Monday, August 17, 2009


I have been thinking and thinking about this blog and I think it's time to stop posting to it now... This is an unusual turn of events for me because if you remember I set it up as one of my New Year Projects, and as such it was intended to run for a whole year. But in a way it's served its purpose already, which was to set me off on a path to trying to be happier and also, I suppose, trying to cope better with life. And guess what! It seems to have succeeded. Whether I am delusional about this I don't know but I'm feeling positive and optimistic about it, and that for me is a sea-change.

So there you go. Mostly Up has mostly gone now, and although I probably won't consign it to deletion hell yet, I am unlikely to post to it now. If you want to follow what I'm up to, try Double Elephant, which is about my art, Lookout31 which will be about building our house, or Rhubarb & Ella which will (soon!) be about my on-line Etsy shop. See you there!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Happiness is...

Beautiful cold-climate flowers photographed at the Sturt Winter School at Frensham in Mittagong the other week. These are the sort of flowers I grew in the UK but can't grow in sub-tropical Coffs Harbour, so it was lovely to find them in the Frensham grounds. The garden was laid out by Edna Walling, a doyenne of garden design in Australia, and for UK garden design history buffs it was very reminiscent of the Lutyens/Jekyll style.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dreaming Spires

Oxford skyline, photo by David Iliff

Humid the air! leafless, yet soft as spring/The tender purple spray on copse and briers!/And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,/She needs not June for beauty's heightening

Thomas Arnold, Thyrsis

I received my copy of Oxford magazine in the post today and found myself reading a small article noting the death of John Fenton, a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford and one of my former tutors. It saddened me to realise that I hadn't known he'd died - back in December - for he was a lovely man and interesting, although we weren't close.

Elsewhere in the magazine I found other memories: Zoe Rahman, with whose older sister Sophie I went to school (notable because Bishop Luffa Comprehensive in Chichester, UK, isn't otherwise renowned for its former students as far as I'm aware...), and interviews with famous Oxford alumni such as Baroness Susan Greenwood (St Hilda's College), Dame Ann Leslie and Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones (both Lady Margaret Hall - my old college). The articles were all about breaking down gender stereotypes and how going to Oxford contributed to these women's lives, but what was lovely was to hear that it wasn't all about academic success. The experience of going to Oxford did indeed give them access to "an extraordinarily privileged quality of education" but it was about more than that: "I think I did a lot of growing up" (Pauline Neville-Jones).

I did a Bachelors degree in Theology simply because I'd had to take Religious Education as an A Level subject as my school wouldn't let me study any of my other choices (Biology or Geography). I had been labelled as in the 'Arts & Humanities' category and couldn't, therefore, trespass on anything remotely scientific. Yet I had to find a third subject for my exams in addition to Art and English Literature so I chose RE, my RE teacher had been to Lady Margaret Hall and it was she who encouraged me to sit the Oxford Entrance Examination... probably more because she thought it would improve my academic performance in the subject than because she thought it was feasible I would be offered a place! All I actually wanted to do was to go to Art School and I had a place at Central St Martin's School of Art in London picked out, but I think I had done a sort of deal with my parents whereby if I was offered a university place to study an academic degree I would... otherwise I'd go for art. In the end I was offered places at five different universities to do Theology, turned them all down including Oxford, and was finally persuaded by my mother (an all night talking session, according to family legend) to take up the Oxford place because I could 'always return to art later' if it proved to be what I really wanted to do.

I was so lucky, in so many ways. I was the first person in my family to achieve tertiary education, which was a milestone in itself. Both my parents are easily capable of the necessary academic skills but neither had the opportunity: my father lacked the encouragement and the cash, and my mother lacked the chance because she was a girl and would get married so in the meantime she was allowed to go to Secretarial School. I had the encouragement and the opportunity, but I was in a woeful state when I got to Oxford. I'd been so traumatised in secondary school that I was suicidal and terrified, and I made a pact with myself that if I didn't manage to make friends in the first term I could always kill myself over the Christmas holidays... Ironically my tactic for overcoming my terror at going somewhere new and meeting lots of strangers solved the problem for me: I took a kettle and some mugs with me and operated a sort of open-house for fellow undergraduates in need of tea, and I took off my glasses which meant I could see no-one clearly and consequently smiled inanely for the whole of my first term which apparently endeared me to everyone. Success!

