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?

Mellow, sort of

It's been a stormy week but things have begun to calm down a bit today. I'm getting used to the weather here, slowly, and apart from a sort of on-going low level concern as the wind gets up and branches start to fly I'm adapting very well. Our gas lantern won't move from the landing for a couple of days yet, but I'm reassured to know that if the storm blows up again we've got enough milk/bread/baked beans/coffee/chocolate/alcohol to keep us going for a few days! You know, the essentials...

This has been the picture looking back towards the hills for the last 4 days - sadly the camera couldn't record the lashing rain

It's been a good day, though, today. For example, in the aftermath of last night's champagne I slept deeply and woke up voluntarily at about 9:20 this morning, MUCH earlier than normal on a day when I am usually allowed a lie-in! And I have managed to achieve a long bath AND an hour's peace and quiet reading the weekend papers...

While in the bath I was catching up on a couple of chapters in Sarah Napthali's Buddhism for Mothers.

I find myself feeling slightly self-conscious about my continued reading about Buddhism, which probably has to do with a fear of ridicule from my friends and family who might - in my fantasy - look down upon me for being needy and insecure and trying to 'find myself' in some sort of mumbo-jumbo Eastern philosophy when I am a product of the Western world. Or is that how I secretly despise myself? I'm not sure. But you know, the more I read (from the select and very limited little pile of books I've accumulated) the more Buddhist practice seems to relate to my experience of myself and to provide insight and techniques that I am actively finding valuable. I'm not about to shave my head and don a saffron robe (well, I might shave my head if more hair departs it, but that's another story!), but I am trying to learn something about myself through what I'm reading about Buddhism. Perhaps somewhere down the line I'll learn to be a little less apologetic.

Anyway, the end of the chapter Finding Calm was a good one to read this morning, not least because while running my bath I managed accidentally to put my hand on the controls for the water jets, which projected hot soapy water all around the bathroom and everything in it, which included my husband and a selection of previously dry towels. Napthali presents Buddhism as containing an 'uplifting message... that everyone is a Buddha at their core, with a Buddha's love and wisdom - this is our true nature. We are already complete, whole and good, but we obscure this fact with our fears and desires.' It is an attractive contradiction to the Christian tradition in which I was brought up, which emphasised man's essential sin and the need for the redemptive intervention of Christ in our lives in order to become 'whole'.

I notice myself walking around looking outwards. I don't like to look inwards particularly; I caught myself recently imagining myself as a walking 'hole', an emptiness, with the implication that I can't stand what's inside. And I do have enormous difficulty with that, finding it impossible to value myself. It's been the long-standing struggle of every counselling experience I've ever had, and it's a battle with myself that I can't win from the point of view of just somehow magically being able to like myself. The idea that somehow within me is everything I need, is challenging but also incredibly attractive. Napthali says, 'We don't need to travel the world, collect impressive experiences or achieve endless milestones in order to feel complete. What we seek is within us. The answer is to change where we look for it'.

Recently I've found that if I am mindful of myself I can take a breath, consciously relax a bit, and take a few seconds in which to give myself some 'room'. It's like meditation for 30 seconds or a minute, and it's incredibly useful. If I manage it, I experience a moment's clarity and recognise, sometimes, that other choices are available to me in addition to the ones that present themselves from a lifetime's habits of thinking and reacting. 'Buddhist teaching has been summarised with the phrase 'stopping and realising', which among other things refers to the ability to be aware of a negative state of mind and to realise on a deep level that a clearer, more constructive mind is available.' I think it will take years of practice.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday Sunday

I collapsed into bed at midnight last night having driven back from Murwillumbah (3 1/2 hours there, 3 1/2 hours back...) and slept for a solid 8 hours, woke briefly and then slept again until my darling husband brought in a cup of tea at 11:15am. Bliss! But it's been one of those funny days that always makes me feel a bit gloomy.

Things I've done today: emptied and repacked the dishwasher, fed the dog, given the dog its medicine, walked the dog, cleared up dog poo, done two lots of washing and some ironing, tidied up the house, brought in the washing, emptied the airers and put everyone's clothes away, cooked dinner, put away all the debris from yesterday (I took overnight stuff with me just in case I was too tired to drive home), took my darling daughter to the last day of the Coffs Harbour Show, and introduced her to the delights of crosswords ("Mummy, what's another word for 'blemish', 21 across, 4 letters?").

Among the things I have not done today: any of the stuff on my desk (i.e. end of quarter accounts), whisked up a fantastic print, achieved world peace and an end to the military regime in Burma, read the silly lightweight thoroughly unintellectual novel I picked out at the library last week, or cleared off any of the items on my to-do list.

This translates into more household-y type activities than I would wish for and not much time for myself. It also turns me into 'Churlish Housewife', a role I'm perfecting after several years of practice. I have ignored, of course, the fact that my dearest hubby took over everything yesterday so that I could go to my print show, facilitated me having a HUGE lie-in this morning, made me tea AND fresh coffee later on, and also complemented me on my cooking, despite being in the middle of a period of frantic activity with his work and grappling with enormous technical problems with his usual great good humour.

