Happy New Year

Today we took down all our Christmas things away and brought out our New Year friends. Each of these little dudes are symbolic for virtues we hope for in 2015.

We are past our mad partying days so this evening we will eat toshikoshi soba. We will think back on our year and write in our family scrolls. This is a custom inherited from Hiro's grandfather who has written his own annual "family history" over many many years. I wrote about this previously HERE

Do let us know if you happen to dream about Mount Fuji, eagles or aubergines tonight. There is a traditional saying "Ichifuji nitaka sannasubi" which means: 

1 - mount fuji

2 - eagles

3 - aubergines 

It is said that its brings luck if your first dream of the year is either about Mount Fuji (because it the highest point in Japan), eagles (because the Japanese word for eagle "taka" rhymes with the words for high which is "takai") and aubergines (because the Japanese word for this is "nasu" which rhymes with the verb to fulfil). 

Wherever you are and however you celebrate, we wish you the happiest of times and all the very best for 2015. 

Thank you for sticking with us this year.


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| Stationery | Diary Madness

I've got a feeling. A niggling, jiggling funky feeling that next year will be a big year for us - one way or another!

When I get this sort of feeling - I tend to pick my diary accordingly. This year I've opted for a roomier than my normal choice two part weekly diary with space for notes, doodles and pics that will also fit into one of THESE handy binders when the year is done with.

Jotting stuff down in a diary is ever a fun-filled fussy thing of assortments for me for which I make use of adornments like these:
  • Multipens - My favourites are the Pilot Coleto pens and their dangerously cute refills. I wrote about them previously HERE.
  • Washi tape of all sizes and patterns. "Washi" means Japanese paper and I wrote about my collection of tapes HERE.
  • An assortment of diary stickers. I have more stickers than most stationery shops in UK have - seriously! I have to use them up somehow and using them to illustrate my diary is a good a way as any.
  • Clips 
  • Deco tape pens. I will blog about these soon.
  • Page markers
  • Marker pens of all sorts for highlighting and doodling and adding even more colour. I will write about my various marker pens very soon.
I am not the only one with a decorative diary obsession. Its quite rampant in Japan. I especially admire the ones with doodles throughout:

Pics in the collage are property of Instagram users: Cappleco/Natsume_notebook/Conatsu/AMIDWINTERND

USEFUL LINKS | I bought my diary from The Journal Shop 

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| Thoughts | Happy Christmas

This time last year we spent Christmas in my homelands. The sun had already set in Zanzibar and it was from these gleaming sands that my friend and I spent a few moments of the evening watching some kids playing football on the beach.  Masai and Swahili friends dashed across the sands with no trouble at all.

We forgot that it was Christmas eve. Life carried on as normal there and it was beautiful. Then, we spotted a Masai watchman from the guesthouse next door in a Christmas hat. I think we all did a classic cartoon double-take. What a sight and the very best Christmas present ever! 

For my part, spending Christmas in Zanzibar  allowed me to feel unfettered by the extravagance of a western Christmas. I felt free and my heart felt light and happy.  Maybe it's because Christmas was a sedate affair in childhood that I feel that Christmas in the UK though beautiful and heartwarming as it can be causes a conflict within me.  The excessive buying the crazy amount of wasted food. The excesses involved with commercial Christmas makes me uncomfortable in many ways. 

I don't like being sad at this time of year so I put my energy into appreciating what we have and that we can afford nice food and a warm home. I feel joyful when I spend Christmas with Hiro and my brother-in-law because I remember our first Christmas together when we had hardly any money. I remember putting our pennies together and buying a little bit of food to enjoy on the day. We ended up with 2 fish, some rice and a few vegetables. We found an unused disposable BBQ in our kitchen left over from the summer and so we decided to have a BBQ outside in the freezing 2 degrees below freezing weather in London. It was so dark so we lit some candles and huddled together to share our meal. From that day, every christmas that we are all together we order fish and have a little BBQ on Christmas night. We remember how little we had back then and we feel thankful that we can afford a bit more and that we still have each other to keep warm with all these years later. I really appreciate that.

Merry Christmas to everyone! We wish you a soulful Christmas full of love & light x 

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| Home | Colourful Kivi

I steeped my weekend in colour. I find that having scatterings of bright shades in our home helps to uplift the tedious grey skies that seem to love London. I am a tropical girl after all and colour ingrained (even if it is just colourful language)in my survival instinct.

This time of year I polish up my collection of "Kivi" votives and fill them with candlelight. These glass tea-light holders are high quality glass objects were designed in 1988 by Heikki Orvola and are made in Finland by Iittala. 

Kivi's understated, simple and clean look eclipses their complex and highly detailed manufacturing processes. Unlike many cheap coloured glass objects, these are made of pressed colour-glass. This means that the glass is dyed thorough with metal dioxides rather than coated with colour (like the ones you find in IKEA). The process creates glass that will not fade - even in sunlight, and are also scratch resistant.

My collection lives on my windowsill where they smile at me all year round. One by one over the years it has grown. Some where gifts and some I bought for myself. 

The cool Kivi colours such as the clears, blues, grey and dark green were produced through automatic press manufacturing and so are cheaper.

