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".