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Creative Irony

Having stated quite clearly to the blogging world, and the Universe in general, that I was like a bottle of pop when it came to writing posts for my blog ie. fizzing with ideas all over the place, I sat down today to write a blog post.

Chewing on pencil.

Chewing on lip.

Staring out of the window.

Looking at my nails.

Making raspberry-type blowing noises as I rue the day I said out loud I had loads of writing ideas.

Rolling eyes.

Blowing again.

Tapping on desk.

Making weird facial gurning expressions.

Head in hands in dramatic "I Give Up" gesture of defeat.

I got nothin'.

No fizzing.

No itchy fingers magically writing a blog full of wit, vigour and verve.

It's the kind of irony that only the Creativity Gremlins could appreciate.

So, today I am posting some pictures of my recent artistic creative endeavours.  Enjoy.  If I can't get my fizz back, it may be all I'm posting for a while...

As part of my year long commitment to embracing creativity I have been playing with different mediums to inspire jewellery designs.

I've been working on creating designs inspired by the shapes of seed pods.  I started by making a quick five minute sketch of my chosen pod.  The first thing I've drawn in nigh on twenty years...

Looking at particular shapes within the overall sketch, I picked out areas that appealed to me and then went on to sketch bolder, more stylised shapes.  I used inks, metallic paints, and ink pen to play with different shapes, styles and colour groups, and suddenly these little gems appeared on the paper. 

Using hot wax and ink was a lot of fun and gave a really lovely effect.  Also a lot less painful than having a holiday wax.  I'm just saying. 

I seem to be all about the bold shapes and colours.

Etching into metal was interesting, especially when using inks to add colour.  I used an empty tube of tomato puree, washed out and flattened open. 

My Mission If I Choose To Accept It:

 To use these designs to inspire possible designs of a necklace, pendant, earrings, bracelet or ring.  I have a couple of sketch book pages of pencil and ink drawings of possible jewellery designs and will spend the next few weeks making one or two of them in copper and then, silver.  I won't post the designs here just yet, but will share them with you when I've made the jewellery.  It's more fun that way!

It seems that my dream of coming over all Flashdance with goggles and a naked flame may be coming to fruition.

What a feelin'! 

I've Only Gone and Baked!

Tomorrow will be the one month anniversary of me starting this blog.  I started it for different reasons:

1.  I started writing a journal in 1988.  I only ever wrote in it whenever the urge took me.  Last month I wrote my last entry, I had run out of pages.  Great, I thought.  I'll settle down for a good read.  I read it from start to finish.  It was miserable.  Awful.  If  I'd paid for it, I'd have had to demand a refund with compensation for damages inflicted.  I decided to write a blog instead.  With the vague possibility of people reading it, I might write something cheerful.

2.  I knew I wanted to shake things up a bit creativity wise.  I had a sense that exploring being more creative was the way for me to go.  If I publically committed to the challenge, there was no going back.

3.  Sometimes I get ideas in the middle of the night and I don't really think them through.

Yesterday I baked.  I made the icing way too runny so I added more icing sugar, which made it too thick so I added more water.  If I'd been trimming the legs on a chair I'd have been about an inch off the floor before I stepped away from the bowl.  So I took my pint and a half of icing and spread it on my wee cakes.   It ran off the cakes and made a pink puddle.  Tasted great.


Over the past month things have started to change.  Or maybe I have started to change. 
Dramatic sounding but true.  I didn't really know what to expect after I said out loud that I was going to spend the next year exploring being creative.  Would I suddenly have the urge to cook a curry from scratch?  Would I want to sketch in a flurry the striking features of people I came across in the street?  Would I start stencilling?

I've done my best to listen to the quiet voice of my enthusiasm over the past month.  And the odd things it has been telling me to have a crack at.

And I am finding myself more and more surprised.

I am enjoying the baking.  I am relaxed by the knitting.  I find making jewellery really rewarding.  Painting is fun.  But writing.  I get absorbed in the writing.

When I sit down at the computer to write the next blog entry I have literally no idea what I'm going to write about.  I click on the tag that says "New Post" and then I start to type.

