Monday 13 December 2010

Santa's early visit

I got my Secret Santa package in the post! All the way from County Cork :) It's the first time that my Santa doesn't have to travel outside the country. I've lived in Ireland for about six years now and I don't know how I have managed to never visit Cork city, but now I'd love to go and say thanks to Em in person. Maybe a trip in the new year?
I opened the package immediately, because I'm like that. I prefer instant gratification than later delight. But I did pause for a second to take a photo of the content. I couldn't believe how generous my Santa has been. Huge virtual hug to Em from C'est la vie! Seriously, thank you so much. This was way more than I expected, you made my day! I looked for an email on your blog to thank you immediately but I didn't find one, so this is the only way I have to show you my appreciation ;)

Em sent me 3 books - Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Tent by Margaret Atwood and Perfume by Patrick Süskind. Two cds - Mick Flannery (Irish) and Basia Bulat (Canadian), who I had never heard of before, and two mysterious packages which turned out to be two special kind of French artisan sea salts: Fleur de sel and Gros sel both from Nairmoutier in Brittany. Em describes the first as being the gold of salt, and I'm almost hesitant to try it out as it's so precious!

About the books, I've read Perfume before and really enjoyed it, but I have never read Dracula (I know!) and the only book by Margaret Atwood that I've read is The Handmaid's Tale which was fantastic, so I'm glad to have another one of hers handy.
Also, I've listened to the cds once each, and yes, it's my kind of music. Will be playing them lots, especially Basia. So thank you so much again for everything, you've been a wonderful Santa.

Wow, I can believe this is the 4th Secret Santa exchange. The 4th! I'm just going to let that sink in...
And then warmly thank all the people who make this possible every year:
Allie, Amanda, Amy, Jen, Jen, Kelly, Lenore, Nicole, Selena.

Big hugs to ye too!

Thursday 11 November 2010

It's Time for Secret Santa a.k.a. The Book Blogger Holiday Swap again!

It's that time of the year...Time for gift swapping among book bloggers!
I've taken part in it every year since Nymeth from Things mean a lot started it and it's one of the most fun thing I've done blog-wise. The rules are simple: send a gift - receive a gift :)
Obviously, being a book blogger thing, the gifts tend to me bookish. But not strictly so!
Go on, join now. You'll love it.
Ah go on, go on, go on.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Green Books Campaign - The Green Guide for Business by Chris Goodall

Hello Internet People! I haven't reviewed a book in months and so I feel a bit out of practice, but I could not miss this event.
It's the Green Book Campaign organised by Eco-Libris, in which bloggers around the world review eco-friendly books and help raise awareness on the importance of sustainability in the publishing industry. I took part last year, when I reviewed "Sustainable Sushi" and learned a lot about the fish industry and the impact it has on our oceans. This year I decided to take part again, because I think it's important to always keep educating ourselves and others on the big issues facing our mistreated planet.
And the Green Books Campaign does just that. Here's the official introduction:

This review is part of the Green Books campaign.Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.
The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

The Green Guide for Business by Chris Goodall

(printed in Britain on paper from well-managed forests and other controlled sources = FSC certified)

I chose to review this book for mainly one reason. I'm looking to start an independent business soon, and one of my main goals is to do it in the most eco-friendly way. Before reading it, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do to implement green measures: recycle as much as possible, source materials from local suppliers, use transport with low-carbon impact, such as bikes and hopefully an electric car or van, use a compost bin and natural cleaning products.
After reading this, I realised that my ideas were set in the right direction, but, also, that there is so much more to consider.

It challenged some of my most firm beliefs and urged me to read even more about many issues, from recycling to alternative renewable energies.
This doesn't mean to say that I necessarily agree with everything Mr Goodall advocates. I found myself shaking my head more than once at the blatant way the book often refers to (and endorses) financially convenient choices and corporate hierarchy. The author addresses his advices to the CEO of businesses of any size, while referring to the junior staff in a, sometimes, dismissive and patronising way. Maybe it's just me who's allergic to this king of talk. Maybe Chris Goodall and I won't be the best of friends. But that's not the point. The important thing here is that I learned A LOT. I gathered lots of insightful information, useful tips and a general, clearer idea of how I'd like to run my business, so I can say it was an important read.
I should also say that, as insightful and well-researched as it is, this guide is almost completely UK-centred. It speaks to a British audience, so whoever doesn't live there, like me, needs to do their own local research on regulations, allowances, statistics etc.

But let's go more into details on what the book is actually about.

