March 17th, 2017

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March 17th, 2017

This week I spent a little time sitting at the end of a friend’s bed. She’d had an emergency appendectomy and was recovering with grapes and good books while two cats lounged beside her and her little love-bird perched on her shoulder.  While we sat there, the cats, with all their fur fluffing and dander puffing, immediately got up from their comfortable positions and tried to cuddle up to me and lie across my lap. They persisted despite my pleas and curses. I said all the right cat-positive things for fear of seeming heinous, things like, “You are very beautiful, but I just can’t cuddle you. It’s not you, it’s me. I have allergies!”

This is not an unusual scenario, as any cat-despiser or cat-allergic person will know. I seem to be the person in the room that a cat always seeks out. They choose me over all the other warm laps and friendly smiles. No matter how much I initially ignore them, then persist with gently removing them and placing them on the floor with an encouraging push away from me, they return time and again.

So I remember what I have learnt from this Slate article, which originated from the question, “How should a stranger behave to a cat to become his friend?” and I do the exact opposite. I now gaze lovingly at these strange, aloof creatures and ask them how they are, and tell them how beautiful their fur is, and even reach out a hand to pretend to almost pat them. I sigh and woo. I tell them that I really need them to sit on my lap. And sure enough, they look bewildered and then look off into the distance just beyond my shoulder, and shift awkwardly from paw to paw. There’s nothing a cat dislikes more than a needy, clingy human. I know I am totally anthromorphising here, but it’s hard not to do.

Perhaps I could zoomorphise a little too. I wonder at the idea of taking a little bit of cat-strategy into my own life. It might help! Perhaps next time I see someone who clearly doesn’t like me, who is doing their best to stare out the window and avoid eye contact, I could bring out my inner-cat. I could push past all my friends, ignoring friendly hellos, and head over to the unfriendly non-friend. I would then proceed to knead them a little, turn around in circles a couple of times and then lie across them. Slightly awkward in a coffee shop, I suspect, but that wouldn’t stop a cat.

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Watching:
Speaking of cool cats, I was scrolling back through my blog looking for an old illustration today, and found this video of Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 musical Funny FaceA bookish, shy girl goes to Paris, and expresses herself through interpretative dance. I watched it again and thought it was worth posting here, even just for the first few minutes where she proclaims to Fred Astaire, “I feel like expressing myself now, and I could certainly use a release!” While Fred Astaire face-palms in horror, our beatnik heroine finds a couple of other hunky beatnik lads in striped t-shirts to accompany her in her wild, acrobatic twirling through a smoky 1950s bar. Love it.

Listening: 
Chris Bathgate’s new single Northern Country Trail.  I have been a huge fan of Chris Bathgate for a long time. His albums Salt Year (try Poor Eliza) and A Cork Tale Wake  (try Serpentine) have seen me through times both dark and light. I am really looking forward to his new record, Dizzy Seas, the first full length album since 2011. Out on May 19th.

25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music is Going in The New York Times Magazine.
“In 2017, identity is the topic at the absolute centre of our conversations about music….This is what we talk about now, the music-makers and the music-listeners both. Not the fine details of genre and style — everyone, allegedly, listens to everything now — but the networks of identity that float within them. Maybe decades ago you could aim your songs at a mass market, but music does not really have one of those any more. Artists have to figure out whom they’re speaking to and where they’re speaking from.” I dunno, really. I would say “sales and advertising”… call me cynical. But regardless there’s a lot to listen to and read in this list.

Reading:
Like me, my grandfather loved music. Looooved it. He had a big 1970s fancy stereo system with a couple of massive speakers and a huge vinyl collection, with everything from the classics of the Baroque all stars through to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. My Grandmother, on the other hand, despite being a complex and cultured woman, was completely indifferent to music. She once told me, “I don’t see the point of it.” We’d play her music we loved and she would look at us with a glower that said “really, no, stop trying to move me with this crap.”

“Inside the Heads of People Who Don’t Like Music” in The Atlantic explores the science behind music anhedonics of which my Grandmother may have been one, and hyper-hedonics (those who feel deep feelings and chills when listening to music) of which my Grandfather may have been one. Which are you?

A little extra:
Remember this!? Beastie Boys Fight for Your Right – Revisited.

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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Beci Orpin

Amazing designer, author, illustrator, art director, maker and mama.

Beci can be found on instagram, in her amazing house (I have so much admiration for this space!), and teaching a workshop early next month. Her book, Sunshine Spaces is out in Australia on the 1st of April through Hardie Grant, and in the US 11th April through Chronicle.

 

1. This sweater from Aries Arise.
My fashion obsession has had its flame re-ignited in the past few years. Aries is one of my favourite labels. It’s expensive but their quality is amazing and I’m all about saving for the right purchases, and this sweater is that. It has just the right amount of practicality and ridiculous graphic excellence.

2. Dick Bruna 
Yes because he recently passed, but he was always my numero uno since day dot, and would have made it in my top 5 regardless. I was brought up with lots of great books – the Dick Bruna ones were always my favourite. When I was 5, I wanted to change my name to Miffy, and my obsession hasn’t let up since then.

3. Morning ritual
I didn’t think I had one but on further pondering I do. It involves: a very strong good quality english breakfast tea with just the right amount of milk and sugar (not too much of either); making my bed – something I actually enjoy and have time to do now my kids are somewhat self-sufficient teen/primary school kid; walking my youngest Ari to school (catching pokemon on the way); and finally riding my bike to my studio – it’s not particularly picturesque but we have lived where we do for almost 10 years now and I undoubtedly run into someone along the way and that’s a nice feeling.

4. Lunch Lady Magazine
In a time when I am buying less and less mags, Lunch Lady shone through. Excellent articles and down-to-earth advice on kids and parenting, delicious easy (secretly healthy) recipes, beautiful design and some great contributing artists (like me! ). It’s actually more like a cool book than a mag. Whatever you think it is, it’s great.

5. Jalepeno Margaritas
We started serving these in our restaurant Juanita Peaches and it’s become my preferred Friday knockoff, and often Tuesday knockoff. Sometimes Thursday too.

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I’m off on vacation for a couple of weeks. See you in April!

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

p.s. 100 points for guessing the quote in the subject line! The last time it was “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven.