Words just come.  It's the oddest thing I have ever experienced.  I start to tell a story of something that has happened to me recently, and a blog post appears.  I have no idea where the ideas are bubbling up from.  I have become a creative bottle of pop when it comes to actually writing the blog posts.

I always enjoyed keeping a journal.  It was cathartic to get down on paper my private thoughts. I've never been much of a letter writer.  I've taken writing classes where I've been told to write stories.  I've written some poems for children that I used when I was teaching.  I've written lots and lots of essays, exercises and teaching plans.  But I never enjoyed writing those things the way I enjoy writing this blog.  

And I love all of it.  Writing about what I've been knitting.  Writing about what I've been thinking.  Writing about things that happened to me recently.  A while ago.  Years ago.  It's like playing with words.

I know it looks like I've squeezed ketchup and guacamole on my cupcakes but that was actually a wee product known as Writing Icing that came in black, red, green, yellow or white.  All colours I'm itching to see on top of my cakes.  I might not be that great at the cooking part of the programme.  But the getting creative with the words bit seems to be going ok.

Once Upon a time in Japan: Earthquakes

I didn't think about earthquakes before I moved to Japan.  I didn't think about earthquakes much at all until  they became part of my daily life in Tokyo.  Tokyo is built right over the meeting point of three different tectonic plates that all jockey for position and rub up against each other twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five and a bit days a year.  Right over the meeting point.  On top of it.  Exactly.  It's completely bonkers. 

If one of those tectonic plates gets a bit uppity and starts to slide on top of another tectonic plate, or if the pressure of the three of them pushing against each other causes them to slip, jar or judder, you have yourselves an earthquake.  Tokyo experiences dozens of earthquakes a day.  Some so small you don't feel them.  Others so big they rock your world.  But not in a good way.

Let me just state quite clearly for the record that living with earthquakes is weird.  It's odd.  And depending on how much those bolshy tectonic plates judder, it may or may not cause you to feel the need to change your big-girl pants.

I experienced my first tangible earthquake during my second week of teaching in Japan.  I was sat around a small circular table with three students, going through the basics.  This is a pen.  That is a book.  This is a pencil.  That...  is a whole lot of rocking going on...  is anybody else feeling this...  whoa there Neddy...  am I drunk...  don't panic...  everything is fine...  it hasn't stopped yet...  it's getting worse...  why are my students getting under the table...  no, I'm not getting under there with you...  oh, ok, but don't...  Good Gordon, the sky is falling in...  move over, move over.  

Is there a polite way to sit under a table with people you've only just met?  No. 

When we resurfaced, my students were delighted to have shared my first earthquake experience.  They weren't the slightest bit shaken or stirred.  I was, erm, what's the technical term?  Oh, yes, freaking out.

That was an earthquake?  An earthquake?  AN EARTHQUAKE.  So much swaying.  Can I be excused?  I feel a tad sick.

You start to evaluate your environment differently when you live in a world that really does rock.   Bookshelves are fixed to the wall, so that you don't suddenly find yourself reading all your books at once.  Precious items are displayed on lower down shelves.  You don't tend to have a lot of clutter that can jiggle its way to being broken.  You don't sleep next to anything heavy that can be thrown or dislodged and land on top of you. 

A friend of mine from New Zealand took to sleeping with his motorbike helmet next to the bed in case of earthquakes.  If the earth started to move, and he wasn't responsible, he would leap out of bed and cram on the helmet.  He felt that if the house fell in at least his head would still be in one piece.  Until his wife pointed out that a motorbike helmet untethered in a room during a big earthquake would probably be the thing to do him in. Particularly in the case of The Big One.

The Big One.

Ask any person living in Japan about The Big One and they will have lots to tell you.  The Big One last hit Tokyo in 1923.  1st September 1923 at 11.58am to be precise.  Lunch time.  The time when most households were cooking lunch on open flames.  The close proximity of the houses and the fact that they were mainly constructed with wood meant that most people killed as a result of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 died in the fires that raged for two days after the earthquake rather than as a result of the earthquake itself.  The earthquake measured 8.3 on the Richter scale and moved the 93 tonne Buddha statue in Kamakura two feet forwards on its stone base.  Approximately 140,000 people died.  Scary stuff.

