Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Midsummer's Rambling

When I get home from the cafe, tired and hot, I put my feet in the fountain which is often enough to re-energise me for some gardening.

Tonight, after the foot fountain recovery, I weeded the capsicums and fed the chickens and used the sun oven to warm my dinner and eat it out under the trees in the slanting evening sunlight.

While I ate felafel, I read my library book (one of the three or four I have on the go) while I ate: Daylight by Elizabeth Knox . I didn't know I was getting a vampire novel out (eeeww!) but by the time the bloodletting began I was hooked on the characters (despite their irritating names i.e. Bad and twins Dawn and Eve) and the story (rolicking along several converging mountain paths on the coast of Italy/France). I quite like that Bad is not only a survivor of a disaster obviously based on the Cave Creek tragedy (14 teenagers died when a viewing platform collapsed in a New Zealand National Park), but how deftly the implications of that experience are woven through the whole book (so far anyway, I'm only half way through 356 pages).

Friday, December 23, 2005

Ngaere's Guillotine

My friend Ngaere is modestly famous in Wellington for Maiden Voyage, her upper-Cuba Street shop where she designed and made interesting clothing selling alongside interesting creations by others. I used to walk past her shop every day on my way to and from work, and once I even bought a 70s rhinestone necklace there, but it wasn't until I started making books that I got to know Ngaere.

In addition to her talents as a designer and seamstress, Ngaere is a skilled and imaginative bookbinder. She is also a generous mentor: sharing tools, materials and advice; introducing me to the Association of Book Crafts (together we lower the average age of its members by some decades); and generally encouraging my emergence as a book artist.

Ngaere's shop closed down when Upper Cuba Street was stripped of life in preparation for the infamous "Bypass". Her loyal customers pleaded with her to open another clothing shop but instead Ngaere has been indulging her passion for books, and especially her passion for collecting book equipment. The latest aquisition is a set of old wooden planning drawers to keep her extensive paper collection flat and safe. I'm terribly envious, as I have been looking for the same thing for a long time. Her second most recent purchase is this old guillotine, another covetable item.

Ngaere has generously offered to let me use it whenever I want, and this week I had my first play with it. Cutting is a completely different experience than when using a knife. Instead of hunching over a table carving out one piece at a time, the guillotine engages your whole body. Spinning the big wheels, like steering steamship, positions the paper and holds it in place. Pulling a lever as long as I am tall brings the blade down with a satisfying snap. A whole different set of muscles are left aching afterwards.

Ngaere's a true friend and a best book buddy. You can see some of her handmade blank books here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Passion is such a delicious word. The shhhh in the middle is sexy. Try it. Right now, say the word passion out loud and feel your mouth make a kiss with itself.

Pucker up and part your lips with a soft smack...pah... then let your breath caress the top of your tongue and tickle the tips of your front teeth... shhh Put the edge of your tongue on the top of your mouth, just inside your teeth and hum a sigh of bliss... onn.

When I was a young teenager in New Zealand "pashing" was one of the briefly fashionable words for what USers call "necking". Pashing is still what I call it because it's got such a sexy mouth-feel to say.

Now try to say pashing... it starts with the same sexy moves as passion but the end of the word is filled with longing... it is desire stoked and and stroked and leaving your mouth wanting more.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Raspberry juice recipe

If you find yourself with a glut of raspberries here's an idea for a refreshing drink to cool down with after a hot afternoon planting basil, roquette and cucumbers...

Earlier in the day, after sorting the best raspberries for eating/giving/ freezing... put the less than perfect raspberries in a little pan (after removing all the livestock and the gross bits of the berries they have occupied). Simmer gently, stirring occasionally as the berries break down and release their own juices. When completely liquid, chill.

Mix with apple juice (I used well-diluted concentrate) , add an ice cube, garnish with fresh pineapple sage and a raspberry on its stalk. Unbelievably good...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Sky towers

I've been meaning to take this photo for a couple of weeks and I almost left it too late- these wonderful onion dome buds are about to burst into blossom any minute now. I'm not sure whether they are garlic or some other allum. The nearby rows that I know are garlic are much smaller and their flower stems are making wonderful art nouveau curls down towards the earth. These ones are taller than me, reaching for the sky like Martian minarets.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

3 weeks in a garden

The photos below show what has been happening in the vege garden in the past three weeks. The steady rain and warmth mean that even daily visits to the garden show up noticable changes. Most of the new green are young plants spreading out across the compost-rich soil: tomatoes, corn, cauliflowers, zuccini and beans. But some of the green is weeds loving the warm wetness as much as the desirable plants.

The white veiled rows are raspberries (across the front of both photos) and gooseberries (up the left side in the earlier pic) . Do you see the forest of fluffy asparagus fern, taller than me? It's the bright green patch in the top left of today's photo, between the white fence of the garden and the lighter row of gooseberries. The strips of white inside the garden are newspaper mulch between the rows.

18 December 2005

29 November 2005

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Silly season secrecy

I can't really report on book making activities at the moment. The little bits of studio time I am squeezing in betweeen kitchen and garden activities (and swimming: twice into the warm silky ocean at Paekakariki in two days) are focused on making gifts for dear ones who read this blog, so it all has to be top secret until after Hannukah. Sorry to those readers who aren't on my gift list but are eager for book-making updates.

Hannukah happens to start on Christmas evening this year and I have invited my daughter and various waifs and strays to come out to Te Horo for a meal which will NOT be a Christmas dinner. Our gesture to the dominant culture will be a traditional New Zealand Christmas pavlova to go underneath the raspberries. We'll have latkes (potato pancakes) for the Hannukah touch but assuming the weather is still this hot in a week I think the meal will be mostly salads and dips with lots of cold drinks, for grazing as we sit outside under the trees.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Total immersion

Yesterday, having escaped from the stinking hot kitchen where making another 120 lamingtons had coated me in sticky sugar while sweat pooled inside my shoes, I drove up the river looking for a swimming hole.

As Jo and I walked from the road down through steep bush to the wide stony river bed it began to rain, all the afternoon's humidity suddenly falling in big heavy drops onto our towels and clothes. Those few degrees of coolness, and the dark cloud above weren't enough to keep us from the river though. After a couple of minutes of knee-deep squealing we dived in and let the swift current carry us along. We didn't linger but we didn't need to, refreshed and exhilarated we gathered our damp things and climbed back up towards the car, arriving just as the rain stopped, the sun emerged and the road began to steam.

My souvenir, unfortunately, is a blocked-up ear causing deafness and irritation, and stubbornly refusing to respond to all folk remedies and pharmaceutical solutions.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Berry Imperative

Just quickly as I have to get back to my white chocolate lamingtons* (150 down, 100 to go). I fully expected to dream about lamingtons last night but instead I dreamed about long lines of fresh berries, moving past as on a conveyer belt, in ra colourful mixture stretching into the distance with a strong sense of imperative/obligation/priority about them. Maybe you had to be there but it makes sense to me as I have to harvest (and deal with) nearly a kilo of raspberries every couple of days, not to mention the hateful gooseberries.

