Write Cycle August. The Results and the Review

For August I decided to try an Instagram writer’s challenge where you do a writing-related photo every day. I thought it would be a good way to focus on the writing habit.
Here’s the gallery of the photos with a review of the process following:

In all, I missed 9 days (as I doubled up one “today’s office). I did great until it came to showing work at home. I feel like my home is just too chaotic to share. And while I get the basics done, I’m really not Martha Stewart in home decor. Ah guilt. You bother me.

The other big stumbling block was talking about favorite characters. I either had brain block and could barely recall a characters from a book or suddenly I had too many. And it was tough to figure out how to show that visually. I want my Instagram to be my pictures not stock photos or using work by other people. Book towers are cool but hard when 90% of your books are e-books.

The goal reviews were great. Though day 14 was a huge shock when I realized I was behind schedule. Reviewing again on the 31st is also informative. I had a lot of stuff that wasn’t on that list. So while the 31 Days of Writing looks kind of like a flop, I feel like I did a lot of work.

Overall, I think I plan to do more than I have time for. When mapping out goals I often think of Browning and how “Man’s reach should extend his grasp.” But when it comes to getting things done, maybe SMART goals are more logical. And if I worked in a more linear fashion, I think that would be great.

SMART goals work better for me for planning and looking for pitfalls rather than a schedule. So far, working from a massive list of tasks and due dates posted in multiple places seems to be the most effective. So I’m going to give this another go in September and also mix in this 15 minute time chunking thing. I’m not as in love with my instagram images from August so I also want to take more images I that I like.

Wish me luck! And good luck to you in your creative endeavors.

L

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Making up with Mochi. Gateway Foods in Foreign Lands.

My gateway mochi dish: Shiratama and shiruko at the Onishi Matsuri.
My gateway mochi dish: Shiratama and shiruko at the Onishi Matsuri.

If you live someplace long enough, you eventually develop craving foods you thought you once vowed never to eat. There’s one moment and one dish that becomes the gateway for appreciating that food in all its forms. This is true for me and mochi. This is sort of a tale about my journey to mochi appreciation. Plus a recipe!

Mochi is one of the foundation ingredients for countless Japanese desserts. It’s made from a different kind of rice than used at a meal. Mochi rice is more glutinous. You can pound the cooked rice into a sticky dough or mix up a special mochi rice flour and make a different type of sticky dough.

Sticky. Sticky is a key word when it comes to mochi. Sticky is the reason I was used to be scared to eat mochi. When I first moved to Japan, people delighted in telling me the number of people who died from choking on sticky mochi balls. Mostly the victims were elderly Japanese and kids. The cautionary tales of mochi tragedy are a kind of rite of passage for newbies to Japan but they really hit me hard.

I’m scared of choking on stuff because of two childhood events. The first was a Reader’s Digest story about a young man dying from a mysterious illness that turned out to be a fishbone lodged in his throat.** In my teens my sister choked on a huge gob of cheese from her French onion soup. She survived the incident  and endures the jokes that come up with every subsequent mention of mozerella and onion soup with pretty good humor.  So yeah. I had some issues.

Mochi’s pretty much flavorless. So why do people like it? Because of the texture. Just make sure you chew it carefully. Mochi also acts like an umami base to balance the sweeter parts of Japanese deserts like anko (a paste made from the sweet red bean, adzuki) or kuromitsu (a syrup made from Okinawan unrefined, dark sugar). If eaten with something a bit more bitter, like green tea or matcha, then you can taste the slight grain sweetness. You find mochi in variations of dango (usually mochi with adzuki bean paste centre), kagamai mochi at New Year’s  and sometimes in soups. You can even bake it in toaster.

I’m fascinated by Japanese desserts, mostly by how they look. I never craved mochi. I’ve ocassionally eaten dango, usually because someone gave it to me, but never really wanted to eat it until I recently discovered shiratama. Now I’m even making for myself at home. It’s that easy to make and pretty hard to get wrong.

