Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Reading Challenge - 2015

With a heavy heart I had to downgrade my challenge to just 25 books this year because of a life re-shuffle, but I aimed for quality instead of quantity and knocked off a few books from my to-read list. Here are some of my favoutites...

Let's Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson: This was a good book to start the year with.What a laugh riot this was. If it was fictional, I probably wouldn't have believed a word of it happened. Seems to be a collection of events that seem hilarious only in retrospect because really - using a shovel to keep away vultures from eating your dead and buried dog, and burning down houses (almost) couldn't have been funny when it happened but is ROFL funny when retold!

Malice by Keigo Higashino: Another gem by this author that will keep you on the edge till you finish the whole book in one sitting. A good insight into the mind of someone who holds a grudge.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: I was looking forward to the book's release but it did not live up to expectations. A better way to look at it is to remind yourself that this was written before To Kill A Mockingbird so it is not as polished as that. It still doesn't make up for the fact that it lacks all the power that is there in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh: The stories of many lives brilliantly entwined into one. I waited for all three books to be published before reading this series, and it was a good decision. There is so much happening that it would be difficult to remember if not read all together. Set against the backdrop of the opium trade in China, it narrates the lives of people affected by it.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson: Set in simple verse, she tells her story between the lines of this innocuous poem. There are many questions asked of the reader and some thoughts left unsaid that are the most thought-provoking.

For the animal lovers:

The Dog who could Fly by Damien Lewis: Dogs are heroes...some more than others. This is an amazing story of an extraordinary dog and his wartime antics. How he senses many things before they happen, his devotion towards his master (and vice versa), and his instinct to act a certain way that might save lives - all make for a riveting read.

Dewey by Vicki Myron: A cat in the library would be the best idea for people like me. This is more than a story about an adorable cat who was rescued; it is about the rescuer and her battle with cancer and other tragedies of life. Like it often happens, life sends hope from unexpected places. Anyone who's had a cat knows that they just pretend to be stand-offish - they secretly love the attention. Dewey might be just another cat, but only those who met him can say otherwise. Not many cats would show their affections so readily.

Soul of a Lion by Barbara Bennett: The experiences with some amazing animals will leave you in puddles and make you wish more than ever you lived surrounded by wild animals. Marieta was raised in the toughest way possible but still loved her life and her determination and love for all kinds of animals is inspiring. Even through personal tragedies, she has kept her focus.

Merle's Door by Ted Kerasote: It is a beautiful story of a beautiful, independent dog, and his relationship with his human. The bond between the two can be felt through the pages. It would be ideal if all dogs got the opportunity to live their lives roaming around, socialising, then returning to a loving home for the night. Many times you feel that the author might be projecting his feelings onto the animal, but everyone's who's owned one, and paid attention to it will identify - they tell us things in their own way.

We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee: An inspiring story of rescuing a zoo by people whose only qualifications was that they loved animals. The book gives you enough to know the effort that went in, the problems, the wins, and the stories and it manages to keep it interesting and humourous. I came across this book because of the movie made on it...the movie is not even 10% of the reality. They should have stuck with the actual script - it was far more interesting.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Serial Watcher

I am one of those who will proudly proclaim that I don't waste time watching TV...then mutter under my breath that I download things to watch instead. There are just so many shows and so little time to watch them all. Here are the ones I have been hooked to in the last few years - some of them I have binge-watched for weeks to catch up on all the episodes (not recommended).

Sherlock - Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in this clever show will have you hooked, then crying in agony when you have to wait for two years for three episodes. It is funny, insightful, and clever. Some of the cleverness you miss till you read it on the fan blogs.

Downton Abbey - Watch it for Maggie Smith's dialogues...it makes watching this soap opera worthwhile. If she quits, I don't think it would be fun anymore.
UPDATE: They just screened the finale and it was very satisfying to watch.

The Wire - It is funny when you least expect it and the story line is gripping. It is a very near-real portrayal of the drug scene and the acting doesn't feel like acting. No wonder one of the actors got congratulated on being drug-free on another movie set because no one believed someone could act so well! Very clever to have a different musician work on the same theme song every season.

Firefly - Nathan Fillian's best work, full of funny one-liners and entertaining escapades. Damn you for cancelling the show.

Modern Family - This is a guilty pleasure. It is hilarious and well made.