* Cubes of sponge cake dipped in melted white chocolate and cream then rolled in coconut. Sticky, tricky, pretty and delicious... and oh so many to do...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Gooseberry Foolishness

While helping to pick 60+ kg of gooseberries over a couple of hours that went from sweltering heat to pouring rain, I came to the conclusion that the gooseberry bush is an exceptionally evil form of plant life. It appears so generous offering up branches laden with green berries but those branches are also spiked with needle sharp spines as long as my fingers. And when you do extract the pale green veiny fruit (not a pretty berry, imho) from its thorny lair, it tastes mild and bland: not quite sweet and not quite tart. But a caterer will pay good money for them so we turned our hands into pincushions (I'm going to have to try and avoid cutting tomatoes until all the little holes heal up).

Now that's finished I'm dealing with a couple of kilos of split and otherwise less-than-caterer-quality fruit. There's a pot of chutney bubbling on the stove, permeating the house with the aroma of malt vinegar. And later I'll stew the rest to make gooseberry tarts. I'd like to try a gooseberry fool, just because it's one of the best food names I've never experienced, but do you know how much cream is involved? I'd have to have a dinner party to justify that kind of dish, and I just can't be bothered. At least gooseberry tarts are freezable and portable.

Friday, December 09, 2005


My friend Margot was born on the same day of the same year as me. Even if we don't see eachother from one year to the next, we always meet up on our birthday. It's an annual marvel to see the parallel themes in our lives, and the different ways that we deal with them.

I'm the Danny Devito and she's the Arnold Schwarzteneger, but only in height! Look at me stretching myself as tall as possible, and her slouching down to try and meet me... and we still aren't even close to the same level!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Maria Pia's Trattoria

I'm catching up on emails so this is just a short post, about one of the best restaurant meals ever! This is my daughter Louise, me and Maria Pia at Maria Pia's Trattoria where Louise works and where she took me for dinner on my birthday. Maria Pia is from Puglia in Italy and is an advocate of Slow Food and the traditional regional foods she grew up with. It is Maria Pia's practice, and pleasure, to mingle with the guests at her restaurant and she is a vivacious character who reminds me of my Aunt Laura.

We had buffalo mozzarella from Italy with wonderfully flavoured tomato slices, and pugliese olives (so tiny, so good) to start with. Then I had groper on a bed of kale (my favourite green vege) and fennel (which I hadn't tried before and expected to be more highly flavoured) with a delicious salsa verde on top. Both Louise and I consider dessert to be the most important part of the meal and we arranged to sample little bits of several different desserts including a chocolate cake (too rich even for me, by that stage) and a tiramisu (too much coffee for me) and two delicious desserts that I can't remember the names of... one was sort of like berry trifle but Italian and one was a light kind of panna cotta, very subtle and refreshing. I had to be rolled out to the car after all that oh so goodness.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Birthday reflections

Today I turn 39, which strikes me as a particularly satisfying number, so I am expecting a particularly satisfying year ahead of me.

What an amazing, dramatic year 38 has been! I knew that I wanted a different life from the one that had been dragging me through the swamps of despair for far too long. I just didn't know exactly what I wanted to be living instead, except that it be far from the peculiar loneliness of being in a crowd. So, I set off down a path away from what was wrong, trusting that somewhere along the journey I would eventually find and recognise a better life that wasn't visible from my starting point.

In the past year my daughter left home and I bought a car, started blogging, quit the bureaucracy, left the city, moved to the other end of the Island and an isolated cattle farm, became a full-time artist, took up yoga, fell in love, moved South to my sweetheart's rural hinterland, applied to do a doctorate, took up gardening, and just the other day started working as a casual cook in a cafe*.

This time last year I could not have imagined being where I am now, yet right now there is no need to imagine anything different than this. The whole year has seen a steady improvement of my mental, emotional, physical, spiritual health. I needed to step into the unknown and spend so much time alone up North, but when something (and someone) even better came along I was able to move onwards. Life is good and getting better. I'm starting to believe that there might not be any limits to the amount of happiness available for me as I follow my bliss. Roll on the satisfactions of 39!

* Yes, yes, I'm aware that I am revealing some new information in this summary and some of you will want more details. Patience, dear reader, let me share it in my own good time.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Temporarily disabled

For some weird reason, possibly involving inadvertant spam opening and viral exposure (but more likely related to the "authentication and browsing problems being experienced by some customers" according to the recorded message I finally accessed after several attempts to navigate my way through the labrynthine voice recognition computer technology on the Clear Help Line), I am unable to do anything with my email at the moment.

Thank G-d I can still blog. And browse. And text. I'm not sure if the email weirdness is related to the weirdness that occurred when I tried to comment on someone else's blog, but I think it is. (Zydeco Fish, I'm the one appearing as a string of unintelligible code)

I spent the morning feeling depressed and ineffectual about my email absence. But then when it stopped raining I went out in the garden and weeded cauliflowers, tomatoes, silverbeet and garlic. And planted lavender, catnip and peas. And sewed up the many huge holes in the raspberry net which looked like some giant raptor has shredded it and eaten most of the raspberries. Any way it didn't take long before I started feeling good, even without email.

It's a funny thing, that I enjoy solitude really a lot, but when the solitude was exacerbated by no email, then it was too much and I felt lonesome. Not any more though, its hard to feel that lonesome with five chickens and two dogs wanting to be fed.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Feedback Please!

This is my new favourite ingredient... a zuccini flower. After years of reading about eating them, I finally tried it, mmm mmm. The first night I stuffed them with a mixture of breadcrumbs, zuccini, tomato, pesto and olives and roasted them. The second night I stuffed them with brocolli, feta and parmesan. Both were good, but the first was better.

Eating flowers is a delightful activity, the literal consumption of beauty. Usually I put flowers (borage, nasturtium) on salads so that they are not only a colourful accent, but add a soft, delicate texture. I am watching the artichokes in the garden closely, looking forward to dipping their fleshy petals in garlic butter.

What do you think?

Given that a lot of my time and attention at the moment is preoccupied with gardening and cooking and playing house this is what I am drawn to blog about most days. I've been thinking about starting a new blog, not to replace this one but as a venue for my more domestic musings, leaving this blog to be mostly about books and art. This would probably mean less frequent posts on Bibliophilia, as there simply isn't time for me to keep up a full regime of posting to two blogs. To help me make up my mind I would like to know what you, dear reader, think I should do. I see two options:

1. Focus only on Bibliophilia as a personal blog, with no inhibitions about many, even the majority, of posts sharing my daily thoughts and activities in the garden and kitchen, as well as the studio. This would mean posts would be at least as frequent, and possibly more frequent than they are now.

2. Start a second blog (tentatively titled 'Kapiti Cook's Garden) which would be entirely, or mostly, about gardening, cooking and other domestic activities. Maintain Bibliophilia as a book arts oriented blog. This would mean dividing my posting energy between two blogs and each would receive fewer posts than just one.

To comment on this burning issue, click on the "# Comments" link underneath this post. Do you find domestic posts dull and would prefer them to be excluded from this blog? Or do you just enjoy Bibliophilia and don't mind what I write about?