In my defence, I humbly offer that it isn't as bad as it could have been (I didn't yell at anyone!). These days I try to limit my to-do list over the weekend and confine it to half-a-dozen things that really do need to be done, while programming in some entertainment for everyone. So really that I achieved that: I went up to the print show and had a great day out, and I had fun with my daughter at the Coffs Harbour Show today, and the rest of it is the stuff that keeps families going; it just wasn't exactly what I wanted to do.

Since sitting down for dinner with a nice glass of red wine and thinking that actually this time I didn't do a bad job with the food I've managed to cajole myself into a slightly more positive frame of mind. I think maybe I've fallen for some of my old tricks

  • As soon as I got a bit down about one thing I came close to spiralling down the 'everything's wrong' slippery-dip which, as I've mentioned before, is very dangerous for me

  • I began to feel as if I hadn't achieved anything

  • I started piling up a mental to-do list about 5 miles long and then began to beat myself up about not achieving any of that, which as we all know is meaningless and a complete waste of time

  • And - this is the big one - the main reason why I even started out on making this mess for myself is that I came back yesterday from this amazing print show feeling unequal to my self-appointed role as an artist: I was intimidated by the talent of those around me and found it hard to place my own work in context with theirs, and plumped for the easy option which is to write myself off as rubbish instead of recognising that my work is good but different

I go round the same silly circles all the time, don't I? But it's getting easier to recognise how I sabotage myself these days, and to see what I could have done this time - and perhaps will manage to do next time - to help myself.

One thing I have found very helpful has been small moments of meditation - perhaps only a couple of minutes - but they help me achieve a more balanced frame of mind. I haven't meditated at all this weekend, which may be one reason why I've been grumpier than I would have liked today. I have learned from that.

Perhaps today has been a better day than I thought it was: I enjoyed going to the show and walking the dog. I didn't waste any of the available fun to be had with either activity by wishing I was somewhere else, and so I didn't rob my daughter of her fun, which I'm ashamed to say I have done on other occasions, so that's a small triumph too. Happiness is... watching my little girl screaming with laughter as she bounces around in a harness on very long elastic bands.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Poor stepson... he and his delightful girlfriend have called time on their relationship, and for the silliest of reasons: she can't trust him. Never mind that he's trustworthy to the point of stupidity, absolutely straight and incredibly honourable in his romantic dealings - she can't handle it because of issues in her own life. It makes me so sad. I'm not suggesting they were soul-mates or that their relationship would have survived/become more serious/resulted in grandchildren (no pressure there then!), but they had fun together, she is a nice person and so is he and my afternoon is tinged with regret that things didn't work out. How sad for him, how sad for her (and yes, how sad for us).

Definitely not a full glass today

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Quite often on a Wednesday evening my stepson comes round for dinner. Life is so much better now that he's out in the world, living in a shared house. Early difficulties with unreliable, druggy flatmates have been resolved and now he's sharing the house with two women whom he rarely sees.

On Wednesdays I take my daughter to her swimming lesson, which is a 2-hour round trip for a 30 minute lesson plus shower, but she really enjoys it and it's one of the rare occasions on which I can catch up with some reading. This evening I had a good look at the Penland Book of Handmade Books (which I can thoroughly recommend if you're at all interested in book arts) for a little inspiration, and then I vegged-out on a silly comedy/romance/novel thing that has zero intellectual merit but I just needed some light relief!

We got back to dinner (almost) on the table and our usual banter, during which my stepson was heard to utter the phrase, "I'm a rabbit". Let's face it, we're not talking big ears and a fluffy tail here (so far as I know...) but I'm chosing to allow myself to think of his cute factor, or at least remember the days when he had one. Anyway, it all made me think how great it is that at last we can all talk together like adults, once daughter is in bed, and that we have fun together now in a way that wasn't possible when we/I were/was mired in the iniquities of an untidy bedroom and an unfocused approach to life. I feel very lucky in the way things have turned out, which is a nice feeling at the end of the day.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Flopping around

I'm hoping to apply for an arts residency next year, which is a bit like the art equivalent of a retreat: one goes to a different place which may be more or less well equipped for your particular arts practice in the hope that the experience of 'difference' will inspire one to new heights of artistic achievement. And in the way of spiritual/religious retreats, arts residencies come with different levels of external involvement. Places such as Penland in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, USA provide full workshop facilities and a thriving community of artists and students where residents come for years at a time to develop their skills and be inspired by the people and the landscape. Other residencies may offer little more than basic accommodation and may be so solitary that the resident artist sees no-one else for the duration of their stay.

I've been on what you might loosely term 'spiritual' residencies in the sense that I was once a regular visitor to Marygate on Lindisfarne, off the Northumberland coast of north eastern England. I started going in my early 20's because I knew a woman called Deb who was training to be an Anglican chaplain and she used to go and thought it would be good for me, too. The first couple of times I went I stayed in Marygate House, which was a communal house but thereafter I stayed at Cambridge House and took silent retreats. My days were spent thinking and walking around the island, and building paths by hauling shingles up from the beach and laying them - my way of paying for my stay as I had no actual money.

I look back on my stays there with great affection. I was at once needy and wary, and it was great being held to the heart of a community of people with whom I had no kinship and yet who cared about me, while at the same time being free to do whatever it was I needed to do. At the same time I found it very confrontational in that I was left to be with myself, which wasn't always easy. And that's the thing: I need a lot of personal space but at the same time I find it quite difficult to be alone with myself.

