same it is, or even better, bring back the good old times when you learned by the stick and not the carrot - or if not all of that mentality, at least some of the discipline it included.

During this process, in which I myself have also been an active participant, I've come to think a lot about education, about school, about the subjects we teach, the children we teach and the people who teach. I've been in countless workshops, discussion groups, meetings and lectures about the whole new era of schools in Finland - I've talked and listened and read and written things related to everything there is between heaven and school. It all has got me thinking.

Modern technology is here to stay. At least, until the electricity fails us. So, it should be used as an advantage in education as well. Check. I've already started allowing some students to use their mobile phones as a speed dictionary - because books, they get outdated real fast, the students are going to use the translators and wordlists and vocabularies found on the web anyway, so I might as well jump on the wagon and tell them which are good and which are not so good sites, applications and what not to use. Here, I myself need more education. Thankfully, some of it comes from the students.

Are exams necessary? Some people write very nice essays for me about this and that in their lives. They might not make sense all the time, but I can still get the gist of it. Do I really need to make them sit through a 45min exam where I ask them to fill in the correct form of the verb? I believe in exams, I really do, but I'm not sure, if all the students get the most out of them. Their purpose is, after all, not only to test the students' learning, but also to show them themselves either a) that they've learned or b) that they need to learn more. Sometimes a grade happens, let's say 7 (on a scale from 4-10) and the student is depressed because the grade is so BAD. Then I can have a student get a 9+ and fail in a simple instruction of limiting your sentences on the lines provided for them. When it comes to essays, I really love the struggling writer more than the fluent one - the fluent one never stays within in the word count limits. Never. And should I start punishing them for that, too? That they can write more than they're supposed to?

Do I need to teach everything? I recently tried having an independent study phase with three groups of English. I gave them the area in the books that they need to study, they can use as much time as they must on it, so long as they complete the area within two weeks (which is approximately the time I would myself use on an area that large) or do the rest at home. Most managed to finish it early or within the time limit. I asked them to complete two or three tests during the study phase, so that they would themselves tell me when they wanted to do the tests. Almost everyone got a better grade from the same test which I would have held as compulsory had I taught the material myself. And almost everyone also did the tests during the time limit I had given them. So, they apparently learn for the tests better without me.

Are classrooms necessary? This is one of the most difficult questions. Could I get a ninth grader to study independently at home? Maybe, if he/she liked the subject. They could watch teaching videos (me teaching, for instance) at home, do some exercises, fill in an electronic test when they're ready and go about their business. Naturally, if this was done to a student who has been going to a school building to learn in a classroom forever, it would be demanding to get them to relinquish their accustomed freedom at home to studying, but if the studying all began like this... When I moved from comprehensive school to upper secondary, I think it took me the whole first year to realize I no longer have to study exactly in the same way I had in my previous school. I could do my homework when still in school, in the school library, talk with other students more, study courses independently, write essays to complete courses and use the school computers for studying, too. This of course is in direct relation to the kind of upper secondary school I went to - very good prepping one for future university studies, I should say. The same culture shock of course was coming along in the university too (What, I don't have 26-30 hours of lessons in a week? Just 18? What am I going to do with all this extra time? I don't have a life outside school! Not to mention the last couple of years when I had maybe 4 hours of lessons in a week and a thesis to write...)

Are all the subjects necessary? Is all the material still relevant? Does it come in an order that motivates learning more about the subject? If I teach my students in English to go clothes shopping in a teenage fashion store and they all use web-based stores for their purchases? The vocabulary might be useful, but is the subject matter? Could I teach 7th graders already more like I teach 9th graders, with questions about culture, environment, learning difficulties, poverty, work life and so forth? Why do I need to make them listen to exercises where sports equipment are talking in a closet? What are they all doing in the same closet anyway? You really think Bryan, Mia and Mari put their tent, sleeping bag, hockey stick, drum sticks and skates all in the same closet for the night?