I'd especially like to hear from regular readers (including those who read without usually commenting) and from other bloggers- is this an issue you have considered for yourself?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bay-in-a-box or Slinky Maps

I am very excited to have finished these two pieces. One is Quebec Harbour and one is Dublin Bay, both are nautical charts (1970s reprints of 1860s charts), the real things with little notes from the Captain jotted here and there. Printed on wonderful heavy creamy paper with an energetic spring to it.

I have exploited the spring by making a 'meander' out of each map so that folded up they make a tight cubic shape full of coiled energy. When you open the handmade box covered with the rest of the map the meander springs out (just like in the photo) and if you are holding the box high enough, it slithers right out like a slinky. Remember those big floppy spring toys that would take the stairs one at a time? Just like that. If you want to, you can unfold the meander and lay it out flat and see the chart in all it's Victorian etched beauty.

These are fun to make and fun to play with but I haven't done any for a few months because of the Twilight Zone of my metal rulers. I have four long metal rulers, straight edges (supposedly) of either 60 or 100cm length. (I also have a cute baby 15cm rule which is my favourite because it hasn't entered the Twilight Zone (yet, touch wood)). Every single one of these rulers has warped, some within days of entering my studio. Most of my work is small scale and so a fraction of a milimetre's warping is neither here nor there, but these meanders depend on long cuts that have to be perfectly straight and at perfect right angles. After wrecking a couple of maps I gave up trying.

Then the other day I audited my metal ruler collection and discovered that each has one side which is not warped. The three 60cm rulers have straight inch sides and warped centimeter sides. 100 cm rule is straight on the cm side, which is my measurement of preference.* I carefully marked every warped edge in my collection with an indelible red X, took a deep breath and started cutting a meander with a reliable straight edge. It worked! There's no stopping me now.

If you would like to buy Dublin-Bay-In-A-Box or Quebec-Harbour-In-A-Box or want to commission Your-Favourite-Place-In-A-Box, just send me an email via my website and your wish is my command (contents of my map collection permitting). These are $45 each, which in NZ included P&P. What a bargain!

*I think mine was the first year of New Zealand school children to be taught only metrics and not imperial measurements so I am totally lost when it comes to inches and their silly fractions. Yet most how-to-make-books books come from North America and are full of 6/32" type measures which I have to convert to milimetres cos that's just ridiculous to be working in 32nds of an inch when there are perfectly good milimetres available.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I don't want to gloat or anything, especially to apartment and northern hemisphere dwellers, but today I went out into the sunny garden, picked a handful of raspberries and ate them: warm, sweet, juicy and flavourful.

As soon as the birdnet went on, they started to redden (well, were able to continue to redden without molestation from thrushes and starlings). The birds are still getting a few that are too close to the net for safety and a few birds get under the net and alternate panic with gorging until they find there way out. But most of the raspberries are going to make it. And I am going to make raspberry jam.

What happens to shelves after the books are gone

Monday, November 28, 2005

Books away

It's amazing how easy, and enjoyable, it was to finish organising my studio once I decided to pack away my reading books. Letting go of my desire to have all my books visible on shelves was the most difficult bit! That set me to thinking about the nature of books as a preferred interior decorating accessory.

Artist's books, of the kind I make, are generally designed to be viewed as works of art. But most books, other than large format 'coffee table' books, are designed to attract bookstore browsers but not really for display at home, where once read, will be seen only as a spine. Yet I, like so many people I know, really like the look of a row of book spines.

My favourite looking kind of bookshelves are actually:
  • a couple of shelves build over a doorway, or above the stairs
  • glass fronted wooden book cases (perfect for displaying artist's books)
  • an entire wall of floor to ceiling shelves
  • shelves made out of books
NB None of the above are currently in my life.

There are people who's decorators will buy books by the foot just so they can look literary without having to go to all the trouble of reading. Then there are people who compulsively buy books, read them (or plan to), and obsessively keep them forever on view so that they and their guests never forget how well-read they are.

Books make wonderful insulation, if you get enough of them lined up against a wall. But despite this I don't own many books, compared to:
  • how many I read (2-6 per week, almost all borrowed)
  • how many I have owned (I rarely buy books except on sale or second hand, but I gladly receive book gifts and handmedowns and one way and another I have temporarily owned hundreds more than now)
  • many of my most dearly beloved friends and family
  • most bibiophiles.
Why such restraint?
1. I sell them because despite my best efforts, I have led a transient life, and even four or five cartons of books is a heavy load to schlep around.
2. I sell them because a really good second hand book shop will give you double the credit that they offer in cash, and that's credit you can spend buying more books at a ratio of about 4 old ones to 1 new one, which still means a 75% reduction in the number of books to be schlepped.
3. I give them away. The books I love most and know I will want to read again soon or often I keep. Books that I love second-most and want to share make great presents that don't require me coming up with fresh cash.

Thus my remaining collection of books contains no dross. Every book I own has been assessed for potential discarding once or twice a year, and so remains with me through positive choice, not inertia. I love my books. I love my collections of favourite SF novelists (Lois McMaster Bujold, Kim Stanley Robinson, Mary Doria Russell), my ancient, tattered poetry books, my few large format art books and my many Judaica and spirituality books which are added to on every trip to New York.

These books tell you more about what kind of person I am than the clothes I wear or the house I live in or the car I drive. They, and perhaps my CD collection, are the consumer purchases most congruent with my self-perception and the image I want to project.

With my books packed in boxes how will you know who I am? How will I know?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

It's a hard life, I tell you

Right now the hardest thing about making books is that outside the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the garden is beckoning (particularly the raspberries and gooseberries under their romantic shrouds of bird net). Inside my new studio it is cold and dark and chaotic and crowded. I haven't finished unpacking from moving my Paekakariki studio, mostly because I ran out of places to put things, so that right now every flat surface including the floor, my work table, and the daybed is covered with boxes, which I have to shuffle about if I want to do yoga, make books or lie down.

I have been avoiding dealing with this problem for most of the past week, instead just moving the boxes around as necessary, but it is disheartening, and I have stalled on four projects (including the increasingly overdue anniversary present). But here's the plan. Right now I'm going to go outside and open the glasshouse so the tomatoes can breathe. Then I am going to plant flowers and corn. In the late afternoon, when this room gets a slither of sun, I will come back inside and spend the duration of the sun-slither's passage Sorting Out This Mess. I fear this may require packing away most of my reading books (all the novels, art and spiritual books) leaving only necessary reference books. But doing so will free up two whole shelves which I can then fill with tools and materials and works in progress.

Then, I think, I hope, I must, find it easier to over come the sun's siren song and stay inside to work.

Friday, November 25, 2005


Brad McGann is a New Zealand film maker best known for the feature, In My Father's Den. This dark and brooding film is about a man returning to his hometown and encountering friends and family he has not seen since he was a teenager, including his ex-girlfriend who now has a teenaged daughter of her own.

Brad and I were friends as teenagers, then lost touch after I became a young mother and he went away to Melbourne and film school. We found each other again a few years ago with a chance meeting on the streets of Wellington. Brad was in the middle of the long process of writing the script for In My Father's Den. We picked up our friendship and Brad spent some quality time with me and my teenage daughter over the next year or two, mostly reading and talking about the draft script (he is very single minded). The demands of directing, post production and then promoting the film have meant we haven't seen so much of Brad lately.