 

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March 10th, 2017

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March 10th, 2017

Many moons ago (so the story goes), when my mother was pregnant with me, a cranky old obstetrician instructed her that the only weight she should put on during the pregnancy was the weight of the baby. I imagine him peering down a long nose through a pair of pince-nez, glowering at her and saying “A total of 8 pounds is all that I will allow”. The horror! I can feel a collective gasp from you readers as, yes, this was some crazy-ass, 1970s advice. Okay, okay. I am sure to be exaggerating, as Mum can’t remember the instruction exactly, but for the sake of this story it was 8 pounds. So, my mother starved herself. According to legend, she was all ribs and bones, and a baby bump. Meanwhile, as she did what she thought was healthy, she craved bread (of course she did, she would have been craving anything). She craved it so badly that she stock-piled loaves of it in the guest room of their little Sydney flat. I imagine a guest bed, with one of her loud 1970s quilts, piled high with delicious, crusty white bread. Bags and bags of it. I’m not sure if that’s how it really was, maybe it was just a couple of loaves, but in my mind her story has always been of a teetering, tottering, tower of bread that she nurtured and sang to, stroked and pined for. My poor mama. And so – as my own story goes – I was a small embryo deprived of bread, and as a result bread is that craving I will always have. My forever lost-to-me soul mate. My ultimate in comfort. I will endlessly walk the globe, searching for that elusive loaf.

In my search I have often taken to baking bread myself. It seems to be something I tend to do in times of chaos. When Lily was a newborn I staggered around and cried a lot, but I also managed to make a loaf of bread every day. I clung on to it in amongst the mess of diapers and feeding, lack of sleep and physical exhaustion. Cooking with yeast is a cakewalk compared to looking after babies. Making bread feels creative, it feels nurturing, and maybe it’s even a little physically therapeutic. The repetitive rhythm of hand-kneading a loaf for “at least ten minutes” (according to all recipes) must have been soothing. One night, in an exhausted state, instead of patting Lily gently to sleep in her crib, I realised I was actually kneading her like a loaf of bread. I stopped but, trust me, you parents of babies, it seemed to do the trick.

This week I started baking bread again – life feels chaotic. I throw the dough around, kneading, wooing, pounding and singing to it as it rises (okay, maybe not quite, but you get the picture). In all this I have discovered that the perfect antidote for what ails me is River Cottage’s basic bread recipe with a handful of grated cheese and a chopped, gently fried onion stirred through before kneading. Highly recommended and really not that hard.

Go forth and find your elusive loaf!

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Watching:
Finding Vivian Maier – I remember hearing about this when it first came out but now it is on Netflix. It’s so good, and slightly unsettling. For forty years, Maier worked as a nanny, but spent much of her time roaming the streets taking photographs of strangers and passers-by, more than 150,000 in total. She never published any of her work and many of the negatives were never printed. Most interestingly, she didn’t tell a soul about her passion. It’s always intriguing to hear about an artist who has absolutely no interest in sharing their work, not even with those closest to them. These days, in a world full of Instagram likes, self-promotion and external-validation, it’s a rare and exotic bird who works purely from a creative urge and then hides it away for no one to see.

On this note, my dad wrote (after proofreading this):

“By chance I was listening to ABC FM in the car driving to Canberra today (Mum was asleep) and the announcer started talking about Bizet’s First Symphony. He wrote this in 1855 at the age of 17 while he was studying music in Paris. However, his teacher didn’t think he was any good, so he didn’t show it to him. In fact, he didn’t show it to anyone or tell anyone about it, and it got lost. It was rediscovered and first performed in 1933. Now it is one of his most well-known works and is often performed. ”

Reading:
When Your Greatest Romance Is a Friendship – is an article in the New York Times I found to be extremely moving.  “Some of the greatest romances of my life have been friendships. And these friendships have been, in many ways, more mysterious than erotic love: more subtle, less selfish, more attuned to kindness.”
And also from the New York Times Modern Love series – a love story about a baker, and bread.

Admiring:
The seven Wise Women on the Design Files this week, who are featured in celebration of International Women’s Day. At the time of writing this, fashion designer Lisa Gorman, artist Stanislava Pinchuk (aka MISO) and entrepreneur Zoë Foster Blake have been profiled. I look forward to the next four.

Sleeping:
No, I’m not. Not really. So I really appreciate that the Paris Review is publishing some of “the dullest, most soporific texts available in the public domain” – in their series called Sleep Aid. In keeping with my opening post this week, check out The Art of Breadmaking, from The Bread and Biscuit Baker’s and Sugar-Boiler’s Assistant, an 1890 book by Robert Wells. But only if you aren’t sleeping.

Distracting:
For reasons that continue to baffle me, there is a need in our household to be always creating backing tracks for rap songs. Mostly these raps are a little like Flight of the Conchords songs, and lot less like [here I would put the name of very up-to-the-minute rapper, if I knew one].  Regardless, the “rhymes keep dropping”, and apparently they are “lit”. I was just getting used to saying that my eyebrows are “on flick”. I can’t keep up. For these tracks Garageband usually does the trick, but last week we discovered Sampulator, which is an simple online (and super fun) sample board that you can use with your computer keyboard. You can save and share the tracks if you have a twitter account. I managed to while away an hour before getting tired of it. (thanks Suzanne)

Smelling:
Marseille’s Remedy Traditional Thieves’ Oil from Salt Spring Naturals. In case of bubonic plague, or if you just want your hair to smell nice, I can’t recommend this oil enough.

It seems to be a mixture of something like cloves, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary. While it’s pretty potent and might frighten away small domestic animals, it feels like a very healthy and delicious mixture to be wafting around.

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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Jan Robertson

My Mum! Bread is not on her list these days… but check out the sauce recipe. It’s a doozy.


1) On Sydney Harbour 
One hot evening after a 38 degree day we walked down the steps past Wendy Whiteley’s house and her secret garden to a little jetty on the edge of Lavender Bay. Across the harbour a fog was rolling in from the sea engulfing the city buildings…next to us a group of people were practising their tightrope walking on red straps they had tied over the water around an old wharf structure. That was a perfect evening.

2) Tomato sauce 
In country New South Wales, in Binalong, an hour north of Canberra, Donna gave me her surplus tomatoes from this year’s crop…so I have been in full laboratory mode boiling them up to make sauce/ketchup using my friend Ina’s not-so-secret-anymore recipe. Apparently I have modified her recipe so much that I am not breaching copyright laws by linking to it. Since I use empty whisky bottles [with dregs] to store it, it is very double whammy. Zoe up the hill calls it liquid gold.