Do I have to teach by going through books? What if I opened a store in my classroom and the students had some money to buy things from me? And if had recently gotten brain damage and could suddenly only understand Swedish? What if the whole school turned into a shopping mall for a week and students would have to go around and buy their study material? And what if, on Wednesday the biology material would be 15 % off and they'd need to calculate if they could save money by getting the biology done on Wednesday and take as much gym and music and chemistry on Tuesday as possible? Again, could a history teacher go full-English with his American history - study phase?

Just some thoughts. Inspired by many books, teachers, students, friends and gods which should be dogs but refuses to be written properly.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Unfinished (knitting) business

This weekend has been all about my unfinished thinga-majics. Some of them I've completed and some of them I'm planning yet to complete. Pics of the progress so far, you're welcome.

The dog's head here was in pieces until this morning. Now it's all together. It first looked like a pig, then a mouse and it took some fierce needling on my account to make it look like a dog. The eyes were buttons at first, but they looked silly, so I took them off and stitched them instead.


The left pair of this pretty thingy was finished today as I made the thumb-hole. The actual thingy was finished yesterday. And with finished, I mean to say that all the threads need to still be hidden, cut and cursed, since that's the part I hate doing the most.


I found this lonely thingy, which is just craving to find someone to spend rest of her life with.


These mittens are a weird match, as the top is done differently in each and the left one is missing a thumb. I like the left one's top more, so I'll probably un-finish the right one and align the tops. Also, thumb-knitting is required.


Here they are all together! Someday I might crochet a body to accompany the dog's head, I'll probably knit the purple mittens to their eventual finish today and I'll try to curse all the threads to disappear. Apart from these things there are still two different kinds of crochet projects, where I need to a) crochet more similar squares / circles and b) make up my mind on what to make with said squares / circles. Not to forget my cross stitch project, which is taking its sweet time currently. 


I would also like to start knitting a sweater again. For that I'd either need to decide on a good colour combination or buy new thread in ample amounts for a sweater... Guess which option I'm currently favouring?

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

"Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a person love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man's will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself." -Elodin, in conversation to Kvothe. (Rothfuss 2008:617)

Superb.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Of forming characters

I have been an avid role player ever since I met this geek during my first year of university studies in Oulu, fell madly in love, moved to live together with him and continued my existence in a bliss of playing role playing games and board games, studying, reading, watching sci-fi films and tv-shows, learning to paint miniatures and much, much more. I've since left most of this behind me, along with the geek - now my role playing games have moved on to the communication devices provided to us by the interwebs, my board game sessions are few and far between each other, I've switched studying into teaching and I seldom watch tv, but all in all, a very generous part of my life has been affected by games and gaming.

One of the most enjoyable things to me about role playing games is the making up of a character and as I'm hopefully soon going to embark on another quest in that direction, I thought about sharing my thoughts about the process I so dearly love, and maybe describe some of the characters from my past lives.

First of all, it is completely possible to make a character completely at random. Or, in a similar setting, to take up a character designed by someone else, bring something of your own into her if you so wish, and start playing. I've made several characters like this and even though I've not always been totally happy with the results, it remains one of my favourite ways to build a character. Usually it involves a set of tables and throwing of the dice - the results are then recorded on a sheet of paper, which represents the character in the game and includes things such as their abilities, strengths and weaknesses, and general characteristics, depending on the game. One of my first characters (second, in fact) was Stern Severine, whom I created into the cruel world of WH40K. Stern ended up being a human male from a Shrine World with high Ballistics Skill and the occupation of a guardsman. These things were all randomly generated from several different character creation tables in a rules book. 

Stern ended up being something of a country potato, with a love for alcohol, he was only allowed to drink in honour of someone's birthday (luckily, it's someone's birthday everyday) and a deep, brotherly attachment to his autogun. I did not finish the game in question with Stern, as I came to be bored with the way I could advance his skills eventually - and so I created another character, with an IDEA behind her. That character, created on the same system, also took some randomly generated numbers with her, but she retained the high Ballistics score, took a bit more into Intelligence than Stern had had and with a considerably high Willpower score became an Imperial Psyker, with mind controlling powers. I loved Xanthia dearly from the moment she strolled into my head and her backstory became much more complex than Stern's had been - born in Gunmetal city to pretty normal parents, it came as a bit of a shock to her family when her psychic powers manifested along with her puberty - she was shipped off to the Emperor's Seat with the Black Ships, where she alienated herself from basically every other human being or otherwise - she arrived to Terra and was assigned a brutal teacher after her success in the elimination process for Psykers and fell in love with the teacher's kindly assistant, whose recurrence later in the game caused her deep emotional trouble. She developed much more nicely than Stern had and even saw some personality and other changes, or growth, during play.