I was saddened to hear this week that he is battling secondary cancer (ie the cancer has spread from the original site). But I am very happy that his friends in the film world are rallying round to raise money for the treatment he needs (and which cannot be publicly funded). Brad is one of the most sweet, gentle, ethereal men I have ever met. He is hugely talented, as his films to date show. He should have the chance to live a long and healthy life making great films. If you are in Auckland on 2 December please consider attending Bradlands, the fundraiser (which sounds like a fantastic evening of movies- and the incredible list of items on auction includes an unlimited free pass the the Auckland Film Festival for 20 years!). If you can't attend, but want to support this good cause, the link includes information about making a donation.

Happy Ruby Anniversary Martha and Norman

In this day and age it is a rare couple who not only persist with 40 years of marriage but still genuinely love and respect each other. I am very proud to be one of the children of such a marriage.

On Thanksgiving Day 1965 Martha and Norman were married in St Louis, Missouri. Martha wore a white silk pseudo-double-breasted mini dress with rhinestone buttons, a satin bow with small veil and satin kitten-heeled slingback shoes. Norman wore a suit. Both look radiantly happy in the black and white photographs.

By their first anniversary, they had moved to Winnepeg, Mannitoba, Canada, and were awaiting my immanent birth. Martha wore an orange knit dress for Halloween, and I poked her bellybutton out like the stem of a giant pumpkin. No one remembers what Norman wore. (Before my mother's influence Norman was apparently reknowned for his startling dress 'sense' and unusual colour combinations but thankfully by the time I attained fashion consciousness he was more or less under colour-control).

My brother followed 18 months later (he had some cute clothes including a mini-baseball suit), and another international emigration to New Zealand soon after, and over the years mum and dad celebrated their anniversary in many different countries. Today they are lunching at the Willowglen in the Waikato. If you see them there, please offer your congratulations.

PS As today is not only this auspicious anniversary, but also International Buy Nothing Day, I am not buying them a gift, though I believe they deserve no less than their weight in rubies. Instead I am making a very special custom-made gift, which is still in production and thus will arrive late, in the grand family tradition of Very Belated Gift Giving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Body Books

I've been making more copies of two old favourites: B**b Book and C*ck Book. Both use a playful tumbling block structure which means the books move unconventionally in your hands. They are fun to play with...not only for the structure but also because the B**b Book contains 39 synonyms for bre@sts and line drawings of many different pairs of them. The C*ck Book contains as many synonyms for pen!s and line drawings of diverse sets of tackle.

These books are not pornographic, or even very erotic, though I fear just describing them here may mean my blog is banned from some people's work computers (hence the funky spelling). They are a celebration of the diverse beauty of our human bodies. The B**b Book was originally created in response to an outbreak of fear and loathing directed towards breasts as toxic or unsightly unless perky and globular. I made the C*ck Book as a companion piece to celebrate an organ which is rarely seen in art ...especially en masse and looking as soft and cute as in this work.

These books make great gifts for that hard-to-buy-for chap or chappess in your life. They seem to provoke universal laughter, facination and a desire to share the fun. They can be purchased separately for the special blog-reader's price of $25 (inc postage in NZ*) or as a bargain-rate pair ($45 inc NZ post). Send me an email thru the website or post a comment here, and before you know it, you'll be expanding your vocabulary.

*International readers, you can also get a great deal which will be individually negotiated, based on today's exchange rate and postage costs.

Dusk at Te Horo: moon and clouds

Monday, November 21, 2005

Walking on Sky

Dark, heavy clouds
disperse in urgent drifts

and a clear bright sky falls
into a sea roiling like liquid sun

the cold wind drops to a saunter across
the water's surface stirring diamonds in glycerin.

The tide retreats, levaing a mirror on the sand
so that we walk on the sky,

following the edge of the ocean out
a long way towards the sinking sun

to ankle depth water shining
dimly cobalt and turquoise.

(c) Meliors Simms 2005

Friday, November 18, 2005

Stamp Collection

This is a miniature cabinet containing 9 tiny stamp albums. The cabinet is covered in a unique map of Europe (National Geographic oriented North to the bottom of the page). It is 12.5 cm high, including its little brass feet. The door swings open to reveal the neatly shelved albums. Each album is open spine sewn to hard covers of Italian marbled paper. The pages are dark green mulberry with gold foil spatters, torn not cut so the edges are soft and almost fluffy. Seven of the albums have stamps already in them, organised by theme: flowers, transport, people etc, mostly one stamp per page.

None of the albums are full, so they can be considered a work in progress for the future owner to complete. About half of the stamps are from Israel, Sri Lanka, Solomon Islands and Romania- the rest from a variety of other countries.

We tend to treat stamps as (a) utiliarian then disposable or (b) a special kind of investment or (c) a specialist hobby. This special artist's book was inspired by the beauty of stamps as miniature art prints.

(price on application)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Another Treasure Hunt

Here is the latest in the Treasure Hunt series. It's the best one yet, and decptively delicate in appearance thanks to the kina spines (on the left in the photo) and the leaf skeleton (on the right). There's also charred driftwood, tiny pumice stones, brown sea glass and a pink shell. The cover map is a topographical map of the East Cape coast north of Gisbourne. Let me know if you want it, I think this one will go quick!

Dream camera

Last night I dreamt that I was visiting a friend who seemed to be a combination of several longtime and newer friends from my waking life (Fiona, Sharkey, Joellen, Greta) rolled into one wonderfully eccentric woman.

Her city apartment, shared with husband and two children, was a messy punk wonderland, with interesting tableaux of artifacts in various niches, paintings on the ceiling, an aquarium full of junk instead of fish... all facinating. I made a point of sleeping in every room while I was staying there and I took photographs with my camera. Before I left for the big festival I was on my way to, I vacuumed their house, enjoying that lovely crackling sound as the vacuum draws up dirt of real substance.

When I woke up I remembered the dream well enough to write it down and then I forgot about it until this afternoon, when I was loading some new book photos onto the computer. These dreamy pictures came too.

I'm leaving the beautiful studio/fairytale turret in Paekakariki in a couple of days, and had impulsively taken these pictures today to farewell this lovely resting place on my soul's journey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Teeny tiny pop-up book!

My latest fad is including stamps in my books. I was given a huge bag of stamps by my generous father. Included in amongst the many pretty, colourful interesting stamps (more on their fate in another post soon) were some of the drabbest stamps you can imagine.

This photo is one of a new edition of three books featuring these dull stamps. Postmarked in sheets of twenty or so, these Indian stamps are poorly printed on bad paper and en masse just look like a dirty maroon blur. However, when you inspect them closely, the design is of some kind statue of a three headed lion on a plinth, under an ornately decorated archway.

So I was inspired to make them into a tiny little popup book only 4cm high, which comes with its own little slipcase and ribbon tie. If I say so myself it is cute as a button, and brings out the latent beauty of the stamps very nicely. At $15 (inc p&p in NZ) it's the perfect stocking stuffer, or gift to slip into an long distance card or parcel for a stamp lover, or India-phile.