I'm remembering this at the moment because my dearly beloved husband is away - for only a short time, this time - and I'm finding it hard to get into my work! Partly there's residual tiredness from a couple of weeks of fighting off the germs that are thriving in the condusive atmosphere of the new term at school and the temperature changes of this time of year. Partly there's a lot of residual mess that's silted up around the house during a couple of heavy weeks of hard work. And partly it's because of the unaccustomed silences in the house: I crave silence, peace and quiet when everyone's around but if you leave me alone I get twitchy! It's good to remind myself that this is what I do: it's not new, I've seen it before, I know what to do... and that is to ignore the silence and get on with things; make plans and don't get swallowed up by the spaces in between things. So I've made a list of art-related challenges, resolved to ignore the mess and not waste time tidying things up, and decided to get to bed early tonight! On that note, bon nuit et dormez-bien.

Friday, May 1, 2009


I went out to lunch today with three female friends (I'm sorry, I find the phrase girl friends hard to use, for some reason) to the newly revamped restaurant at the Surf Life Saving Club here in Coffs Harbour - the only place in the whole darned town with absolute beach front views. (This is a secondary topic of conversation: how in hell's name is it the case that a town with such a big tourist industry and such magnificent views manages to have so few beach-side restaurants, cafes or bars?) Anyway, we found that our reserved table was right next to a large piece of wall and changed to one with a better view, thus depriving a table of younger men with our company.

Next thing we knew, the waitress said that the table of younger men had asked her if we were 'cougars'? I'm sorry, will you please run that by me again? Do we look like a table of four large felines native to the Americas, with a terratorial range extending from the Yukon to the Andes? No? I thought not. We were nonplussed until the waitress returned to say that the men had explained: 'cougars' are also older women who date younger men. Ahhh... We replied that we were not, but queried what their term was for men who dated younger women, to which the answer was 'rich'. Irony is alive and well in Coffs Harbour.

How do I feel about this? Well strangely, not very flattered. On the one hand I suppose there might be a small tick in the box beside any young man who suggests I might be attractive, but it's slightly unsettling to discover that from my outward appearance I have silently fallen into the age bracket reserved for "older women".

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Watch the birdie

Poor thing!

A rather large hole in the window

The bird must have died on impact and dropped into the chair... What a way to go

Inner stuff

You may have wondered what happened to my use of 'Mood Manager' recently, and the answer is that my month's free trial expired at the end of March so I've stopped using the software.

Was it useful? Yes, but not in the way it was intended to be used. I didn't actually find that monitoring my moods was particularly helpful; what has been helpful has been taking the time to think about myself and how I'm feeling as a regular part of my daily life.

I've been thinking about this over the last few days. I found myself feeling stressed and anxious and I hadn't taken the time to reflect so I was getting more and more worked up, and feeling that I had too much to do and possibly couldn't achieve all that I had set out for myself. This is a bad point to come to for me because there's a real possibility of spiralling into a whirlwind of negative emotions along the lines of not being able to do anything, failing, not being good enough... I'm sure you get the picture. I can find it quite hard to get out of that very negative way of thinking, but on reflection that has the effect of being an avoidance strategy. I get so worked up that I have to drop some activity in order to salvage any achievement at all. Perhaps that's why I do it? I'm confronted with lots of things that apparently interfere with the things that I really want to do, so I allow myself to fall into a pit of despair - which is horrible but familiar - rather than having to deal with the situation, perhaps? I don't know, which is to say that I find it uncomfortable to think about it, so I'm not going to follow that line of thinking any further right now!

Anyway, luckily I had only just got to the early stages of this rapid spiralling descent when I realised that the real problem is that I simply haven't made any time for myself recently, and certainly not any time in which to reflect upon things. No wonder I'm having problems coping! And as soon as I realised that I began to be able to manage my feelings of anxiety, and to gather together some strands of self-control.

I find the state of being in a worked-up panic about things very disabling. I feel as if I don't have control, that external forces are driving everything and that I'm about to disappear along with my own wants and needs. It can descend into total panic, but on those rare occasions on which I manage to avoid going any further down that path and I calm down I manage to reclaim a sense of control about all sorts of peripheral anxieties that manage to tie themselves in with the main causes of worry.

For example, I realise that I've not been sticking very well to the CSIRO diet that we've been following successfully for almost a year. And having made the effort to get back into going to the gym I haven't been to the gym for two weeks. Now I do have a semi-reasonable excuse for both of these perceived 'failures', which is that it's the school holidays so our daughter is with us AND we drove around southern New South Wales visiting family and friends for a week which put us out of our routine. But since we've come home my rising sense of panic has at once allowed me to say that I can't cope with controlling either exercise or diet and it has prevented me from taking any control.

The word 'reflection' keeps appearing as a key to all of this. I don't need special software; what I need is acceptance that in order to stay sane I need to spend some time every day or so reflecting on myself, how I am and what I'm doing.

Having paused for long enough to reflect a little on my current condition I seem to have retrieved some enthusiasm for getting back into exercise and the diet this week, aided by the fact that school starts again on Tuesday which always seems to make things easier. Fingers crossed.

