{ Under The Bluegums }

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

December 26, 2010

Our Christmas

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26 December 2010

Christmas was fun yesterday. I spent it with my wonderful husband and family. As I've said before, I didn't have much time this year to make any gifts, so my gifts were very simple this year. But then, my parents are truly difficult to get presents for!


I finished icing the Christmas cake early in the morning - I was very proud, and I really had fun doing it. The first layer of royal icing was too watery, and the second layer was the result of some further research to find out that I had to beat the icing until it formed peaks. Who knew! :)


Meep also got in on the Christmas action - she was sucking up so much yesterday - must have been grateful for the excessive amount of fish we gave them in the morning - and was generally making everyone sigh about how cute and sweet she is. Which she is, of course!

Hope everyone has a great Boxing Day!

December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas everyone!

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25 December 2010

I have just spent the last few days planning and preparing to have my parents over to our place for the first Christmas!

I had such a great time planning the menu - I love that sort of thing - but the shopping gets me down. People are supposed to be happy when they're on holiday and preparing for a festive occasion, aren't they?

Not when they're shopping I suppose.

I managed to make that Christmas cake I said I would do - it's turned out so great! :) I have also planned a four-course meal, complete with a white chocolate fondue! I will put all my photos up together at the end of today.

Now I patiently wait for my parents to arrive...

On another note, I hope that everyone has a great Christmas, filled with food, laughter, fun and family, and may all your Christmases be wonderful! :)

December 21, 2010

The transience of life

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Daddy, our oldest rat
21 December 2010

Whenever I am confronted by death I wonder at the transience of life. I wonder at the point of it all - making families, living, eating, breathing - all to end in a simple thing: death.

Death is conventionally known as the end of a life: the heart stops beating, the mind stops thinking, the stomach stops digesting, everything just stops.

But what disturbs me most about death is the disappearance of the life force that was that being. Where did it go? You can literally see it leave the body - when it does, the body is wan and grey. Can you feel it leave? What is it? Does it go on?

I like to think that the life force that is that being has some purpose for having a life, for being a creature, for learning random lessons that I think we're all meant to learn.

Why else are we here then if there is no purpose to it all?

The reason for my musing: our oldest rat has just passed away. He had practically just spent half an hour with us walking around the desktop. Shame, I found him lying with a piece of his bedding gripped between his teeth, which he must have been taking to their box - I had just cleaned their cage (in rat language, that's "messed up their cage") and the new bedding needed to be rearranged.

Just like that his little life force is gone. :(

December 20, 2010

I like to think I'm usually pretty good at Christmas presents

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Kelvin Kay
20 December 2010

But I've been really bad at it the last couple of years. I think it's because I haven't had as much time to myself since I've been working.

I like to give people creative gifts, but I haven't been able to do that for a while.

So now I resort to getting my loved ones items I think they'll love, but I know they really wanted something that truly comes from the heart. And nothing does this as well as homemade Christmas presents.

Well, my family will have to wait another year for the possibility of specialised gifts for Christmas.

If it weren't for the fact that I hate making New Year's resolutions, I would probably make this one of them.

What are your resolutions for the year?

December 17, 2010

Do you think we're too concerned about germs?

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17 December 2010

Wherever you go in public there are ways to self-sanitize, such as sanitary wipes to clean the handle of your shopping trolley, and we're bombarded by advertisements urging us to protect ourselves and our children from germs that you pick up from everywhere from playing in the mud outside to the flies that sneak into your home.

But I wonder sometimes how absolutely necessary this over-protection is?

When I was a kid, my sister and I would play for hours outside - making mudpies in the mud, climbing trees, walking through sand and puddles without our shoes on, playing with our pets - all these things would make the producers of those advertisements shudder with fear, I'm sure!

But we were hardly sick as children - my sister was born with asthma though.

What put me onto this train of thought was a recent design concept that makes door handles self-sterilising - because we all know how many germs such thoroughfares harbour, right? This door handle uses UV light to kill the germs.

