Monday, 31 January 2011

The Magic of Mosaics

Mosaics are the perfect way to collect together a monthful of photos from my 365 group::
~ create your own in Mosaic maker
~ add text via Picnik
~ add to Flickr
~ even create your own group with friends

Are you having fun with your photos?

Breeding like rabbits

It's been fun playing with rabbits this weekend!

Yes there are quite a few in our house now... nine to be exact.
Every year I go to the same market stall in Beijing to buy a lucky animal or two for the up coming year.
The ingenuity of these handmade designs is amazing. This year one of the rabbits is happily holding his very own chinese cabbage.

In Beijing 15 years ago, the main vegetable available in the winter was the cabbage. So this clever rabbit is ready with his very own to last through the winter.
Even though you don't see the rows of stacked cabbages outside every door way, the large chinese cabbage has a special place in the heart of most Beijingers!

With nine rabbits in the house - we are all set to welcome in the New Year on February 3rd.
Are you doing anything to celebrate the Rabbit year?

I have a few traditions up my sleeve to share with you, come back soon to see more - or why not sign up and get the lastest posts emailed to you directly, as they are posted. 

This week I am linking to Little Red House with Mosaic Monday, check out the creative mosaics when you have time.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit

"Hello, Rabbit is that you?"
Image: Ingrid in Beijing
Rabbits seem to be on my mind ... I've been preparing for the New Year with a couple of rabbits on my table. 
The Year of the Rabbit begins February 3rd 2011 and Beijing is getting ready for its usual OTT celebration.

Thought you might like to see a few rabbits to get you in the mood...

via Pinterest
 2011 is a Golden Rabbit Year.
This is a year to catch your breath and calm your nerves, according to one horoscope I read. To gain the best from the year you should focus on the home, family, relationships and serenity (the latter not always a word linked with the first three!). Your goal should be to make a peaceful lifestyle so you can deal calmly with any problem that crops up.
Pretty sound advice for a rabbit.

Just want to leave you today with one thought ....
Image:marc johns

You heard it here first!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

How can your hands make you happy?

Did you realise the positive effects using your hands can have on improving your health and well being?
I came across a fascinating article today on EcoSalonUsing your hands to soothe the brain, and that really got me thinking.

Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist and author of Lifting Depression reveals "how when you knit a sweater or plant a garden, when you prepare a meal or simply repair a lamp, you are bathing your brain in feel-good chemicals and creating a kind of mental vitamin. Our grandparents and great grandparents, who had to work hard for basic resources, developed more resilience against depression; even those who suffered great hardships had much lower rates of this mood disorder. But with today’s overly-mechanized lifestyle we have forgotten that our brains crave the well-being that comes from meaningful effort.”

Case in point: just yesterday I made time to sew a couple of table runners and it really did change my mood ... for the better! Whether it is because I felt more centred when focussing on one thing or just the process of creating that helped release the feel-good chemicals it is hard to say. Some may suggest it is linked to the sense of achievement -- but as a person who loves to start and often does not finish, I think it is more than just needing 'to make' something that is involved. 
Knitting in front of the TV, pulling weeds from the garden or even assembling an IKEA table all seem to take us out of our day to day thoughts. It is a one-to-one partnership with a spade, knitting needle or alan key which helps us stay motivated with life.

With our passive lifestyles today, we need to make a deliberate effort to connect movement with positive feelings in order to help stimulate the brain and become resilient to possible feelings of depression.
 So enough sitting there reading this blog - off you go to knead some dough, sew a quilt or darn a sock (bet you haven't done that in a long time). 

 Would love to hear what you did after reading this post!

Monday, 24 January 2011

iPad cover anyone?

Would an iPad you know, like it's own customised wool cover?

It was Ian's birthday this week and he really has everything that a middle aged young man could need. 
Why not make his second true love (after the dog me) a warm cosy sleeve? 
So I set about constructing his own personalised, app-inspired iPad cover.
What do you think?

I had to include iTunes, Mail, and Flickr apps but didn't want to miss his favourites ...Talking Tom and Solitaire. Just so he will always know where he is, I also included the Beijing Taxi guide and Things.

How to make a cover for an iPad near you:
1. Take some woollen fabric, wash it on a high temperature with lots of soap powder. This makes it nice and felty.
2. Find small scraps of felt and have fun cutting out shapes that remind you of some apps from the iPad.
3. Hand stitch the details onto the squares.
4. Cut the wool to size to fit your iPad, but make one piece 2-3in or 7-10cm longer. This will form the flap.
5. Hand stitch the app squares onto the wool cover.
6. When all the apps are sewn on, machine stitch the two pieces of wool fabric together - leaving the edges raw and on the outside. (The wool is felted and should not unravel. Check this before sewing!)
6. I cut a circle from velcro and sewed the two pieces on, to act as a simple catch.

Tip: Give yourself longer than one day to make this, the hand stitching was slower than anticipated. Plus I kept adding another app design - I was having so much fun. (Why do I always start making presents too close to the birthday?)

You could use the same idea in a mini version for an iPod or iPhone.
I will not be going into commercial production!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

How do you see yourself?

I love taking photographs.
I hate being in them.

But I am trying to change that with the help of an inspiring e-course: 
Wading In -  - dipping our toes into self portraiture. 
You can read more about it on Vivienne's blog, be quick if you want to join this one, as today is the last day to sign up. She has another course starting February 14th.