3) Mick’s Binalong sausages
The tomato sauce goes extremely well with Mick the Butcher’s famous Binalong sausages. He serves his meat from behind a flywire cage…to keep the blowflies out of his shop…lamb chops are sawn from a lamb carcass from his coldroom…he still has all of his fingers…a very dexterous chap…mince for Bolognese is made from beef scraps on the spot. But it is his fragrantly delicious beef sausages (another secret recipe) that compel people to make the 30km detour off the Hume Highway to seek them out.

4) Socks
The colour in my life is the stash of sock yarns in a box in the sleep-out. A friend gave me the original sock pattern book 45 years ago…I have transposed the pattern onto cards…the original is almost illegible now. The most beautiful multicoloured hand-dyed yarn I have is from Alberta and Nova Scotia…this comes in twisted hanks and if I get impatient winding it into a ball I end up with a fearful mess of wool that looks like roadkill. Sorting out the tangle takes almost as much time as knitting the socks.

5) The Shepherd’s Life
While I knit socks I clamp on headphones and listen to talking books courtesy of the library. One of the best I have heard is The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks. His family have had the same sheep farm in the dales of the Lake District in England for 600 years. They raise Herdwick sheep…a tough breed that climb up into the mountains to eat the hardy vegetation on the heights and are brought down by trained sheepdogs to be shorn. The farmers of the dales are fiercely proud of their sheep…giving them facial grooming for the local sheep shows. This is a totally engrossing and charming book…there is a podcast of Richard Fidler interviewing James at last year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival.

– – – Previous Friday Five Archives – – –

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See you next week!

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

p.s. The quote in the subject line is pretty obscure this week, but I liked it and it’s bread related, so I stuck it in anyway. 500 points if you get this one!
Last week was “A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut”, which is of course from Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

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March 3rd, 2017

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March 3rd, 2017

That’s my topic this week. Firey, driven, inspired, passionate people. Without further ado, let’s get into it:

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Watching:
Abstract is a new documentary series about design on Netflix. Interiors, stages, footwear, automobiles and graphic design are all covered, as well as photography, architecture and illustration. Over eight 45-minute episodes, we are given an inside peek at what makes eight exceptional designers tick. All are outstanding in their fields and all hold a kind of rock-star status, as well as leading extraordinarily driven and focused lives. It’s an inspiring series and I will recommend the episodes with Es Devlin (Stage designer), Tinker Hatfield (designer with Nike), Paula Scher (graphic designer) and Platon (photographer). I also enjoyed the episode featuring illustrator Christopher Neiman, as the stuff the producers do with his work and the editing makes for entertaining viewing. I will admit to some serious napping during some episodes, but mostly I give it a big thumbs up if you are interested at all in design.
There’s a great in-depth and thoughtful review of the series on Curbed and in The New Yorker.

Reading: 
Three Iconic Musicians on Artistic Creation — and Its Importance Now. Some very earnest words in the New York Times Style Magazine about music, inspiration and artistic creation. Apart from that, Beck, Kendrick Lamar and Tom Waits are interviewed and the reason I am linking to this is mostly because of what Tom Waits has to say. He can make the ordinary sound extraordinary, until you feel little tears spring into your eyes.

Musing:
French artist Abraham Poincheval is attempting to survive inside a 12-tonne boulder inside a Paris art museum for a week, in an act of inner exploration, of “modifying the self and of living in other realms beyond our own.”

“He once spent a fortnight inside a stuffed bear, was buried under a rock for eight days and navigated France’s Rhone river inside a giant corked bottle… He has also crossed the Alps in a barrel and last year spent a week on top of a 20-metre (65-foot) pole outside a Paris train station” – The Guardian.

Following this he will emerge to sit on, and hopefully hatch, some eggs after three to four weeks. I can’t help but have nothing but wonderment and admiration for someone so dedicated to his art.  (via Pip)

Reading about his work reminds me of the book The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, which I read some years ago, about a family of performance artists always taking on some bizarre act in the name of art. I see that it was released as a film starring Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett. It looks worth checking out.

Around the same time, I read a book about a similarly dysfunctional family full of extraordinary people – Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple. The two stories will forever be linked in my mind and will appeal to those who liked The Royal Tenenbaums, My Family and Other Animals (Gerald Durrell) or Brother of the More Famous Jack (Barbara Trapido). Which is probably you.

Listening:
Sylvan Esso – has a new single out, Die Young, which I love. I also love the news that their new album, What Now, will be out in April.
NPR Music has been running a Tiny Desk competition – receiving over 6000 entries this year. This week they announced the winners – Tank and the Bangas. They’re pretty fun! “New Orleans’ Tank and the Bangas conveys its freewheeling spirit through a sound that combines pop, hip-hop, funk, spoken word and musical theatre.”

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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Jason Donaldson

High school drama teacher, musician, improv coach and mentor.

Most often found at GISPA and Instagram.

Speaking of people who are passionate about their work, I couldn’t have found a better special guest for this week. Jason is my eldest daughter’s drama teacher and improv coach at our high school here. He works with enormous enthusiasm and dedication. We feel very lucky to have him in our kid’s life! Thank you Jason for taking time to tell us your five favourite things.

1) Cornel West
My interests in philosophy and civil rights are ignited in the Black Baptist cadence, rhythm, vocabulary and intellect of Dr. Cornel West. He makes me listen carefully and think critically and then stop and rewind or reread to double check what I just took in. His scenes in the documentary Examined Life continue to be a source of inspiration for me. I may have never called into question my ‘tacit assumptions and unarticulated presuppositions’ without his influence.

2) Kronbauer Guitars
Trevor Kronbauer makes fine, handmade acoustic guitars. Once upon a time, we walked through awkward high school hallways together and then later along the TransCanada highway, stopping for a while under the goose in Wawa. We hitchhiked deep into Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee and made our way across western Europe together. He is a great friend. He makes guitars with love, fine woods and his bare hands in Armstrong, BC. He is currently in Phoenix mode, rebuilding admirably, after a fire tore through his shop. I have two of his instruments: a beautiful parlor guitar, 12 frets to the body with a silver dollar from my birth year inlayed in the headstock and a magnificent, carved top mandolin.