My Japanese students and friends took great delight in telling me these facts repeatedly during my time in Japan.  I had to change my big-girl pants a lot.

According to my Japanese friends, seismoligists had studied the frequency of strong earthquakes taking place in the Kanto region where I lived, and had found that there was a pattern.  The Big One hit the Kanto region around Tokyo roughly every 70 years.  The last one had hit in 1923.  I arrived in Tokyo, flushed with  the excitement and anticipation of the adventures ahead in 1993.  You do the maths.

You can imagine my dismay.

Twenty two months after I arrived in Tokyo The Big One hit.  Only it didn't hit Tokyo.  To everyone's surprise it hit the Kansai region of Japan hundreds of miles to the south of Tokyo.

At 5.46am on Tuesday January 17th 1995 in the southern part of Hyogo prefecture 20km from Kobe, the Great Hanshin Earthquake hit.  I was in bed asleep and was woken up by a gentle quaking.  I thought it was another small earthquake in the Tokyo area.  When I turned on the tv, in the morning as I got ready for work, I saw orange ticker tape running across the screen giving emergency information, and scenes of fires raging amid collapsed buildings.  Six thousand four hundred and thirty four people died, including teachers I had met who worked for the same company as I did in the Kansai region, and students I had taught who had had the misfortune to travel home to visit families that week.  Three hundred thousand were left homeless.  For days my room mate and I followed the news watching the drama unfold.  Very sad and scary stuff.

It was at this point that my Japanese friends decided that now was a good time to tell me about the rumours they had heard that the Kansai earthquake was actually the precursor to The Kanto Big One that was due to arrive any time soon.  So I should go to the supermarket and put together my survival kit.  They weren't joking.  

Here is a list of the items my friends and the local government were advising me to gather together.

Bottled water/enough for 6 days. 
Tins of tuna/enough tinned foodstuffs to last 6 days
A basic first aid kit
Face masks
Bin bags
A torch
A battery powered radio
A blanket
Toilet paper
Any medications you usually take on a daily basis, one month's supply.

Again, there was some changing of big-girl pants.  And some mild concern at how I was going to carry 12 litres of water and more tinned fish than you could waggle a stick at whilst climbing out of a wobbling window.

For several months after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, Tokyo was on high alert.  Seismologists couldn't understand how they had got it so wrong.  The Kansai area where the Hanshin earthquake struck was considered a "safe zone" in Japan as it had experienced far fewer earthquakes than the Kanto area around Tokyo, and, unlike Tokyo, was not directly over the meeting point of the three tectonic plates. 

In supermarkets in and around Tokyo, displays were set up showing the items that your personal survivial kit should contain.  Nicely emphasised with huge cardboard flames that licked their way around the displayed items.  And a supermarket employee in quasi-police uniform shouting at you with a mega phone to "BUY YOUR SURVIVAL KIT HERE!"  I kid you not.  Seriously.  Every time I needed a packet of tofu and whipped into my local store, I would see these horrifying displays and come out hyperventilating.

I put together my survival kit.  It was so heavy and unwieldy that if a big earthquake had hit, I'd have been put out of my misery by my survival kit-bag as it was thrown around the room.

After several months things calmed down.  I cracked open my survival bag and chowed down on tins of tuna.  I also had a think about what would happen if a big earthquake did hit Tokyo.  I was sub-letting my room from my Japanese room mate.  Strictly speaking she wasn't allowed to sub-let any part of her rented flat.  Me living there was a smidge naughty.  I wasn't listed anywhere as being a resident in that building.  If an earthquake did strike and the Shiny Meadows Apartment Block did collapse around my little scared ears, no-one would know to send in the sniffer dogs to find me.  It was time to move.

I never got used to earthquakes in Tokyo.  They were stealthy saboteurs.  They waited until you were distracted, and then, literally, pulled the rug from under your feet.  I guess it was lucky that I discovered Long Island Ice Teas...

I searched around the area near my flat and found a lovely new place to rent called Casa Hawaii.  A shared house with people from various countries who had come to live and work in the Tokyo metropolis.  I paid my rent, signed the contract and moved in. 