Strange happenings at 10 Kotara Place

Upstairs part of the living area extends behind a stub of wall so that we don't use it all that much. It's got two bookcases in it and some of our darling daughter's toys, but it's separate from the main living area and unless she is playing there we don't really visit at all. This evening, however, I needed to get something from a book case and...

... imagine my surprise when having picked up the required book I turned around to see glass shards everywhere and a dead pigeon lying on a chair. The poor bird must have flown straight into the centre of one of the large panes of glass and, instead of just making a loud thump and falling to the ground outside the room, it must have hit the glass at exactly the right point to make it shatter. There is glass everywhere so our daughter won't be playing there for a while. We'll have to fence it off so that our dog doesn't make off with the bird; I'm waiting until daylight tomorrow to take photos and send them to the management agency. I'm not sure whether the landlord's insurance or ours covers avian entry! If I don't take the photos I don't think anyone will believe me.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


... is how I'm feeling, having been to visit our rural block and found that the shed was not inundated during the recent floods (our possessions in cardboard boxes are intact and not at all damp), our house platform is intact and the access road has been restored - it's a rough and ready job, but we can drive up to our block so I'm not complaining. Phew!

This is the view looking diagonally down the gully that runs between the house pad and the studio pad

There's been some earth and branches washed down the gully but considering the amount of rain it really isn't bad

The pads (platforms carved from the hillside on which to build the house and studio) themselves have suffered very little damage and none of the batters (earth walls behind the pads which have been 'battered' into a slope) behind the pads has slipped at all. We walked up the the spillways above the benches (the batters are stepped backwards into the hillside; benches are the flatter areas between one batter and the next) to assess any damage and while we saw a little bit of slippage in a couple of places the main effect of the tremendous rainfall was to wash off the top soil exposing the beautiful colours of the Argillite rock underneath!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A small step

Woohoo! I should probably be posting this on our "Lookout31" blog, but I'm sticking it here because it's easier and because I may have mentioned previously that we're hoping to build a house one day on the rural block of land we own off North Boambee Road. Well, we are a small step closer to building something at some point in time because Builder #6 is apparently coming around tomorrow afternoon to tell us why he CAN put in a quote that is somewhere in the same galaxy as the price we can afford if the bank is kind to us. Again I say, Woohoo!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Baldy #2

I'm hoping that the new, relaxed me (described in my previous post) will carry me through the trauma of the fact that I'm beginning to lose my hair! Baldness is not a good look on a woman unless you happen to have Sinead O'Connor's bone structure, and believe me, I don't.

I'm trying to get to the bottom of the problem. I've never exactly been blessed with a thick mane of hair; it's always been very fine and there's never been much of it, but now if I stand in front of the mirror with a light above me I'm dazzled by my shiny scalp. I had thought that the problem was restricted to the top of my head (and how many people look at the top of my head?), but I was a bit shocked to find, when I examined the back of my head using two mirrors that the shine is beginning to extend down the back of my head towards my neck. I can tell how bad it is using the 'Scale of Tact' used by my delightful hairdresser, Dan...

This is not good. I'm 43 and not, as far as I know, suffering from any nasty illness. The culprit is likely to be the fact that I had a full hysterectomy and am taking HRT. I spent months trialling different types of HRT before I had the operation in order to find one that worked for me, and believe me, those little pills can wreck havoc upon you if you don't take the right one for you. I tried pills that made me suicidal within days, pills that made hair grow in all the wrong places, pills that made me eat like a horse and pills that signally failed to do anything noticeable at all. Which is why I was so happy to find that Kliovance suited me: a little bit of progesterone in the mix seemed to have huge benefits despite the fact that "technically" I don't need it. In fact I reckon that starting HRT marked the first occasion on which my poor old malfunctioning body actually got the hormones it should have had for the preceding twenty+ years, since I'd suffered from endometriosis from the tender age of about 14 years old. On HRT I've had more energy, fewer mood swings, better skin... and less hair. It seems that the female body can convert progesterone into testosterone, which then binds with androgen receptors in my scalp (if I've understood the medical language properly), thus killing off my hair follicles and turning me into a soon-to-be baldy! Help!

I guess the risks of baldness and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (something else Gynaecologists don't tell you about when you consider whether to excise your reproductive system) do outweigh the pain and misery of endometriosis, but I find myself feeling a bit sorry for myself about the lack of hair things because it ain't going to be pretty. Clearly I do need to talk to my doctor and an endocrinologist about my hormone levels and to rule out a thyroid problem, but I think I also need to consider strategies to cope with hair loss.

Hats? Yep, I love 'em. Sadly I can't afford to have them tailor-made for my enormous head, but it would be a good look! I could legitimately channel Isabella Blow and the English Eccentric look for my Australian neighbours if I could afford it, but I may have to learn millinery before I succeed. I might be better off finding an African-Australian neighbour who could teach me to tie the gorgeous headscarves worn by Nigerian women. I love them, too! Or I could just continue to wrestle with my vanity and attempt nonchalance. No hair? Who cares? I haven't quite got to baldness yet so I have some time to work on my attitude. I'll let you know how I get on.

Rain, rain, go away...