Sometimes, I've also created characters whom the GM has had a certain idea for, but myself, not so much - and the result has been equally entertaining in the end. For an anime game of BESM I once created a character in unison with the GM in order to fill in the party leader's role. Kadis was a bit of a rough sketch in the beginning, having few specific personality traits or game hooks to rely on, apart from her mind controlling powers, slight delusions of grandeur (from being a petty noble and the leading investigator) and weird, easily distractible mind set (from seeing her long-lost husband around every corner). I recently found an old background I had written for Kadis, which stated among other things that she was from a slightly better-off merchant family, who married into the nobility and joined a secret society in order to track down her husband, who had disappeared shortly after their wedding. In the beginning I was rather timid in playing with her, but in the course of the game she developed her personality and backstory a bit more (if not her skills and abilities) and in the end I could play as her quite fluently whenever the opportunity arose. Her backstory evolved into having been pregnant with a baby girl when her husband went missing, prompting her to go looking for him and eventually finding his remains in some distant part of the world where he had unsuccessfully tried to complete a mission from the self-same secret society Kadis joined to find him. This event messed up with Kadis' head some, and caused her to passive-actively block some of her more unwelcome memories, which then again led into her seeing her late-husband everywhere, believing him to be still alive. All in all, a great character to have lived with.

My idea of what Kadis might have looked like, slightly younger though. Can't remember where I got the picture, not my work, if find credits, will credit the appropriate artist.

I suppose one of the most difficult types of characters to create are the ones you need to those one-off, quick, not-too-descriptive indie storytelling games, where you decide maybe three things about your character and then start to formulate a story with your fellow players. I usually require a short (or long) time to mull the character in my head, come to grips with her personality, quirks and the like, before I can start actively make decisions on her behalf. Before I've managed to do that, I'm most often making decisions as myself, but with the make-believe assumption that the character is making them. 

It is not too rare to see me create characters who are almost, but not quite entirely, the complete opposite of me - a macho, gun-ho male, whose idea in life is to drink, wrestle and get laid. A bit similar to Stern, and somewhat similar to some of my dwarf characters in the more high fantasy settings, actually. Such as the dwarf character I've played in ADD, whose love for sneaking around and having lots of pockets are only paralleled by his love of chopping the heads off of things with his axe. Characters like these are enjoyable because I get to ponder things which I rarely ponder as myself. I get to be the powerful person who protects everyone. Or the sly bastard who tries to pocket away most of the loot for herself. Or the sensual witch who uses her sexuality as a weapon as adeptly as her spells or her sickle. It is a great fun to play such a character, interact with the other characters and see how events unfold. And this, in my opinion, is one the greatest aspects of role playing games. They present you the ability to explore those sides of yourself that you either don't have at all or don't show to the rest of the world when you are playing this game we call Life as yourself.

