Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Favourite Companion Books

The weather is turning hot, and I have just put my back out.... my summer reading festival is about to begin early! I am not even going to wait until I can go to Perth to fill a box with new books, I am starting by reading some of my absolute favourite books, and this time I will read them in pairs, as every good book deserves a companion. The joy of reading books in pairs for me is that you get flow - one book leads to another, you don't leap from reading a book about mutant space creatures and then start reading a classic Jane Austen. You can compare and contrast, you can see things you might have missed considering on first reading it, and you have the joy of exploring both books to your best advantage.

I thought I would share my planned companion reading as it might inspire you, and also if you are looking for a gift for a book lover, it could be a good guide to select the companion book of a book you know they have loved.

So hear they are..... not necessarily in the order I will read them.

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Perfect companions because they both explore the use and misuse of privilige and wealth, and are from the beginning evidently modern tragedies where you are waiting for the decline and decline of the pivotal characters. The sadness of beauty and talent wasted, of family expectations and disappointments and the struggle to find meaningful identity are what capture and hold my attention.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory and The Queen of Subtleties by Suzannah Dunn. Together these books perfectly capture the essence of Anne Boleyn, the historic figure I most resemble in character. I love her, even for all her flaws and as she turns her greatest triumph into disaster for herself and her closest connections, you see she had an innoncence that was belied by her temper and that it was her endless desire and that temper that ultimately played into the hands of her enemies and brought her to the scaffold.

Wild Lavender by Belinda Alexandra and The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simmons, set in the same period of time, illustrating the hardships of war even for those who do not fight in it, these books show the Paris of WWII and beseiged Leningrad. Both have wonderful heroines with love stories that will have you begging the authors to stop torturing you and let the lovers be together and happy.

All The Names by Jose Saramago and The Book of Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. One is set in Spain, the other Portugal, although I cannot say for sure why I instinctively feel these books are companions, perhaps I will be able to say after I have read the two again, this time one after the other.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Perhaps I see the characters of Jane Eyre and Fanny Price as companions because they were both raised by their extended family in unhappy circumstances and at the mercy of the good will of their keepers, while clearly being the moral superior of the other characters around them. Both books are teriffic examples of English literature and I could wish to have discovered Jane Eyre at a younger age instead of being forced to read Dickens Hard Times for school.

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min and Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Though one is set in China, and the other Japan, the heroines are united in their rise from obscurity and poverty to great privilige while documenting the end of historic eras - one as the last Empress of China (though this is historic fiction Empress Orchid was a real person), and the other as one of the last great Geishas before the fall out of WWII nearly destroyed that heritage.

Atonement by Ian McEwan and The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley. Both of these show the changed fates of a close knit family circle during WWII triggered by events that precede the declaration of war.

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jaqueline Mitchard and My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, perfect companions because they explore painful family issues and choices where there are no clear right and wrong options and no easy way to resolve the crises to everyone's best interest.

Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs and The Book of Joe by Jonothan Tropper. Perfect companions for me because as a writer I relate to their struggle to use their own experiences without incurring the wrath of others, and to bravely face their personal history. Tropper's book is fiction and Burroughs is extraordinarily an autobiographical account of his journey from child to man.

so there we go, that is the journey I will be taking this summer, frolicking amongst my favourite characters and adventures, thinking about and digesting the deeper meaning of each, and as I pick up each one, giving it a welcome back hug, as I am now quite 'homesick' for these favourite books.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Starry's Angels.... easy project

hello, please meet my new crew, Starry's Angels, my first christmas decorating project for this year. I am always looking for very easy to make decorations as I believe young families on a budget should make their own personal decorations and gifts, and build their own personal traditions.

So my Starry Angels are made of three different types of patterned paper, at $1.40 per sheet (and each sheet has left overs, saved for other ideas), cut into stars using a stencil. I made 2 large and 4 small-medium sized stars.

The angels are from a set of six stickers bought for $2.50 at Cost Plus, they have lovely wings which change colour as you move them in the light. They had very poor sticky patches on the back (too small, and some of them detach as you remove the sticker of the sheet), so I applied my own double sided tape. You might also use fabric glue or stainless adhesive if you have any on hand.

Finally, my angels hang from shiny pink ribbon, which can be inserted between the decoration and its backing (I did make some backing stars for two of my decorations which were made of single sided patterned paper, the rest had printed designs on the other side). If you are not making a backing piece, you can glue the ribbon ends on and then cover with a sticker or button to make your decorations look a bit smarter.
If you can't find the same stickers as me, go out and look for something that appeals to you, the sticker is the centre piece, find this first, then find papers that will coordinate.
Oh by the way I didn't mention the cost of ribbon as mine is reclaimed remnants from other projects, but if you need to you can get a reel for under $2.
Don't forget these can make decorations for your home, and also gift sets for grandparents etc in a nice box or baggy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Symbolic Giving second in series

Bear with me my oldest readers, this is the second in my series of symbolic gift posts and if you were with me at big blog you will find this familiar, but I want to go right through from my first to my last and new symbolic posts too.

I love the concept of symbolic giving, because it is so meaningful, and usually can be achieved simply, and economically (though your budget is up to you) a simple bloom in a box can be perfect, especially when you include a note or message explaining the meaning.

So without further ado, here are the next set of symbolic gifts:

Dragonfly the lovely dragonfly is symbolic of strength, peace, and prosperity, and nearly always is associated with eternal life and the celebration of life as a spiritual journey. The dragonfly has a fascinating life and is associated with both air and water so is a good gift for people born under air or water signs.

Butterflies are also symbolic of life metamorphosis, transformation, and hope. A good remembrance of how death is only our gateway to immortality, a transformation to a new way of living or existing. Butterflies are joyous because they represent resurrection and have such a happy, busy way of life.