I read an article the other day that spoke about how the number of diagnosed allergies has increased exponentially over the last decade or so. Could it be that protecting our bodies from germs to this extent might be harmful to us - to the point that we form allergies to a larger number of things? We're so concentrated on keeping away from germs that we don't allow our immune system to form any kind of defense against anything, let alone the flu.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that flu vaccines are known to make you sick - you have no immunity because your body is not exposed to germs, and when you get the vaccine, the "dormant" virus that they've injected into you finds nothing protecting you.

Are you afraid of germs?

Free crochet daisy skirt pattern

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From CrochetMe.com
17 December 2010

I was browsing the internet again this morning (should I not be sick of it already, since it's all I do at work as well?) and found this beautiful free pattern.

I have so many patterns and things that I want to do and sometimes feel that there's just not enough time to do it in. Do you feel that way?

Anyway, I thought you might like to see the skirt - it's made with crochet squares interspersed with a daisy pattern. It's very pretty!

Note that you might have to sign up to the site to access it, but there's no cost involved!

Are you going to make it?

December 16, 2010

This cuckoo clock would look perfect in my home

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Photo from Yanko Design
Photo from Yanko Design
16 December 2010

This cuckoo clock would look perfect in my home (with a few tweaks to match my personality)!

Little Thoughts Group is holding an exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore until January 11 2011. On display at the exhibition is the Kampong Cuckoo, and it's covered with Chan Wai Lim, the designer's memories of being a child in Singapore in the 1970s.

As the clock chimes, there are new sounds for every memory on the clock face, including the sounds of the mosquito, owl, bats, crickets, mice, roosters, pets, a 70s television programme, snoring and insects in Kampong.

Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to design a clock like this for your own home, filled with your own memories? My clock face would be full of animals, I think, and its chimes would include sounds of my family waking up in the morning, my dad's laugh, cats, dogs, hamsters, running water, the sea, the wind...

Now someone just needs to come up with something that can record smell...

Via Yanko Design

Make your own beer label

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16 December 2010

Courtesy of the wonderful Bored Button once again, I came across the Beer Labeliser!

I'm not a beer drinker, but thought I'd give it a try and have some fun while away for the cue to leave.

Here is the result of my beer label making.

I would love it if you would share yours! Just send it to my email address! Please!

December 14, 2010

Be glad you're not working in the US...

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14 December 2010

I'm looking forward to a holiday. Even though it's not much of a holiday and I must still do some work every third working day. But it is more of a holiday than I've had in a long while.

So I was wondering how much annual leave people get all over the world?

In the United States, the amount of leave you accrue depends on how many years you've been at the company. So if you've only been there for two years, you would get only four hours per month of work. If you've worked more than three years but less than 15, you get six hours per pay period, but if you've worked over 15 years, you get eight hours per pay period. That works out to 2 days for the first period, 3 days for the second period and only 4 days for the third!

The French are lucky people: they get two-and-a-half working days leave for every month they've worked. So, if you've worked for a year, you get five weeks of paid leave. Imagine five weeks off! The Finnish and the Russians also enjoy this amount of time off.

Australians are also well-off when it comes to leave - they get four weeks a year, after their first year with the company.

Yes, you can now feel really bad for the Chinese: they get five days of annual leave if they've been working for the company between 1 and 10 years. This is doubled when they've worked between 10 and 20 years, and then if they've worked more than 20 years, they get 15 days of annual leave. They do get paid three times their salary if they don't take their leave. But I don't think that this is much, considering the labour issues that the country is always in the news for.

If you were considering emigrating to Canada, you might want to think again: they only have 10 days of annual leave. India has only 12.

Brazil and Lithuania are the most generous with their annual leave: employees get 41 days of leaver every year - could explain why they're so good at soccer!

South Africans should consider complaining, what with our measly 21 days of annual leave a year.

But then, we should be grateful we're not working in China!

I love hairy caterpillars

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Photo by FireflyAfrica
14 December 2010

Though I haven't seen one personally for many years, not since I was a child.