I've got another 2 sheets of stamps from Sri Lanka featuring a "Kandyan Drummer" some in pink and some in purple. These don't have quite the same drab low-tech charm of the Indian stamps, but I think they will be just as much fun in the pop up format.

Treasure Hunt

These are some of my new series of Treasure Hunt books. The pages and covers are hand sewn clear vinyl pouches in which I have inserted an assortment of treasures. Each book is a unique combination of shells, driftwood, feathers, stones and other little treasures I have collected on my travels. The covers are sections of maps e.g. Northland to the west of Whangarei; Raglan and its surrounding West coast; Otaki and the West coast to the South; Negev Desert in Israel.

I've finished four of these little (8cmx10cm) books so far, and have plenty of treasures to fill more books. Each book has six pages/pouches filled with a different treasure or collection of treasures. They sit nicely in the palm of your hand, with a slightly floppy quality that reminds me of cloth books (and now I'm planning one of those too!).

I am happy to customise with a map or theme of your choice and if you have a treasure trove of small flat(ish) objects that you would like made into a book, I can do that too.

Treasure Hunt books in stock are $30.00 including postage and packaging. Customised books start at $35 and cost will depend on what you want. Post a comment or contact me via my website.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Academy, Australia and Auckland- All Good

Remember the Street Stories book/altered map I was showing off a couple of weeks ago? I just found out that it has been selected for the Award's Exhibition, so if you are in Wellington over the next few weeks, check it out live! The exhibition is associated with the Heritage Award and it's at the Academy of Fine Arts at Queens Wharf between 18 November and 11 December. The Awards Function is on Thursday this week, so I'll let you know how that part goes.

Some of my work was included in another exhibition which I forgot to tell you about (mostly because I actually forgot all about it until they sent the books back when it was all over). At the Noosa Regional Gallery in Queensland, they had several events for the book arts this spring. I had two books (How to Talk and Wind Talk) in their exhibition, "Works of Imagination: imageastextasimage". But now that I've remembered, I can say I have exhibited "internationally"! Woo hoo.

And while I am blowing my own horn ... remember the exhibition at the Auckland City Libraries a month or two ago? Well, from that event, the Library has acquired three of my books for their Special Collections (formerly known as the Rare Books Department). It's a huge honour. Auckland readers are encouraged to visit the library and ask to see my books (Wind Talk, Karori Sanctuary: Interleaving, and Waipoua Forest- but you won't find them on the shelves for borrowing).

And finally, a word from my first international blog-reading customer to whom I am not related by blood. On receiving her copy of Karori Sanctuary she wrote...
It's gorgeous - my mail has just come - what a fabulous end to the day!

I love it - the words, the structure, the colours, the leaves - it will be a
treasured book.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Parallel Play Planned

Tonight one of my book buddies is coming over to my studio so we can work on our book projects companionably. I'm going to try and remember, and pass on, a technique I learned in a workshop about a year ago and have modified (i.e. been unable to replicate exactly) for the edition of Wind Talk (pictured). She's making me a journal to replace the one I made in the workshop, used heavily, adored madly and then left in a plane seat pocket. Don't ever leave a handmade leather bound journal filled with sketches and notes and an expensive pen behind on the plane, because the cleaners will treat it as trash and you will never ever see it again. I've been too heartbroken and lazy/busy with other things to make a replacement, but my friend wants to learn the technique so has offered to do it for me. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A somewhat satisfactory substitute for chocolate

It takes up more time than inhaling half a packet of toffee pops but you don't feel sick afterwards.

I'm talking about a leisurely circuit of all my favourite blogs including Finsippy, One Good Thing, I Blame the Patriarchy, Laid-Off Dad, and Zydeco Fish. These are all generally good for a laugh or sometimes a cry, and as long as I remember the date-line difference and don't go looking on a Monday when these North-Americano's are still on their weekend, there's usually something new to see.

On the kind of afternoon when the second half of the biscuit packet is under threat, I circle around checking less frequently updated blogs of interest, that I hope are going to have something new since last month... such as Eleanor Lefever, Frum Dad, Now I'm Pissed.

If it necessary to procrastinate more, or further distract myself from chocolate temptations, or completely forget about my insignificant sorrows then I'll do a circuit including these nice, but somewhat less compelling blogs... Elbows on the Table, Bitch PhD, Bogbumper.

You may wonder why I don't have all these on a blogroll. The reason is that I waste so much time reading these guys that I don't have time to faff around with figuring out how to do that.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Here I am on Te Horo Beach on a recent cool spring evening, gathering driftwood and pumice in the great mounds that mark high tide on that wild and rocky stretch of Kapiti Coast (that's Kapiti Island under the foggy sun).

I've been spending a lot of time on beaches lately, and unsurprisingly, three of the new editions I'm working on have beachey themes. I am using shells and other beachcombing finds either for the covers, or the contents, of three different new books. Just as soon as I have finished them and borrowed a camera, you will get to see them... and buy if you want. I bet I have just the thing to solve at least some of your seasonal gift-giving dilemmas!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Too Sad

I just heard that Rod Donald died of a heart attack around midnight last night. He is a huge loss for the Green Party, for Parliament, for Aotearoa New Zealand... and most of all for his family.

I was actively involved in the Green Party for nearly four years. In my experience, Rod was unfailingly good humoured, energetic and generous. He was a kind friend to me and my daughter whenever we met. In 2000 Rod nominated me as the Green's representative on a political tour of Australia and afterwards took me to Bellamys to hear about my meetings with Alexander Downer etc.

I might not have agreed with all of Rod's politics, nor his tactics, but I had a huge amount of respect for him as a leader. The brilliance of the Green's co-leadership set-up meant that his strengths and weakenesses complimented Jeanette's. His drive, charisma and intelligence will be a hard act to follow.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Mad with joy

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us. ~Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat

One of the many blisses in my life this spring is being surrounded by flowers. The two pink ones are about the size of the ball of my thumb, and for this photo have been pried open from their usual shy and dull outside appearance. Almost invisible when in bloom on the Port Wine tree, they are one of the strongest scented flowers I know, pumping the smell of bubblegum twenty metres or more. They are in bloom right now, in abundance at the Hamilton Botanical Gardens.

The purple flower plucked from some kind passion-vine is enormous, almost 15cm in diameter. But no smell to speak of. Just a crazy, big, look-at-me flower which is clamouring for attention at Te Horo this month.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Street Stories 2

Another photo of the book, "Street Stories", this time horizontal and only partially unfolded.

Street Stories

Street Stories is my newest book. This is a photo of it hanging, my favourite view because of the lovely shadows created by light shining through the cutouts between the streets on the map. I made this book as an entry for an art competition and exhibition on the theme of "Heritage" organised for the New Zealand Historic Places Trust's 50th anniversary.

I used one of my most favourite maps- I think it was one that came from Dot's grandfather- of Wellington sometime in the 1940s I think. (Maps almost never have a publication year printed on them, so I have to date them by detective work). Anyway, this particular map is quite degraded, being printed in full glorious colour onto acidic paper which disintegrates more each time it is handled. So I handled it just enough to get colour copies made of part of it (the centre strip from Khandallah to Island Bay). Then I carefully cut out most of the blocks leaving a lacey net of streets between blocks and bands of sea and trees. A simple accordian fold, attached to a file-like red cover, allows it to be opened right out for viewing flat or hanging from a cord on the back of the cover.