Already I am having fun with a subject I never thought I could enjoy -- this is a peek into my morning here in freezing but sunny Beijing.

Image: Ingrid on her iPhone 

How do you like taking self portraits?
Any good tips to share to help me/us?
Love to hear from you.

PS. Sorry if you think I am turning into a photography blog - I am trying to get my dining table laid with new ideas.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Where are your thoughts today?

'Find beauty in a subtlety of your day'

Image: Ingrid in Suffolk

Where are your thoughts today? 
Are you thinking of a place that you feel brings meaning to your life?
This tree is where I drift to -- from my sofa in Beijing.

Do drop by and share where you are if you have time today.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

365 - Month by Month

Have you thought about documenting 2011 in photos?

Making a mosaic of my 365 photos has been a monthly task for me since February last year.

Here is my latest mosaic for December 2010:
365::Year of the Tiger

Taking a photo everyday for a year seemed an impossible dream last year. But with eleven months under my belt, I am confident in succeeding. Not only that, but I have a group of dedicated friends who are along for the ride with me.
Why not set up a Flickr group yourself with a few of your friends and give it a try?

Easy steps to get going:
1. Buy, beg or borrow a camera -- any digital point-and-shoot will do.
2. Open a Flickr account
3. Start today and take a photo -- it could be of anything that relates to your day. 
(That is the key to this: you are doing this for you, not to impress others)
4. Upload your photo to your newly created Flickr account.
Add a title and a date.
5. If you have friends who want to join you, set up a group and name it.
6. As you upload each photo to Flickr, you can choose to also add it to your group. This is how you share photos within you group.
6. Even though you may feel you are not very tech-savvy, trust me you can do it.
Just keep trying, read the Flickr help, email me... there are so many avenues to get help. Just don't give up.
7. At the end of each month, try making a mosaic with your month's worth of photos. It looks great. I often use Mosaic Maker, which is free to download and relatively easy to use. You can also try Picnik or Picasa, which are also free.
8. Search for other Flickr 365 groups and get ideas if you feel you are lacking inspiration.
Here is a great source for weekly inspiration that I am going to suggest for our 2011 group.
Yes, I am totally addicted and am documenting my next year in photos too!

Finally, here are the thumbnails for my eleven months of mosaics so far.
Look forward to hearing about what you plan to do.

Images: Ingrid Duffy

Monday, 3 January 2011

Birthday Breakfast Idea

Want a simple & tasty way to make a birthday breakfast feel a little bit special?

Just make a nice bread dough ... see below
Instead of spreading the buns out on a baking tray - lay them out in the shape of the initial of the birthday person - it's Justin's birthday today hence the 'J'.
If the dough balls just have a small space between them, when they rise they will join nicely together to form the letter.
After baking for about 20 minutes you have a large and tasty birthday treat.

Bread Rolls
4 cups of strong plain bread flour (keep a little aside to spread on the worktop)
1 cube of fresh yeast (50gm) or 1 sachet of dried easy action yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 - 1.5 cups of warm milk and water mixed
optional - 1/4 cup of melted butter

This is super easy if you have a food processor or strong mixer.
Fresh yeast is my preferred choice but easy blend dried yeast works well too.
The temperature of the liquid is crucial. Too hot and you kill the yeast, too cool and the yeast never wakes up.

1. Sift the flour, salt and sugar into the bowl of the food processor - or a bowl if you are making by hand.
2. Measure 1 cup of the liquid, test to make sure it is a warm tepid.
3. Either: stir the fresh yeast into the liquid OR mix the easy blend dried yeast into the flour.
4. Add the warm liquid (milk/water/butter) to the flour and then keep adding extra liquid until the dough holds together and feels nicely elastic. (About 1 minute in a food processor and 10 minutes kneading by hand)
It is hard to say the exact amount of liquid - flours vary and room conditions affect this. You should feel the dough is elasticky and not sticking to your fingers. If you have added too much liquid then just add more flour until it kneads together nicely. When kneading by hand, spread some flour onto the worktop so the dough doesn't stick to it.
5. After the kneading, place the dough into a large mixing bowl, cover with cling film and a tea towel. Place in a warm place to rise for about an hour. (Next to a radiator or in a warm spot)
6. When the dough has risen and doubled in size, take it out of the bowl and knead by hand for a minute or two. This is to knock the air out of the dough.
Now divide the dough up into eight balls. Then halve them to make 16 balls. Lay the balls out onto a buttered/oiled baking sheet in the shape of the initial you want to create.
The dough balls should be about 1 cm apart.
7. Leave the dough on the baking sheet with a tea towel covering them for about 30 minutes. I usually turn the oven on (200 C) at this point and place the tray of buns on top of the oven so they keep warm but not too hot.
8. After 30 minutes, brush the bun tops with milk.
9. Pop the tray into the oven at 200 C for about 15 - 20 minutes.
10. Take out of the oven and lay on a pretty tea towel in front of the Birthday person.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Ways with Words

I never knew that I wanted to write and quilt at the same time 
until I saw the inspiring quilts at Comma Workshop
Kerry is an amazing artist who uses her quilting skills to create uniquely beautiful fabrications.

Her website started in 2010 
with quilts that have a story told through the white and coloured threads she uses. 

Image: Comma workshop

I love her cushion series,  'The Winter Eight', which features five pillows, each having eight syllables sewn onto it.

Image: Comma workshop

See you soon with different words to share with you - literally.

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