But that's another story.

Bloggy Fabulousness

I've been busy this week.  And I've had a great time.  In amongst all the busyness I have found some real treasures in the blogosphere that I wanted to share with you.

I came across Spirit Jumping at an organisation called Spirit Jump.  Creative Guerilla Goodness in another form.  I signed up and am now a Spirit Jumper.  If you know someone who could use a Spirit Jump or would like to become a Spirit Jumper click on the button.  Or just take a look.  It's a place in the blogosphere that's well worth visiting.

Proud Spirit Jumper

As I've been visiting other blogs I've started to become a bit of a collector.  I find myself collecting pretty, sassy or flirty widgets that lead to beautiful and inspiring places in the blogosphere.  I may have come over all Alice in Wonderland.  I love finding a beautiful widget.  Clicking on it.  And then finding myself  in the most wonderful treasure trove of a place that I didn't know existed.  If you don't believe me, click on this:

It's official.  "Mimi and Tilly:  The Art of Living a Glittery Life" blog has been rated by the editing team at Blogged.  And has received the fantastically fabulous rating of 8.2 out of 10.

This rating seems oddly specific.  Not 8.1 or 8.3 but a definate 8.2.  With the title "Great".  I was going to write something flippant and whimsical here about how I don't need to be rated, how my levels of self-esteem, although often known to wobble, are high enough, and how a rating by Blogged is lovely but I'm not overly concerned.  Who am I kidding?  I'm a total review trollop.  As such I have pasted a huge widget here on my blog which proudly proclaims that Mimi and Tilly is an 8.2 and not an 8.1 or an 8.3.  Great.

If you feel so inclined and want to feed my unhealthy review trollopyness, you can rate my blog by clicking on the widget.  Feel free to make my week by giving me a 9.  Or maybe even a 9.1.  Who am I kidding?  Make it a 10 and I'll be basking in trollopy glory all week.

Mimi and Tilly at Blogged

Creative Cocktails

When I was living in Tokyo, I met an American.  She was tall, blonde, unbelievably good looking, with the longest legs I've ever seen.  She was recently married to an American guy who spoke fluent Japanese, and had been sent to work in Tokyo by his company in New York.  He was also sickenly good looking.  It was my great good fortune to meet them within the first few weeks of my arriving in Tokyo. They took me under their fun-loving, kind and quick to laugh wing, and taught me everything I needed to know about Living a Glittery Life in Tokyo.

After work, whenever schedules allowed, I would wend my way, via the underground system, to their little flat in a Tokyo suburb. They lived above an older, retired Japanese couple, who had converted their house into two self-contained flats.  My friends had the top flat, which was small and open plan.  The kitchenette diner led into the lounge. Off that was their bedroom.  There was a small bathroom.  No pets were allowed.

Within weeks of moving into their flat, my newly married friends decided they wanted to start a family as soon as possible.  And before too long their first addition arrived.

A small, grey, dwarf, house rabbit called Petie.  He spent his days bobbing around the flat, and being swiftly hoofed into the cupboard if the landlord made an unscheduled visit.  The landlord didn't like noise.  He thought the sound of breathing was too loud.  He especially didn't like laughing.  We laughed a lot.  He made a lot of unscheduled visits.

Whenever we were able to get together, and the mood took us, we would make our way from my friends' flat into Roppongi, in Tokyo, to our favourite bar there.  Magumbo's.  The staff in Magumbo's were all, for some reason, American.  And they loved to serve beer, tequila shots and cocktails.  Magumbo's was unbelievably small, with a central, circular bar that customer's sat around on stools.  The bar staff worked in the inner circle of the bar, moving around the circle serving.  The bar sat maybe twenty people.  It was fantastic.

It was here that my new American friends educated me in the ways of drinking cocktails, Life in America, and Why It Was Very Important That They Set Me Up On Blind Dates With Their American Friends in Japan.

So much fun.

One night in Magumbo's, they ordered me a Long Island Ice Tea.  As they bought ice tea from their local store, I thought it was a non-alcoholic variation on a theme.  Yum.  Great flavour.

