February 17th, 2017

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February 17th, 2017

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I can not stand a zombie movie. No, not even that Pride and Prejudice one. The last time I watched a zombie movie it was the one starring Will Smith about scary, fast-moving zombies in a post-plague New York. I put my neck out for days afterwards due to the fact that I sat with an incredibly tense, neck-jarring position throughout the entire one hour and forty minutes. There was something about the way they clustered in the dark that made me need chiropractic realignments. So it’s a little odd that zombies feature so heavily this week … but it just turned out that way.
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Animating: I keep watching the first 1 minute or so of this video demonstrating the amazing facial animation for the game The Last of Us 2 — and I’m not even into video games. It’s fascinating to watch the real person electronically mapped alongside (okay, I have no idea what the technical terminology is here), creating the changing expressions so accurately across the character model’s face. There’s also a bit of cool stuff later in the video of the character playing guitar… but just to warn you there are some bloodied bodies lying around after the 4 minute mark, as it’s captures from the video game itself. I’m guessing it’s a zombie game.
Watching: Despite what I said about not wanting to watch zombie shows, the tv series The Santa Clarita Diet seems to be an exception.- Timothy Olyphant! Who knew he was such a comic genius? The most deadpan cowboy on Deadwood is hilarious and entirely lovable in this zomromcom. I think there was a hint of his capacity for the ridiculous in The Mindy Project when he played her vacuous skateboarding date for an evening… (For example!  The terrible, terrible quality of this video just adds to it, in my opinion). But in his role as a completely supportive husband of a flesh eating zombie, he is brilliant.
Drew Barrymore is funny and goofy too, just as we’ve come to expect. And the supporting cast are all spot-on. We thought we were going to get bored with this show, but it turns out that it keeps hitting us with little unexpected joys.
Listening: Well, you know the new Avalanches album is not news but, as I wrote this newsletter on Valentine’s Day, I am going to have to stray off the zombie theme briefly and link to the video for “Because I’m Me” … because what an awesome serenade.
Thinking and feeling: Still on the theme of Valentine’s love, but also cleverly tying in a zombie’s favourite snack food, brrrains, here is one of my favourite Ted Talks from a few years ago: Helen Fisher: The brain in love“Why do we crave love so much, even to the point that we would die for it? To learn more about our very real, very physical need for romantic love, Helen Fisher and her research team took MRIs of people in love — and people who had just been dumped.”
Fundraising: Not zombies, Improvisers! An improv team of zombies seems like an unlikely occurrence. No one is actively encouraged to shamble, or mutter or drool. My kid’s team of non-shamblers got through the regional finals last weekend and is off to Canada’s capital in April to represent at the Nationals in the 2017 Canadian Improv Games. We are super proud and very excited because there is nothing more fun, challenging, inspiring and ridiculous than improv. (Mind you, that movie Don’t Think Twice might lead you to think that Improv is nothing but depressing and soul-destroying. Ugh. Don’t watch it. But I digress…) There is a massive fundraising goal to send these kids across the country to Ottawa so they can entertain, compete and blow minds. If you feel like helping out an awesome group of wide-eyed, talented teens then please follow the link. And thanks!
(photo: Jonathan Argue)

And briefly:

Eye-candying:  “A superb all-paper Hermes showcase in Dubai” (thanks Lliam!)

Anticipating:  In very exciting news, Philip Pullman has unveiled a new novel series, The Book of Dust. Apparently it is set in London and Oxford and overlaps with the fabulous His Dark Materials series. We will even see the return of Lyra, the feisty heroine first introduced in The Golden Compass. Hooray!

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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Rob Pingle

Farmer’s Market Co-ordinator, School Board Trustee and one my oldest friends on Salt Spring.

Most often found on Instagram.

 So, Rob is most definitely not undead. He’s alive and well, but here’s my fancy zombie tie-in; Every Friday afternoon, while our kids are in sewing class, we walk with Rob and his dog Chaz on our nearby trail. We call it the Zombie Trail as it’s through the post apocalyptic landscape of a deserted housing development site. As we wander amongst the piles of weed-covered rubble, unearthed concrete septic tanks, and shabby, graffitied worker’s trailers, we solve the problems of the world. It’s true, we could probably pick a prettier trail, as our island is criss-crossed with them. But we have our timing down perfectly to hoof it around the paths, talk fast, and get back in time to meet the girls in an hour. Okay! Tie-in done. Thanks Rob for taking the time!