Scandal - It gets annoying to follow the on-again off-again relationship of Olivia Pope but the episodes are action-packed and the politics is fun to follow. A few of the episodes touch on real events and a lot of times it is difficult to say if the wild scenario was completely fictional or not.

The Newsroom - Just three seasons long but apart from tackling coverage ethics on important world events and personal stories, it has some great dialogue - idealistic, but good to watch.

Merlin - Historically inaccurate but an entertaining look at King Arthur as a young man. For your Medieval romance fix without all the gore.

Doctor Who - The longest running sci-fi show. This I watch for pure entertainment. It doesn't always have to make sense, but somewhere down the line you get the picture.

Broadchurch - The fifth British show on the list. It starts off as a murder mystery but encompasses the lives of the whole small town. It is not action-packed with something happening in every scene (like the American shows), but it slows down the pace and keeps up the suspense to bring you to the edge of your seat by the end of the episode. You can't help but watch both seasons at one go.

UPDATE:
Breaking Bad - I binged watched the entire series in a span of ten days and it was addictive and immersive. Brilliantly written script that leaves you wondering if you're morally compromised for wishing that the bad guy wins.

Some of the older series that I had no choice but to watch on TV while growing up still bring back fond memories.

Cheers
Full House
Fraiser
Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Gilmore Girls
Friends

There are some on my list that I still have to watch...I'm just waiting to get a few clear days so I can do that undisturbed!

Luther
Homeland
Black Mirror

Friday, February 20, 2015

Painted Wicker Basket

We've had this wicker laundry basket for 7 years now and it has served us well. The cracks are starting to show but we're not ready to give up on it yet. I painted it recently so that I can still get a little more milage out of it.

Because of the cracks in the wood, the spray paint couldn't give me a smooth finish. Also, the paint tends to drip over the rounded wooden segments so I had to make sure that the inside and outside colours match up.

I first cleaned it and let it dry for a full day. Then I first spray painted the inside in grey. I gave it an hour between each coat.

For the outside, I tried using masking tape to separate the colours, but because of the gap between the segments, colours tended to flow. So I just stuck to spraying from 4 inches away which gave me good enough control to not go (too much) over the line.

I've used white, metallic grey (on the inside and edges), and gold (which looks much like the original colour), and it is back in service.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Reading Challenge - 2014

This year I reduced the number of books for the challenge because I felt a bit rushed last year and I knew that I was going to have a busier 2014. I managed to complete the challenge well in time so that I could go on my break without feeling the pressure to read - that's no way to enjoy a book.

Here are some of the books from this year that I think deserve a mention - for better or for worse.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Rachna has completed her goal of reading 75 books in 2014!
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Non-fiction

  • Zealot by Reza Aslan: It gave a good historical background into Jesus life and how he became a man of legendary status. Although it was a very interesting read, I felt I missed out on a lot of references because I am not familiar with the Bible stories. 
  • The Day I Stopped Drinking Milk by Sudha Murty: It's a nice collection of stories based on her actual experiences, but if written with more feeling rather than 'I went here and this happened' dry fact-telling, it would make a wonderful book to read to young kids
  • The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz: What really got to me was how she saw the sweater she had donated being used by a kid half way across the world. It feels great to know that whatever little you have done has made a difference, no matter how small, somewhere. It has many great examples of her work in Africa and how blind charity is not the way forward.
  • The 6th Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert: This one really brought home how dangerous it is on the ecology to bring one species of plant or wildlife into a region that doesn't have a natural defense system to check it's growth. It makes you wonder what part of our current natural environment will not survive the next generation. We might be telling our grandkids about this amazing wild animal that used to exist when we were their age.
  • The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel: Of course I got here because of the movie. It brings an interesting point - with so many people dying in the war, what was the point of more men sacrificing their lives for a few paintings - but preserving art and architecture isn't just something nice to look at. It is part of our culture and our heritage. By destroying them, you erase a big part of the history of the people. 
  • E Squared by Pam Grout: I do believe that you get what you attract in your life by thinking about it. However, to just say to someone that this happens, go try it, without telling them how to manifest it makes it quite useless. This book though takes you through baby steps to reach to the level you want, and most of the things the book asks you to attract, I could manifest in reality. A good book for those who were baffled by the secrets that The Secret didn't reveal.
  • War of the Whales by Jashua Horwitz: This one was heart-breaking. In the name of defense and security, navies get away with careless and harmful behaviour towards marine life. Yes, security is important, but with all the technology available to us there are ways to achieve it without harming the ocean life, or at least ensuring minimal casualties. The book documents the work of activists trying to fight the money and power to save certain marine life from extinction.
Fiction

  • Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh: I had seen the movie based on the book over 10 years ago and was moved by it. I don't know why it took me so long to read the book. It is a story filled with many emotions and brings the reality of war and hatred to the forefront.
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I have realised that very few novels over 700 pages are worth the effort because a lot of pages are wasted in useless descriptions and going off on tangents. This book thankfully was not one of those. It is a slow read but it somehow draws you in with it's outward simplicity.
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: The story introduces us to many characters on both sides of the war, but more interesting than the story is the reality of the author's life. She was a Jew thrown out of Russia who found a home in France only to be sent to die at the internment camps. It is heart-breaking to read the letters her desperate husband wrote to anyone he could for information about his wife's whereabouts, only to himself be taken to the camp some weeks later. Their kids were raised by an aunt, and the manuscript for this novel was found years later by their daughter. 


Fantasy

  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: I found it very sexist. It is one thing to omit women from a story, but to specify their absence because they are not as capable as men is just not acceptable, especially in a fantasy world where spaceships and whatnots are completely believable.
  • The Giver (4 books) by Lois Lowry: The series of books follows different characters and how they eventually meet. Many storylines are not completely closed so you are left to wonder about what happens to the people you just left behind. But you learn to look forward into the lives of who moved on. It is a dystopian world like many other books that have become popular now, but the story progression is unique.
  • Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin: At first I thought the pages of descriptions of New York seemed romantic, but then they just went on and on and on. I read through those, and the flying horse, and the mysterious ship, and the leap in time hoping something would come of it. Nothing did. One of those books that are over 700 pages long and completely pointless. 
  • Perdido Street Station by China Mieville: Another book that's over 700 pages long and completely pointless. I can't even!
  • Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson: I read the first 3 books in the series and found it a good read with a girl as the hero no less. It has an interesting premise and is well delivered. But after the 3 books, I felt I had all the closure I needed and didn't feel compelled to read on the series. I also tried Sanderson's first book from his Stormlight Archives Series and didn't find it engrossing enough to pick up book 2.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss: After a long time a fantasy story has been so engrossing. There are some slow moments in book 2, but overall, you can't wait to find out more about the history of the narrator. Eagerly waiting for the final book of the trilogy that's supposed to release in 2015.


Biographies

  • Then They Came for Me by Maziar Bahari: He was imprisoned because he reported on the injustices in his country. The book documents his days as a prisoner and gives a peek into the volatility of the situation in Iran.
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Just when you think the worst is over, something even worse happens. A story of how strong the instinct for survival is in all living things. No matter how bad it gets, you push to live even though it might be easier to let go.
  • 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup: When you read or hear about stories of slavery and racism, it is difficult to imagine that it wasn't really that long ago that it happened, and in some places are still happening (albeit in a more subtle way). This is the story of one man sold into slavery and the treatment of slaves that was standard practice at the time in America. A dark time in the history of the world.
  • Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh: This started as a fun story of silly things the author has lived through, but progressed into much more than that. She takes us through how it is to be clinically depressed and why exactly the supposedly helpful advice others offer them are completely useless.  

Romance

  • Jane Austen novels: It is beautiful to read and re-read these novels, because even at a time when there were many more restrictions placed on women's behaviour and actions in society, Austen's heroines stand out as independent and trying their best to be as much as they can while following the binds of society. They might be love stories, but show so much more of society and strong women if you look closer. 
  • P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  • Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire
  • Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
All these 4 novels come under the same category for me: A girl is good only if she is a virgin and no matter how independent she might seem to be, she is not complete without a super macho male in her life who has slept around with many women but is looking for someone 'pure' and 'innocent'. Said male then becomes what the girl's life will revolve around from now on. I have read Mills & Boons novels that have stronger women roles than these!