With quite a kick for a non-alcoholic beverage.  I thought.

On my days off, I would take myself into Harajuku in Tokyo, to go for breakfast at a cafe bar there, before doing a bit of sight-seeing and shopping.  I started to order Lond Island Ice Teas with my breakfast.

At 9.30am. 

I did this for several weeks.  It was only when the cafe bar got a new American barman that anyone mentioned anything.

It's a bit early to be drinking isn't it?

The Japanese staff had all been too polite to say anything to the wee English Lush who ordered cocktails with breakfast.

Those days off were some of the happiest of my life, as I meandered around Tokyo.  Ever-So-Slightly-Hammered.  But without a clue.

Now I'm back in the UK.  Life has a different pace.  But every time I taste a Long Island Ice Tea it takes me straight back to my days in Tokyo.  Good times.

What could be more creative than making cocktails? I thought today as I sat at my computer, looking out of my window at the grey, overcast day.  So I'm on the lookout for a vintage cocktail shaker.  My plan is to get some friends round. Bake up some cupcakes. Maybe knock up a pizza or two, and then get creative with my cocktail shaker.

In memory of Happy Times in Tokyo .

So much fun.

Does anyone have a great cocktail recipe or two?

Guerilla Goodness

The past few days I've been busy.  Busy thinking about the different ways that people are creative.  "Putting something new into the world" I called it in an earlier post. 

I found a blog yesterday called http://kindnessgirl.com and it really made me sit up and think.  Being creative is about making something new.  A ring, a scarf, a picture.  But it could also be about making a new feeling.  Giving someone a reason to smile.  Creating a way for someone to have a few minutes of ease.

Patience Salgado, the wonderful lady behind http://kindnessgirl.com , creates ways to practise what she calls Guerilla Goodness.  She and her children spend time in and around their hometown anonymously doing things to bring pleasure and kindness to strangers.

They have written notes and cards with meaningful messages that they've then slipped into random library books, for people thumbing through the shelves to find.  They have picked sunflowers, knocked on doors, and left the flowers on the step for people to find, with notes that said "This is a random act of kindness.  Have a beautiful day."  They have filled the slots in the machines at the launderette, so that the next person to use the machines has a few minutes paid for. 

Patience and her children spend time each day creating ways that they can have an impact on the lives of the people that live near them that they do not know.  

Early in the morning on the first day of the school term this year, Patience, her children and some friends, took pieces of chalk and wrote messages of encouragement to the children starting school.  "Your new shoes look great!", "Have a fantastic school year!",  "You are brilliant!", were some of the messages written on the pavement for nervous wee children, and their more nervous parents, to see on their way into school.

Reading about Patience and her family and their random acts of Guerilla Goodness got me pondering...


What random acts of kindness could I perform to make a difference to a stranger's day? 

Would I be forcibly removed from the library if I were found loitering with intent to be kind, in amongst the aisles, slipping snippets of notes on paper into books?

Can you get arrested for chalking on pavements outside schools?

Would people in my local shops think I was being sarcastic if I smiled broadly at them and handed them a note saying "I appreciate you.  Have a great day."  Followed by a flower.

How do people respond?

Are people open to receiving these kindnesses, or suspicious of them? 

Have we distanced ourselves from people so much that we have fewer opportunities to share kindnesses?

Am I really this cynical?
I'm still thinking about this.  I'm considering ways in which I could start a mini Mimi and Tilly movement of random acts of kindness.   I've been thinking of the different people in my neighbourhood, and how I could show more than the usual kindness courtesies that I share with them.  I smile, chat, give cups of sugar, slices of bread, and exchange pleasantries. 

But guerilla goodness seems to me to be about more than that.  It seems to be about really putting a little anonymous piece of yourself out there.  It's about sharing a little bit of your heart with complete strangers.

That to me seems very brave.  And very creative. 

I think Patience and her family are very brave.  And very creative.

Visit http://kindnessgirl.com/ to read more about Guerilla Goodness.  Patience writes a very uplifting and life-affirming blog. 