3) Vancouver Asahi / Ebbets Field Flannels
I am cheating here, two in one, bridging my interests in regional history, baseball lore and aesthetically arresting consumerism. EFF makes throwback replica baseball jerseys focussing on negro league, minor league, international and historic jerseys, hats and jackets. If you don’t know the story of the Vancouver Asahi please check out this NFB documentary. They were the best of the best on the Pacific coast, banned from competing due to racism. When Japanese internment saw many of the players and their families imprisoned in the interior, they continued to play ball. Last year I took my sons on a little historic tour, on an evening when their last surviving member was throwing in a first pitch at a Vancouver Canadians game. We stopped at the old Powell Street grounds to see where they used to play. It was a tent city on that day.

4) Philippe Gaulier (master clown, pedagogue, and professor of theatre)
The story of the Bouffon as told to me: The beautiful people lived in France, they were made in God’s image – obviously. The others, the deformed, malnourished and gimpy, were clearly not made in God’s image. They were ostracised (made to live in the swamps). The Bouffon were happy there, singing and playing music and having babies. One night they wondered what the beautiful people were up to and why they never came to visit. So, they clumpled into a lump and writhed their way into town. Nobody was home. All of the beautiful people had gone out to the theatre. The Bouffon snuck in the back and locked all of the entertainers in the change room. As the curtain opened and the beautiful people fanned themselves they were surprised to see the Bouffon, gimbled in a mass, centre stage. The beautiful people pulled their decorative little pistols out of their hand bags and pointed them warily at the clump. The Bouffon, who loved to have fun, encouraged one another to move forward and proceed with the entertaining imitations and songs they had created. Their wounds were on full display and helped the beautiful people to, um, see their own more clearly.

5) Vancouver Island MusicFest
It clearly marks the start of summer. There are few things I like more in the world then assembling with family and friends at MusicFest. There are people that I only get to see this one weekend a year, but we pick up as though no time has passed. My kids have been raised, coming up underfoot onto all of the awesome that is this MusicFest. We play music. We feast. We listen to amazing music from diverse genres and styles. We swim in the river. We laugh and we carve out this annual family tradition of a very special musical community.

– – – Previous Friday Five Archives – – –

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This last week the Small Batch List hit 1000 subscribers! Happy news. I am loving putting this thing together. If you know of someone who might enjoy it, please recommend it to them. And if you aren’t already subscribed and would like to receive the email version please sign up below.

Thank you, and 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! The last time it was Groucho Marx, of course!

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February 24th, 2017

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February 24th, 2017

So, you’re writing a book – or a movie – or a TV show for HBO. I know you are. We all are. You have set up your template in Scrivener or Word or Notepad or even on an actual piece of lined paper, and you’ve licked the tip of your proverbial pencil, and you’re ready to go. Once you’ve established a plot (Space/time exploration? Romantic tryst in Paris? Medieval fantasy dragon-based dilemmas? Lawyers lawyering?), you’ll need a main character – a romantic lead, a hero. Someone we all admire, yet can relate to. They will be brave, attractive, creative and hilarious – that’s a given. And they need an occupation. Something solid, something full of challenges and perhaps somewhat glamorous.  At this point, before you go too much further, may I suggest that you think outside the box. Go beyond your usual FBI agent, NASA technician, high-powered lawyer, DA or President… because, when you let your mind wander freely to all possibilities, you will inevitably land on the the fact that it is illustrators that make the best kinds of characters.

If you has asked me a moment ago what the five defining characteristics of an illustrator are, I would have said, eating almond croissants from Barb’s Buns, sitting up late looking at instagram, avoiding zombie movies, drawing a bit, and being able to say loudly, without any qualms “Yes, it’s true! I am an illustrator!” But now I have looked it up on the internet and, apparently, (which you can read all about in a $6.95 USD downloadable ebook) the key characteristics are:

Skill
Passion
Originality
Courage
Drive

See? Perfect! Everything your protagonist could possibly need.

If Frodo Baggins needed an occupation aside from hobbiting, I am willing to bet illustrator would have been a good choice. Wide-eyed and curious, quirky, enquiring, brave, tenacious, happy to be told what to do, but also always ready to question a dubious command… and devastatingly attractive, even when a hobbit.

I then thought to myself – what if Indiana Jones’s university department made staffing cuts, and the role of professor of archaeology was no longer an option? Could he sling his folio around town, sweet-talking art directors and publishers, and then go home to shuffle drawing papers across a drafting desk into the wee hours? Does he have the guts? The gumption? The vulnerability? Steven Spielberg said of Indie that there “was the willingness to allow our leading man to get hurt and to express his pain and to get his mad out and to take pratfalls and sometimes be the butt of his own jokes. I mean, Indiana Jones is not a perfect hero, and his imperfections, I think, make the audience feel that, with a little more exercise and a little more courage, they could be just like him.” Uh, yes! Perhaps with a little less exercise, Indie would have been the perfect illustrator.

Lastly (but not leastly) – how about Ripley from the Alien series?
She’s not a sidekick, arm candy, or a damsel to be rescued. Starting with Alien, Ripley was a fully competent member of a crew or ensemble — not always liked and sometimes disrespected, but doing her job all the same… Ripley isn’t a fantasy version of a woman…[she] is pushy, aggressive, rude, injured, suffering from post-traumatic syndrome, not wearing makeup, tired, smart, maternal, angry, empathetic, and determined to save others, even at great cost to herself. All without being a spinny killbot.” – See? ILLUSTRATOR!

Anyway, what I’m saying is, if you are in need of character inspiration, I’m right here. I don’t charge terribly high consultation fees… an almond croissant will do.

Some lovable illustrators in highly recommended movies and TV shows:
The delightful Oliver Fields (Ewan McGregor) from Beginners 
Well-meaning Will Henry (Jemaine Clement) in People Places Things
Feisty and bohemian Midge Daniels (Rosemarie DeWitt) from Madmen
Electric and outrageous Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) from Diary of a teenage girl

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Speaking of illustrators — it is with great sadness that I read that author and illustrator Dick Bruna died this week.  Most famous for his children’s books, including the Miffy series, he also illustrated numerous book covers for his father’s publishing firm, including the incredibly cool ones shown above.

Learning: Pixar in a Box with Khan Academy. The online educational resource is offering classes in collaboration with Pixar Studios in story telling and animation. It looks pretty technical, but I like the look of Season One – The Art of Story Telling.