The first chapter looks at the reasons why a business should go green:

Contrary to general beliefs, going green doesn't mean spending more simply to be kind to the environment. It means being more efficient. A green business is able to monitor its costs better than a non-green one. It's also going to be ready to face changes in energy prices and respond quicker to changes in environmental regulations. It's basically saying that it makes all kinds of sense to switch to more sustainable options, even financially.

Having established that going green is a necessity, and not a luxury, the guide goes on to look at what it means to be a green business and what it can be done to implement real changes, from simple housekeeping to bigger but still easy steps, to major and revolutionary green projects. It also contains a whole chapter on how to calculate your carbon footprint (not an easy feat, I'm warning you), another one on how to reduce emissions on transports, and another on recycling, reducing and reusing (focusing on paper, water, stationery, and even furniture).

The major lesson I've learned is that whatever you do, you can never hope to achieve a completely green business. Everything we do is bound to be linked to carbon emissions, like it or not. But the answer isn't to seat back and keep doing nothing. The sensible and smart way to deal with it is, firstly, to be aware of the impact of our actions on the planet. Then to make informed choices on what to do to minimise this impact.

Maybe not surprisingly, the general public and the media, is apparently focused on things that don't matter as much as others, in terms of reducing emissions.
For example, the emphasis is on reducing stand-by power use of electrical appliances but the electricity consumed when things are in use has a bigger impact.

The attention is directed on issues such as recycling domestic waste, but this is generally a trivial matter compared, say to the importance of home insulation or the role of car and air transport in adding to carbon footprints.


Not buying stuff in the first place, or only purchasing from suppliers that minimise the amount of energy or materials used, is not something that is well understood.

Now, while I would agree that awareness should be raised on those issues, because saving energy and using less things are essential ways to reduce CO2 emissions, I wouldn't call recycling a trivial issue, in any case. And this lead to the main criticism I have about this book. It focuses almost solely on carbon emissions. It's definitely vital that the world learns how to reduce them, but I wouldn't underestimate the importance of other factors as well, such as chemical or plastic pollution in the oceans.
It was certainly interesting to learn that it's greener to choose plastic cups in a business instead of china or metal ones. They takes less energy to make compared to glass or ceramic, and if recycled, will have a small carbon footprint.But I'm wondering, why can't paper cups be used instead of glass or china? If the paper comes from sustainable forests and it can be recycled again (up to 5 times, as I've learned from this guide), wouldn't it be better than plastic? It would come from a renewable source and it would be easier to recycle.
These are all doubts than I have which I'm still trying to work out in my head. They, by no means, intend to diminish the value of the author's researches. I just like to question everything. And I do hate plastic with a passion.

The section on energy saving in building was interesting and definitely alarming. Did you know, for example, that refrigerators can be the single most important contributor to climate change for some businesses? I had never even thought about it.
The book shows small and big changes that can be done to effectively reduce energy needed and thus reducing emissions AND costs. Some ideas are very alluring, like the possibility of having a green roof (look them up, they look amazing!). Some other sound very daunting. But I'm grateful that now I know about the existence of all these different options and I can carefully ponder if I should invest on them or not.
The section on travel and transport has convinced me even more that choosing an electric vehicle is the best choice. Don't know if I will afford it, but I will definitely aim for it.
The section on reducing, recycling and reusing was possible the most interesting for me. I always thought that biodegradable products equal good. Think again. If not recycled, paper will end up in landfill and will rot, releasing methane, a potent climate change gas. Bio-plastic (PLA made from maize) is not currently recyclable, so it's even a bigger problem. Recycled plastic seems a better choice than the bio alternative. Also, I had never really thought about green stationery or furniture.

I realise this review is getting very long and I haven't managed to mention everything I intended. I know I won't be able to. This guide contains so much information and valid options, not to mention examples coming from existing companies who are trying to or have already succeeded in becoming greener. I could stay here all night telling you all about it. The truth is that it'll be boring. Better to go and read it for yourself, if you're running a business or planning to, like me.

I know this won't be the last book I read before taking all my decisions on how to run my future business. Nevertheless, this was a great start and I will be returning to it again for future references.