You may have seen on the news or indeed read on my other blog, Double Elephant, that the Coffs Coast Region has been declared an emergency zone by the New South Wales state government owing to the enormous quantities of water that poured out of the sky on Tuesday/Wednesday of this week. Well, it hasn't stopped raining yet and apparently we're due for more deluges of monsoon-type rains this weekend and particularly heavy rain next Monday. Hoorah! I hadn't appreciated quite why the city centre flooded as badly as it did (I seem to have driven through the area about 15 minutes ahead of the flood waters!), but the backing-up of the storm drains and creeks around the area coincided with a high King tide (King tides are equinox tides), so that water flowing out to sea was met by extra high tides flowing in towards the city and the outlying regions, hence the floods.

Gurdial standing on the plank across the crater

Anyway, so far so good, until Jake (the headmaster who recently built a house near to our block) sent us some photos yesterday. King tides aren't to blame, instead the valley is a huge water catchment area and as it came down off the hillsides it slammed straight into an inadequate culvert under the main access route up to our blocks... and washed the road away, leaving a crater impassible by vehicle and only just navigable over a single plank on foot. Jake's family couldn't get back to their house after work and school and have had to decamp to his mother-in-law's house (with five kids!) for the duration. Adam, who built his house right next to our boundary was lucky that he was at work while his wife was at home, so they were able to park their cars on either side of the gulf and have been ferrying children/food/adults back and forth between work, school and the shops via the rickety plank! Gurdial, whose blueberry farm is two blocks away from ours, on the other side of Adam's house, hasn't been able to get up there. We finally got all our boxed up goods into our new shed last Thursday and haven't been up there since so we have no idea if the rain water was able to drain away from the concrete foundations or whether our carefully stacked boxes (which were on pallets, luckily) have escaped the flood waters or not...

Gurdial's brothers standing on the plank. You can see the 3 large concrete culverts from which the road surface was washed away

Thanks to Jake sending us the photos we were able to go up to the crater this evening for a meeting to discuss what happens next, although they were all still arguing when we had to leave to collect our daughter from after school care, so I don't know the outcome. But the options are to spend $2,500 - $3,000 on a more-or-less well done 'bodge job' which would see large rocks placed down the sides of the re-positioned drains and topped off with water-repellent clay soils covered in gravel, or to invest more like $10,000 on doing the job properly which will include digging out a drain in order to divert the water flow while proper concrete pads are put in for the culvert and retaining walls built before a contoured slipway is incorporated into the road profile above... Clearly the latter idea is sensible, but apart from the time it might take to do and the fact that no work would be able to start on either option until the water flow has considerably reduced, there is of course the question of cost. It's likely that the bulk of the costs would be shared between Gurdial, Jake and us, and I have to say that we hadn't planned to spend a big lump of money on the road right now.

It's quite a large gap!

I do think that all the Buddhist reading I've been doing recently has had some effects. I am making a conscious effort to examine how I'm feeling, to recognise the signs of becoming stressed and to calm down, to relax more, to forgive myself more, to be more realistic, to encourage myself to exercise and to quell the nagging, critical inner voice. It's not that I'm embracing Buddhism so much as that I'm acknowledging the sense in what I'm reading and trying to apply it to my situation in a practical way.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Not a baldy any more

Belle isn't bald any more! Because I've spent several evening recently sewing 400m of cotton embroidery thread (in 4 colours) onto her little head... approximately 1,000 lengths of thread! I am completely mad.

If I find any more thread I might - one day - lower her hairline a little. Right now, though, I'm remembering that upper class ladies in the late 1500's - early 1600's used to pluck their foreheads to attain such alabaster elegance because it was a sign of beauty. So there.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

And I quote

Not enough quotations recently, so here are some more that I've been reading:

"Seeking happiness outside ourselves is like waiting for sunshine in a cave facing north" (or a cave facing south, for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere...)

Tibetan saying

"One must practice the things which produce happiness, since if that is present we have everything and if it is absent we do everything in order to have it"


"By 'happiness' we mean any span of time in which joy would seem immediately possible"

André Comte-Sponville, Le Bonheur, désespérément

"Every man wants to be happy, but in order to be so he needs first to understand what happiness is"

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, French philosopher

Quotes taken from Matthieu Ricard's book Happiness: A guide to developing Life's most important skill

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I don't laugh out load very often (perhaps I should?) but this appealed to me... Thank you to Ampersand Duck for the link to Who are the people who think up these things...?

P.S. there is a very small printmaking connection in there somewhere... can you find it?

Three wheels down, one wheel up

Last night I had a chance to practice my powers of calm and clear thinking when I had a small but humiliating accident in the car while at my darling daughter's school. Last weekend Coffs Harbour celebrated Harmony Day, which promotes peace and understanding between the many different cultures represented in the local community. E's school decided to bring together its own Autumn Festival with Harmony Day celebrations yesterday after school and so parents and students enjoyed the harmonies of the children's and adults' choirs, African drumming (hmmm...) and excellent didgeridoo playing among other delights in between very heavy rain showers.