On the other side of the same coin there are naturally those characters who hit a bit closer to home. With maybe slightly bigger breasts added. Or pointier ears. With them the joy comes from the ease of play - the choices you make are similar to choices you would yourself make, you do not need to think everything over from the point of view of the character, and you can play with the attitude I myself usually incorporate the most whenever playing video games - you can be a nice person and help those around you. One of the best characters falling into this category from my repertoire is Boo. Boo is a half-orc male (well, maybe not so close to home), who has always loved the rhythm so much, that he became a bard even though his peers gave him the name 'Boo' by shouting it at him during his early performances. He also has a pet rat called Minsc, which is just because the game allows such things. Boo likes hammers and clonking together of heads and he also likes Sir Thyrkills Thormson, whose great adventures he is privileged to follow and recount in his own, oratory kind of way. He is always there to drum his friends out of trouble, giving them a +2 bonus to everything (one more level and its +3! yay!) from damage to attack score and the rest of the time he just follows quietly along with Sir Thyrkills and Appokar and Eyrien and Jared and others, who didn't die in the last dungeon and any new acquaintances they might acquire due to old acquaintances dying in the last dungeon. Boo is as (in)active in the group as I myself would be in distinguished company, but he wants to help as much as he can, as I would, and he usually resorts to doing the thing he does best, as I would do and concentrating on help and support more than on the offensive. Actually, Boo was first supposed to be a bit more offensive, but after we as a pair witnessed some of the heroics of our friendly neighbourhood paladin and fighter-dwarf, we decided to move on to the support side and hand out Cure Light or Moderate spells whenever they were needed. Because we're a Bard and Bards can do that, too.

After having spent most of my time as a player, I took a leap of great courage and landed myself in the spotlight as the GM, too. And the characters I've created as a GM have been of great variety as well, ranging from country scribes with an acorn for the brain (hey, it was a mouse, ed. note) to battle-ship battle-team commanders with a sapphire-blue power armor and a hammer to match. Some of them have remained as the quick, one-off characters with only a weird accent and an even weirder name to account for their existence, but some have been as fully developed as any character I would have created for a game myself. As such, I tend to love them as I would my own, which is something too bad from the players' point of view, who are actually supposed to be in the spotlight. Sometimes I try to love everyone equally, or at least love my own characters more privately, but sometimes I make a blind, smoking hot Companion figure with the name of Lucius and keep on thinking of ways to make him appear in the game more... Up till now I haven't received many negative comments about my characters as a GM, although I've noticed that the more I plan ahead for the session the more I tend to railroad (i.e. guide in the direction I want them to go) the players and the less I plan, the more improvising and creativity I allow for my players. So I usually opt for the latter, although the former can be just as entertaining.

So, to sum up. Characters. They're a lot of fun. I sincerely recommend them to everyone.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Rekindling

Half-forgotten things, suddenly remembered. Like a candle once blown, rekindled with a flame, Autumn could feel a familiar warmth spreading through her body - first a little tingling of the toes, then a steady, rising heat from the calves, thighs, waist and up, up, up. When it reached her shoulders, she lost herself, like so many times before.

When she came to, she was alone. She could see spatter on the walls, broken furniture. Hadn't she been outside, before? Yes, she probably had. Looking down, Autumn could see nothing, but she knew they were there, swirling like a mist on her skin. She smiled a bloody-lipped smile.

About time.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Asiria update #12

Here's my current progress with Asiria. There's still a little left of page 8, but I'm going to stitch the next column as a whole, which goes a bit to page 9, so took a photo now. The dragon's left wing and a bit of its horns and mane are visible - the bottom two right-hand corner squares were a real pain to stitch, since they had loads of colours. Towards the end it was difficult the get the needle through all the floss on the backside. But finished it today, finally. My first progress photo for this year, hopefully I'll have some more stitching time from now on and can post new ones soon.


Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Every once in a while it's nice to read a good children's book and forget there are more important problems than whether or not you have friends or family or are being bullied in school... wait what? Ok, so maybe these are not problems kids should have, but do have nonetheless, and reading how they deal with them may help one to reflect on how one would (or has) react(ed) to these sorts of situations themselves.

Usually I read my children's books in Swedish, but this time I went for English as I bought my first very own Neil Gaiman novel, The Graveyard Book, on my visit to London. I've read other works by Gaiman before; mainly Neverwhere, a little bit of the beginning from American Gods and the Sandman graphic novel series. And I've of course seen Stardust the film sometime, although I've never gotten around to reading it as book. Anyway, The Graveyard Book is not related to any of the afore-mentioned, but is a novel in its own right. It tells the story of Nobody Owens, a child who takes refuge in an old graveyard after his family is brutally murdered. Cared after by the ghosts inhabiting the graveyard along with its mysterious protector, Silas, Bod has such problems as learning how to Fade, not getting enough books and not being allowed to leave the graveyard until in his early teens. The murder of his family is not overly touched upon in his childhood, although Silas is doing his best to sort things out for Bod's future - and towards the end of the book it is revealed that the reason Bod's family was killed was one of those self-fulfilling prophecies, as Bod and his protectors do battle against an evil organisation of Jacks-of-all-trade.