Mystery/Suspense

  • Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
  • The Devotion of Suspect X & Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino
  • Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
All these are highly recommended reads for those who enjoy mystery and detective work. They will keep you on the edge of your seats and you won't be able to sleep till you've reached the end.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Tis the Season to be Jolly

I have been taking it easy and not really putting in any effort to make new cards or do much else. I had to snap out of that zone for an order of holiday cards in just a few days. I had some ideas in mind to make them that seemed easy and quick - but in reality, I could only squeeze in 3-4 cards per day. But they came out well, and I was happy with the results.


These cards were made from buttons and bows. Although the buttons were easy to stick to paper, the beads had to sewn. And to make sure the thread didn't unravel, I glued the line of stitch on the inside.


These tiny crystals were a boon - they come in a variety of colours and are easy to stick onto most surfaces. The Snowflakes seemed easy, but I was working with 4x4 inch origami paper which left me little room to manoeuvre. The key is to get the fold of the paper right - they are 6-sided.


Since I was short on time, I also revamped some of my earlier cards to make them seem a little more festive.


Ribbons and fabric borders make life much simpler. My Sakura metallic pens kept losing their sheen mid-way which was very annoying. I had to set them upright for a while before I could use them again to complete the card.


Finally, what's Christmas without the trees. The one on the left is made with cut-outs from some wrapping paper. The middle one is a cut-out from origami paper of 3 types of greens stuck together to make it 'come alive'. The last one is obviously glitter with Washi tape gift boxes.


These were fun to make, and now equipped with more variety of coloured card stock, I am looking for more designs I can put to paper.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Growing Lemongrass from Stalk

Recently I tried making a lemongrass cooler at home and it turned out refreshing. I also learned that I could easily grow my own batch of lemongrass with the store-bought stalks.

I took 2 stalks, chopped off the green leaves, and removed the tough outer layers of the stalk without damaging the root. These I kept in a glass filled with 2 inches of water which I changed everyday.

Within a week, the stalks started sprouting some roots which made me very happy. I then planted it in soil. In another 10 days it started sprouting baby stalks from the old stalks. I was ecstatic. I would be making a batch of lemongrass cooler in another 2 weeks with home-grown produce.

One thing I failed to consider though was my cat. I would have assumed that citrus would repel him but apparently Lemongrass has a catnip-like effect on most cats. Who knew?

I'm still hoping that some more sprouts appear. I can keep it out of kitty reach for it to grow enough to accommodate both our needs. Or it will be back to square one.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Re-fashioned Top

I've had this light knit pullover for a while now and have barely worn it twice because it clings to all the wrong curves and it's neck is very deep. I, with my very limited sewing skills, decided to make it wearable by extending the width and length with some fabric. I figured even if I ruin it, it wasn't getting used anyway - all I'll lose is a the time spent.

The fabric I used for the extension panels was a small silk scarf that I've had for ages and had barely been used too.


First thing I did was cut off the bottom 2 inches and the sides till the arm pit. I also cut 2 strips of 3 inches each for the length of the sides. These strips were then pinned to the sides to keep them in place while stitching.



Mistake 1: Knit and silk are very difficult fabrics to work with, especially for a first timer. One keeps stretching and the other won't stay still! Even though I measured the exact length of the side from armpit to bottom and pinned the fabric so it would be in place, while sewing the knit fabric stretched so the strip didn't go all the way to the top. Thankfully I had started sewing from the bottom and it wasn't a big gap near the armpit so I could just close the remaining part without any extra material.

Mistake 2: I didn't realise that if I am not also extending the arm hole, the side extension will not be the same width top to bottom, rather a triangle of sorts.

Next, I cut 2 long strips for the extension at the bottom. The strip for the back was an inch longer than the one for the front. I also remembered to keep the strip longer so that even with the knit stretching, I will have enough to go around.

I used the edges of the scarf for these strips so that I would only need to hem one side which would not be seen from the outside. The sides would also need to be hemmed in so that it doesn't look shabby. These I attached to the bottom of the pullover.

That took care of the length and width of the top. Next was the deep neck. I looked at different options like ribbons or a strip of the same fabric tucked behind the neckline, but they didn't look very convincing. I finally settled for small rosettes which are super easy to make.

The sleeves I shortened and left unfinished. The knit just rolls up at the edges so you don't see a frayed line.

Here's the finished product.
Although it is nice to wear something you've made, it was too much of a hassle and it was't as neat as I would've liked. If I can find a tailor to do this, I would hand it over without a second thought.

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