Listening: Hunting for new music is a full-time occupation if you let it be. Austin Kleon pointed to the Esquire article last week: This Is the Best Way to Discover Music Without Spotify, Apple, or Pandora. My favourite sources are always NPR, Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour, Small Batch List readers’ very kind suggestions, and now I am off to check out NTS.
My SBL playlist is now available as a Spotify Playlist – thanks to Aidan! xo
And on Apple Music, as always.

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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Abby Glassenberg

Inspiring woman! Sewing pattern designer, craft book author, writer, blogger, podcaster and teacher.

Most often found at While She Naps and Craft Industry Alliance.

The week before last I was a guest on Abby’s podcast and she was kind enough to return me the favour and tell me her five favourite things. Thank you so much, Abby, for taking the time out of your incredibly full and busy schedule.

1) Kara Swisher
Kara Swisher is a tech journalist and I admire her so much. She is incredibly knowledgeable about her industry and has built great relationships with all the movers and shakers in Silicon Valley (even though she often writes hard stories about them). I read her articles on Recode and listen to her interview people on her podcast, Recode Decode, and I feel like I’ve learned so much about how to both be tough and be compassionate and not let people get away with spitting out canned answers to questions. Kara says she loves journalism because she gets a thrill out of irritating people and I couldn’t agree more.

2) Chad Dickerson
Chad Dickerson is the CEO of Etsy and under his leadership the company has done some really big things. He took Etsy public in 2015 and expanded seller services to include Pattern (the stand-alone website builder). In April Etsy will be launching a second marketplace, Etsy Studio, just for craft supplies. Etsy is a leader in both the tech and crafts industries when it comes to diversity in hiring, and they are lobbying in Washington on behalf of tiny businesses like mine. Chad leads in a low-key, smart way, confident way and I always get a thrill when he retweets me.

3) The Longform podcast
I didn’t go to journalism school and until recently had no idea what I was doing when researching and writing stories. Then I found the Longform podcast and my eyes were opened to what it takes to really be a writer. I’ve listened to every episode (and there are 232 of them!) and learned what a nut graph is, how to develop relationships with sources, how freelancers scrape together a living, and so much more. This show never fails to motivate me to get out there and find good stories and then sit down at the computer and write them.

4) Couch to 5K
I’m not a natural athlete. I spent gym classes in school sitting in the outfield with my back to the game picking dandelions and knotting them into crowns. I never played a team sport and failed to build an enjoyment in my body’s ability to move around. Four years ago a friend told me about the Couch to 5K app which I downloaded onto my phone on a whim. I completed the program and have been running 3.5 miles four days a week since. I’m addicted to running outside in any weather and I’m grateful to this app for starting me on the journey.

5) Pocket
Like you, Claire, I write a weekly email newsletter. And, like you, I’m also always busy doing other things (I have three kids and two businesses). Pocket is my ticket to getting a newsletter full of interesting, relevant links pulled together every Wednesday. It’s a free app for your phone and a browser extension for your desktop. Whenever you come across a potentially interesting article or video, just send it to Pocket and it will be there waiting for you when you actually have time to sit down (you can even read offline which is great for travel). Pocket recently told me I’m in the top 5% of their user base and I’m not surprised!

 

– – – Previous Friday Five Archives – – –

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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! The last time it was from Shaun of the Dead.

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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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27th January, 2017

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January 27th, 2017

Hello!  My favourite thing about this week’s newsletter is my 14 year old daughter Amelia’s Friday Five Favourites so, if you read nothing else here today, skip down to her segment towards the bottom of the page. Before you get there, here’s the other stuff:

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1) Watching: RIP Mary Tyler Moore.

Here’s a list with links to the 12 best episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (apart from the famous and oft-listed Chuckles Bites the Dust) on Vulture from a few years ago. “The show, which featured Moore’s character asking for equal pay to her male co-worker and going on the pill, became a paradigm of the women’s liberation movement and is credited with inspiring women to break the mold confining them as wives and homemakers. ” — HuffPo.

2) Listening and looking: An Illustrated Talk With Maurice Sendak  from the New York Times interview. Illustrator Christoph Niemann added some magic to this already emotional, beautiful, recorded conversation between interviewer Terry Gross and the late, great Maurice Sendak.

3) Inspiring: Cinplex’s best use of colour of all time. A top ten of brilliant films that use colour as almost another character. Lovers of film and colour design will enjoy this a lot.

4)  Coveting: With Phil being in Dallas this week, I am hankering for cowboy boots and this is only reinforced by a little Messy Nessy inspiration – University life in Arizona in the 1940s. Rodeo!

5) Saying thank you: This is where I get a little (and only a little) political. If this doesn’t interest you, skip on to item 6 or maybe 7, but I have my leanings and I can’t in good conscience ignore them. It has been an epic and important week in the history of Women’s Rights and Feminism. There is so much I could link to, but I will keep it to these three things: Firstly, up until recently, it might have been easy to sit back and complacently think that not every voice matters. You are not equal. I’m sorry reminds us of how important it is to acknowledge how easy we’ve had it thanks to those who have taken great risks. It also reminds us of how much more there is to be done.  Next – right here I am going to link to the Socialist Worker article Don’t shame the first steps of a resistance which highlights some thoughts about standing together in the days after the Women’s March on Washington (thanks Peg).  Lastly, a reminder of the gaping holes in the movement so far with Beyond Walking and Talking, Post-March Postmortem with Portland Women’s March Organiser Margaret JacobsenOkay. End political post. (Not the end of political motivation, however.)

6) Listening: A new pop anthem for the times; MILCK’s Quiet.  And here it is being performed by MILCK and a group of women who rehearsed together online before meeting as a flashmob in Washington at the Women’s March last Saturday.

I have also spent the week flashing-back and listening to Alt-J’s This Is All Yours from 2014, mostly because I love, love, love this song – Warm Foothills

And if you are keen – here’s a playlist on Apple Music of all the songs I have mentioned in the Small Batch List to date.