FireflyAfrica posted this picture on their blog, and it reminded me of the hairy one I saw in the purple plum tree outside our house. I remember rushing off screaming "Daddy, daddy!" and excitedly dragging him and everyone else who was interested to the tree to show them.


My parents have always been so patient with whatever I happened to bring home or show them. I collected everything from halved bird's eggshells and seed pods to dried flowers and, yes, even rat skeletons.

I purged myself of this childlike collection a while ago, but now mourn the fact that I don't have the trinkets anymore, with the exception of one or two mementos.

It's the worst when my dad asks my niece, who is also quite taken with nature's trinkets, "Has Roane shown you her collection yet?"

I gulp then, and think about how I shouldn't have "rid" myself of them at all. And how do I explain to him that I don't have it anymore? Sigh...at least I still have the stamps.

Yes, I still have the stamps.

December 12, 2010

Why the can opener is such a great invention

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12 December 2010

Obviously, we didn't have one! :)

Miss South Africa DOES objectify women

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Photo by Rosengurtt
12 December 2010

I don't have DStv as a matter of principle, but I happened to have the opportunity to catch a bit of the judging for potential contestants for the Miss South Africa pageant on Mzansi Magic.

I was truly shocked at what I heard - so much so that I couldn't bear to watch the programme anymore.

The pageant claims that the ruling Miss South Africa should "shine as a role model and ambassador" for South Africa, but nowhere do they say the women who rules needs to be perfect. They even go so far as to say the following: "The idea that a "Beauty Queen" is just for show and only judged on her exterior beauty is certainly not relevant in the search for our ambassador".

Admittedly I did not watch the show long, but if the judges were using the terms I heard in judging just two women, certainly the same kind of prejudices would apply for other women?

And the terms I heard were completely unrepresentative of the so-called commitment to not focusing on the physical attributes.

Phrases such as "her calves are too skinny" or "her boobs are too small" should surely not be phrases applied to a competition that makes the claims as stated above.

And once they've judged the poor women on the skinniness of their calves or the tininess of their bosoms, this will certainly change the way they think about anything else she does, because this is the first judgement they had made.

It is so strange that society has no problem when women are objectified, and women who are being objectified have no problem with it, even to the point of claiming that they didn't feel objectified at all.

Is wearing that crown so important that you need to forget that the pageant should really be standing for women who are real and might have skinny calves and that it's ok?

December 10, 2010

The deepsea anglerfish is one of the most fascinating creatures

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Photo by Larry Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
10 December 2010

To me,one of the most fascinating creatures is the deepsea angler fish. They are known for the fleshy growth suspended above their mouths, which acts as a lure, supposedly.

The growth is tipped with a growth of flesh called an esca, which attracts prey to the proximity of the anglerfish. Once the filament, which can sometimes be bioluminescent, is touched, the fish's jaws automatically open.

But what interests me the most is their method of reproduction. When scientists first began collecting specimens of anglerfish, they were confused about the fact that most of those they caught were females. However, they all appeared to have parasites attached to them. With further study, they found that these were not parasites at all, but the male portion of the species.

Amazingly, the males live only to find and mate with a female. They are equipped with super-smell so they can detect the scent of their woman. It is somewhat sad that some of the males might have trouble finding food, while others have stunted digestive systems, which means that finding a female is of the highest importance.

Once a male finds a female, he lovingly bites into her skin, and releases an enzyme that digest his and her skin, melding them together. Eventually the male sacrifices his life for the survival of his gonads, which are all that remains of him.

Several males can conjoin to a single female, and the purpose of this sexual dimorphism is that when a female is ready to mate, a mate is immediately available.

I find it amazing that life can create such diverse organisms!

For some fun, check out The Oatmeal's version of the life of a male anglerfish! It's one of my favourites!

December 9, 2010

Are solar sails the way to go?

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9 December 2010

There is a lot of debate about what is the best way to go about travelling through space. Arguments range from exploding nukes behind spaceships to power them to launching them around the planet "Farscape"-style.