Shiratama are exactly what the name says, balls of white dango. I learned how to make shiratama dango (literally white balls of dango) while helping out at the Matcha Café in the Kinuya Building ofo Shiro Oni Studio in Onishi., Gunma. Matcha Café is only open during the weekend of the Onishi Matsuri (festival). Fuyuko Kobori is a Sado (tea ceremony) practitioner and was runs the café.

During a break from the busy cafe, Fuyuko made me a cup of iced matcha and a bowl of the shiratama we made with chilled shiruko. I sat on a bench in front of the cafe and enjoyed my cool snack as the matsuri parade passed by. The sun was hot and many people stopped at the cafe after catching sight of my icy cold matcha. Others were interested in slightly salty shiruko blended well with the deep rice taste of the shiratama. The matcha was the perfect complement of bitter and slight sweet matcha aftertaste. And they were easy to eat. Not at all difficult to chew.

It wasn’t just the taste that hooked me. It was the experience. The sun, the matsuri, the camaraderie of working in the cafe and learning to make shiratama. It was something I wanted to continue by making at home. My husband loves this kind of dessert and I realized that I could share this by making it for him. Mochi is becoming something I tolerate, but something I enjoy making at home.

What food do you love now but it used to ick you out? What was your gateway food or moment?

Recipe Time! If you try this please post a picture and let me know how it turned out.

How to make Shiratama
Ingredients:
Powder
Water

happymochi-loriono
Increase the happy value by adding faces to shiratama before you boil it. My first attempt at shiratama on my home.

Instructions:
1. Mix one package with about 90 mL of water (double check the instructions on your package as it may be a different size).
2. Add the water bit by bit. The dough shouldn’t be crumbly and it shouldn’t be too wet. If it’s not just right you, breaks down when you boil it. Fuyuko gave this great analogy for the perfect dough texture: it should be about the same firmness as your earlobe.
4. Make balls about 2.5 cm in diameter and pinch them slightly. This allows the middle to cook. Smaller, flatter dango also reduce choking hazards!
5. Add the mochi balls to the boiling water.
6. Boil until they float on the surface.
7. Drain them and run under cold water.

Store unused shiratama in water otherwise it will stick together. Keeps for about 2 days in the fridge. It’s actually safe to eat it for a bit longer, but shiratama dissolves a bit when stored in water and after two days, the texture isn’t as nice to eat.

Some Suggestions on How to Serve Shiratama


Summer Style
Serve on top of green tea ice cream with anko.
Serve with cold shiruko (red bean soup) and green tea ice cream and a nice cup of matcha.
Serve with cold fruit, anko paste and an mitsu (agar jelly cubes)
Winter Style
Heat the shiruko and eat shiratama like a warm sweet soup.

**There is another rite of passage I had as a newbie to Japan, where I was directly confronted with this fear of fishbones.

Go For the Knowledge, Leave with Inspiration—Learn about Travel Writing with La Carmina and Odigo

If you think that spending your Saturday in a day-long travel writing workshop sounds exhausting, then you didn’t make it La Carmina and Odigo’s writing workshop held at Ryozan Park Otsuka. I learn a lot and I left more energized and inspired than I’ve felt all week. La Carmina is a tv presenter, blogger/video blogger who covers counter-culture all over the world and has a huge following. Odigo is a new travel app/service designed to help visitors access locals’ insider knowledge in order to enjoy a more authentic travel experience in Japan.

Eric Bergemann, La Carmina, Melissa Rundle at workshop with Odigo
La Carmina (middle) with team members Eric Bergemann and Melissa Rundle

In the morning, Marla Hall presented a basic workshop on travel writing. We covered different types of travel writing and had a chance to start or continue an article and do peer critiques. Marla’s presentation helped me refine the angle I will take for writing more about my recent Zao trip.

In the afternoon, La Carmina, and her team members, Melissa Rundle and Eric Bergemann generously shared their expertise on what makes a successful travel blog and how to make a living from travel writing. They were friendly, extremely organized, and direct about their experiences.

