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 http://rolcats.com/. 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

Mood Manager

I subscribe to The Happiness Institute's newsletter and was intrigued to read over the weekend about a new tool aimed at helping people gain some insight about and control over how they feel called 'Mood Manager'. Well there's a 30-day free trial and what can I say..? I signed up. It isn't downloadable software, instead you sign in to it over the web.

Everyone loves a quiz, especially about themselves, and getting started with Mood Manager involves taking a DASS 21 test (Depression Anxiety Stress Scale). This rates your levels of depression, anxiety and stress over the preceding week and allows you to monitor your responses. There are lots of things Mood Manager doesn't do, and it isn't a replacement for professional treatment if that's what you need, but I'm interested to see whether the process of logging unhelpful thoughts, regularly retaking the DASS 21 test and using the software's tools to analyse some of my thoughts and behaviours will identify issues I haven't previously thought about.

One thing has already come up: on the first DASS 21 test I took my scores were 1 for Anxiety, 10 for Depression and 14 for Stress! Perhaps I've got so used to thinking of myself as being depressed I ignore the possibility that I'm actually more stressed? I wonder if I was to do something about feeling stressed I might feel better all around?

I decided to take advantage of the 30 day trial and use the software to its fullest so every day I'll note how much sleep and exercise I got and how I felt, I'll pay attention to those 'unhelpful thoughts' that drill into my thoughts so frequently, and I'll try to think about what I'm doing. At the end of the month it will be interesting to see if the process has helped me, and whether pulling that information together is something for which I need an on-line programme or whether I can actually do it for myself. And in terms of reducing my stress levels, which I think is important but which I've been putting at the bottom of my list of priorities, I'm going to sort out a schedule for my week that includes at least one thing I really enjoy doing and also fences off time for exercise. I know I feel better when I exercise, but since M was ill last year and I had to stay home with him I have completely abandoned it, and that's silly and something I should sort out.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Not enough pictures in this blog yet, so here's a spurious one, a propos of nothing. Scented flowers do make me happy, though. I'm not someone who likes strong scents usually, but Gardenia is beautiful and I'm just thrilled that over here I can grow a tree from something that in the UK is a hot house plant that usually yellows and dies from the cold!