While we’re on the topic of the passing of the last year, there’s some other things about which I would like to write.
I always find it useful to look back over the previous year, examine the things that I did, the things I didn’t do, and the things I enjoy. A habit I’ve picked up over the last several years is keeping a simple little list (nothing elaborate, or for public consumption) of the media I’ve consumed over the previous year. I have one for books read, movies watched, television series viewed, and one for computer games played. It may seem a neurotic habit, but it’s always nice to look back and remember when you did things, what you did, and how that informed the choices that came next.
For each month that goes by, I also write a brief list of words and and sentences, reminding myself of the things that characterised my time during that month. Nothing too poetic or elaborate: often it’s just a mismatch of the weather, the music to which I listened, the things that I was obsessively eating, what my mood was like, anything special that I saw or felt.
These things sound small, self-indulgent, a bit silly, possibly a bit obsessive, but it’s actually a habit I’m very glad to have acquired. It’s a bad cliché that as you get older, things speed up. Months and years blur together and sometimes you raise your head and look around only to discover that three months have passed in a blur of work and routine. You try and remember what you’ve been doing, but it’s all a bit hazy. You find yourself able to stutter out something about work, something about catching up with friends, a few comments about relaxing and hobbies, but the details get lost, it’s just the skeleton of your year. Keeping little notes, little lists and reminders, adds flesh to the bare bones. All the more so because the vast majority of the time when I read over my lists, I remember the little parts that I had forgotten, and it makes me smile. Because the little things – the week that it was unseasonably cold so I took up the habit of making blanket nests in that particular chair, the week I burnt my hand while bread baking and went stir-crazy from not being able to knit, the fortnight where I had a near permanent craving for lemon curd on toast – are the things that are me, that make my life different and mine.
I won’t bore everyone with the full list, and at any rate I prefer to keep it private, but in the spirit of the miscellaneous bits and pieces, here is a random grab bag of the little things that I enjoyed the most in 2016, the little things that took me by surprise with how much I enjoyed them.
Homemade bread and soup
Look, I did say “little things”. So, I like to cook. And I make a lot of things from scratch because of the dietary requirements of my household. But I also don’t tend to talk about it all that much, mainly because it feels too much like tooting my own horn (wow, that sounds like an analogy for masturbation, now I think of it) and it makes me feel like I’m crafting the image of an existence that is way more domestically idyllic and crunchy than it is. Things make me kind of uncomfortable. So usually all that makes it to Facebook is an annual blurry photo of bread accompanied by several lines of self-deprecation.
My dubious relationship with social media aside, in reality, I bake bread all the time. Especially over the last year, since due to illness I’ve had more down-time in which to pursue undertakings that are time consuming but low effort (i.e. bread). And it’s made me really happy, for a number of reasons. Fresh crusty bread is delicious. It’s nice to see my friends and family getting so much pleasure from something I’ve made. And bread (fresh or toasted) pairs very well with soup, something that I cook weekly without fail, regardless of the season, just because soup a) contains vegetables and b) can be reheated when I’m feeling too wretched to cook. If I have soup and bread in the kitchen, I know I’m safe from resorting to cereal for dinner (great as an occasional indulgence, but it becomes a little disheartening when eaten regularly by necessity because you’re too exhausted to cook).
Sitting down to a bowl of homemade bread and soup makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself. And when you’re sick, unhappy, or otherwise ill-at-ease, this is a nice feeling to have. The feeling that even if the advanced things are escaping you, you’ve got your basics covered. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s nice.
Because the name doesn’t give much away, Radical Face is the name of a musical act comprising of an excellent fellow named Ben Cooper. I started listening to the first album of the artist’s Family Tree project when I was travelling alone in 2015, and I spent a lot of 2016 listening to the entire trilogy once the final album of the project was released.
I’m really bad at and super self-conscious about discussing music, lacking the technical knowledge and vocabulary to say anything intelligent. But any account of my 2016 would be incomplete without a reference to these albums. So I’ll just say: the Family Tree trilogy stole my heart clean out from under me, it’s excellent, and you should give it a listen (and if you do, check out the website as I loved following the cast of characters and stories behind the songs).