And I think, in lieu of my cynical questioning, I must, immediately if not sooner, embark on a mini Mimi and Tilly movement of creative Guerilla Goodness.

Stitching and Bitching

For the past wee while I've been stitching and bitching.

Stitching:  Trying to make my supersized, cartoonesque knitting needles do exactly what Debbie Stoller tells me they should be doing in her book, "Stitch 'N Bitch:  The Knitter's Handbook".

Bitching:  Because my supersized, cartoonesque knitting needles won't do what Debbie Stoller authoratively informs me they could be doing.  My needles seem to be a little wilful.  One of them likes to throw itself dramatically to the floor. The other one drops stitches, picks up extra stitches I, frankly, don't need, and invents knots and stitches that have never been invented before...  I'm having a bit of bother getting the blighters under control.

Not one to be foiled by unruly tools, and, after unravelling the same piece of knitting so many times I think we could be into double figures, I've managed to produce two pieces that I'm proud to call my own.

Ooh, if I know you, you probably shouldn't peek.  There's a chance you'll be getting one of these as your Christmas present.
So, now I've learned how to knit moss stitch, or seed stitch as it's known in the States, and rib stitch.  Both of these pieces will be magically transformed into stylish neck warmers with the help of a couple of sassy vintage buttons.
I was also given some beautiful vintage mohair wool for a birthday present from my lovely friend, Ange.  It's a very fine wool, in a gorgeous shade of the palest pink.  I fancy seeing if I can knit a neck warmer in a very loose, almost fish net, style.  I'm not sure if I have enough wool, but will be all over it in a knitting frenzy for the next few days, so you shouldn't have to wait too long to see how things turn out!
For more information about Debbie Stoller and her range of knitting and crocheting handbooks, you can visit http://www.knithappens.com/

Pretty Things

I've been playing with my new camera.

I love blousey flowers and vintage jewellery, so really enjoyed taking these.  The diamante pictures are of details of the vintage collar shown in the previous post "Creativity Gremlins".  My new camera allows me to show the detail in the wire filigree and also the different colours of the diamante stones, from white, to pink, to pale blue.  The roses are vintage silk flowers I picked up years ago that I have piled in a big, clear glass vase.  I love that they're faded and a bit rough round the edges but still beautiful.  These pictures were taken on my window ledge!  A big thank you to my new Canon Digital Ixus!

Camera Analysis Paralysis

Today was my "Birthday Day Out".  Each year I take a day some time close to my birthday and do something fun.  A couple of years ago when I was one year off a milestone birthday I decided that rather than getting down on myself because of a number, I would start marking my birthdays with something great to look forward to.  We went to the zoo, with a picnic for three for two, one year.  Last year we went out for a meal, and did some clothes shopping.  Fabulous.

Today, I went camera shopping.

Having spent innumerable hours doing online research into which make and model of camera would be best for me to use to photograph my creative exploits, I got a severe case of Camera Analysis Paralysis.

Modes, functions, zoom capabilities, lenses, digital this, SLR that. Bridging Cameras?  What's that now?

The "Camera Shop for Serious Photographers" was recommended to us, and we made our way there, excited and filled with anticipation.  Would this be the place we found The Camera I Was Meant To Have?


After spending several very strange and difficult minutes trying hard to communicate with the monosyllabic, possibly ever-so-slightly drunk store person, we moved on. 

And found The Camera I Was Meant To Have in another store nearby.  It's lovely.  And just to prove it, here are some pictures we took of pretty things in the cafe where we had lunch.  Rustic old tables, vintage chairs, and delicious food.  I couldn't wait to get home to start taking pictures though, and tore into the box, and took these quick shots.

This bracelet is made using honking great (that's a technical term...) amethyst nuggets, lemon citrine faceted slabs, and vintage lead crystal beads, connected with wrapped loops of silver wire.  The larger beads are an inch long.  It looks great with a plain white, long-sleeve t-shirt.
This ring is made using thick silver wire and a smoky quartz bead.
This is one of a pair of silver and haematite earrings hanging from the pepper pot.  I love the way the camera has caught the reflections and light on the beads in this shot.
A faceted amethyst nugget, with silver wire, ring.
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