The warm colours like the the oranges are mid-priced and unlike the above, they are made in smaller batches manufactured by a specialist robot and a small furnace.

My favourite one is the yellow Kivi. This is hand pressed by one of three workers in the Nuutajärvi factory in Finland. It's a long and costly process reflected in the price.

Many in my collection have been with me for nearly 10 years now and they still shine like candies by day and glow like blinking jewels at night. The quality is tangible and can be felt through the weight and smoothness when you hold one in your hand. To me, Kivi are another example of timeless design in quality everyday objects that are made to last and embodies our principals against "throwawayism".

USEFUL LINKS | We bought ours at Skandium Official Iittala website |
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| Photo Diary | Stone Town Streets

If I have to speak of a travel related regret in life, I have but one.  Not as yet spending at least one night in Stone Town. 

Stone Town is a place that I have passed through many times heading single-mindedly for the beaches. What a silly girl I am! On our last visit, we spent a few leisurely hours deep in her spell and I wish we could have stayed longer. While we were there, we managed to get wonderfully lost and it is a marvellous place to get lost.

Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has a unique infusion of Arab (Omani in particular), Persian, Indian and European influences permeating its history yet all are underpinned by an immutable Swahili culture.

This is a living maze of stone, silence, noise, shadow, sunlight and prayer and enterprise. Its contradictions and its sun, wind and sea battered walls bring a surprise around every corner that keeps visitors in a state of wonder. You may find a market, a tea shop, mosques, empty streets, dead-ends or even the ocean waiting for you there.

When you travel to places it is so natural and easy to get caught up in the magic of a place. It is so easy to convince yourself that you will return.........one day. I know that I personally have a list of places that I say that I'd like to return to one day but the pull that Zanzibar is different, like my need to constantly return to Japan it is relentless. But unlike Japan, I hear Zanzibar's call like a long lost lullaby deep, deep in my soul and I know that I cannot help but go back again and again and again.

For The Curious | See More of Our Adventures in Zanzibar HERE 

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| Wish List | Next Time Japan

I may secure my status as a freak by saying this but I really dislike shopping.  What I mean is the short of shopping that does not involve food or swathes of interesting things made with heart or an interesting story. The high streets and I can never be friends because their stacks of cheaply made but overpriced crap just annoys me. I should get off my high-horse at this point and admit that such is life here in London that it cannot be avoided completely. Doesn't stop me looking forward to the day when we all adopt a more conscientious way of shopping and start to see and encourage more independent shops and makers to get out there.

So I spend most of my "shopping time" on line. Today I thought I would share a couple of things that I have come across online and have since scribbled down onto my "I want to get this when we are next in Japan - okay Hiro?" list.

| Shirokuma Tea Bag Holder |

This adorable little porcelain cup lid is designed by Necktie Office and hand made in Nagasaki. 

Take a look HERE for more information and beautiful photos of the making process. 

| Illustrated Daruma Calendar 2015 | 

Anyone who knows us knows that we love Daruma representations. In Japan these rotund fellows are a talisman for perseverance and good luck. So naturally I really like this calendar and yes I still use paper diaries/calendars (but you guessed that right?). Designed and made by Akiko DaSilva so that the user can fill in one eye after deciding on a goal and then the other once it has been achieved. A nice little motivator if you ask me.

Take a look HERE for more info on Akiko and her work.

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| Stationery | Kakuno Pens

Carrying on from where I left off with my recommended fountain pens for newbies, here is the happiest pen about. Literally. Pilot's Kakuno pen with its smiley winking nib was created with school kids in mind but is just as brilliant as both a casual pen and an entry level pen too.

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Here are a few thoughts about the Kakuno Fountain pen that might be helpful:

- Made of lightweight durable plastic and available in a either dark grey or white body with an assorted choice of coloured caps.

- Japanese steel nibs in a choice of medium or fine but as these are Japanese standard, they may be classed as fine and extra-fine.

- Gently faceted plastic grip section that encourages proper positioning of the pen. I find it more comfortable in my hand than the more angular Lamy Safari.

- Writes smoothly with a silky way of gliding across the page (comparable to more expensive Pilot Prera). 

- Maintenance is simple as it comes apart easily for cleaning and the nib and grip section can be soaked in water for deep cleaning. 

- Takes standard Pilot cartridges that are available in limited colours in UK but more shades can be found in Asia and USA. Also compatible with the Pilot CON-20 or CON-50 converter if you want to use bottled ink.

- The cap is ventilated for safety and hexagonal in shape to stop it from rolling away. No clip on the cap. 

- The cutest fountain pen around! Great value for money. I paid about £6.00 per pen when I bought them in Japan earlier this year. They are available in UK via Cult Pens.

I love the simple clean design and low cost matched with reliable and slick performance and really believe that this pen will continue to gain fans across the globe. Definitely worth trying if you can!

For More Info | Check out the range of colours via the Japanese website HERE 

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| Photo Diary | The Micrarium

We found ourselves in an unusual place this weekend. This is The Micrarium - a curious place within an even more curious place.