M and I left early to meet some friends and I went back to the school to pick E up at 5:30pm, after a lot of rain. Well that's my excuse, anyway, for the fact that as we left the muddy field that serves as the school's over-flow car park, I reversed to let someone else out and... the back wheels of the car slid off the 'path' and into a small ditch, leaving us stranded with one front wheel in the air and absolutely no possibility of getting ourselves out of the situation without considerable assistance. What to do...? The only option (well, apart from screaming in frustration at my own stupidity or bursting into tears I guess) was to go back into the celebrations, round up some assistance and hope that better minds than mine would be able to work out what to do next, so thanking myself profusely for having put waterproof shoes and my rain jacket in the car I left E where she was and went in to beg for help. I'm ashamed to say, though, that I lost it with my husband. He's the one person in the world with whom I feel comfortable admitting that I don't know what to do and that I'm a step away from sheer panic, so what did I do? I shouted at him! Luckily he's a very forgiving man (although he did put petrol on the fire by telling me to calm down).

I have to say that I love the Steiner School. While I have no doubt that other schools would be possessed of parents who would willingly have helped me, the Steiner School has a particularly generous and creative group. Unbeknownst to me, while I was asking for assistance among the parents - and getting many offers of help from people whose names I don't know - someone I did know, Wendy, had spotted E in the back of our car, stopped, and asked E if she'd like to play with her children in their car while she got out in the pouring rain to see what she could do to help. And the father of one of E's classmates had, by the time I got back, already stopped, got out a webbed strap, established that he couldn't get the thick end of the strap through the tow-loop under the car and was thinking up other solutions to the problem. In the end, after three goes, we managed to pull my car out because another helpful father stopped by and proferred a D-ring shackle that successfully united the webbing strap with the tow-loop, et voila! All of us were absolutely soaked by the time we'd finished and I am SOOOO grateful. What a lovely group of people!

By the time I got back to where my husband was waiting I was cold, wet, tired and very annoyed with myself. The annoyance has diminished into resigned humour and a determination to ensure that we carry a tow rope, webbing straps and a couple of D-ring shackles in the boot for future creative uses. I have managed not to sink into a pit of despair about my inadequacies as a parent and a driver, but still, it is a little embarrassing... and I feel especially embarrassed by the fact that the rear bumper does now have a dent (and my husband cleared out a fair amount of field from the exhaust pipe!).

In terms of my search for happiness this has been an illustrative process for me. I would have done a lot better if I'd managed to keep myself a little calmer after it had just happened. Wendy saved the day for my daughter by successfully distracting her with other children which meant that she didn't feel too traumatised by it all. I did what I needed to do, but ended up beating myself up about it a little bit, and while it's good that I managed to restrict it to only a little bit, I recognise that a bit more calm and a sense of humour in the initial stages would have carried me a long way. I will store that knowledge up for next time, while simultaneously praying that there isn't a next time!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ragdoll blues

It's not very glamorous being a rag doll in the making, is it? After the face is put on you're sewn up (with a hole left in your side for the stuffing), and then you're clipped...

...then some prankster photographs you the right way in but with stuffing on your head...

... before the iniquities of the BALD photos. Look! No hair! Huh, and they've named me 'Belle'. Is that some kind of a joke?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Books & Boxes with Ampersand Duck

That is such a cool name for a private press/blog... and I'm feeling very excited about the fact that I've signed up to do a week-long course with Caren as part of Sturt's Winter School for creative arts in July. A whole blissful week of making books and boxes.... (sigh) I can't wait! I can't really afford it, either, but I have some help in so far as I should be able to stay with my brother-in-law and his family in Goulburn, which is about a 40 minute drive to Sturt in Mittagong. Fingers crossed.

I do love going on courses. Last year I was lucky enough to go on two in Sydney at Primrose Park in Cremorne, Sydney, and the whole experience was great. There is a particular thrill in the selfishness of engrossing myself in something for a complete period without the usual interruptions of family and daily life! I don't want to behave like that every day but sometimes it is just lovely to get away and allow oneself to wallow in having fun and making things. And there are all the other benefits as well: access to expertise, meeting people, making potentially useful contacts and new friends, just being somewhere different for a change and seeing how other people do things... all of these outcomes eventually flow through into new work. I'd been thinking that I might not have a chance to do anything like that this year, and doubtless I shall find nearer the time that it isn't exactly convenient for me to slope off for a week (when M is going to be away a lot this year and we're also trying to build a house) but what the hell. I just had an emailed acknowledgement of receipt of my application so it looks as if I'm going!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Happiness Is

Exercise, I'm convinced of it. I spent an hour this morning in the Botanic Gardens again, clenching my abdominal muscles and trying to get my head into the correct position during my Pilates class and the magpies were warbling, the Tibouchina trees are covered in purple flowers and the sky was blue. Bliss! And it was all helped along by the fact that I've discovered DEET, so the mosquitoes didn't carry me away today. I had to come home and have another shower to get the insecticide off my skin but that's a small price to pay for not having hives.