So, even though I’ve always been into citrus and mint, I never really thought myself a fan of white rum. I was wrong. Mojitos are amazing; hands down my new favourite cocktail for when it’s too hot and sticky to move. The version that we make is close but not identical to this recipe, though now I’ve read about it I can’t wait to try the grapefruit version here.
So, just throwing it out there because I don’t know if it’s come up on this blog before: I play computer games. And not just in a ‘Candy Crush Saga while I wait for the train’ kind of way. In an ‘I used to have a Diamond league Starcraft ranking’ kind of way (though full disclosure: we didn’t hold it long). I haven’t blogged much about it, but gaming is a major interest of mine, and certainly occupies as much of my time as the hobbies that do get blog coverage (knitting, travel, etc).
I don’t bring this up out of nerd elitism (which I loathe; the stigma against casual gaming is ridiculous) but just to warn people that I’m about to deviate from standard content, and with mouth-foaming levels of enthusiasm, no less.
I used to struggle to play story heavy RPGs. They often feature a lot of cut scenes and down-time generally, and my attention span had been completely trashed by the aforementioned Starcraft habit. My mindset was that with a few exceptions, if I was gaming, I wanted to be 110% engaged at all times. However, a few years ago I realised that I could very profitably knit through any extended cut-scenes. This turned things around completely, and kick-started my (ongoing) love-affair with Bioware games.
In 2015 I played the Dragon Age series (a fantasy RPG series full of amazing world building, complex characters, and simply terrible hats) and, minor quibbles aside, I loved it in a big way. When 2016 rolled around I thought that I’d try the Mass Effect trilogy; three sci-fi setting, third person shooter games released by the same studio. I’d never really been one for shooters, but figured that as my love of Dragon Age had been pretty, ahem, slavish, it might be worth trying a game where I couldn’t throw fireballs at the bad guys. Which is kind of funny in hindsight, considering how much I grew to love my sniper rifle.
Just look at this cool alien and his cigar. Why wouldn’t you play this game?
I really enjoyed the Mass Effect games for a number of reasons; the writing is wonderful, the world-building is detailed, the game-play is fun, and so on. But what makes them actually important to me is harder to nail down. A lot of it is being able to play a female character; thankfully this is not as rare as it once was, but I’ve been gaming for decades now and tell you what, I’m still grateful as hell when the option is there, and even more grateful when it’s as impeccably executed as it is in these games. Having weathered many years of playing (otherwise excellent) games where the female characters were at worst just eye candy and at best sporting a confusing lack of weather/combat appropriate clothing compared to their male counterparts, getting to play as a female character where your gender is not an issue within the game universe, where having sex and being sexy and romance in general are completely optional, where your competence is respected from start to finish (and not just up until the point where you suddenly need to be rescued) was, well… Honestly, I didn’t realise how badly I needed it until I played these games.
Being a card carrying feminist who has been gaming for a long time, I had gotten super good at rolling my eyes at the chain mail bikinis. I wasn’t thrilled by them but I wanted to play the games so I just shrugged, continued playing, and rolled my eyes when other Diablo II players would insist on naming their trade games things like “Oiled Melons”. I got really good at rolling my eyes and ignoring it. Mass Effect reminded me of how good it feels when you don’t have to do that, when you don’t have to put up that little bit of extra mental distance between yourself and the game.
A lot has been written about women and video games in recent years and while it’s certainly a topic on which I like to weigh in, this post is long enough already. And I certainly don’t want to imply that this is the only video game series that’s done things well on the gender front. But suffice to say, it was one of the things that made the Mass Effect series great for me. Though definitely not the only thing. In addition to the above, the character writing is also amazing. I am one of those people that, with a few notable exceptions, does not normally get emotionally involved in the things they’re watching/playing. But these games got me good; by the end, there was barely a single character to whom I wasn’t fiercely attached. Anyway, so if you like the idea of playing a game where you get to befriend excellent aliens in between punching them with your space magic, I’d highly recommend this game. In the mean time, I’ll be over here counting the days until Mass Effect: Andromeda comes out… *drums fingers*
One of the things that I’ve been trying to do this year is think critically about the reasons why I like the things that I like. Partly because overthinking everything is my jam, but also to help me make good choices in the future, and to inform my own creative efforts. While I won’t bore everyone with the details (often), I am usually pretty good at figuring out the things that appeal to me. Except in this one specific case, which continues to mystify me completely, much to my utter delight.