I’ve been to a lot of different classes and this was the best presentation I’ve attended about blogging and social media. Using examples from her blog, La Carmina talked about the importance of creating a great experience for readers and how to maximize your blog’s effectiveness.

Eric and Melissa are screenwriters and film-makers and had lots of tips for making effective videos. They talked about the types of gear they use and what they do with it. Melissa an Eric also gave practical tips for editing segments to create a professional video. I haven’t really done much video, but after listening to Melissa and Eric, I’m keen to start experimenting.

My favorite tips include naming your media files with key words and hyphens to increase SEO and always filling in alt tags for images. It’s an easy thing to do but it’s an easy thing to overlook. I hadn’t realized how much difference it would make. I usually name my files in an unintentionally cryptic way that works for my projects but aren’t helpful search terms. I am changing how I do that today.

La Carmina emphasized that it is a process and that it takes work and that generating a successful blog doesn’t happen over night. When they finished their presentation I had renewed respect for how much work it all takes, but I also left with the feeling that I had been shown some good steps that I could use to grow. From talking with other participants, I know they also feel the same way.

Melissa Rundle, La Carmina, Ryozan Park Otsuka, Odigo
After the workshop with Odigo.

Community Manager Lauren Shannon gave an overview of Odigo’s purpose and goals then led a roundtable discussion about writing and blogging goals in general. I’m pretty excited about the concept of an app based on local knowledge helping people get to know Japan. I’ve been here a long time and there is a lot to see and do beyond Tokyo Tower and Kaminari Mon in Asakusa.

We finished the day over snacks and conversation with La Carmina, Melissa, Eric, Lauren, Marla and other participants. It’s always good to meet people who share similar interests. When you get a chance to learn from friendly people who are doing so well it’s even better!

Thanks La Carmina, Melissa, Eric and Odigo for the great opportunity.

Tokyo Art Book Fair 2014 Preparation Update

With less than two weeks to go until the Zinesmate Tokyo Artbook Fair 2014, I haven’t hit the panic button yet. Things seem to be going pretty well. If I meet my weekly target this week I think I’ll be okay.

Last week had tasks other than book making. I created an invite for a PDF mailout for our group and ordered new business cards with a company called Graphics. I’m stupidly proud of the PDF invite because I figured out how to make links on the PDF. This isn’t a really complicated thing, but I’d never done that before so it was nice that it worked out. It works even better on my smartphone than my computer.

Preparing the books has been a lot of fun. There have been compromises, but the good kind.

Estello Mame Bons

Multi-media: photography, hand-made stamps and pen illustration on washi. Concertina binding in hardcover.
Multi-media: photography, hand-made stamps and pen illustration on washi. Concertina binding in hardcover.

I’m not going to do the Estello mamebon (bean books) or I’m leaving them until last. I like this project but at the moment, it’s my weakest idea. I really love this project but the gap between my resources and my idea of what a finished book should look like is a bit too wide. If I have time at the end, great. I think I is better spent on other things and I’m not heartbroken if I don’t get them in the fair.

 

Estello Zines

PIles of Estello zine dummies next to an embroidered book by Studio Deanna.

The Estello zines are going really well. The final image selections and edits done. I’ve even finished dummies of them all. I’m working on the last of the layouts from the dummies I made last week. It always amazes me that layout takes as long as it does. I realized I didn’t have to make detailed templates once I had really rough dummies done. That was a nice surprise.

 

 

Starfold Books

Piles of starfold books ready for final assembly.
Piles of starfold books ready for final assembly.

This project is going really well. I’m already well into producing them. I’ve finished all my prints and already folded them. I just need to make a few more covers then finish the assembly.

There were two surprises with this project. The first is the emergence of two new topics. Aside from Yuki (Snow), there is now Flower and Butterfly. The new topics lend themselves to the idea of opening and unfolding that is inherent to the book form. The second surprise is the tiled designs for the reverse side of the papers. That took a bit of study to get it right.

Kandachime Uma

Version 1. String binding. Inkjet print on washi.
Version 1. String binding. Inkjet print on washi.