1) Family
These are the people that keep me alive! (See? Not a zombie – Editor’s note.) Sue was someone I had known for a long time but when she came to visit me in Australia I saw her in a completely different way and fell in love immediately. So many times over the years I’ve looked at her and gotten that same feeling all over again. Plus she is brilliant and does things that I can’t imagine. We are lucky enough to have two amazing daughters. Anything I say about them will sound corny and cliché, but at the same time I love them to pieces. I hope I can be as awesome as they are when I grow up. My family never ceases to amaze me and I thank my parents for preparing me for all this.

2) Outdoors
Living on Salt Spring Island makes it pretty easy to get outdoors and feel like you are really outdoors. That said I also love being outdoors in a city and walking around looking at buildings and where strange things pop up when you least expect them. Having a dog makes it a responsibility for me to get outside on a regular basis so, if you need more of an impetus to get outside, get a dog. You don’t really need a spotless house or hairless clothes.

3) Podcasts
These things are amazing! Information or entertainment in your ears when you want it. Here are some of my favourites. The Truth: I can’t do better than to go with the description on their webpage as movies for your ears. Headphones are a must. Criminal lives up to its name but in a different way each episode. Reply All uncovers the stories of the people behind the strange corners of the internet.

4) Hayao Miyazaki
I first saw a Hayao Miyazaki film at the Victoria Free-B film festival outdoors in Beacon Hill Park. This was the perfect place to be immersed in Miyazaki’s magical worlds. I love that so many of the main characters in his movies are female and that the environment plays a major role as well. A dream trip for me would be to visit the Ghibli Museum where Miyazaki has produced most of his works. I’m also super excited to know he is working on a new film called Boro the Caterpillar!

5) Music
It’s always been a part of my life and one of my biggest regrets is not having taken actual music lessons in middle school because I thought the teacher was gay. How stupid is that!?!?! Idiot teenage boy! Never be one! Anyways until I learn to play the accordion I’ll continue listening to music and sharing it with friends. So now that I feel like we are friends, here’s your fair share. There was a time when I was worried Canadian music wasn’t Canadian and would soon be eaten up by America, then I heard the Rheostatics. I still love to rock out to this song. In the grand scheme of things I might not be the man I am if I didn’t hear Midnight Oil when I did and end up in Australia where I met Sue. I can’t stop without leaving you with something new and fresh! Go listen to John K Samson. If you are disappointed afterwards I might have to reconsider our friendship.

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See you next week!

Claire Robertson,
The Small Batch List
Person with a keyboard
xo

p.s. 250 points for guessing the quote in the subject line! Also if you recognise this one, I want you to know that we are probably kindred spirits.
The last week it was Virginia Woolf from To The Lighthouse.

 

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February 10th, 2017

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February 10th, 2017

During the week I read the article The Untranslatable Emotions You Never Knew You Had which is full of excellent words I now want to work into my daily life. I have always loved the Japanese word “Natsukashii” – which means “a nostalgic longing for the past, with happiness for the fond memory, yet sadness that it is no longer.” (I feel that for my recently bulldozed childhood home.) Now I also want to add “sehnsucht” which is German for ” ‘life-longings’, an intense desire for alternative states and realisations of life, even if they are unattainable” … because who doesn’t have those?

I’m on the constant lookout for people with what the Hungarians describe as “Pihentagyú” – “literally meaning ‘with a relaxed brain’, it describes quick-witted people who can come up with sophisticated jokes or solutions”, and I also look for cute little faces that fill me with “gigil” (Tagalog) – “the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished”.

So I know we have FOMO – that horrible Fear of Missing Out, and the word FOBIA .. which we created for my own special brand of social anxiety – it stands for the Fear of Being Invited Again. But there are so many more complicated, nuanced feelings. This week I made up a bunch of words to describe certain unique emotions that I came across – either my own or belonging to those around me. I’m guessing you might relate to some of these feelings too, especially those affected by the unexpected heavy snowfall this week.

Coffeedrift:
A feeling of longing for coffee with friends, tainted with a sense of failure and lack of bravery because the only things separating you are snowfall and potentially slippery roads.

Pillowachoo:
Not dissimilar to coffeedrift, but perhaps a more juvenile version – The feeling of wanting to attend a sleepover but having hesitations due to cat allergies.

Ahhhyayawwshitty-screenfree:
The sweet feeling of lying in bed and receiving the alert that schools are closed due to snow, which means you can stay in bed a little longer and not make school lunches, followed by the sinking feeling of realisation that you will need to find entertainment for your kids for the whole day during bloody Screen-Free Month.