But I quite like the idea of solar sails - perhaps we can even get close enough to the "Treasure Island"-type sailing ships from Disney's film. I quite liked the idea of the sailing ship as a spacecraft, altering the traditional views of sea travel and adapting it for space travel. I think the whole no-air thing would be a bit overwhelming though.

But I digress.

Future technology might allow us to navigate through the stars by "hitching a ride" on light. The solar sail is based on the possibility that the sunlight itself pushes objects away from it via a solar breeze. Astronomer Johannes Kepler, way back in the 16th century, suspected this, drawing his suspicion from the fact that comets always had their tails pointing away from the sun.

The solar breeze is what is powering NASA's NanoSail-D right now, so his theory was dead-on target.

The concept is that the sunlight, as it consists of photons or little particles, pushes against objects when it comes into contact with them, much like the wind pushes the sails of real ships on earth and causes movement.

What is nice about this idea as well is the fact that solar power such as this is completely fuel-free - we won't need to take thousands of tonnes of resources along with us to fly around space.

The only problem, I guess, is if you find a dead spot in space where there are no stars, you're pretty much screwed! :)

How is it possible to love someone so much?

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9 December 2010

My husband is away for the first time ever, and it's a whole two nights and three days that I'm spending without him.

When I arrived home yesterday I felt so lost without him, and proceeded to clean up our home in the absence of having him to talk to. It made me feel no better, however, and even the cats picked up on my sad feelings, following me around from room to room (literally!) as I moved things around and put things where they belonged.

Our place looks quite tidy now, and Lizzy will have a hard time trying to find something to clean today. :)

But even the tidiness didn't help, nor did the hot bath nor trying to relax on the bed listening to the radio.

It was a restless night without my love lying by my side, and I constantly reached out to his space on the bed (only to feel a little hairy body in his place).

I love this man so much; without him my life is as empty as a school over Christmas.

December 8, 2010

Seriously, John, I want a Carp-pet!

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John Leung for ClarkeHopkinsClarke
8 December 2010

I want one of these Carp-pets!

I love fish in general - I think it comes with being a Piscean - and can't help trying to interact with them through the glass of their tanks at pet stores. I know, a little lame, but it is nice to see them gather around my hand.

Anyway, this carp-pet would be ideal in my home, because a) I love fish and b) it is uber-low maintenance!

The Carp-pet is a rug that, when seen through a special glass coffee table, looks like it is filled with majestic carp swimming across it. It's a moire design that uses the grid of the coffee table to create the optical illusion.

Can I have one? Pretty please?

Via Yanko Design

I sometimes wonder about the extent of damage the white man has done with the African culture

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William Warby
8 December 2010

Some two or three hundred years ago - I forget the exact dates - the white man from Europe decided that, for the glory of empire and progress, Africa was a prime source of land, riches and slaves.

By entertaining themselves with their thoughts of supremacy and god-given rights, they brought to Africa "civilisation", but what has that "civilisation" done to the indigenous inhabitants of the land?

When I look at cultural groups who have retained their traditions to the extent of that seen amongst the San of South Africa and the Masaai of Kenya, there is such a respect for life, for each other. They live with the land, the work with the land, they appreciate the land and its animals...

The reason I came to wondering about this is an article I came across on Go2Africa.com about the Masaai finally getting absolution after their historical displacement.

Kenyan safaris are considered Romantic (take a look at Prince William's recent proposal to Kate-whoever at a Kenyan reserve) but the situation has been grave for the Masaai, whose land disappeared into protected reserves and was bought off by the highest bidder.

However, the story ends happily, with many of them given title deeds to their own land, and now their cattle and the wildlife can graze together.

The problem I see, and the purpose of this article, is that where the white man has truly changed the way an indigenous culture thinks, there is no longer a care for symbiosis, for the land, for the animals.

It all becomes about profit. About killing off rhinos to sell their horns for R12 million. About poaching and killing and slaughtering for horns, fur, fun...

What can we do as a society? The most important thing is education, but it seems that is not forthcoming in a country that is geared towards only making money.