I've been thinking about Oxford a lot recently, wondering if I can manage to spend the first Friday of my UK trip there as my alma mater offers alumni accommodation in college and a seat at the Senior table for dinner. Reading the articles while darling daughter was swimming this afternoon made me feel so nostalgic. I feel very tenderly towards my 18-year old self, equipped with two pairs of blue jeans, two men's lambswool V-neck jumpers, a pair of purple suede Doc Marten boots and a red china tea service, who turned up on that first weekend at Oxford and tentatively set herself up in a surprisingly large room in Deneke East wing in LMH. I still have my Bodleian library card and a photo of this 'other' self, shockingly young and naive. A few months later I was rowing for the College, working for the student Samaritans service and potting shots on the pool tables of Oxford's Working Men's Clubs. I did very little work and was lucky to get out with the Second Class degree that I managed, but I had a fantastic time and I loved my subject. What more could I have asked for?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Winter Festival

This evening we attended darling daughter's school for their Winter Festival. In the middle of our third winter season in Australia it does actually feel like winter for a change, even though I think there will always be a part of me that ridicules the idea that I want to wear boots and two pairs of socks in 15° C! It's equally ridiculous that the temperature is around 30° C at Christmas... but I guess there's nothing to be done except acclimatise, and that is what I appear to be doing.

The teachers worked very hard to make beautiful spirals of foliage and flowers on the classroom floors, and the children managed almost an hour of silence as each in turn collected and lit a small lantern and walked in order of age through the spiral, placing their lanterns at intervals. We adults sat in the dark, watching them as they walked through the ceremony, marvelling at how little they talked and how beautiful it was.

The start of the evening was a procession of all the children in the school with lanterns they'd made, walking from one end of the school buildings to the other, singing as they went. Returning to their own classrooms they strung their lanterns up and then we all watched some very skilful flame-throwing. I was amused to see that the female in the trio was none other than Sally, a woman who joined the school's Board at the same time as me. There's a world of difference between Sally (efficient, organised, professional and fun in our long Board meetings) and Sally the flamethrower, hoola-hooping with a ring of fire and nonchalantly rotating a flaming ball around her body and along her arms... I'll look at her differently next time we sit down and consider the previous meetings' minutes, I can tell you!

It was a lovely evening, if a little bit long. Darling daughter is asleep as I write this and husband and I are packing for his departure to Europe early tomorrow morning. I can't help feeling a little bereft in anticipation of his absence, but I'm thinking positive, I have a full diary while he's away and I am gearing myself up for some serious WORK.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Everyone in the family is ill at the moment except for me, which is a very rare state of affairs. I'm usually the one with a lingering cold but yesterday I had to cart both my dearly beloved husband and our darling daughter to the doctor's. Husband is due to fly to Europe on Saturday and I don't want him to endure the 27 hour flight with his current symptoms. It turns out he has full-on tonsillitis so the prescription for antibiotics he received was very welcome; after 3doses the medicine is already working and he's feeling a lot better today.

Darling daughter's situation is slightly more complicated but not serious: she's been fighting something off for over 3 weeks and as she was off school being ill it made sense to take her along too. The potential diagnosis was surprising: she may have Whooping Cough, despite having been vaccinated as an infant. Ironically husband and I recently had Whooping Cough boosters because it is rife in darling daughter's school at the moment, but we thought she was protected; apparently not.

There is absolutely no reason for this picture of dusk taken from the rear deck except that I think blog posts are nicer with pictures. Very selfish of me.

In the middle of a Whooping Cough epidemic on Australia's mid-North coast and a Swine Flu pandemic I started wondering about selfishness. I've recently been doing spending some time with a woman who sends her 5-year old daughter to school regardless of how the child is feeling: coughs, colds, sneezes, temperature, tummy ache... it doesn't matter, off she goes to school and little parental sympathy is in evidence.

Does that put us on the moral high ground? The book on Buddhism I'm reading calls on me to meditate on Loving Kindness. So for the woman whose child is at school no matter how ill they are I've been trying to find compassion: what is her life like that she feels the need to protect "her" time so fiercely that she can't allow a sick child to interrupt her plans? What support does she get from other sources that means she has to fence that time off for herself so implacably? I wonder if she feels that her individuality drowns when she has to take on the role of nurturing parent - a feeling I have certainly fought with. I don't know the answer but I do find myself feeling outraged and superior, not an attractive combination. I had to cancel my felting workshop on Wednesday morning to take husband and daughter to the doctors' surgery and for once managed not to resent it. I'm not perfect, but I tried to focus on the fact that although I was missing something I am really interested in and I was also missing the chance to catch up with friends in Bellingen for lunch, I was also gaining the chance to spend time with daughter and husband (before he flies off) and that I would be paid in hugs and the sheer delight of a small, warm person sitting on my lap for a while.