I've also been having fun binding the two pulp-printed hand-made paper books that were the product of the residency I did at Southern Cross University in January. With moving house and illness completion of my part of the project has been held back, for which I feel bad, but it's now getting there. Willis came over today to find out what he has to do to bind his two books and hopefully by the end of next week they'll be finished and ready to send up to Tim in Lismore. Photos etc of the work will appear on Double Elephant, my "art" blog.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mother and daughter time

I love making things with my darling daughter and I've found the best way to stop stressing about not doing enough of that sort of thing with her is to get my head out of my navel and DO something with her... to whit, she came home a week or so ago and asked if we could make a rag doll together. It turned out that her Steiner school teacher had said children can come to class with toys etc if they had made them, which is wholly unreasonable in the real world but completely in tune with the school's Steiner ethos! So we had extensive discussions about size, skin colour, hair colour, face and clothes which resulted in some beautiful drawings, and I found an old sheet that I've been saving for rags. We had fun dying it to a more natural skin tone using tea bags. I knew it could be done but feared it might be complicated, but it was so simple!

Dunk your material in a bucket in which you have poured lots of very strong tea (don't forget to strain out the tea leaves or remove the tea bags first or they could produce strange patches or spots if they rest against your material). Leave for 20 minutes and then check the fabric, remembering that the shade will look darker on wet fabric, and take it out when ready. Drip dry and then iron to set the colour. Voila!

I went out and bought embroidery cottons for the face, skeins of thread for hair and some fabric with a small pattern for clothes and we started... I downloaded a pattern for $3 from an American website but on reflection could have drawn one myself just as well (although the buying/downloading process was very easy), and I embroidered most of the face although darling daughter did also do some embroidery. For a small person of only just 7 years she is very dextrous with her fingers and understood completely what she was trying to achieve. All in all we had a lot of fun, and I'll post some more pictures in due course.

She doesn't have a name yet but she'' have reddish hair and a blue dress!

... and she has very big eyes...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Happiness is

Taking your kids out to dinner, especially the one who's moved out and can entertain you with tales of his flatmate's girlfriend trashing the place after a drug binge, his latest candidate for the post of girlfriend and other amusing stories! And my super-duper daughter did amazing swimming today: every term they have a 'safety in the water' lesson and as she's progressed she's done lots of different things from learning how to swim fully clothed to 'saving' each other. Today it was proved to her just how far she can swim: using a mixture of front crawl (freestyle, in Australia) and 'survival backstroke' she swam continuously for 25 minutes, which left her absolutely exhausted but still afloat. She is only 7, after all. I'm so proud of both of them

Even if the wine at the restaurant was nothing to write home about

Now you see it, now maybe you don't...

I really hate the whole ageing thing. In the old days I could rest easy, knowing that my blood pressure was incredibly low and that I was fit, fit, fit! Now I'm suffering from stress, I'm a little bit overweight, distinctly less fit than I used to be AND it seems that the pressure inside my eyeballs is increasing, putting me at greater risk of glaucoma. I went to the optometrist in Coffs Harbour recommended to me by my optometrist brother-in-law, Tony, and was told that I'd got high pressure readings in my eyes. This isn't good news. Ten years ago I lost the sight in my left eye for nine months and had various other episodes of unexplained bleeding into both eyes so I already know what losing my eyesight is like... Since the first bleed I have spent many hours in the optometrist's chair and this is the very first time that my eye pressure has been elevated, and it marks a distinct change from the situation two years ago when I last had my eyes checked. The days when my doctor used to tell me to start smoking and drinking in order to increase my blood pressure are clearly long gone!

What does this tell me? Well things have clearly changed! I'm older, probably fatter, probably a bit less fit than I was two years ago. I've experienced a lot of stress - possibly no more than usual in my up-and-down sort of life, but still lots of stress. I've started drinking a cup of real coffee most days, but I don't drink as much alcohol as I used to. I've been on the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet for most of the last twelve months.

I think it also tells me that I should be taking my efforts to change unhelpful aspects of my life seriously. I've been following the CSIRO with great results, but I still eat too much meat and I haven't put great emphasis on the low fat part of the plan because I shifted a lot of weight by just dropping carbohydrates. I eat too much chocolate. I probably don't eat enough potassium, magnesium and calcium, mainly because I'm lazy about ensuring that I eat bananas every day and/or take a supplement. This is particularly short-sighted of me as I'm on HRT and need to ensure I ingest enough calcium to avoid osteoporosis. I have started taking more exercise, so we'll see if I can keep up with two Pilates classes per week and two gym sessions per week, and I will need to increase the length of gym sessions and the variety of weight training and cardio work I do.

In the spirit of taking responsibility for both the good and the bad in what I do, I think I've made a start, which is good, and now I need to stick at it. I need to recognise that what was true when I was in my twenties and thirties is out of date now I'm in my early forties, and adapt accordingly. I need not to slide into a pit of depression about how wrong everything is and focus instead on being calm, reducing my stress levels, getting my chocolate cravings under control and improving my overall health. Cheers!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Buddhism for happiness?

I wonder if Buddhism has occurred to you as a possible exploratory route to happiness? It's certainly occurred to me many times over the years, although I've instinctively shied away from anything that looked too much like hard work. I'm also unsure if I am or if I want to be someone who 'aligns' myself with something. Many years ago I knew someone called Anton Wasilewski (I think that's the spelling) at university and he pronounced that I was a person with no morals but plenty of underlying principles, and I think it is principles that have got me through life in the absence of anything like faith. I have no faith. I joke about having had the 'faith bone' removed, but truthfully I don't have any faith. Internal searching hasn't even disclosed to me the part of my mind in which faith would reside if I had any. I've read research that suggests people with faith are physically and mentally healthier so in some ways I feel as if perhaps an absence of faith in my life has made things more difficult, but I've also felt glad to be the author of my own misfortunes and I am reluctant to describe any part of my life or myself to something other.