Whaaseriouslygawd:
The word for the sinking feeling of disappointment and failure, yet awareness of personal aging, when your daughter says “I really want to see the new season of Keeping up with the Kardashians“.

Ahemwhatthe:
The word for that strong hot rush of a feeling that happens while attempting to calm down a freaking-out child when really you want to freak-out right back at them.

Frostalicious:
The sense of supreme superior satisfaction from making a decent dinner entirely out of ingredients scratched together from the pantry when snowed-in.

Parentoloco:
The slightly embarrassed feeling when a friend’s child innocently points out something unique about your environment or parenting style. This is usually caused by phrases such as; “I’ve noticed that you really ask everyone if they are okay a lot” or “Your family has a certain smell, a bit like… soup”.

Mailphew:
The exhausted relief of finding enough stuff and then finishing another newsletter for the week.

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I’m still taking orders for Marshmallow Bunny dolls — for just a short while longer. Email me if you are interested in having your name added to the list of commissions. $170 USD plus shipping.

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Podcasting: I just can’t listen to this – but don’t let that stop you.  It’s ME on Abby Glassenberg’s While She Naps podcast. Abby was such a kind and gracious host and helped me get over my nerves. I just pretended that I was on a long walk with a friend, which is when you really can’t shut me up. We talked about blogs and craft, illustration and newsletters. See if you can figure out where my caffeine levels dipped and my brain slowed! Thank you so much Abby. x

Reading: Hey, I’m thinking about making a limited edition, extra special, print version of the Small Batch List. Anyone interested? Wholly inspired by this article: Pause! We Can Go Back!  about the book The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax. After that I might press a podcast to vinyl.

Living: I have been thinking a lot about projects and goals and work and living lately, wondering about school or pushing myself into other uncomfortable and challenging areas. This article, Secrets to a Meaningful Life, explains how “your ambitions to improve your life do not need to be confined by your personality”. It advises to find the core projects that are important to you and push beyond your perceived limitations. Here is a TED Talk by personality psychologist Brian Little which talks more about this – and is also hugely entertaining. And he’s an introvert!

Newslettering: Speaking of newsletters (as I did in that podcast, at great length, in a kind of nerdy way), one of my favourite newsletters is written by the inspiring artist and author, Austin Kleon. You will not be sorry if you subscribe to his list of 10 interesting things he has come across during the week. They are always, always good.

Cooking: We were unexpectedly snowed in this week, and found ourselves stranded with a bag of white bread rolls, a couple of litres of milk and a bag of spinach. Uh oh. Fortunately we have a chaotic pantry full of tins and bags of dried stuff. I did a little research and found some great recipes that require nothing more than a chaotic pantry and some inventive thinking. This has been a fantastic way to clean out a backlog of forgotten items.
The best:  Fried Rice (we even found a block of tofu in the back of the fridge) and Southwestern Pizza with Black Beans and Corn (sounds weird but, hey, when it’s that or porridge for dinner, no one’s complaining).

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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Carrie Cogan
Writer, cartoonist and my hilarious friend.
Most often found at Dented Stars and as of like yesterday, also on Instagram

I can’t quite remember how I first met Carrie, but it was most likely in the school yard, or at the swimming pool. She felt like someone I have always known. About a year ago we started sharing coffee, croissants, deep thoughts and laughs on a regular basis. She is a brilliant and talented writer. I am so pleased she has started blogging – and her cartoons make me laugh. She is working on a novel which I know is going to blow our socks off. Thanks for taking the time Carrie. xox


1. Champion Juicer  

I got this years ago for 60 dollars off our island’s exchange (buy and sell), in a swoop of good luck. I will avoid vacuuming or drying my hands at those washroom air-dry machines on account of the Loud Machine factor, but the Champion purrs reassuringly. My sons eat many vegetables via our Champion-made “healthy juice” (as they call it), and in the summertime it gives us soft serve ice cream when we feed it frozen bananas and berries. If you’ve seen me walking around with a faint orange rim around my mouth it isn’t because of a bad lipstick choice and bad application thereof. It is because I have just gulped down my favourite carrot-celery-cucumber-ginger-lemon juice on my way out the door. The colour orange always wins! Unless you add beets, then beet-red wins. Sometimes I pet my Champion when no one is looking.