On balance I've managed - I think - to curb my worst criticisms and just enjoy the changed situation of having a sick husband and a daughter who's been home from school most of the week. The thing I haven't managed to get out of my head, though, has been the more general outrage directed at selfish people who have sent their ill children to class and now darling daughter's suffering as a result. In her class there are more than a few children who aren't vaccinated against anything, and some of them were in class earlier this year with Whooping Cough. I'm ranting because MY daughter is ill - despite the fact that she could have as easily picked up the germs from swimming class, walking down the street, her brother...

I don't make a lot of sense sometimes, when I think about it (note for my sister when she reads this blog post: there's no actual requirement for a sarcastic comment at this point). I probably need to have a bit more compassion for their parents, too. I know at least one of daughter's friends has parents who run a small business together. If their daughter is off sick one of them has to stay home and look after her, with all the difficulties that brings. When the school was shut recently because of bad weather we took daughter's friend home with us for two days so that her parents could continue to work. I guess we are just so lucky that we both work from home, and this is why we do it.

Halloo hallay! I got a letter...

"Dear Ms Bowen,

On behalf of the Government and people of Australia, I am delighted to advise you that your application for Australian citizenship has been approved...

... On behalf of the Government and all Australians I offer my warmest congratulations and best wishes for the years ahead.

Yours sincerely,

Renelle Forster
Assistant Secretary
Citizenship Branch"

I'm not quite finished: I have to attend a 'Citizenship Ceremony" organised by the local Council in order to have my citizenship conferred upon me, and that could take 6 months or more. I don't think I have to don a hat-with-corks and sing Waltzing Matilda but you never know. At least after 18 months of darling daughter attending a state primary school I do know the words AND the tune for the Australian National Anthem...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Prevarication Central

Do I know how to avoid working? Yes I do! Take today, for example. I have a couple of things going on tomorrow: taking documents into the bank for our mortgage application, for example, plus a school board meeting, so nothing very important then and it's perfectly OK for me to avoid any related activities.

Rarely have doing the washing, walking the dog, taking out the recycling, emptying the green waste bin, putting away the washing, cleaning the filters in the dishwasher (more suicidal cockroaches...) and baking little cakes in paper cases seemed so attractive.

I am pleased I walked the dog, though. Apart from finding several lovely pieces of driftwood which I lugged back up the cliff path on the basis that I am bound to find some sort of artistic use for them, I also spotted a collection of shark egg cases.

Further investigation reveals them to be the egg cases of the Port Jackson Shark. This isn't the most handsome of shark species and only grows to about 1.5m and I always thought it flourished in southern Australian waters, but apparently it swims north to breed round about now. I'm not sure if these are egg cases from this year's brood in which case the contents (several baby sharks) have been eaten, or whether they are cases from last year in which case the babies have matured, which takes 10+ months, and hatched.

Whatever the answer, the case are beautiful things in themselves. When I first arrived here I just couldn't believe they were natural! The spirals are so perfect and, when fresh, the whole egg case looks like something that could only be manufactured by machine, not by nature... These have been tossed up on the sand and dried out so they're a bit withered.

Well once I've finished looking down (always a good idea when walking a dog in a place where other dogs walk!) I usually look up, and these clouds rather gripped me when I wandered onto the back deck to take in the afore-mentioned washing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Getting there slowly

Who would think it's so hard to choose colours for one's tissue paper? Not me, that's for sure, until I came up against 18 different shades from a commercial supplier and practically had a meltdown. I guess I am exaggerating, but I found it stressful and, guess what, in the middle of the stress recognised that I haven't done any meditation recently (not even a minute at a time so I have no excuse) and that I hadn't done any more reading about happiness recently either. Hmm. Tut tut.

I made up for things slightly by taking 'Buddhism for Mothers' to darling daughter's swimming class and reading two chapters over a well-earned latte - particularly well-earned because in the interests of getting back on my diet I managed to resist the temptations presented by several large glass jars full of different delectable varieties of home-made biscuits that I could have ingested with said latte. You thought I must be driving darling daughter 25km each way to this particular swim school because of the excellence of the teaching, non? Little did you know it was because of the excellent cafe cuisine!

