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Sunday, March 01, 2015

India's national bird

I have been a bit busy these past two weeks. It's been a whirlwind of Birthday parties, fluctuating temperatures, school projects, feeling a bit under the weather and just wanting to put my feet up. As a result, there was no India in picture last week.
This week, I give you the Indian Peacock. The country's national bird. I won't go in any sort of big detail about it here. The peacock has been present in Indian mythology and folklore since the beginning of time. The fascination for that big bird even crossed India's border, and it is not difficult to see why. Its long tail have captured the imagination of artists and poets through time and around the world.
I frankly think thee are no other bird as majestic as this one on Earth and I remember seeing them at the zoo in Switzerland and hoping they would open their tails for us (they usually did).
This handsome guy in the picture was found in Lonavla. He was probably kept as an attraction for tourists flocking to the lake and sole restaurant around said lake. DH and Ishita managed to get a glimpse of him strutting his stuff with his tail while I was manning the table inside the restaurant. When we were about to leave the place, he felt more like posing for hordes of tourists perched on a fence.
I suspect that his breed are big attention hogs and that they relish the spotlight. After all, their ornate tail is meant to attract peahens and a peacock that can't put up a good show isn't going to perpetuate the species. Showbusiness and star quality is probably something that is imprinted in their DNA.
And, their voice being quite nasty, it's probably better that they've been blessed with a physically appealing body. In French, we joke that they are all secretly calling and longing for a guy called "Leon" when they open their beak. Leon being pronounced "layon" and pretty much sounds like the peacock's call.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Table Lamp Makeover

Do you remember this lamp? The lamp that crashed twice and got miraculously put back together last year? Well, said lamp fell a third time from grace a few months ago. This time, the cat did it.
That lamp first got broken by Ishita when she was a toddler, then by my dog last Summer, and the new addition to the family decided to leave its mark on it last October.
Any sane person would just throw it away, or resign themselves to the fact that the lamp is going to look broken for good. Except, I am not a sane person. Not when it comes to having a chance at DIY projects opportunities coming my way.
Cracks in the base set aside, this lamp has been a sore sight for a while. For a start, it looked more and more faded and old (we bought it in 2009). Its lampshade was a bit deformed, had stains that would not go away and had been glued back together in places. The stand, or the part of it that was still intact had yellowing spots and an overall uneven look. But more important than everything, that lamp looked ridiculously BLAH.
Once upon a time, it matched a casual, earthy decor and stood out proudly. In our new decor full of cheerful colors, it looks like an old and sad little lady fading in the background.
And, when that happens in my home, it is time to break out the paint and do a crazy makeover. Beside, with that lamp, I had absolutely NOTHING to loose. I had the license to go nut with it.
The first step was to fix my cat's handy work. Since that lamp had been broken in a million shards before, I never recovered anything to glue back together this time around. I had to close this big gaping hole at the bottom another way.
Fortunately, Pidilite has a whole arsenal of stuff you can use. When Fevicol, All Fix and Feviquick will fail you, there is still M Seal left to try.
M Seal is an epoxy putty I have adopted as a life saver (no less). Once you have mixed the two components together to activate it, you can use it to bind just about anything that would otherwise refuse to stay put. Leaky pipes, broken curtain rods, shelves that won't stay put...nothing seems impossible for that mighty putty.
In the case of my lamp, I made a putty patty (try pronouncing that without giggling) and placed it on top of the crack. I then stretched the edges to make them thin enough to not show too much through the paint job. M Seal dries completely in a couple of hours and becomes hard. To be on the safe side, I let it air for 24 hours before painting over it.
In the meantime, I washed the lampshade and painted all the other pebbles. My decor having a lot of blue, it only felt logical to pain the stand in pretty shades of blue as well. I did each pepples with two layers of artist's acrylic paint using silver paint to do over the two white pebbles. In order to bring some contrast.
Like it was the case on the original lamp, I kept the darker shade of blue for the base pebble.
The lampshade had a lot of stains, both from the glue job and from insects deciding to commit suicide on it. I didn't want to paint it too darkroom though. Because, at night, this lamp is one of the two low light source we have to light the living room (we don't do bright lights...for the sake of my insomnia problems).
I decided to paint the top and bottom borders black to hide the worst of the glue gone wrong. And because the poor shade was a bit deformed, it has a bit of an uneven finish. Finish that makes the lamp look delightfully home made.
To mask the insect splatters, I decided to just paint big golden polka dots all around. I used Fabric paint for both the border and the dots in hope it will survive the unavoidable future washes it will have to go through.
Once again, I saved the lamp from the bin. Once again it looks fresh. Once again does it belong to my decor. And, once again, I amazed DH with my mad skills as he once again thought that this poor lamp was a lost cause not worth saving.
I settled for the title of Jigsaw Puzzle Queen the last time it broke. This time around, you shall call me the Lamp less.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Say it with colors