7) Cooking:  It’s a week of days. Robbie Burns Day (Wednesday), Australia Day (Thursday) and Chinese New Year (tomorrow). Okay, quite honestly, we didn’t actually celebrate or even remember Robbie Burns Day until Jamie Oliver reminded me with a haggis recipe in my inbox. Coincidentally we have been eating good Scottish porridge each morning this week. Apart from making the mornings even more desperately rushed, it’s making life kinda delicious. Here’s Jamie’s page on lots-of-ways with porridge. (I’ve been saying that with my excellent fake scottish accent all morning.) We go the half milk / half water route, and I also add a wee spot of brown sugar and a shake of cinnamon while it’s cooking up. We then serve it with a generous blob of applesauce and a glug of thick cream. Required: When serving it, I always say “thistle set you up for the day”, again in my excellent fake scottish accent.

And Australia Day? Again, we did not actually celebrate the day and continue to question how appropriate it is to celebrate this date at all… but it has made me think of home and, as always, that leads to thinking about pavlova, of course. Despite the Winter still creeping around our bones here, I am dreaming of summer fruits.

Here’s the basic pav recipe I follow… and above are some suggested variations on toppings – Back left: strawberry, basil and black pepper (whoa!). Front middle: raspberry, berry sauce, pistachio and peach. Back right: mango, passionfruit and pineapple. Gah! Yum.

Coming up tomorrow is Chinese New Year and I can’t stop thinking about steamed pork buns. I’ve never made them and I can’t decide if I am brave enough to try now. Dare me?

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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Amelia McCluskey

Student by day, epic sleeper by night. 14. Hilarious. My kid.
Most often found at school or looking at YouTube in her room.

Amelia took a little time out of exam week to write this for me. Like a true millennial, she sat next to me on the couch and composed the whole thing on her phone. Thank you, Amelia. You are one of the sweetest human beings and an absolute gem.

1) Frankie Magazine
I discovered Frankie Magazine on a sewing summer camp 6 months ago. Every day at lunch time, after we had spent several hours hunched over sewing machines, making clothes and sweating like the Dickens, the camp leader took us into the woods where she lay down on a picnic blanket and fell asleep for 45 minutes. She brought a cloth bag with her full of magazines for us to look at while we waited for her to wake up, and in this bag I found three issues of Frankie Magazine. An Australian publication full of photography, fashion, pictures of things you didn’t know you wanted and fantastic articles by fantastic writers, Frankie comes out with six issues a year, and it is always chock-full of excellent stuff. On the days when I come home from school and see that sealed plastic bag with my name on it and a thick, beautiful issue inside, I am forced to spend hours not doing my homework. I flip through the pages and jot down names of ceramic artists and shoe-makers so I can look through their etsys and drool later, hoping that one day Mum will give me a little more allowance so I can afford those robins-egg blue clogs.

2) Improv 
I saw my first improv show when I was in Grade Four. One of my friends was having a birthday party and had chosen to take us to see the high-school improv team perform in the evening. I don’t think I even understood what improvisation was at the time. I mean, at that point I was still telling my best joke, over and over again. (“Why are pirates scary?” “Because they ARGGGGH!”) Onstage, the kids performed a scene where they were all a giant stapler. I was totally awestruck. The idea that they were working cohesively as a group to create a completely made-up scene on the spot astonished me.

Now that I’m in my first year at the high-school, I actually get to be on the team, rather than just seeing some of the members in the grocery store and wishing I had the courage to ask them for an autograph. It’s so much fun. Soon my team will be going to compete against the other schools in the region and, maybe one day, we too will make a giant stapler.

3) My Ukulele
I’ve recently discovered how much I like writing my own songs, and my ukulele is the perfect instrument to sing them to. (I call her Stephanie. She has been known to steal boys’ hearts and make grown men cry.)

I love the Ukulele for how small and easily transportable it is, and for how easy it is to pick up. For beginners, the only notes you need to know are C, G, Am and F, and you will instantly be able to play pretty much any song. (Riptide, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Little Talks, the list goes on.)

Stephanie will always hold a special place in my heart, although secretly I’m saving up for this babe (she’s electric).

4) Watching TV With the Fam
My constant running commentary through pretty much any show that I watch is incredibly entertaining. (Mum and Dad might disagree.)

Even when I’m home alone, I won’t hesitate to make clever observations and tell tangential stories, only to realise there’s no one sitting beside me on the couch. (Even so, that doesn’t stop me.) Recently I have been loving Mozart in the Jungle, Please Like Me, Gilmore Girls, West World, The Crown and A Series of Unfortunate Events.

5) BØRNSDopamine 
Dreamy, talented and a little bit full of himself (for good reason though!) singer and occasional ukulele player Garret Borns’ album Dopamine (on Spotify and on iTunes) was probably my favourite of 2016. The songs Electric Love10,000 Emerald Pools and Fool are all must-listens, but first check out Seeing Stars which isn’t on this album but is a song that makes Mum and me clutch our hearts and sigh every time it comes on in the car.

 

– – – Previous Friday Five Archives – – –

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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 it was from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot (one L one T – I still remember that from grade 9 exam prep) but you you knew that, right?

 

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January 20th, 2017 #18

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January 20th, 2017

Hello hello. Another week has flown by – tick tock. Here on the island the snow and the skating ponds have (mostly) melted and the rain has set in. It’s hard not to feel old and tired at this time of year in all the darkness. All I want to do is sloth around, eat hot chips and watch bad TV.  Feeling the drag set in, I clicked through and read this article which highlights the dangers of sitting down too much and the direct link to ageing. As a result this newsletter took me twice as long to write as I had to keep springing up to prevent wrinkles.

When I googled the spelling of ageing (aging?) I got this as the top return: “Ageing, also spelled aging, is the process of becoming older. The term refers especially to human beings, many animals, and fungi, whereas for example bacteria, perennial plants and some simple animals are potentially immortal.”

So, like all smart human beings, many animals, and fungi, leap up and run around for half an hour. Your flawless skin will thank you.

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1) Looking: Juxtapoz x Superflat at the Vancouver Art Gallery until Feb 5th, 2017. Conceived by Japanese neo-pop, superflat luminary Takashi Murakami and editor of the underground art journal, Juxtapoz, Evan Pricco, this group show brought me so much inspiration and joy. I think this is one of the best things I have seen at the VAG in the six years we have lived here. I love this aesthetic. The works selected are fresh, edgy, humour-filled, curious and irreverent. As the VAG description says, Murakami and Pricco’s aim is to flatten high and low cultures,  drawing on traditions such as illustration, manga, graffiti, skate, surf and digital art. The show is packed full of strong and completely engaging work. I wanna go back!