The main problems I had with American Gods were that it was an audio book, and I need to have a really, very good reader, with a fantastic voice to read for me, if I'm to stay focused so long as to listen through a whole book - and that it took Place in America. The Graveyard Book takes places in the UK, which is definitely a plus; even though it doesn't really make too much of a difference storywise where the events take place. The version I bought was illustrated, so some of the characters or landscapes came alive through the visual as well, but for the most time stuff like that was left for my own imagination, which I like the best.

The characters of the novel are all very interesting. There's our main character, Bod, who grows up amidts ghosts. The ghosts themselves, with varying dates of living visible in their mode of speech or in the opinions they voice. The guardian, Silas, of whom very little is gleaned except by subtle hints. Miss Lupecky, Bod's summer teacher, Bod's childhood friend who returns in time for the end of the book, the very believable school bullies and the bullied from the elementary school Bod attends for a while, the mysterious organisation men, the ghouls, the city folk... Very colourful, very imaginative and very brain-stimulating in all aspects.

The story progresses onwards steadily. Problems arise, get worse, are overcome and learnt from. Bod is a very intellectual character, along with almost all the other characters, too, so there's no fear of the story starting to repeat itself or going in circles. The mundane goes hand in hand with the supernatural, which is treated as a matter of course, rather than as something exotic, fantastic or weird.

The last big problem of Bod's life is, naturally, growing up. But Gaiman manages to put so much hopefulness and expectation into this, too, that it doesn't really feel so bad after the final page is turned and the last sentence read. The Graveyeard Book is o ne of the few children's books that I've read that really manages to convey the sort of joy that is also a part of growing up and not only the anxiety, boredom and shouldering of responsibilities that is the bread and salt of adult life.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Fireflies!

You can't take the sky from me.... Or the scifi show I like best.



It's now been ten years since the film Serenity came out. Before that, there was a tv series that lasted only 14 episodes. I got acquinted with Joss Whedon's Firefly sometime around 2008 when I was in the beginning of my university studies and in a relationship with a scifi geek. The series has remained in my life even after I left the university (I only wrote one paper on the series, too) and the geek to work as a full time teacher on the other side of the country. What appeals to me the most are the witty dialogue, the we're so bad we're good -attitude, the lovable characters and the whole 'Verse of culture created and portrayed by the short 14-episodes-and-a-film -series. I did love other scifi shows, mainly Stargate, before Firefly - and have loved others since then (especially Star Trek: The Next Generation), but this gritty, gruesome and realistic show has remained my favourite throughout the years.



Firefly follows the story of a firefly class starship called Serenity, captained by Malcom Reynolds and his crew of misfits: an ex-soldier Zoe, her husband and the miracle-kid pilot Wash, gun-ho Jayne, alluring Inara, cheerful Kaylee and the new crew members preacher Book and siblings Simon and River, who are on the run from the authorities. Their aim is to keep flying, keep living, and keep staying ahead of Alliance patrols, which has become the governor of the planets populated by people escaped from the Earth-that-Was. As traffickers of goods legal or otherwise the crew shows the audience a wide variety of life in the 'Verse, as they call it; from priviledged noblemen issuing challenges to sword fights to back-water villagers burning witches at stake.

In a recent documentary about the history of scifi, Firefly was brought up as a space exploration series that is really down to earth with its theme - depicting basically a bunch of cargo rafters trying to make their living in a hard world, with no flashy sciencey effects usually found in the science fiction genre. I think this is also for me one of the reasons why I like the show. It shows to the viewer how the common people of the space age might live their lives, struggling to live and to manage in a universe of extremes. The crew is poor, and the poverty is what makes them so relatable, as basically everyone has at sometime been in the same state. The quest for survival, for fuel, air and cargo, to be free, to be flying - that's what the show's made of. Not to mention the funny, the exciting, the crazy and all the stuff one can expect from a Joss Whedon show.