As I was weilding my scalpel over areas of Thorndon now lost beneath multi-lane highways I was thinking about how sometimes street names survive longer than streets. And as I cut away the tidy grid of the central business district, I thought about how when buildings are torn down and replaced, the configuration of streets remains more or less intact. As I worked on the different suburbs where I have lived, visited friends, shopped or taken my daughter to school, I thought about how streets are a net of memories belonging to the thousands of people who each have our own memories of Adelaide Road or Cockaigne Crescent or Thompson Street.

Streets connect people now in a net as sturdy as human engineering can make, and connect past and present through memories as fragile as lace.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Demeter's Dark Ride

A dear old friend, Helen Varley Jamieson, is Impressario for a show called Demeter's Dark Ride- An Attraction, on in Wellington at the moment, so I went along with a bunch of friends to check it out. I highly recommend it, so I'm not going to give away the many phantasmagorical surprises just in case, dear reader, you have the opportunity to take a ride that is scarey, and funny, and weird and wonderful.

From the moment you approach BATS theatre along Kent Terrace, where Mr Fennessy the blind street musician is playing his piano, and the ferryman is trading tickets for tokens, you know this is something very different from the ususal theatre experience. The main entrance is closed off and the little Pit Bar is where the audience gathers to wait for our guides, under the excellent care of the Duchess and Count Burgandy. Once assembled, the punters are led around the side entrance and into the underworld for a winding journey of Eleusian Mystery. We are led through Demeter's search for Persephone, Victorian spiritualism and amusement park House of Horrors ... "these latter contemporary scary dark rides provided a wonderful balance to the fruitiness of Greek mythology, perceived by some as over-ripe figs, slightly moldy, not very sexy, and tainted by overuse." (from the programme notes).

It was all good, some of it fabulous: my favourite scene was the Baubo (the naughty talking bottom). And my fortune from the Aleuromancer (I think) was:

"A poet understands Nature better than a scientist." (Novalis)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Worldly goods at home

This is the trailer with all my worldly goods that we drove from Purua to Kapiti this week. It is now unloaded into my new room. I am sneaking in little bits of unpacking around the deadlines I have to meet in the next few days... and I have just hung an Indian cotton bedspread on the walls, which are rough planks the colour of manuka honey but stained and studded with nails and staples. The cloth is printed with a Persian-style tree of life, floral and paisley in maroons and mossy greens and blues. Suddenly, the 70's hippy look of this room reminds me of one I saw a long time ago, which made such an impression on me that years later I wrote a poem about it:

The Romance of Dust

I have mostly clung steady to these islands

Minding generations of pot plants and books

While everyone else wanders the world.

When I was seventeen-

my-favourite-number-years old,

my new best friend was a gypsy

and I was still sure that interesting lives

could only be lived on or near continents.

But as we rapidly prepared to escape Hamilton

I glimpsed her long-absent flatmate’s room:

It was a bazaar of hippy exotica

the four poster bed draped with saris

little glass cubes of patchouli on an old duchess

intricate incense holders and loops of beads

All covered in a thick dust which,

gilded by sunset through batik curtains

looked like

sunflower pollen

teddybear plush

my best velvet ribbon

Since then, a continental excursion

confirmed that you take your life

along when you leave.

Boredom and loneliness can hitchhike

anywhere if you let them.

And so I have been content to stay

and cultivate the mysteries of home

and the romance of dust.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

G-d speaks

Last weekend I was spending some time with two older ladies who I had never met before. First we visited the Thames Historical Museum which is one of those fun places full of old bits and pieces that people have donated and that volunteers curated. (Thames was a lively gold mining and gum digging village about 120 years ago, now its mostly a sleepy holiday destination.) 99% of the museum is concerned with 120 years of European settlement. 1% represents the previous 400 years of Maori life there. Anyway, I was looking at the old movie posters when I overheard my companions looking at the token Maori display-shelf and poster on the other side of the room.

"Maoris (sic) used to be such good gardeners"

"Yes, they'd all go out and do their little bit together, wouldn't they?"

"Such a shame now isn't it?"

"They just don't bother any more."

"Oooh, is that an old sewing machine?"

I seethed and writhed but felt I'd missed my chance to interrupt their unabashed racist stereotyping.

Later in the afternoon we were strolling down a country road, admiring a large, immaculately maintained, imaginatively planned, garden including the tidiest orchard I've ever seen, many special flowers and trees that my old ladies admired and a huge fortified vegetable garden. As we strolled back for a second look, the gardener appeared from behind a tree where she was relaxing in her beautiful creation and we all offered effusive and sincere compliments. I can't tell you how I pleased I was to see she was unmistakably Maori.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Once upon a time...

Whew! I sent off my thesis proposal this afternoon, along with my application to enroll for a doctorate and an application for a scholarship which will enable me to study full time for three years. Knowing that my six pages (including bibliography) had some $70,000 dollars riding on it created a bit of pressure to do a particularly fine job!

Among the many challenges of developing this proposal was the catch-22 of limited library access until I am enrolled, but being unable to enroll until I submit my proposal which should demonstrate that I have done some library research already. This was further complicated by deciding to live approximately 600 kilometers away from my university of choice and its library. This distance won't be a such a big deal when I am enrolled and can access all yummy electronic journals and distance services of the library, but it is a very very long way with out that magic username and password.

I have managed a couple of visits to the library on my travels up and down the island this spring, but unfortunately I also kept changing my mind about my thesis topic, so in the end I didn't really have access to all the literature I needed for the final version. Fortunately, my years of working as a government bureaucrat have finely honed my ability (or at least my confidence in my ability) to sound authoritative with minimal evidence and no time. I know that it won't be the talent I need to finish the actual doctorate, but I am very much hoping it works for getting let through the gates to those ivory towers.

I feel a bit like I'm setting out on a fairytale quest which will involve succeeding at a number of apparently impossible tasks. The first is telling the right story to impress the gatekeepers of the ivory towers, where I will be given the magical tools I need to complete my journey through the towers and beyond. The mysteries that will be revealed to me upon correct use of the magic tools will eventually lead me on into another journey that right now I can't yet imagine. Like the Tarot's Fool I am following my intuition, open to all possibilities and facing the unknown and its challenges with equanimity.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Asparagus loves seaweed

You may be getting sick of asparagus postings, but the season is short, so bear with me for now, and then I will switch to raspberry reports.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Finished books

Today I finished making five books! They had all been at various stages of partial completion, some for a painfully long time.