So anyway, back to Buddhism. I'm interested in the fact that some of the people who've published research and written books about happiness and how to achieve it are practicing Buddhists, but with my Bachelors degree Christian theology behind me I am crushingly ignorant about Buddhism and I'd like to know more. One thing that's confusing me is that there are so many variants of Buddhism, different schools, although with my knowledge of the history and practice of Christianity perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.

I don't know that I'm about to embark on a personal journey into Buddhism, but I do think that meditation, mindfulness and compassion in particular may have important things to teach me about being less stressed, living now rather than in the past or in the future, and forgiving myself - all of which would do me a lot of good. So I'm reading two books at the moment, which are at different points in the plethora of western interpretative literature about Buddhism: Sarah Napthali's Buddhism for Mothers and Matthieu Ricard's Happiness: a Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill.

The Napthali book is (so far) amusing and relevant in that its author is not a guru. She's a time-poor, frazzled mother with a supportive partner who is otherwise uninterested in her spiritual journey, and she's an ordinary, mistake-making, non-academic student of Buddhism who isn't claiming to have all the answers. If nothing else, reading the book makes me realise I'm not alone! Ricard's book claims a lot more authority, if only because of its weightier prose and the fact that its author is a fully ordained monk and a science graduate with amazing parents and a fabulous education who could probably have turned his hand to anything and been an outstanding success but instead has devoted his life to Buddhism and specifically to the interface between Buddhist teachings and modern physics... Intellectually it's a lot more interesting, but less sympathetic. Indeed, having been brought up in that very British way of understating achievement Ricard's calm and dispassionate recital of his successes makes him sound a bit smug when it's supposed to showcase his Buddhist non-attachment to wordly things and his lack of delusion about his place in the world. I'm hoping that as I read more I find something more fallable about him and that I'm able to avoid schadenfreude. That wouldn't be very Buddhist, would it?

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Those of you who were wondering why in hell's name I paid for gym membership without going to the gym or cancelling my membership might like to know that here one has to pay for a year in monthly instalments. One can put one's membership on hold for up to 12 weeks (which I did) but for longer periods on hold one needs a genuine excuse and a doctor's letter! Being half Scottish isn't deemed sufficient reason for not paying...


I started going to Pilates today and I can tell you, I'm going to ache tomorrow! My lovely Italian friend Paola gives classes twice a week in the Botanic Gardens and, as she has children at the same school as our daughter, I don't have any excuses... This morning was an experiment and I had a wonderful hour, rediscovering small muscle groups that I didn't realise could operate independently, in an open-walled pavilion in the gardens.

Anyway, the warm breeze and the birdsong and the stretching were a great prelude to sitting my Citizenship Test at lunchtime. I was booked in for an appointment in April but M got a call the other day to ask if I'd mind taking a cancellation appointment today - without having had a chance to receive the relevant booklet in the post. I read through the on-line version last night and I'm pleased to say that I passed with 95%, having dismally failed to select the right option on the question about land mass of different states. Had they asked me about the first Prime Minister or the date of Federation or of Anzac Day, or the meaning of the colours of the Aboriginal Flag or the basic events of the Eureka Stockade I'd have been fine, but clearly I'd not fully read the section on the geography of the different states. Never mind. I passed, which is the main thing, and it means I can start the process of applying for citizenship.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

They're right

Which is generally something I find distressing to admit, but it turns out that exercise really does make you feel better! OK, actually I knew it already and have previously acknowledged its truth in my own life, but I'm sitting here at my laptop feeling justifiably pleased with the fact that I went to the gym this morning.

To give you some idea of how long ago it is since I darkened their doors, they had actually installed a new entry system. And had been using it for some time. So my first task was to present myself at the reception desk and try not to look too embarrassed while asking for a new key card ("Yes, I am a member." "No, I didn't get a key card when the new system was installed." "Why not..? Because I haven't seen you since May 2008"). I managed to laugh.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happiness is... making cobweb felt

There are flashes of bright colours all through this scarf

This one is a bit more muted, with tones of green and turquoise

On my quest to de-stress over the weekend I decided to get on and do some more felt-making, because I thoroughly enjoy it AND the results are going to be birthday presents for some lovely people I know (whom I sort of hope don't read this blog very often, otherwise they won't be very surprised by their impending parcels!).

Detail of the mohair and silk noile inclusions that give an irridescent quality to the material

Cobweb felt - my name for it? - is very sheer felt made by laying out gossamer-thin layers of wool and fulling the fibres very gently indeed by rolling them up in a bamboo mat and rolling them forwards and backwards hundreds of times until the fibres mat together and form felt. I've not done it before but found instructions, which I adapted to my own needs, in a book. I am really pleased with the results and in addition to that, I spent a pleasant afternoon outside in the garden making everything so I came in yesterday evening feeling as if the sea breeze had blown away the cobwebs in my head at least and that I'd thoroughly enjoyed the meditative aspects of repetitiously fulling the scarves.

This white scarf is one of the first I made and its edges are rougher

... but I love the colours against the white