I have a confession, though at this point I am not sure it is one anymore. I have a thing for stationary supplies. Buy now you all know I am crazy about notebooks. But, what would notebooks be without pens?
I like to write in colors, a thing that stuck with me since my teenage years. Back in those days, we still learned the art of writing with a fountain pen in Switzerland. It was such an important thing that past a certain age in elementary school, kids are supplied with a standard issue Pelican fountain pen by the school. It was and I assume still is a big rite of passage. 3rd Standard meant we finally were going to be "big kids" and write with ink and a dignified tool. The teacher would set several hours a week aside to teach us the proper way to handle our classy pens and write beautiful cursive letters with it. Handwriting was an art.
The importance of having a perfect calligraphy was constantly stressed. In a country where sending thank you cards and penning wished on pretty stationary was of utmost importance, once had to learn these things.
Of course back then nobody ever heard of emails, SMS and Whatsapp. We wrote and kept the postal service very happy.
I of course have the worst possible handwriting when forced to write in cursive. I HATED those calligraphy session. My work was always sloppy and my letters stayed inequal in sizes. Fortunately, by the end of 5th Standard, I realised that the teacher no longer really cared how we wrote, and I got the chance to revert back to script letters. And because of it, my own handwriting style emerged. is it super dainty and pretty? Nope, absolutely not. But, it is easy on the eye and totally legible.
By the time I turned 12, another rite of passage came: going to Middle School. Transitioning from having only one teacher to teach us everything to having a teacher per topic and changing classrooms through the day. This means more change, more independence, going to a further away from your home school and feeling very grown up (teenagehood at its best!)
Back then, there was a sudden trend of owning as many fountain pens as you could, each with a different color of ink in them.
It was such a rage that even supermarkets, and stationary shops in town had stocked up on cheap pens, and ordered ink cartridges in every color possible from their suppliers. It was that HUGE a thing, I kid you not. And of course being a teen who wanted to stay "in", a fair chunk of my allowance went to fuel this trend. We all did it.
Beside, in Switzerland, presentation matters in your school work, and our course binders were actually graded once a term. Teachers expected clean worksheets, well penned notes, and rewarded people going the extra mile. This extra mile translated into demarcating paragraphs, titles and sections clearly. the use of different coloured pen came in super handy to achieve that. The presentation marked counted as much in the trimester average than the weekly tests and quizzes. So, it was all in our advantage to keep or study material super neat and good looking. The added bonus with this method was that because we took care to write in different colors, we also remembered the content better to prepare for exams.
The fountain pens trend was however short lived. It lasted a year. Mainly because it was impractical to carry such a big bulky load of pens, and that most of these cheap ones leaked into the pencil case creating a mess.
But writing in colors didn't go away, not one bit. The brand Stabilo was the first one that introduced fine liner pens in more than just the standard Blue, Red, Black and Green. It offered even more colors than the ink cartridge in the fountain pens did. And of course came at a fraction of the cost and were leak free (and don't get me started on the weight...much much lighter).
I was hooked, and had them for years after getting out of school. It made keeping my notes and diaries organized much simpler. Plus, you can't beat writing a holiday postcard in pink (seriously, you can't, unless it is turquoise, or purple....)
When I moved to India, I wrote with boring black pens for the longest time. Mostly because the stationary shops that were around had limited stock. And then because those who had them used to sell them in sets of 10 or so, making it quite an expense.
Until we shifted to Mumbai, and I found out that my favourite store was selling them as single units. The Stabilo from my youth, and the far more sophisticated and elegant looking Staedler brand. Elegant pens that I now keep picking in new colors whenever I feel like it. At 75 rupees a pen they aren't too costly for the avid diary and journal writer that I am.
Plus, it gives me warm fuzzies each time I pen something. I'm that creative, quiet teenager I was all over again. And, yes, it still helps me stay organized.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Free pictures for your blog