Four copies of Karori Sanctuary: Interleaving finally got their covers after being schlepped up and down the island naked for two months, two of them bound and two of them unbound. All that remains is to sign and number them. Karori is an open edition so I pretty much make them on demand, in batches of four or six or sometimes 12 when I'm really cooking. There's still another three close to finished. They are pretty consistently popular, especially selling from exhibitions so I was completely out of stock from being on the road so much this spring. Two of these latest copies are for the gift shop at the real Karori Sanctuary in Wellington. It's where I wrote the poem on my birthday last year. I've been trying to get them to stock the book for ages, and finally it's happening. That leaves two copies in stock right now, so if you want one, let me know and I can get it to you this week for $80NZ.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Chicken Little

Four chickens live underneath my studio, or at least under the porch in front of my studio. When I have a snack sometimes I like to drop little scraps of food through the spaces in the porch floor. The chickens all rush madly over to where ever the food has dropped out of their sky and peck at it, or pick it up and run away so the others can't share it. They never look up to see where the apple core or carrot bits are coming from. They just seem to accept the mysterious manna from above as a delightful surprise.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Gald to Fedex to Nigeria

I got an email from my website today.  The email function on the website is designed to avoid spammers clogging up my mail box.   It's worked perfectly well until today.  Today I received this email.  (I've deleted the name just in case it's not actually a spam scam and R- G- is a real person and a potential customer who I am not only blowing off, but making fun of on my blog).

Hello sales,
My name is R- G- i will like to have your products as a gifts
from your gallery for my parent who are celebrating their 30th Wedding
Annivasary, the shipping will be through FEDEX, TO NIGERIA so i will
be gald to have your reply asap. I will be glad if you can send me
your website address to choose. Payment will be make by my credit card
info for you to charge, Visa or Master Card. So get back to me as soon
as possible.
Await for your response.
R- G-

1. I'm not sure how the scam would work if she is going to give me her credit card number, but at this stage I don't have the facility to process credit card transactions so her number will do me no good anyway.
2. Nigeria is like a red-flag code word for dodgy internet deals- hello! Apologies to the vast majority of Nigerians who I'm confident are scrupulously honest in their business dealings. It must be terrible trying to get an honest internet business going from Nigeria.
3. She (or more likely the programme calling itself R-G-) sent this message from my gallery website so the only reason she could want my website address is to get my email address. I don't think that's a good idea.
4. I wouldn't want to discriminate against potential customers with excruciatingly bad grammar and spelling but I am selling poetry books. If you are illiterate, you are almost certainly not my target market.

Monday, October 10, 2005


The other day Al, Katie and I went down to the South Coast to collect seaweed to put on Al's asparagus patch. Thanks to a tip from Sarah in Island Bay we knew there were mountains of seaweed on the beach between Lyall Bay and Houghton Bay (just past the point called Arthur's Nose, on the 1930's map I am currently making into a book). 'Beach' is a word that conjurs up images of white sand, blue seas and palm trees doesn't it? Not on the South Coast I'm afraid. Think crunchy grey stones, turgid Antartic currents and salt-blasted grass instead.

Even though the morning in Wellington had been clear and warm, by mid-afternoon it was blasting an icy wind on Cook Strait. I changed into my long underwear and about six more layers of clothing including a colourful hat (knitted by 100 year old Edna), so it wasn't too bad. There was no incentive to dawdle so the three of us swiftly filled the trailer with a mound of seaweed that from a distance looked like cold brown slime. Up close however, (and oh boy, did I get up close) it is beautiful: an incredible diversity of colours, textures and shapes.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Banned books that shaped me

I don't usually post meme's (topics or templates from other blogs) but I quite like this one I found on Zydeco Fish. It's a list of (attempted) banned books, which you (the blogger) bold all the ones you have read. This is a little late, as Banned Book Week was September 24-October 1. The American Library Association has a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000. I feel pretty proud of my deviant reading history.

Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy'’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling part of book one, then I got bored
Forever by Judy Blume
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Giver by Lois Lowry
ItÂ’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple by Alice Walker saw the movie
Sex by Madonna
Earth'’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine LÂ’Engle
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard one of them
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
The Goats by Brock Cole
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
Blubber by Judy Blume
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
Final Exit by Derek Humphry
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
What'’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
Deenie by Judy Blume
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
Cujo by Stephen King
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
What'’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
Are You There, God? It'’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Fade by Robert Cormier
Guess What? by Mem Fox
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Native Son by Richard Wright
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women'’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Jack by A.M. Homes
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
Carrie by Stephen King
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
Family Secrets by Norma Klein
Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
Private Parts by Howard Stern
Where's Waldo? by Martin Hanford
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
Sex Education by Jenny Davis
The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

Most of these I read before I was 18. Some of them were my favourite books at a particular age and I reread them many times. I guess that powerful, compelling quality is what makes people want to ban them. There's no point in banning sexy or subversive books that are boring .

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Happy New Year, People of the Book

Tuesday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the greeting is L'Shanah Tova Tiketevu, may you be inscribed for a good year in the book of life. Rosh Hashanah marks the first of the ten Days of Awe which will close on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. One of the themes for this period is that G-d opens a book for each of us on Rosh Hashanah to write our names, and who will live, who will die, who will have a good year or a bad year. The book is closed on Yom Kippur and that's that until next year. Repentance, prayer and good deeds are the way to make sure a good year gets written up in the book.

On Rosh Hashanah we read the first words of Genesis, In the beginning.... While watching Ayelet and Fred roll the heavy Torah scroll all the way back to the beginning, and all the ensuing awkwardness of having all the weight of the parchment on only one of the two rollers, I had a wave of sympathy for readers and writers of the pre-codex era. (In case you don't know and can't be bothered following the link, codex is the kind of modern book you know best, with sequential pages attached to a spine and covers.) Even with a smaller scroll it would be a hassle to find your way around different sections. Yet, I expect G-d is juggling a lot of scrolls this time of year.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Paekakariki Village

Today is my first day working in my new studio at Paekakariki. Apart from the irritation of not being able to find certain pieces of equipment (eg mouse, double adapter, little ruler etc) when I want them, it is lovely to be at work in this place. It's been so long (too long, almost two months) since I could settle in and concentrate on creating a new book, that it feels a bit overwhelming. I took a break at lunchtime and went for a walk. The tide was crashing wild high waves right against the sea wall with no beach to be seen so I explored the quiet seaside village.

Along the beach most of the houses are little old baches, obviously lived in and loved. The smaller number of newish houses are more likely to be quirky than ostentatious. There are a couple of churches, a bowling club, a recently closed pub, a cool cafe, a dairy, an organic vege shop, an art gallery, a hairdressers, an arty second hand furniture shop, and best of all, two very good second hand book shops. Not the kind where you exchange blockbuster paperback novels across a counter buried under mounds of old Playboys. These bookshops sell real books, they invite and reward browsing bibliophiles.

In the middle of a Wednesday I saw numerous people walking around, generally with dogs and or children, but often just folks of all ages... most of whom offered a friendly greeting as we passed eachother. It's a small place, not much developed probably because it is wedged into a wee gap between the sea and a huge looming ridge (with the railway tracks and the main highway between the village and the hill). I suspect you could walk every street in Paekakariki, linger on the beach and still be home in an hour. There is also a railway station, and frequent commuter trains which take you north 10 minutes to all the mall shopping one could want and south 50 minutes to central Wellington.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Potty Post

Sometime in the past two weeks new signage has been installed in all the cubicles of the women's toilets at the University of Waikato library (and possibly the men's toilets and other buildings but I didn't check them).