Thursday 14 October 2010

The Dublin Flea Market

Back in August I visited the Dublin Flea Market, and I was enchanted. The atmosphere is great, very laid-back and very colourful. The stalls, being a flea market, are a mix of everything, as you would expect: gorgeous vintage clothes, jewellery, old books and furniture, boxes full of random stuff...On top of that it's also in a really cool location, both indoor and outdoor, with a café, a sunny (weather permitting) veranda and live music (although I wasn't there at gig-time, so I can't report on that. I'm sure it just added to the coolness of the whole thing). And I didn't even mention the handcraft section. It's small, and it has its own little room away from the big crowd, but I liked it too.

The indoor venue.

The Newmarket Square

Every month a new artist is commissioned to illustrate the market's poster. You can buy them for €5 and the proceeds go to the artists, or so I'm told. There's a gallery here and if you have a moment go and look at them, I think they're beautiful. I wish I could buy the whole collection! .

The stalls:

Oh and there's a co-op, as well, that sells organic/eco-friendly stuff for less.

It's on every last Sunday of the month :)

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Crafty me

Hello blogworld! I've finally made friends with photoshop so I present you with my latest achievements, i.e. the photoshop collages!
The jars and bottles and bookmarks were made in August and so were the photos. I can use my camera better now, but again I can't be bothered to take better pictures of them, so these ones will have to do :)
I've also made few more jars and I've added bits and pieces to the existing ones, such as beads and lids, but I haven't photographed them yet.
First with the bookmarks.
These below are my personal favourites:

Here's the rest of them:
The bottles:

The jars:

And that's all for now :)
Knitting season ahead!

Saturday 21 August 2010

A quick note

[one of the things I've been making]
Hey guys,
my book reviewing has been put on hold lately, but I've been busy busy making artsy stuff out of magazines and glass jars, photographing anything shiny that catches my eye with my new gorgeous digital camera, watching episodes of the IT crowd over and over again, and generally playing with the internet a lot. The latter activity has resulted in me adventuring into new blogging grounds i.e. TUMBLR! It's a mysterious land, and I'm still finding my feet there, but it's fun, and quick.
This is my page: La stella piumata. Feel free to have a look!

Wednesday 14 July 2010


I haven't been around much, have I? But that's how it is at the moment. I've read some incredibly good books, and I will one day talk about them, probably in one post filled with mini-reviews, but I will, definitely. For now, though, I'm going away again, to Sicily and to my beloved, tiny, magical island of Levanzo. I will have to spend the night in London airport, but I have lots of books with me, should I not be able to fall asleep on a chair.
For my 10-day-holiday I chose books that have been waiting for at least 3 years to be read:
Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Epic by Conor Kostick
and My Tender Matador by Pedro Lemebel.
With the exception of the last one, they are all YA and mostly fantasy (not sure about Wolf Brother), so it's pure indulgence. Exactly what I want on my holidays.
Oh and Framed by Cottrell Boyce which I'm halfway through it and loving it.

Talking about great books, I've literally just finished Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, the third volume in his stunning Chaos Walking trilogy. I'm not going to write a proper review, I'm somehow too invested in it. Besides, lots of people have already done it brilliantly before me. I just want to join the choruses of "OMGOMGOMGOMG"s and "WOW"s and "I'm still recovering from it, I can't really talk about it"'s. It was just that good. I was forced to read it faster that I would have, cause I didn't want to bring the huge hardback with me, hence making it an even more intense experience. I have never been that much on edge reading a book as I was with this one. I was almost scared to turn the pages, knowing something terrible was gonna happen, but that didn't make me turn them any slower. I love the characters so much, I had to hope things were gonna turn out well for them, but at almost every end of paragraph, especially towards to end, I was like "f***k's sake! Can't it go smoothly for once?" And of course I can't tell you if it does, you'll have to read and suffer exactly like me! And no peeking ahead, it's wrong.
OK, off to the airport, see you when I'm back, all tanned and rested.

pic from

My family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell

When Gerry Durrell was 10 years old his family, composed by his mother, 23-year-old Larry, 19-year-old Leslie and 18-year-old Margo, decided to move to the Greek island of Corfu and lived there for five years.
This is an "accurate and unexaggerated picture" of how Gerry saw his family and the animal world which richly populated the island.

Although the book title refers to the author's family I found myself a lot more interested in Gerry's love for zoology. It must have been heaven for a kid with such a passionate interest to live in an island like Corfu. It literally buzzed with life and the book portraits this so well. You can feel just how much the author loved this place by reading the lengthy descriptions of the beauty of its flora and fauna. The natural wonders of the island provided him with all sorts of entertainment and his houses (because the family moved from villa to villa quite a lot) often became the home for the strangest and sometimes scariest pets, including snakes, scorpions and owls.
Some accounts of animal lives were more hilarious than others, like Achilles', the strawberry-loving tortoise, whose favourite pastime was climbing on people in the garden:

If [...] you were lying on a rug, sun-bathing, Achilles would be convinced that you were lying on the ground simply to provide him with amusement. He would surge down the path and on to the rug with an expression of bemused good humour on his face. He would pause, survey you thoughtfully, and then choose a portion of your anatomy on which to practise mountaineering.