Fireflies are linked with inspiration and creativity. A great gift for students, artists, and scientists in need of direction and energy as well as confidence to pursue dreams and ideas.

Ladybirds are love symbols and bring good luck. I have always loved ladybirds but more so since I played Mary in a nativity play and on the night, a ladybird was on the face of the baby Jesus doll, and I was filled with awe and wonder as to how it came to be there - we were deep indoors on a premisis without a garden, where did this little lady journey from? Since then I have had a ladybird charm put on my bracelet. I think ladybirds are perfect for a gift between two female friends.

Bees represent virtue and honesty (as the worker bees lead a sexless life!) and they evoke images of selfless toil and industrious labour. Bees are good for promoting happiness.

Rainbows are symbolic of a bridge between heaven and earth, also of God's mercy towards man (a sign from God after the flood of Noah's time). Rainbows are great for love and acceptance, and for hope. Even a rainbow coloured silk scarf or garment would serve this symbolism.

The sun represents masculine energy and also glory. A sun symbol would be a great gift for a man, and a spectacular gift between father and child in either direction.

The moon is the symbol of the soul (from astrology) and is a feminine symbol. I think the moon is particularly healing for women, so consider it for a health promoting gift for that special someone.

Flowers in general are representative of life and beauty. For special meaning seek both the colour and the flower type symbolism and settle on the perfect gift.

Camellias represent China, especially the southwest where the flowers are revered. As someone with access to a large quantity of perfect camellia blooms (my mother is just the best with this plant!) I would box a single bloom, or present it in a small dish floating in water. A plant would of course last longer but requires work. For my mother's 70th birthday I arranged camellias on her cake. Camellias are linked also with serenity, and modesty.

Amaryllis means success in battle or in overcoming a trial, good for people who are enduring an ordeal, also for students facing exams.

Sunflowers represent affection, admiration, adoration, and are very positive with a warm energy. I think these are perfect for golden haired girls.

Tulips are associated with opportunity and advancement, and of course Holland. I would recommend tulips for women trying to carve out a successful career, or for courage and confidence in any recipient.

The daisy is symbolic of purity, virtue, and innocence. They suggest faith and steadfast virtue. Day's Eye daisy never looks upon the darkness but holds over til the rise of the sun, a perfect example for us to never despair, and to turn from temptation.

Hyacinths mean reincarnation and are good for memorial gardens and for the grieving.

Apple Blossom the first branch of apple blossom should be cut and laid inside the window sill if there has been illness in the household. Apple blossom is pure, and beautiful as well as refreshing.

The Willow tree is associated with healing, visions, and dreams, and is the natural origin of aspirin (salicylic acid). I would give willow to those who need to stop mourning and begin living again.

Pomegranates are a symbol of abundance, fertility, and marriage. They possess a very strong feminine energy.

Bamboo in Chinese culture denotes perfect virtue, especially in men. I would plant bamboo or keep a 'lucky bamboo' plant if I were getting married.

on a personal note, one of my creations was selected for A Merry Christmas! Etsy Treasury, this page expires on the US date of Tuesday 10th, to view my work in the page visit

thank you!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Green Giving

Its time for me to sing the praises of green giving again, and this post is part craft economics and part environmental good sense.

First of all most people love to present their gifts as nicely as possible, and some gifts even requrire a certain amount of packaging, the trick is to turn thrift and green living into beautiful gift trimmings.

The photo at top of this post shows a large maxbox that has been turned into a giftbox rather than thrown into recycling.... if I didn't keep my used boxes (whether match, chocolate, or other) I would be running around looking for a store bought one. Store bought gift boxes can be nice, but they are a green nightmare, they have likely been transported vast distances which is a green no-no, they are mass produced so aren't great energy and pollution wise, not forgetting the health and wellbeing of the employees which may be not better than a sweat shop..... and often imported items are doused in chemicals before their journey (Yes you should wash your new clothes, linens, and anything else that you can).

This box has been covered with a simple piece of coloured paper using green friendly paste, and then an offcut of saved ribbon and an iron on transfer star applied around the middle.

Inside my gift box are a pair of earrings I recently made up using vintage lucite sea horses, I like to find and collect vintage pieces as they make the jewelry rarer, and I think it is better than letting the pieces go to waste, and means I am not endorsing more mass produced beads and findings. When I do buy new beads I often purchase from a lovely lady who has her own family business of a small glass studio, a very satisfying experience as I know the circumstances surrounding the production meet my green standards.

I have preached in very early posts, the value of keeping every piece of trim and ribbon that comes your way.... I will rescue any amount of offcut ribbon even wrinkled and creased stock as it is a simple matter of giving them a light iron and they are as new again. I have even taken ribbon with stain on it and covered with embellishments.... I often use embellishments anyway so at least the ribbon isn't going to waste. Above are some of the saved ribbons that fill my ribbon box.

I admit, I love cut flowers, but I detest florist shops.... so much waste, so many flowers imported from great distances because they are out of season or don't suit the climate.... If I can't get to the flower markets I will usually pick fresh flowers from my garden, yes they will die in time, but it helps stimulate new flower production out in the garden. But it is true that one of my favourite green gift tips is to give a stunning photograph of flowers that can be mounted or framed and lasts forever.
It is easy to achieve a lovely close up of flowers - they don't move except in high winds - the camera is point and shoot, I have a macro lens of 1cm which I admit puts me at advantage but I have always managed to get good shots even before my current camera. You can look at my flower pictures via my flickr link on the right of this blog page, and while in flickr why not get even more inspiration from the flickr group 'flower book' these are extremely high quality often professional photographs.
Any way I hope you are finding out, or remembering, how fun it can be to give green friendly gifts, and they are above all gifts from the heart.