2. Alice Munro’s Stories  
I recently read (and re-read) 40 Alice Munro stories in quick succession, in a sort of frenzy. I don’t know how to describe what happened, really, except to say that each story seemed to knock a hole in me that only another Alice Munro story could fill. Luckily our island library has 14 of her books for loan. When I tried to read anything else during this time, it seemed at once brash and numb. It told me too much. In addition to what she leaves out, I admire the way her stories travel seamlessly through time, and in doing so make time a less important, more slippery thing. Also, the stories have only gotten better as I age, for the lessons one might glean from them seem dearer: something about how to carry regret, to suspect that everyone has buried layers, to know that the characters in our lives we leave (or who leave) stay with us. Another magical bonus is that by having now lived in British Columbia for a decade (was I unknowingly led here by reading Munro?) I have found myself right inside some of the settings in the stories. Such as this one in “What is Remembered”:
“She arrived at Horseshoe Bay at almost the very last moment, and walked onto the ferry. The last days of May are among the longest of the year and, in spite of the ferry-dock lights and the lights of the cars streaming into the belly of the boat, she could see some glow in the western sky and, against it, the black mound of an island—not Bowen but one whose name she did not know—tidy as a pudding set in the mouth of the bay.”
— From the book Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.

3. Alphabet Peg Set  
I use this tons, on envelopes, drawings and even to press out an entire little book. The letters lend an air of formality to my otherwise-scribbly style—kind of like putting a Christmas ornament on a tumbleweed, I guess.  Sometimes when I take the pegs in my hand, the letters on them appear brand new and strange to me, and I forget how to spell. Writers (I admit I’m one) are always focusing on sentences and paragraphs, on pages and chapters.  So it feels fresh and reviving to zoom in on the little bricks that make those all possible—the alphabet letters.

4. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Breathless” Video 
I am including this as a favourite thing because it contains many things I would normally loathe:  off-key flutes, cartoon animals with button eyes, and saccharin lyrics. Nick Cave makes them all cool. How can someone appear to be at once so serious and so loose? How does one acquire eyebrows like perfect illustrations of eyebrows? Before I go out dancing I will sometimes watch this and pretend that, later, I’m going to be standing right where his microphone is. And then I always look better than I would.

5. Running with Fergus in the Forest   
I used to train for marathons, on pavement. Then I got a dog and started running as a we. We run without words or watches, in the forest, up and around a mountain, or even two. Fergus makes many long detours and runs probably triple what I do, and his stump-of-tail wags full force the whole time (does that count as extra cardio?). Just by watching him I’m reminded how fun it is to move. After our runs his fur is full of sticks and leaves and dirt and creek water and sap, so that even when sequestered at a desk I’m never fully trapped inside, as long as he is by me.

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See you next week!

Claire Robertson,
The Small Batch List
Person with a keyboard
xo

p.s. 250 points for guessing the quote in the subject line! Also if you recognise this one, I want you to know that we are probably kindred spirits.
The last week it was Virginia Woolf from To The Lighthouse.

 

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February 3rd, 2017

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February 3rd, 2017

Secret islands! Two words that inspire a soaring fantasy world. Escape and idealism. I happen to live on one of these secret islands that Travel + Leisure recently listed in its top 27. It’s the one with “rocky shores, rolling pastures, and sky-high oak trees”. It is indeed very lovely. There are fairy trails and a farmer’s market, lakes to swim in and sea glass on every beach. The trees are thick and whisperish and the children are mostly shaggy-haired and happy. There is so much beautiful nature here that some days I simply stop seeing it.

So here we live in one of these (secret) travel destinations, but I still look at the list of 27 places and dream. When I read “For white-sand beaches, salty breezes, freshly caught seafood, and no crowds, head to one of the world’s best secret islands” I am just as easily convinced as anyone else that the path to happiness and perpetual, vacation-style living is finding yet another one of these secret islands. I could escape to one of these and there I would find my bliss. Next I’d like a Greek island, please. Surely there is bliss to be found living above the sparkly Aegean. I think of My Family and Other Animals and Duran Duran’s “Rio” video. Oh, that was the Caribbean, but regardless, bliss.

Ah yes, how foolish – how tricky our human brains can be! I know what we all know, that as soon as I got to Skopelos I would not spend my days traipsing about singing the soundtrack to Mama Mia, while eating olives, and perpetually covered in white sand. No, no, I would be hiding away in a little dark room and searching the internet for exciting things to put on the Small Batch List. But perhaps right after I hit the publish button, I would go for a swim and frolic with an octopus, and then maybe eat its friend deep fried for dinner. After an evening spent sipping ouzo I’d fall asleep… probably under a light sheet of romantically draped insect-netting… listening to the sounds of bouzoukis and touristy, tinkling laughter in the distance. And life would be really, really good. It’s true. I know it.