Or the over-enthusiastic male swallow's:
He seemed determined to leave no stone unturned to provide his young with the finest nest-lining in the colony. But, unfortunately, he was no mathematician, and, try as he would, he could not remember the size of his nest. He would come flying back, twittering in an excited if somewhat muffled manner, carrying a chicken or turkey feather as big as himself, and with such a thick quill it was impossible to bend it. It would generally take his wife several minutes to convince him that, no matter how they struggled and juggled, the feather would not fit into the nest.

Or the grumpy owlet Ulysses', and the fierce gecko Geronimo's and his epic battle with the giant mantis Cicely.
But really, the whole book was a pleasure to read. The author's family was definitely bizarre, and so were their friends who were invited once in a while, and for whom the family moved villa more than once, just to fit them all in. The matter-of-factly way of recounting the events by the author makes everything even more endearing. That was just what happened, even though sometimes it sounded surreal or just straight out of a slapstick comedy.
I admit I wasn't always comfortable with how Gerry treated the animals he found. He often captured them and brought them home with him, even when they were clearly wild creatures. A couple of time he actually hunts the mother's nest or den and brings the tiny newborn with him. I wanted to shout at him to leave the poor thing alone, but then I had to remember that he was only a kid enamoured with the animal life and way too eager to observe it as close as possible. Moreover, he didn't have anyone to tell him otherwise, so why shouldn't he?
Gerry grew up to be a notable naturalist so I'm sure he learned to respect the wild life in time.
So, despite some occasional criticism, I enjoyed this book very much, definitely one to recommend in the future.

other blog reviews:

Sunday 27 June 2010

Nerds Heart YA: Shine, Coconut Moon VS Skunk Girl

And here we are again for a second year of Nerds Heart YA. I'm judging the first round again. The books I have read are

  • Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger
  • Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger

The Summary
Samar is a seventeen-year-old girl living in Linton, New Jersey. Her family is of Indian origins but her mother, who brought her up as a single parent, has always tried to keep her away from her heritage and her grandparents. She's taught Samar to feel like an American, rather than Indian, with the same rights and freedoms of any other citizen, regardless of her ethnicity, but her mother's intentions to save Samar from the restrictions that she had to endure as a child are turning her into a coconut: brown on the outside and white on the inside.
An unexpected reunion with uncle Sandeep, whom Samar had never met, soon after the 9/11 attacks, ignites Samar's need to reconnect with her heritage and find out more about herself.

What I liked:
I thought the idea of linking the typical teenager's need of self-discovery to the exploration of one's cultural identity was a great idea. When Samar says: I couldn't feel more different. I feel like the epitome of different - from everyone. I feel like there's no one else like me on this whole planet she's channeling, unknowingly, the spirit of being a teenager. In her case it's symbolised by her new-found origins. But I challenge anyone to raise their hand and say they haven't felt this way at 17.
The 9/11 setting added some edginess, some uncomfortable moments, which at first they felt a bit deliberate but they all came together in the end.
Of course, I loved learning about Sikh culture, of which I know little about. Especially what it is like for a Sikh to live away from the homeland and still carry on the faith. Just as much as I was interested in reading about being a Muslim in Does my head look big in this? I enjoyed the parts which dealt with the rituals and the traditions of the Sikh.
Regarding the characters,I must say I loved uncle Sandeep. He's the sweetest, most likeable character, always ready to help, to talk, to hug. Although he's a bit too willing to please Samar and do whatever she asks him to do. Also, for all her faults, I thought Samar's mother was an example of an independent spirit, a women who rebelled and tried to instill the same spirit into her daughter, with unexpected results. I couldn't not like her.

What I didn't like:
Unfortunately I found Samar's character to be flat and occasionally annoying. Aside from her journey of self-discovery, there wasn't anything that made her stand out as a person. Was that the point? That she needed to find her true identity before developing a personality? I don't know, but aside from being a rebelling teenager, which is normal, I couldn't find any special likable qualities about her. At some point I even thought she was taking her anger against her mother a bit too far and I ended up siding with her mother. Am I getting too old?
Actually all the teenager characters were sort of bland, bordering toward boring, which was a little disappointing.