When I was a kid I adored watching the British television show Robot Wars, so when my household discovered BattleBots (an American robot fighting tournament series) I was keen to wallow in some delicious nostalgia. I was not expecting to get nearly as excited about it as I did. We don’t really go in for sport at our place (I am a very bad Melbournian who has a benign disinterest in AFL), but this is as close as we get. We certainly treat it like a sporting event, complete with heckling and constant homespun commentary.
Why do I like watching robots destroy each other? No idea. I’m not really into spectator sports. My engineering/robotics knowledge is nil. I am not a competitive person. Yet I have watched every episode multiple times now and I am still trying to get my (long-suffering) friends to ‘come and watch robots’ with me. I’m so confused, though also very gratified that some things can still take me completely and utterly by surprise.
Despite always liking hummus and loving halva, I never thought I liked tahini all that much. It was bitter and a little gritty and I always ended up scowling at it. But then I realised that I could bake with it to great effect (the blondies, seriously). And then, inspired by this, I also discovered that I could just mix a wee bit of tahini with honey to taste and eat it with a spoon. So, umm, that’s a thing that I do now. Calcium? Or something.
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC)
So I was lucky enough to end up in Bangkok twice over the course of 2016. Which is pretty awesome, because Bangkok is amazing fun and probably my favourite food destination, period (it’s just so good). There are plenty of interesting things to see and do – it’s a big place – but one attraction that took me pleasantly by surprise was the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. It’s a contemporary art gallery near the National Stadium BTS station, right next to the infamous MBK Centre (go for the discount shopping and stay for the food court!). We went there on a tip from my brother, and I was blown away by how good it was.
The exhibitions change regularly, but don’t get too hung up on what’s on; just go. I’ve never seen a bad show there; there’s nothing but interesting, beautiful, and accessible contemporary Thai art. If that doesn’t convince you, well, it’s free and air-conditioned and there’s an amazing ice-cream shop inside. Convinced now?
Taking my tea for a walk
Okay, so it’s not always as scenic as the below picture (Goolawah Beach in NSW, for the record). But when you’re going for a brief walk, it’s very nice to drink your tea outside. I’ve even been known to just carry my mug with me when a suitable bottle is nowhere to be found; it’s not the end of the world to just toss it back in your bag when you’re done.
So, at some point this year I noticed that La Tortilleria (an adorable tortilla factory/Mexican eatery in Kensington, my stomping ground for a few years) gave the recipe for their flan to Broadsheet. What a discovery. I have only made this 3-4 times this year, but that’s because nobody in my household can control themselves when it’s around. Even my brother, who doesn’t typically go in for desserts. Even me, and I don’t even typically like creamy custardy things. This flan is ridiculously easy, will make you extremely popular, and you should go and make it immediately.
SERIOUSLY, GO AND MAKE FLAN, LIKE, RIGHT NOW.
Spotify’s ‘A Sudden Rainstorm’ playlist
Hours of rain noises. Making it 30% more pleasant to collapse into bed. Am I weird for being into this? Those ASMR videos do nothing for me (they actually make me feel a little uneasy, no matter what my friends say) but who doesn’t love rain? Perhaps it’s novelty; making up for all the rainy nights I missed due to the country being in drought for so much of my adolescence/early adulthood. Either way, it’s a godsend for insomnia and just deliciously soothing in general.
And finally… the monstrosity blanket
What? I thought I made myself abundantly clear re: my love for this ridiculous rainbow behemoth. No? I love it. Rather a lot. I may still run away with it. I love you, silly blanket!
So that’s it: my 2016 in miscellany. For anyone who actually bothered to read to the end of this post, I’m impressed. Maybe it’s a bit much to hope that you learned something relevant, but thank you for indulging me! Next post will have actual knitting content, I promise!