Top to bottom, left to right: James Jean Bouquet, Swoon Edine,  David Shrigley Life Model, Parra Anxiety, Mark Ryden Anatomia, Rebecca Morgan Pittsburgh Joely Jug and Ochre Jug.

2) Watching: Sing Street is a fabulous family film (perhaps for an older family, as Commonsense Media says 13+) dripping with 80s nostalgia in both subject matter and stylings.

It’s a solid household favourite around here at the moment and reminds me of classics such as The Commitments and School of Rock. The mixture of genuinely good music and off-beat yet relatable characters facing all the expected challenges creates something familiar but totally entertaining. Watch the trailer… see? How can you resist? On Netflix. (thanks Carrie Cogan, editor-at-larger-and-larger)

3) Reading: Ed Emberley – The Kids Are Alright in Juxtapoz magazine. If you were a kid who was into drawing and were born some time around 1970 and beyond, chances are you discovered and loved the Ed Emberley drawing books, full of step-by-step instructions on how to draw pretty much everything in his kooky, distinctive style. This interview is chock-full of interesting snippets and opinions about art, children’s book publishing, Ed and his wife Barbara’s life and process, the history of print and the direction social media is pushing us in.

“…when you draw, you go away. You go to another place. It’s a safe place. And it’s a real place.” – I hear ya, Ed.

4) Inspiring: The Songs Birds Sing is a sweet and inspiring video from Montague Workshop about trusting your own voice, ignoring your self-doubt and going for it. I showed it to Lily, who watched it with a smile, and I recommend it to you because it’s a message all of us need to hear from time to time.

5) Podcasting: The Washington Post encourages you to upgrade your podcast playlist in 2017 and features a list of suggestions from their staff podcasters. I am excited to try this episode of No Such Thing as Fish as it features one of my favourite comedians (read: genius) Tim Minchin.

6) Listening: This is a pretty, pretty sad song; Phoebe Bridgers Smoke Signals. And this song is a kinda sappy but I do love it; No One Knows Me (Like the Piano) from Sampha.

7) Slow-cooking: Sorry vegetarians….  but on these grim winter evenings, this beef stew is really good and so easy.

If you have a slow-cooker it takes about 10 minutes to throw together the meat and veg, herbs and sauces and then it bubbles away all afternoon, making the house smell incredible. Even the kids like it. This in itself is miraculous.

8) Icelanding: Iceland knows how to stop teen substance abuse – and it’s not just about looking super serious in a tracksuit when you get your photo taken.

10) Quoting:  “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” — Georgia O’Keefe
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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Laura Gluhanich

Community Manager, Rock Climber, Owner of a small, cute dog and the person I steal all my good music suggestions from.
Most often found at A Song A Day, Twitter and GluFactory

I have never actually met Laura, she is my internet-imaginary friend and I have been keenly following her ideas and suggestions for years. I feel when we actually meet one day (you never know!) we will get along like a house on fire. I couldn’t resist asking her what her Friday Five Favourites are because I knew they would be excellent. Thanks Laura!

1) A Woman to Know Tinyletter by Julia Carpenter: 
AWtK is my favorite daily newsletter (as opposed to weekly, ahem). It is so affirming to start each day reading about the fascinating women history overlooks. The cadence of one per day is just right, and Carpenter’s commitment to showcasing diverse perspectives is refreshing.

2) Silent Book Club:
#Humblebrag – I am a cofounder of SBC. Even so, it is a favorite online online community and IRL meet up, filled with readers of all ages and backgrounds across various social channels and cities around the world. I can’t wait to see where it goes in 2017.

3) Elaine Page singing Nobody’s Side:
It seems like a good time to brush up on US/Russia history, and what better way than through musical theatre? Elaine is such a powerful performer, she leads the entire orchestra and outshines the forgettable 80s video recording to boot. I love this performance and come back to it regularly. In fact, I just included it in my Stronger Together playlist, highlighting strong, female-led songs.

4) Cards by Hailey
My favourites of these keep changing. I want all of these delightful, punny cards.

5) Franny & Zooey by JD Salinger: 
I read this book at least once a year, and have gifted it numerous times to friends and family. I love the humor, the characters, and ultimately, the optimism that pervades, despite covering Big Subjects.
Incidentally, it’s clear that Wes Anderson would not exist as the filmmaker he is if not for Salinger, and specifically, Franny & Zooey.

Thank you so much Laura!

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Have an excellent week and drop me a line if you feel inclined. I was a bit slack towards the end of last year and didn’t get back to a few kind emails (thank you to you!) but I’m back feeling relatively organised again.

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 it was from Tennyson’s The Foresters – Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Congrats to Dave French who mentioned it on Facebook. If you knew it from memory, I am well impressed!

p.p.s. Happy Birthday to Rob!

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January 13th, 2017

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January 13th, 2017

Hello and welcome back! Do you like my animated gif? I made it in about ten minutes, sitting up in bed holding my sketchbook on my lap and my phone in my hand, using the iMotion app. Animating has never been rougher! Don’t look at it for too long, it will make you ill.
This year the Small Batch List will be shorter (but sweeter!). Due to the powers that be (Mailchimp – who are marvellous but have to be practical) my hard work was being ruthlessly cut and sliced and dropped out in various mail programs as it was too long, so instead I will be making sure that everything arrives safely in everyone’s inboxes. This is also the perfect excuse for me to keep it brief and a whole easier to put together, as my work-life was becoming all about the newsletter, and I have some drawing to do this year. Hopefully this shorter-sweeter-briefer-tastier version will be easier to digest too, and a little less sprawling and overwhelming for you.

So without further ado, here is some stuff for this week:

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Looking:
When deliberating who might be my top 10 visual artists of all time, Yoshimoto Nara would have to be up there. Emerging in the 1990s during the Japanese neo-pop movement, Nara paints distinctive big-eyed children with clear lines and clear colours. This may sound sweet, but there is an edginess to his subjects. Blank-faced or seething, guitar-swinging, cigarette-smoking or wistfully staring right back at you whilst brandishing a knife. I love his sense of humour and whimsy. His Instagram is always the first thing I check – and lately I have been loving the ceramics he has been producing with help from the admirable Otani Workshop.

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Delighting:

1) Watching: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (above). Watch immediately. A totally charming and offbeat story of a kid raised in foster care, who is sent to live with a quirky older couple in the New Zealand mountains. There is so much love and humour in this story… part buddy-movie, part action-adventure, part poignant, heart-breaking story of a kid who nobody wants. It’s a great family movie (for those over 12). On Netflix.