Once upon a time, blogs were a novelty. Most treated them as online journals, full of ramblings and light on illustrations. Back then, a nice picture was a welcome thing, but not really expected. Content didn't have to be of supremely high quality either, most were happy to have a hundred page view a week, if not less. These were the early days of blogging!
This, of course, has changed. Blogs are now media outlets that aren't taken as lightly. In fact, they have become a business opportunity for many. With specific niches, well researched posts and many pictures to back them. They have to be entertaining, and informative all at the same time.
Having no pictures on them is rarely an option nowadays. Not if you want to get noticed in social medias and get that steady flow of page hits coming in. The content matters, a lot, both in words and pictures.
Seasoned bloggers know it. Keeping a blog takes time and a great deal of effort. It's no easy peasy job. What ends up being published is the tip of the iceberg and the proverbial cherry on top. It is the fruit of intense backstage labour.
There is a lot of thinking, research, drafting, redrafting and writer's block fighting involved with just the writing. Then, there is the picture taking, and the editing to create that perfect illustration. Once all this is done, there is the proofreading before publishing, and all the promoting after that "publish" button has been clicked.
Like most, I spend a couple of hours a day working on my blog...yes that is that labour intensive!
Needless to say, there is nothing more infuriating that seeing your work stolen. I've seen too many of my pictures being used without my permission or even as much as some credit given to me. On blogs, and websites alike.
More often than not those who steal are that breed of bloggers that are new to the blogosphere and thought that there was a quick buck to be made. Until they realised that to get the fame they wanted so badly, they will need pictures to illustrate their often poorly put together thoughts.
And suddenly, it doesn't seem so easy anymore...
Google image searches are not the equivalent of using a stock photo database. Yet many still think it is and that Copyrights aren't serious. That is until a DMCA notice has been served to them, and their SEO ( search engine optimisation) suffers from it. Your search engine exposure is the least you can loose of course. Steal a picture from someone that has the power, time and money, and you could end up having to pay a serious amount of money for your theft. Is that worth it really? Especially when there are plenty of stock photos options out there, legal to use and in many case free.
I do take my own pictures most of the time. That is how dedicated I am to my blog. But if you are looking for something super specific, here is a website that lists the 14 best Free stock photos database on the web. If you are in for something even more serious and don't want to risk having to give any due credit to anybody, you still have the option to pay for your pictures as well.
And, in all cases, should you like to take another blogger's picture. You should ask them for permission first. Explain what you will use the picture for clearly. And, Once you got that permission, ALWAYS link back to the source, with the exact URL, not an approximate.
I had a genius thinking it was ok to credit to, a totally made up URL simply because she was too full of herself copying and pasting a URL of a picture she stole from me. Don't do it, and don't ever think you'll never get caught!
Of course, nothing beats taking your own. And with all phones coming with a more than decent camera there is no excuse not to (a lot of my pictures are taken with my iPad). Not even the excuse of not editing it. There are apps a plenty to do that for you, most of them free. If you can't spend two minutes snapping a picture of, let's say a cup of tea but can spend half an hour finding the right one off Google search to steal, don't dare call yourself a blogger.
You don't deserve that title.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Kids friendly art supplies

I have a line up of not just one, but two public holidays this week. And on these days, like all moms, I am hard pressed to find ways to keep my daughter entertained.
Coming from a long line of arts and DIY enthusiasts, I grew up with art material within easy reach. And, like all kids, it ended up where it is technically not supposed to go (the walls, the windows, the carpet....) it probably sent my mom into meltdowns more than once, though of course being the child at the time, I didn't get it. To me a wall was nice big blank canvas...sue me.
Now, I am on the other side of the proverbial fence. I am the mom dreading doodles on the walls, and like all moms of young kiddos, I have been there and attempted to wash so many walls I should be made the face of Magic Eraser...yeah that bad!
But, art is something great, and it is a great way to let your kids have fun. It helps develop the brain, encourage creativity, enhance hand eye coordination and children left to do it on their own might surprise you with amazing work of art (sometimes it is on paper, yes yes it happens).
I hear you now. You are saying "Wait, wait, wait! Did she write that kids should be left to do it on their own?"
And, yes, you read right. Kids should be left to create on their own at time, just not with the entire drawer worth of craft supplies.
In my home, the paint, glue, and glitter are off limit if I am not supervising the activity. The one time Ishita found the glitter and decided to use it was a disaster. My living room carpet looked like Tinkerbell and her friends died on it.
I however leave a box with a bunch of crayons and a can of markers out for her at all time, and a pair of kids friendly scissors (the kind that can only really cut paper). I also have a big tray of old xeroxes and papers she can use to doodle on along with a few colouring books she is free to use her own way. And she does tap into these supplies a lot.

From trial, errors and the resulting experience, I will say that the quality of the supplies you buy does matter A LOT.
We went through enoug cheapo markers, pencils and crayons to not want to buy them ever again. You know the kind that not only doesn't draw well on paper, but also breaks and dry hours after using them. And in most cases, these might have the crappiest covering on paper, but boy oh boy they work wonders on walls (and won't come off).
Yes, we've been there, with markers that doesn't come off the face. Crayons that do not come off the TV (don't ask), or the toilet bowl (no seriously, stop asking!), or the dog, or cat (I'll refer you to the previous braket). I've spent way too many hours rubbing my knuckles raw (and a fortune on Magic Erasers) in the past few years.
So much so that now, art supplies only have to follow two criterias to enter my home : Non toxic, and WASHABLE. So far the only brand that truly rocks my world when it comes to kids supplies is Crayola. Saves me the hassle of trying to explain to guests why my cat has turned blue and comes off the TV far easier than other brands.
You of course get lucky with cheaper items from time to time, but my advice is always do a test run before handing anything to your kids to doodle with.
And yes make sure the scissors you give them can only cut paper too. The been there done that will all nod in agreement with me, kids will cut hairs...any hair. It doesn't matter where they are, hair must be cut. Dolls, pets or own. The later of course being the most annoying of all.

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