The learned folks at the Grant Musuem of Zoology have converted an old office into a back-lit enclave to display over 2000 slides in a floor to ceiling installation of our microscopic neighbours. Apparently 95% of species in the animal kingdom are smaller than our thumbs. But as they tend to make most squeamish rather than curious, they get less attention that the larger fluffier members of the animal kingdom. Yet, seeing all these specimens arranged like this makes it quite mesmerising and oddly beautiful to me at least.

For The Curious | There is a great little video of the making of The Micrarium HERE 

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| Objects | Off The Ground

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In a small bowl that sits quietly on a shelf in our home, rests little things that we have picked off the ground and brought home with us over the years:

A large shell and sections of red coral that Hiro found in Zanzibar in 2006.
A rusty screw that I picked up on a diamond mine in South Africa.
Chunks of lapis and amazonite that I took from my father's garden.
A pine cone found near Eastbourne.
A sloping tile that we found amid abandoned bathhouses in Japan.
A piece of pretty blue pottery found by lake Biwa in Japan
A slither of stone found in Brighton
2 tiny striking shells that a friend brought back from New Zealand.

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| Photo Diary | Alykanas

For some reason, the Greek Islands is one of those holiday destinations that some people jump on their high-horse and get fresh about. People talk about the "nicer islands" and upmarket expensive resorts but the truth is that there are gems to be sought out if you have an open mind and the will to look.

Our first couple of holidays together were to the Greek Islands and we have such happy memories of our budget getaways that it felt right to revisit them again this year. We went towards the end of the season when the crowds had gone, the weather still glorious and the price very friendly!

Our budget holiday included flights, self-catering apartment accommodation and transfers to and from the airport. Most of our adventures recently involve kilometres of walking and trying to decipher various public transport systems so it felt amazing to be hapless beach-bums for a while. 

Hat from GAP. Sandals from iPANEMA, Backpack from EASTPAK, Bikini from Primark, Kaftan is a vintage buy.

Our destination was a sleepy little place called Alykanas on the island of Zakynthos. We didn't pay much for this package deal so our expectations were low but the beach (which was just a 3 minute stroll away from our apartment) took us aback. Crystal clear clean seawater that was both shallow and warm made the trip very special indeed!

I read a lot of books on this beach. I stared at the sea and wondered what you call those patterns that sunlight coruscates through  the waves. I ate a lot of peaches and even indulged in my 1st €2 chicken gyros. It was a beautiful time.

I would recommend Alykanas to anyone looking for a quick and reasonable getaway from London or Manchester. There are some great deals out there.

For The Curious | A good place to start looking for a deal | More of our Greek adventures |

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| Abandoned | Vestiges

We should not have been in here, we know that. But we could not resist an unwatched staircase and a door left ajar. 

The stuff that people leave behind when they abandon a building is so interesting. Sometimes even more interesting than the building itself.

For The Curious | See More of Our Adventures in Abandoned Places HERE 

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| Lists | Christmas Home

The Christmas spirit has unexpectedly snuck up on me this year, and I am firmly placing the blame on the mischievous little Tomte that snuck back with us this Sunday!

According to ancient folklore, Tomtes are Scandinavian gnomes that are mostly genial creatures secretly residing along humans (under the floorboards, in a pantry or barn) and helping out when they can. However, they can be temperamental and will play all sorts of naughty tricks on a person when offended. Many Scandinavians still put out a bowl of steaming Christmas porridge with butter on Christmas eve to keep the Tomte happy in the year to come.

My particular Tomte has been renamed "Hige-chan" and he was designed by Åsa Götander. According to Skandium He is made "with wool from the free roaming sheep found on the Swedish island of Gotland, which are unique in quality. Using their curly grey wool along with warm water and soap, we create a felt that is then handshaped into caps. The wool is also is turned into beards and hair. We also use sheepskin from arctic Icelandic sheep, which have a long straight fleece in a variety of colours. Each gnome is slightly different, giving them an individual personality". And it is true, each and every gnome we looked at had a look and feel of its own.

Hige-chan has inspired festive thinking and I am slowly collecting a few items for the house this Christmas. In my opinion the Scandinavians are jolly good at tasteful Christmas decorations the sort that anyone would want to keep for years to come,so this is where I am looking for inspiration:

Mobile by Flensted Mobiles + Santa Boy + Girl by Larrsons Tra + Tree Cards by Anne Paso + Deer Rotary Candle Holder by Hans Hallberg

Each year the folks at Arabia release a winter season mini mug set that are great for the tree or decorating presents with. Being a Moomin fan, I would give away 2 and keep 2 for our tree - when we actually bother to buy one! Available HERE 

Georg Jensen's December Tales collection includes these beautiful mirror polished stainless steel ornaments that would look wonderful strung from strategic parts of the ceiling where the light can play with the cut-work and make magical silhouettes on the walls! Available HERE

Aside from the smorgasbord of festive decorations, I've also bought some Joulutorttu (Finnish jam tarts), some glögg and even a box of Annas Pepparkakor (ginger snaps) ready for Christmas eve.

Are you also inspired by Scandinavian Christmas ideas? 

If you are looking to buy some Scandinavian treats you the Scandikitchen has got you sorted!
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