2) Reading: I’m reading Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe, which Pip Lincolne recommended in the Small Batch List a month or so ago. In the vein of Barbara Trapido or Maria Semple (creators of other wonderfully eccentric families), this is great fun.

3) Looking: AnonyMouse – this wee, tiny pop-up store makes me love people. (via Messy Nessy)

4) Watching (obsessively): My new favourite tv show is Mozart in the Jungle. It follows the trials and travails of a fictional version of the New York Symphony Orchestra.

Gael García Bernal (above right) leads this ensemble cast (and the orchestra) with a completely irresistible performance (or is that just me?). Granted, it’s patchy and in some places downright sentimental and cheesy but the characters are so good, and stories about driven, crazy, creative people are hard to resist. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

5) Drawing: Neocolor II Watersoluble crayons – my Christmas present. Waxy, lovely crayons that produce deep, vivid colours and a nice thick coverage. Plus! Just add water, and presto… watery!

6) Reading: My dear friend and confidant Carrie Cogan has a new blog and it’s really great: Dented Stars. I love her writing so much and at this point I will have to stop calling her my Editor-at-Large as she is really just off doing something so brilliant without me! Yeah, Carrie!

7) Video-ing: Inspired by Heather Champ’s 2016 via 1 Second EverydayI have downloaded the 1 Second Everyday app and have started my own video visual diary compilation. It’s not too late to start.

8) Cooking: This cake with this frosting. After decades of trying and failing at making my Mum’s chocolate cake, I decided this last weekend to give up completely and try something new. I did my usual trick and googled “Best chocolate cake recipe in the world ever” and came up with this. Success rate 100%, and seemingly idiot-proof, as I picked up my tablespoon measure rather than the teaspoon, therefore adding a huge amount of bicarb, baking powder and salt (though I did say to myself “gee that looks like a lot of salt” and halved the amount, fortunately!).

9) Listening: I have just put on Open from San Fermin, a new track from a forthcoming album. I have never heard of this indie rock outfit led by classically trained songwriter and composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone — and now I am off to explore more, starting with their last album, Jack Rabbit. Thank you Laura for highlighting this in your A Song A Day newsletter this week. Laura will be my guest in the newsletter next week!

10) Sleeping: Better…. yes. But, regardless, I found this Brainpickings post from this last Tuesday interesting. Sleep Demons: Bill Hayes on REM, the Poetics of Yawns, and Maurice Sendak’s Antidote to Insomnia.
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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Alex T. Smith

Author, Illustrator and owner of many small dogs (and a brand new house!)
Most often found at alextsmith.com, Twitter and Instagram

Alex is the talented force behind the Claude books which, excitingly, will be coming to TV next year. I’m so stoked he agreed to give us his five favourite things.

I’m so excited to have been asked by Claire to be a part of her newsletter. I’m such a big fan of Claire’s work and have been a keen follower of her blog for years. This is a real thrill, even though narrowing my favourite things down to just five was really tricky!

1. LORE Podcast.
http://www.lorepodcast.com/about
I found LORE when I was looking for new things to listen to while I’m head-down at my drawing desk, and what an excellent discovery they are. Brilliantly written and produced by writer/presenter Aaron Mahnke. Each episode (released weekly) delves into a strange and mysterious non-fiction series from around the world, and touches on folklore, history and the darker side of human nature. It’s fascinating and a touch on the scary side, and Aaron’s delivery is pitched perfectly. The show has been described as a “campfire experience” which I agree with. It’s like listening to a friend telling a ghost story on a dark and stormy night.

(Excitingly, Lore is making the move to TV in the new year! It’s been picked up for a 10 episode run and is being made with the producer of The Walking Dead and the show runner is the X-Files writer/ producer Glen Morgan. I can’t wait!)

2. My Vintage Norwegian cardigan.
I picked up this handknitted cardigan from a vintage shop when I lived in the north of England a few years back. It was constantly FREEZING ( one winter it snowed so much my chihuahuas completely disappeared when they went out into the garden!) and my then studio was like an icebox. This jumper was a life-saver – so warm and cosy, and I love the fair-isle style pattern. I do have a bit of a thing for vintage/ patterned knitwear, but this is still my absolute favourite.

3. The Swing by Jean-Honore Fragonard.
After a lot of thinking about it, I’ve decided that yes, this my favourite ever painting. I’ve always been fascinated by it and can remember spending ages pouring over it in an art book I had when I was younger. It’s got a really interesting story behind it (bit saucy too!), but besides all that, it’s just a really lovely, narrative painting to look at. I love the pink dress against the greens in the background, the beautiful outfit she’s wearing and the frivolity of both the swing itself (so fancy with its crimson velvet cushion!) and her shoe flying off and through the air (is it going to clock that man in the face?!)
In recent years, the painting has popped up in some lovely and unexpected places. It inspired the look and stylings for Disney’s TANGLED and a copy of the painting pops up in the background of FROZEN.

4. My leopard print Vans and my bright pink socks.
I took this picture of my shoes the other day and the combination of the colours and pattern makes me really happy and cheers me up on grey days! What’s not to love about a spotty shoe and a fiery pink sock?! I love the combination so much I’m about to give an old chest of drawers in my house a much-needed, neon-pink make-over and am on the hunt for something suitably leopard print-y to perch on the top. If all else fails I might just pop these battered old shoes on display…!

5. Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
This is hands down my favourite book I’ve read all year. I read it in the spring, but still find my mind drifting back to both the story and the characters. Set in WW2, it follows the odd couple story of two strangers thrown together during the war.  One is ten year old Noel. He’s an odd little chap who has no family and has, until recently, been living with an elderly, wonderfully eccentric aunt. When he is forced to be evacuated out of London, he ends up living with Vera (Vee) Sedge, a thirty-something single mother who is drowning in debts and is constantly looking for ways to scam money she desperately needs. She’s completely useless at it on her own, but when Noel becomes involved, they become a team. However, unexploded bombs aren’t the only dangerous things in wartime Britain, and soon Noel and See find themselves in danger.
It’s a brilliant, eccentric, funny and moving book. Excellently written with a Mitford-esque style and full of wonderful characters and details. A real gem!

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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! The last time it was Rolf Harris’s Six White Boomers.

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