Later in my life I also watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and there're definitely things to like in both of the shows for those, who like the other - I'm reminded of the vampires and other monsters of Sunnydale in the form of reavers, men gone mad at the edge of space - and the more unsavoury human characters of Sunnydale are also to be found in Firefly in the forms of - for instance - Mark Sheppard's Badger (love Mark Sheppard!).


So, if you haven't watched this series yet, please do so. And if you have, join me in celebrating the tenth-anniversary of Serenity. Let's keep on flying, everyone.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley is a fitting book for me to read, as it is part detective story, part supernatural and as a cherry on top it all takes Place in Britain. Daniel O'Malley is an Australian author, whose debut novel The Rook is. It follows the story of a young lady, who in the very beginning of the book stands alone in a rainy park, surrounded by corpses and who has no idea of who she is. She discovers eventually that she used to be called Myfawny Thomas and used to be an agent in a secret organization overseeing the supernatural events occuring all over Britain. Her first tasks include finding out who exactly is responsible for her memory loss, as letters from her predecessor reveal that there is a traitor in their organization. Getting to know Myfawny Thomas' life and works through her body who is trying to conceal the fact that she has every lost her memory while tackling the many duties of a Rook is an enjoyable read, with some fast-paced action, glimpses into the life of the former Thomas and detailed detective work as the new Myfanwy tries to uncover the plotters without being discovered herself. Add some supernatural talents for each of our main cast, and the table is set for a really addictive narration all the way through.




Soon enough Myfawny gets swept up into the life of her predecessor and to her surprise, finds herself to be rather enjoying it, too. Suspecting everyone you meet of betrayal while at the same time trying to do your job (not to mention trying to find out exactly what your job is) is conveyed well in the course of the main character's inner monologue. The details of the Chequy's organisation, enrollment and education are sprinkled throughout the novel, so the reader is not forced to go through a sudden dump of information and expected to swallow it all up immediately. More likely, the information becomes available just when you need it.

Without spoiling too much of the plot, I heartily recommend this book for everyone who likes the bizarre, the mystery and Belgium.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Clocks, watches and timepieces

Clocks and watches are one of my favourite things in the world. It's got something to do with my love of steampunk, but also with my love of being on time, knowing what time it is all the time and looking cool with a nice wrist watch or pocket watch. So, here are my collected clocks and watches and their stories.


The first one is a ring watch, which I got as a Christmas present from my mom several years back when ring watches were a big thing. I wore it regularly then, but stopped using it after a while since the  metal band that goes around your finger is quite bulky, the watch doesn't have numbers and has quite short hands so it's difficult to tell the time with it and as the band is elastic, the skin from my fingers would often get stuck between it, which was pretty painful. It's very beautiful, though, and I still wear it from time to time. The clock face is also shaped like a heart, which is cute. As far as I know it's made of some metal covered with gold.


One of my newest clocks is this beautiful necklace that I got from my late grandmother's things when we were going through some of her jewellery with my mom and my uncle's wife. The chain is quite long and the clock is mechanical and needs to be winded once a day. While the clock face is a bit 'bling' the numbers are Roman, which is always a plus. 


My first pocket watch displays on its casing the Tower Bridge from London. It darker in colour than my other watches, but is sadly battery-operated, so even though astonishingly beautiful, it would earn more points in my books were it mechanical. I love wearing this watch with a vest, so that I can have the chain hanging out and I usually link the other end to one of the vest buttons. It opens by pressing the button on top where you can also change the time. Big numbers mean fast time checking, as it can be understood with a glance.


My second pocket watch is a bit more bling, but it is mechanical and has a pretty golden filigree. The chain has a loopy thing on the end, which goes to the lip of your pocket, while the chain stays outside and the watch is in the pocket. The clock is a see-through, so you can see the gears turning even without opening the lid. This sometimes makes it a bit difficult to tell the time quickly though, as it takes a bit to find in which position the hands are.