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

The Summary:
At 16-year-old, Nina Khan had two main things that plagued her life: the constant comparison to the super genius older sister and body hair.
She's also from a Pakistan family and one of the only brown kids in her school, which, as she puts, sucks.
It's not that I hate high school. It's just that I wish it would hurry up and end already.
A part from that, she's a normal teenager, who has friends, and would like to party and date like any other kid. But her family, unlike Samar's, is of the strict kind and won't allow Nina to mingle with boys. Things, of course, get harder for her, when a new kid, Asher Richelli, arrives in school and Nina falls for his Italian charm, like half of the female population in the school.

What I liked:
First of all, the writing was excellent. I loved Nina. She's smart, pessimistic and sarcastic, and completely lovable. You just want to squeeze her in a bear hug and tell her she's gorgeous. I also loved her friends, Bridget and Helena. Bridget seems to be the perfect Sagittarian: athletic but clumsy, and always blurting out whatever comes up in her head. Helena is the romantic, pretty type, always looking for the endless love, and always looking at the positive side of things. They are great counterparts for Nina's shy personality.
I also thought Nina's family was very likable. They are strict Muslims, but they visible love their daughter to bits. You can see it in her dad, especially, in his awkward attempts at bonding with Nina. So adorable. Also irresistible is his love for food, for Sufi mystical music, and for bear hugs.
All these great characters come to life thanks to Nina's hilarious sarcastic comments and humour. I frequently laughed out loud, while I kept my grin on almost all the time. And what can I do, books that make me laugh will always win my heart.
Like Shine, Cononut Moon, Skunk Girl is a journey of discovery. But unlike the other, this story is more about acceptance. As a teenager Nina feels restricted and repressed, but she also slowly comes to realise what a great gift it is to have a family who loves you and will care for you always.
Her parents are very similar to Samar's grandparents, and it'd be interesting to see how the two characters would fare if they could swap families. Nina would experience a greater freedom, but wouldn't be part of a bigger community of people sharing the same cultural background. Samar would understand what it meant for her mother to live under repressive rules, but would experience that comforting choral feeling of big family reunions. I think it would enrich both of them

What I didn't like:
Not much. I was a bit disappointed by the ending, but not completely. I knew it had to be that way, I just can't help wishing Nina would stand up to her parents just a bit more. Her religion seems to be imposed on her, as something she can't change, just accept, while I'd love for her to be free to experience teenage love without fearing her parent's fury. But I guess that's just how things are sometimes.
All in all, it was a great realistic insight into a Pakistani girl's life, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

So, decision time. I'd say you will have guessed by now, but let's make it official.
The book that will go to the next round is:

Skunk Girl!

Thursday 24 June 2010

Knitting away

So today I attended the end-of-year certificate night for my knitting class. It is organised by a community centre for adult learners which also offers a whole range of other courses for ridiculously low prices. Next time I'll try to do the dress-making course, if the class is not all booked out. Anyway, tonight they organised the ceremony to hand out all the certificates (not just for knitting, but for all the classes) including a gorgeous dinner. I was surprised to see the Lord Mayor of Dublin Eamer Costello (who's actually a woman, isn't it weird to be called Lord?) there who gave an introductory speech and handed out the certificates. She seemed like a lovely woman.
This whole thing reminded me that I never posted anything of what I made this year. I'm very proud of some of the things I made, I will probably set up a chain factory for Christmas to make hand-knitted gifts for everyone...
Here we go.

These are the first pair of hand-warmers I ever knitted. I was so excited when I made them, because they're so simple to make and they look really cool. I'm almost sad now that's too hot to wear them.

This pair was harder to make, but only at first. I didn't know how to do the lace. Thank the internet gods for youtube and the knitting-for-dummies videos.

This is probably the easiest thing you can make after a scarf. Should make a whole range of colours to go with different outfits.

and here's the scarf. You can't see it but there's a hole where you can slip the scarf in on windy days. I added the buttons on the edges, they weren't in the pattern.

If anyone fancy making any of these things, most of the patterns can be found on the web:
First pair of hand-warmers
second pair of hand-warmers
bow head-band
The scarf is in the Stitch 'n bitch book.

I'll keep you updated with future creations!

I'm back...

...and I have the winner of my little contest:


Congratulations :D
I don't even have to post it out (I'm so cheap)