This hadmade book/zine is going to be the trickiest because it is the book I think will be the easiest to get done. And that kind of assumption might bite me in the butt. I finalized the format and print layout months ago. I think it will just be a matter of printing and assemblage. I’ve put off doing that in favor of solving other problems. But I just realized I am still dithering about the final look of the cover.

Goals for This Week
1. Printing Kandachime Uma pages and finalize cover style
2. Finish layout for final Estello zines in Photoshop
3. Test print the zines and edit mistakes
4. Printing more pages for the starfold books.
5. Interview fellow artists from Art Byte Critique about their books and post on The Spendy Pencil

If you’re participating in Tokyo Art Book Fair 2014 I’d love to hear from you. If you are going to attend, please stop by our both and say hi!

Social Media Carousel: Around and Around I Go.

Tinted photograph of carousel at Cosmo World In Minato Mirai, Yokohama
Mastering social media integration seems exciting at first, but it doesn’t take long to grow old.

The time you invest in automating something should eventually pay off in the time you save. I haven’t yet found this to be true when trying to consolidate my social media. Around and around I’ve been going with end in sight. My goal is to post something to my blog and then for it to fan out in a beautiful display of modern efficiency to Twitter and Facebook personal page and my “fan” page.

Sure, I could go to each one and link, or just go to the fan page and link it up, but meh. I know I would get distracted. The biggest problem is that most app widgets want you to choose either your FB Home page or, if even an option, your fan page. If I didn’t want to have the blog go to the fan (or as I like to call it, my “writer”) page then I’m golden. The native widgets get it all done.

But getting to that Fan page is tricksy. Real tricksy. I’ve looked at Hootsuite.com and after much cussing at the fact it won’t recognize passwords and doesn’t connect to my primary blog, I pretty much have it figured out. But I’m not a super big fan of posting from Hootsuite. I don’t want to pay the $9.99/month for Pro versions for my modest needs. The free version limits you to five streams. Just to clarify, Your Facebook homepage and your Facebook Fan page count as two.

Enter IFTTT to (sort of) save the day. IFTTT stands for If This Then That. It is a collection of recipes that does what the title says. You can select a recipe that takes each tweet and posts it to Facebook fan pages. Yay! There are a variety of recipes designed to save you time. Saving files to Dropbox or transferring things to Evernote are only a few of the things IFTTT can do. When I started looking at Hootsuite, this is what I expected it to do.

So this is now how I understand things to work: 

  • Posts from Hootsuite can immediately go onto selected social media sites. They do not really post from one thing to the other for you. I have things going from social media site to others through the respective site’s native widgets. It looks like you could work around using RSS feeds but at some point, I need to respect my boundaries and the fact I don’t have forever to perfect this,
  • IFTTT can have a post on one site lead to that being posted on another site. It also has many other handy tools to organize and automate online life.
  • Native app widgets like the ones you find in WP to connect to twitter,  or vice versa, are great. It might be useful to make a flowchart of the apps where you post to and where they go. You could probably do it through judicious use of native apps, unless you want to post to Fan and Home page on FB because then you have to choose.
  • Facebook Fan Pages are very awkward beasts.

I’m pretty happy with IFTT at the moment. Now I’ll have to see how badly the double posts are going. For some of you, this posting will be full of errors and obvious information. Let me know if I need to change anything. I’m still working on my skills. Hopefully, this article is helpful for people who are looking for simple ways to get their content across different social media venues.

Wishing everyone a minimum of frustration in their quest for social media mastery.

Quick Update (which didn’t take that long): I’ve got everything going where I want it to go, but it doesn’t look so beautiful on the FB Fan page. So there is a link, but it is not enticing. It may be that it’s coming from Twitter.

Update #2: Definitely make your own recipes. It doesn’t require any coding. You just push buttons and enter info. I made a WP->FB fan page recipe of my own and that makes much more attractive links. I still have blog links going through twitter and so there is a bit of double posting. I will have to make some decisions. But making choices is a different skill set than making choices possible.