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Looking: Here are four of my favourite Aussie artist/designer babes whose Instagram accounts not only remind me of Summer days, but creatively inspire me and fill my feed with colourful goodness. Top-left: the formidable Beci Orpin. Top-right: sassy-pants Shannon Lamden. Bottom-left: the prolific and mind-blowing Bromley and Co.  And Bottom-right: smokin’ Neryl Walker.

Listening and looking: Maggie Rogers, whose song “Alaska” I raved about in the SBL in November, is back with another great song “On + Off”. What I really like about this is the new video.

 Reading: Mo Willems’s Funny Failures in The New Yorker
This is such a great interview with children’s book author and illustrator Mo Willems. On his Elephant and Piggie series: “I wanted every adventure to be them re-establishing their friendship, not just having fun, because that’s a different thing from friendship.” Willems recalled a formative creative partnership: “We’d be shouting at each other over decisions all morning, then go have a great time together at lunch. That was what I wanted.” Mo Willems makes me want to make kids’ books again. (Via Buster Benson.)

Unscreening: That’s a new term I just made up. It’s the process of extracting your child (or self) from being totally reliant on a screen. This month is officially Screen Free Cold Turkey Month at Lily’s elementary school (read: Parental Agony Month). As I write this, on February 1st, she is lying on the couch moaning in withdrawal. Shortly I will distract her with a game of Blokus (the non-digital version, which is my current favourite, as I KILL at mental rotation). Wish us luck for February.

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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Chris Baty

Author, UX writer, instructor at Stanford University’s Writer’s Studio and founder of the amazing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
Most often found at ChrisBaty.com, on Twitter and lurking around NaNoWriMo.org

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (Australia) I wrote a novel. In a month. It was terrible, and it shall never, ever see the light of day, but I wrote it. 50,000 words. This was wholly thanks to NaNoWriMo, a scheme that encourages writers and wannabe writers around the world to take time out in the month of November to write the first draft of a novel. It’s a kind of bootcamp and I have done it a couple of times since. Chris was the mastermind behind the scheme. It went from being something that he and 21 friends did together to a participating force of 300,000+ world wide. I am so buzzed to have Chris be the Small Batch List guest this week. Thanks for taking the time, Chris!

1) Trees in Paradise
This is a history of California, told through four kinds of trees—redwoods, eucalypts, orange trees, and palm trees. If you just fell asleep reading that last sentence, I totally understand. But this book totally sucked me in. Did you know, for instance, that one of the reasons California is covered in eucalyptus trees is because doctors in the 1870s claimed blue gums prevented malaria? Or that one of the reasons that fire destroyed so much of San Francisco after the 1906 quake was because people wrongly thought the redwood used in most of the city’s buildings was fire-resistant? These factoids AND SO MUCH MORE await you in this fine book.

2) My Blue Sunglasses
I was walking to work a couple months ago when I passed a guy promoting a new start-up by giving away sunglasses. I’d lost my sunglasses on BART the week before, so I grabbed a pair. My personal style can best be described as “tidy invisibility,” so there was something oddly exciting about sporting loud, candy-colored specs with a webinar company’s logo on the side. I’ve worn them every day since, and they bring a little bit of goofy summer to the rainy winter we’ve been having.

3) Atlanta
I love the way this tale of a struggling rapper and his even-more-struggling manager mixes absurdity and sincerity. If Jim Jarmusch and Outkast had a baby, it would be Atlanta.

4) My Powell’s Books mug
My wife and I went to Portland, and we made a pilgrimage to Powell’s Books. I got so overwhelmed by the majesty of the selection that I didn’t buy a single book. But I did get this great mug, and it’s become my mono-vessel. Can you really use the same mug for everything you drink? Yes, it turns out you can.

5) Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist 
You probably already know about this playlist—Spotify updates it with 30 new songs every week based on things you like. I’m not sure what genius robot DJs are working behind the scenes to tune the algorithm, but it’s almost too good. The playlist has introduced me to countless new songwriters I love (hello Frankie Cosmos and Stephen Steinbrink) AND old stuff that I’d completely missed (like Funkadelic’s “Biological Speculation” and Joan Armatrading’s “Woncha Come on Home”).

– – – Previous Friday Five Archives – – –

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Just a quick note. Over the next couple of weeks I am going to be stitching a couple of Marshmallow Bunny commissions for some people. While I have my sewing machine out and I am making these little guys, you might like one too. They are $170 USD + Shipping. Drop me a line if you want to be added to the list!

See you next week!

Claire Robertson,
The Small Batch List
Person with a keyboard
xo
p.s. 100 points for guessing the quote in the subject line! Last week was from The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot.

 

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