My living room is inhabited by this cheerful clock, which cuckoos the time every hour and half hour. I originally bought this as a present for my parents from my trip to Switzerland during my second year in upper secondary school, but it became my clock and has travelled with me since moving away from home. It is winded using the two long chains, each of which has a heavy, metallic pine cone at their ends. Moving the leaf on the ticker makes the clock go faster and slower. Below the clock I usually hang the poster with a Chinese proverb: An inch of time. An inch of gold. An inch of gold cannot buy and inch of time.



This last one is a scam, for it is not a clock at all, but a calendar. I bought it on my trip to London last New Year's, from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. It shows you the dates for the next fifty years. You need to slide the cover so that the current year is above the current month and you receive the dates to the bottom. A handy little device, that is actually pretty useless, but still pretty cool.

Apart from these pictures I also have two wrist watches, an alarm clock, a clock/radio in the kitchen and a small grandfather clock which is actually not mine, but my SO's. As they are all pretty normal (except maybe the small grandfather clock) I didn't include pictures of them.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Resolutionary!

Around these times last year I made some resolutions for the coming year and I suppose no one was more surprised than me when most of those resolutions were kept. So I thought I might as well go through those resolutions again and ponder upon some new ones as well. So, here goes.

Resolution #1 was to finish a book every two months or six books in the whole year. According to my last year's post, I was at the time reading A Dance with Dragons and had Blood and Bone waiting on my shelf... I read both of those books, along with the Hobbit, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, a couple Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple books from the library, Bröderna Lejonhjärta, Stormdancer, What If?, (most probably among some others I can't remember now) and I am currently reading two  books; The Rook and Introvert - Den Tysta Revolutionen. I don't count manga I've read this year into this list, although there have been a few of those too. In the beginning of the year I didn't read all that much, but I started reading more when I visited my local library for the first time after moving and then I bought some 10 or so new books on my holiday in Malta this autumn. And now, having just come back from London, my book count rose with another 10 or so books, so probably I'll get some books read this year too.

Resolution #2 was to finish a video game every two months or six games in the whole year. At the time of writing I had 10 games or more unfinished and I'm sad to say that out of those ten I've only managed to finish four - but then I played some other games as well. Counting from the unfinished games of last year's post I've finished Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lego Marvel Superheroes, Draw Slasher and Gravity Rush, along with Ni No Kuni, Tales of Graces f, Tales of Xillia and Lego Lord of the Rings, as well as Final Fantasy X, which I played again as a marathon game at a friend's birthday party in November. I think for this year I'm going to make the resolution of finishing more of my PS2 games, since I haven't really given that console much attention in the past year.

Resolution #3 was to finish a cross stitch chart page every two months or six pages in the whole year. As mentioned in an earlier Asiria post, I managed to get to the end of page seven in December and am currently working through page eight. I also began another cross stitch pattern, Tsuru Kame, which is about the same size as Asiria. I might post some updates on that one as well, but at the moment, I'm busy with the dragon's wings in Asiria.

Resolution #4 was to start learning Japanese, which I've done. I haven't progressed as far as I would have liked, but at least there's a start. My hiragana studies were quite fast and now I just need to continue on to katakana and kanji, as well as start learning some vocabulary and sentence structure. And as I just received a postcard from an old Japanese penpal of mine, I think I might get motivated to continue my studies this year too.

I made a note as well about my geocaching goals for last year, and it's a good thing I didn't make it into a resolution, as I'm still 22 finds shy of my goal of 200 finds... Oh well.

So for the coming year, I've come up with the following resolutions:

1. Finish at least two games on PS2. The selection includes Persona 3, Valkyria Profiles 2: Silmeria and Rogue Galaxy.

2. Finish the second row of Asiria.

And that's it. I'm probably going to be reading and geocaching and stuff anyway, so I won't be bothered to make resolutions about them. Last year I felt I hadn't done as much as I would have wanted to, so I made all these resolutions to force myself to be concentrate on things more and stop jumping from one form of entertainment to another. Hopefully I've now learnt to balance the things around somewhat. Here's hoping for a fantastic new year!