Snowmen Fight: Samurai vs Ninja. Get Your Winter War Mittens Here!I A Post in 2 Parts. Part the Second.

recycled sweater into mittens
Recycled sweater with my own felted design. Fighting snowmen. Ninja vs. Samurai

Today, I finish the article of the making of the Fuyu no Jin Mittens. As I wrote in the previous post Fuyu no Jin means a winter war in Japanese. Traditionally, it’s army against army in winter but my mittens are going small scale. Yes, I’m taking a lot of liberties.

The previous post was about the designing process. This is about the construction process.

Materials

100% wool sweater to be recycled
Felting wool in 5 colors

  • White or ivory
  • Grey
  • Black
  • Blue
  • Red

Embroidery thread
4 tiny black beads for eyes
Needle Felting Gear

  • Felting Needle
  • Sponge (for underneath the needle and project
  • Liquid soap
  • Water (warm to hot)

Sewing Machine or Hand Needle and Thread
Needle for sewing details
design for felting
Mitten Template (made from tracing hand or a template you like)

Pattern to Sewing
1.  Make a template to trace out the mittens.

  • I searched the Internet for a nice template but never really found one. It seems like thumbs are the trickiest part. This time I added thumbs separately.  I ended up tracing the outline of my hand with a 1 cm allowance I wanted tighter mittens rather than loose and the sweater I was recycling has a lot of give.

2. Trace or pin the template to the sweater and cut it out. I traced one side then flipped the template for the back reverse side then traced, cutting the body of the mitten as one piece and one seam. Thumbs were not part of this template. I added thumbs by draping material over my thumb.

  • If I had to do it again I would trace the whole hand, thumb included then just flip the template. I did that with a second pair. Construction was easier and it didn’t feel different to wear.

3. Sew the mittens up. I hand-sewed these and it took a couple hours for each mitt. I used a sewing machine on a second pair and it went much faster.

  • I first tried to felt the seams. That didn’t go well. It might have worked if I’d allowed more than a .5cm. The seam felting was wasted time.

Adding the Design
1.  Put the mittens on the hand and mark out the part the design will fit into.

2.  Trace the design onto the mitten.

  • I redrew the design from the sketch on the mitt rather than trace. I used disappearing fabric marker which became a bit troublesome. As time passed, I had to redraw on the mitten. This happened several times so the design morphed a bit. Rather than getting upset, I just consider this transition part of the process.

3.  Put the sponge inside the mitten and under where you will needle felt.

4.  Needle felt the design. I followed the instructions from this website for how to felt a design onto a surface. I think their instructions were good. Rather than repeating them here, I recommend you check out the link.

Felting
1.   Hand-wash the design using hot water and liquid soap. Gently rub the design to felt the fibers. You might want to wear rubber gloves if the water is hot but still be careful about burns.

2.  Roll the mittens the mittens in a towel and allow to dry flat. Be gentle!

3.  Check the design when dry and use the felting needle on loose parts or tidy up the design.

4. Repeat steps 1 and 2 if needed.

5.  If the design is secure and you are happy with it embroider embellishments.
On these mittens I embroidered a mouth and sewed on two onyx beads for eyes.

Care
These mittens might survive a machine wash, though I wouldn’t care to test it. I recommend gentle hand-washing and drying flat.

Use
I’ve used the mittens for daily wear and bike rides and they worked well.  When I made felted seams, the seams opened up during a bike ride. So far, the hand-sewing has been durable and no problems with the designs.

If you have any suggestions of feedback about making the design or construction process easier, I’d love to hear.

Thanks for taking the time to read the article. Hope you enjoyed the two posts.

Felt Your Way to New Characters with Needle Felting.

needle felted jam, camera, matsrushyka and a needle charm
From lumps of fluffy wool to unique characters. Kit by Hamanaka.

This is needle felting mixed together with a photography, lomo-esque feel. Crafting and photography in a happy union!

As you may have noticed from my previous post, Dreaming of Imaginary Dragon Fish, I’m really interested in character creation. Fimo is a great option for 3-d shapes, but I’m not keen on baking it in my oven. It’s a poor example of the appliance, but it’s the only one I have. Since I live in Japan, I’m constantly surrounded by cute little things and that led me to needle felting.