Anyhoo, I've broken the back of the book (not literally Bronwyn, if you're reading this - I promise it will come back to you with its spine intact!) in that I've progressed as far as chapter 8 now, which means I'm almost up to chapter 9 in which the mysteries of meditation are explained. It is one slight failing in the overall construction of the book: there are constant references to 'loving kindness meditation' as being something I really ought to do in order to feel better about myself and everyone around me, and yet one doesn't reach the instructions about meditation until chapter 9. This presents me, in particular, with a small problem in that having had reading competely spoiled for me by a 3-year humanities degree* I have now trained myself to read sequentially through books again and can't bring myself to skip forwards and backwards in the way I was wont to do. And this is really important because if I slip from the path of reading each chapter through in sequence I will START READING FORWARDS IN THE BOOKS I READ OUR DAUGHTER EVERY NIGHT - and I just can't do that. No. I view my triumph over my sense of frustration about reading a small amount of darling daughter's story every night as a sort of meditation in itself, so if I start skipping around I'll be sabotaging things won't I? World catastrophe would probably follow, so I won't start thank you.

All in all, my glass is almost full this evening (despite 10 days of guests in the house and the consequent lack of personal space that entails); it would be completely full except that I've already drunk some.

* Weekly reading lists consisted of upwards of 50 theological texts so I became an expert speed-reader which totally ruined fiction for about 5 years!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mrs Duck!

...For putting the link to Pride and Prejudice via Twitter on your last blog post. I laughed so hard my little socks nearly flew off. Unfortunately those who don't like Jane Austen probably won't appreciate it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Etsy goodness

Have I mentioned that I'm slo-o-w-w-w-ly putting together an Etsy shop? Well, easing back on the throttle with my print making and giving my head time to settle about what to do next with my art practice has sort of given me permission to veer off in the direction of Etsy and try and get things underway. Now that I've aroused your interest (hopefully!) I'm going to disappoint you by saying that my shop is a long way from being open yet, but goodness me I'm having fun getting it together.

Those of you who've known me for a while will be aware that I've had my own business several times before, and my Etsy adventures remind me a lot of the fun I had when I started my first business, fresh out of university. Under the imaginative banner Sara Bowen Designs I started trading from a rented studio in Arno's Vale, Bristol, UK, as part of a community of start-up businesses operating from what had been the old Cameron Balloons factory. My workshop was tiny, but it was mine, and I loved it. I had a borrowed plan chest, an Ikea table which I used for cutting, and a ramshackle collection of boxes and cuboards which I used for storage. And I hand-painted metres and metres of silk, designed lingerie patterns, graded them, cut them out, stitched them up, packed them in some very funky boxes I designed myself and had made up for me, and then I used to go out on the road knocking on boutique doors in London and the West country. I'm romanticizing it, of course. It was bloody hard work and I had two other 'day' jobs that helped me pay the rent, which meant I was a very fit girl cycling dozens of kilometres every day in all weather as I did the circuit from home to job to other job to studio and back home again. And when I went on my sales trips I'd work hard to get appointments with buyers and then I'd roll up and inevitably nine out of ten of them would have forgotten I was coming and be otherwise engaged (or absent) and the one person I'd get to see would either hate what I had to show them or would only take it on consignment, which is the worst way in the world to do business... [sigh]

But you know what? I loved it. And I still love it. I love making things, and I love selling them, and I love developing the whole 'look' of a thing and tying up things like business cards and packaging together to make a brand (which sounds very pretentious and why would you call it a brand when you're a tiny one-woman start-up business, but that's really what it is, so there!).

For the last few days I've been thinking about things like the design for my storefront, the colours I want to use, how I want to label and wrap things, what my USP will be, how I want to present myself... all those delicious things that come with starting an Etsy store.

Naturally I have had to do extensive market research in order to see if there's anyone else out there selling the sort of things I want to make and sell, and how they price them and what their 'shop policies' are, etc. In the middle of all of this very necessary research I also managed to find some delightful presents for my friend's new baby and, because everyone I've spoken to on Etsy has been so generous with their time and expertise and information, I'd love to share with you the things I've bought with you and tell you where I've bought them...

Cecelia from RockabillyBabyDesign has been really helpful and I just love the amazing fabrics she uses. I bought

This fabric is called
'Sailor Jerry's Tattoos'

This is Day of the Dead fabric

and this blanket material is called Asian Bloom

From KonstantKaos I bought some gorgeous baby shoes made from fabric covered in winged skulls, and a skull-print baby T shirt. Sadly I can't show you images as I bought the stock up and so the items have disappeared from the shop front, but do go and look at all the lovely things...

From PunkyMonkeyKids I bought three onesies, two of which are shown here:

You're probably thinking I've gone bananas, but I just love the imagery on these baby things! This is no ordinary baby, and isn't part of an ordinary family, and probably isn't going to have an ordinary life for all sorts of reasons so I thought I'd start him off right, with strong images and a belly laugh, and why not?