People who are really good at needle felting can create incredible detail. Check out this example from feltedmice’s photostream at Flickr:
Needle Felted "Gumdrop" a 2-1/2" Baby Bunny By Barby Anderson / Helen Priem made the Owl
The bunny is by Barby Anderson and the owl by Helen Priem.

Incredible, right?

I jumped in with baby steps and started with a kit. The kit maker is a Japanese company called Hamanaka. The kit cost ¥700. Here is a link for the kit on Amazon Japan. This lomo-inspired kit leapt right off the shelf and into my shopping basket. My own felt camera? Oh yeah! The jam jars were cute and I loved the colors for the matryushka. The kit even called for making a spoon! The instructions were ok. They were written in Japanese so my comprehension wasn’t perfect, but the diagrams made up for it. It took me about thirty minutes to figure out the Japanese instructions. Each character took from one to two hours. Also, if you’ve been having a bad day, poking the needle into a bunch of wool is kind of therapeutic. Just be careful. The needle is very sharp and if you poke your finger, it will hurt.

I plan to develop some skill, then, someday, design my own characters.

The snowman at the back is my creation not from the kit. It’s not spectacular but it was good practice. The snowman is also practical as a sewing needle charm. By needle charm, I mean something like a pincushion, for sticking needles in while working on stuff. I also made a bunny head needle charm, but I gave it to a friend before photographing it.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to start making my own characters yet. There are still a lot of cute kits from Hamanaka. And there is something to be said for being able to follow instructions and end up with something that looks like the example.

If you have any favorite kits or favorite materials for character creation, please share!

Until next time, happy creating!

L.

Helping You Navigate the World of Photography and Digital Content Creation: B and H Photo Continues to Impress Me.

Today I was looking for a way to convert my LPL6600 enlarger into a copy stand. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, and since I live in Japan, I definitely don’t want to give any space to one more object with a large footprint.

I expected a difficult web search to reveal all sorts of weird mods requiring extensive use of duct tape and gaffers tape but the solution turns out to be a simple adapter part. My first search revealed the part for $60 (CDN) but I thought I could maybe do a bit better. Amazon.com didn’t turn anything up and then I remembered my holy grail of camera equipment so I typed in the url. And true to expectation, B and H had the same part for twenty dollars less (assuming the Canadian-American currency exchange is still around even).

Here is a link to the magic part in case your curious.

I love B and H Photo. In New York, it’s at the top of my top places to go and thing to do. When I went to New York last year, B and H photo was the only place I made sure I to have a picture taken of me. The store’s selection is pretty thorough for all things camera-y, even obscure camera items. Last year I was able to get a Lee graduated ND filter after not even being able to order one in Tokyo.

But apart from an intriguing inventory, today I found another reason I like B and H in a tab in the website’s menu bar, “Learn In Depth.”  This leads me to the review portion of this post. This menu tab leads to a selection of articles and videos in categories such as photography, video, home computers, subdivided into more categories such as “Lighting Tips”, “Prosumer Gear”, “Printers”. I’m thrilled! A quick browse of the topics on offer shows a site that I can point friends and relatives to when they need more information than I can give. If you really dive in, you can read lots of product announcements, as well. Who doesn’t like product announcements?

While I generally know what I’m looking for when it comes to camera and lenses I like to research equipment even if I’m not in the market at the moment and I love reading product announcements. A regular favorite of mine is http://www.dpreview.com/. But camera-newbie friends have told me that it can be a bit intimidating. With gear in general, it doesn’t take long to get overwhelmed by the selection, and the new product news. I really appreciated the easy to read format of the articles.

In case you wondered, I’m not affiliated with B and H beyond being a happy customer. I’m just sharing a link that I thought you might like or find helpful. Here’s the link once more for good measure!

Feel free to post any links that you like or that help you navigate the world of photography and digital content creation. I always love  learning more. It’s a vast, never-ending field.

Happy creating!

L.

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