The sign, on the inside of each door says: Please use the toilet this way (with a silhouette of an androgynous person on a pedastal toilet with their feet on the floor, their bum on the seat, and their arms straight out in front of them as though trying to reach for the distant roll of paper on the door); NOT this way! (with a silhouette of a person squatting precariously with their feet on the pedastal toilet.)

This brought to my mind a number of interesting thoughts as I encountered these signs every break I took during a full day of research last week (and in the interests of research I made a point of investigating different facilities in the library to assess how widespread the signs are).

It's not hard to imagine that many among the diverse student body come from cultures where squatting is the usual practice for relieving oneself. It's also not hard to imagine that the bizarrely high pedastal seats in the library are an exceptionally risky place to squat. It is hard to imagine the University Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Hazard Management Strategy anticipating the dangers prior to a tragic incident caused by inappropriate toilet squatting. I wonder if there was more than one incident (broken bones? concussion? death?) and if so, how many would it take before OSH decided that such signs were needed. I wonder if there are plans to supplement the signage with educational street theatre in the university quad where the drama club could act out correct toilet posture and the dreadful consequences of non-conformance.

But why discriminate against squatters. It is supposed to be better for our health to squat than sit. What about accomadating, or even encouraging squatting on campus. Make foot stools available for squatters (and short people like me). Or special squatting cubicles with holes in the floor- if disabled toilets can be provided for people who need them, why not squatting facilities?). Hell, why not lower all the toilets on campus to knee height?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Last day in Purua

All is chaos...

I am packing: endless decisions about what I will need most in the next 6 weeks and will fit in the tiny Toyota Corolla vs what I can live without until November and will be safe in storage. Imagining unlikely worst case scenarios in which I am somehow separated forever (fire! theft! injury! collapse of capitalism!) from the art objects and books I am leaving behind and all I would own is a car load of meaningless usefulness. Concentrating on the real risks inherent to spending October without a decent chair, or enough envelopes, or my duvet. Reluctantly cutting big sheets of expensive paper so they will fit flat into the back of my car.

I am cleaning: the only time I ever clean an oven is when I am moving out, so it's always a hideous task (which is why I don't do it more often- vicious circle). But I am enjoying sparkling clean windows for my last two days here. I dust the tops of lightshades and vacuum the backs of cupboards. The more houses I have moved in and out of the more I value the good karma of leaving an immaculate home for the new resident, whether or not I've paid a bond. My reward has been many years of consistent good fortune in moving into amazing bargains of rental beauty owned by amateur landlords who care about the property as if it were their own, yet often don't ask for a bond.

I am reading: a week ago I collected twenty or so books to help develop my thesis proposal and I am trying to wrap my head around them before I meet with the Superdooper Supervisors in two days. They cover democratic theory, communtiy empowerment, qualitative research methods, housing and community design and best of all: Confronting Consumption an inspiring book which made me think of at least three other thesis topics I could happily devote the next three years to researching. It has also made me think even more critically about the external forces that direct us as consumers, and affirmed the choices/changes I am making in my life. I will write more about this later. But right now I have to keep packing and cleaning and reading and thinking.

It must be spring.

All the birds are getting together. I'm seeing kingfisher couples, woodpigeon pairs, peacocks and peahens gathering for great group shows,
Everywhere I look, birds fly about purposefully with beaks trailing stalks of grass. I'm sure there's a starling nesting in my chimney...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Handmade Books: A National Exhibition

Right now at Auckland City Libraries you can see some of the best in handcrafted book arts in New Zealand. Internationally recognised book artists such as Elizabeth Steiner and Barbara Schmelzer are showing some of their recent work. So are 27 other members of the Association of Book Crafts New Zealand, including me. At the top of the escalators on the third floor the books are being displayed in 10 or so glass cabinets, which means you can't touch them. The cabinets are very full of 88 pieces, but only in a couple of instances did I feel like they were too cramped to give each book a fair showing. In several cases, mirrors have been placed so that you can view the inside of the book as well as the cover.

The exhibition gives a sense of the diversity flowering forth in New Zealand book arts. Traditional fine book binding and restoration are represented but do not dominate. Most exhibitors have embraced contemporary and innovative book structures, materials and techniques. I was particularly excited by the number of books with content, mostly images, but also text. Overall it's a colourful and stimulating exhibition, that is worth lingering with.

What did I especially like? Elizabeth Steiner's Standing Tall was magnificent. Obviously inspired by Daniel Essig's work (seen on the cover of the luscious Penland Book of Handmade Books), she has bound (empty) teabags in long board covers which, when opened right out, serve as a pedestal for a thick halo of softly stained pages. Another of my favourite NZ book artists, Ann Bell, has a number of beautiful, scultpural works, including a rainbow Flag Book (after Heidi Kyle) that is simple and delightful. Also using a rainbow of brightly coloured paper to delicious effect is Dianne Sanders, with Jacob's Book Sayings, a Jacob's ladder structure in which I caught a tantalising glimpse of text on the pages which hinted at poetry or proverbs. I saw Marama Warren's Matariki Haiku at the Book Works exhibition at North Arts recently and was just as delighted this time with the delicate texture, organic colours, sculptural shapes and sophisticated multicultural layers of meaning. Marama's waterfall book, To Still the Mind, is also as dense with meaning as it is with colour and texture. Julienne Francis is clearly an artist who makes classy concertina books with beautiful etchings, her Swimming with My Mother is evocative and tender yet unsentimental .

What wasn't so great? Well, personally, I find heavily embellished books remind me too much of scrapbooking (which commodifies creative expression, like a paint-by-numbness, I mean, -numbers). Fortunately not too many of the exhibitors got carried away by the attractions of pre-printed craft paper and lavish beading. There are a few books which I think wouldn't have made it into a juried exhibition. Either because the quality of their execution does not live up to the concept, or because the concept is so drab that immaculate craftsmanship is not enough to interest the viewer. But there is nothing so tacky, or shoddy, or boring, that it pulls the whole exhibition down. Compared the the Book Works exhibition in Northcote a couple of months ago, this is overall a much stronger showing of what's excellent in the book arts in this country.

Handmade Books: A National Exhibition is on at Auckland City Library until 2 October. If you can, check it out. By the way, most of the books are for sale, (and two of mine have already got the sticker!).

Monday, September 19, 2005

Snow Driving

Today I drove north from Kapiti to the Tron, past thousands of lambs, many with freshly shorn mothers, swathes of daffodils and lavishly blossoming trees. I also drove through hail, snow and sleet heading up to the Volcanic Plateau (and cold showers the other 400 kilometers of the trip). A few weeks ago, that drive reminded me of a wonderful ride past the mountains 20 years earlier. This time it reminded me of my last drive through snow about 12 years ago.

After nearly three hard years in the USA, and in a hard upstate New York winter I suddenly decided it was time to come home and summer in New Zealand. Two years earlier, in Colorado, I'd bought a new Ford Festiva with, for reasons too complicated to go into on this cramped keyboard, company financing. It was such a sweet little car, a joy to drive, turquoise and with a Tardis-like capacity to carry all our possessions across country. But, needless to say, the resale price of the car wasn't going to cover what I still owed Ford only two years later. But, in January in upstate New York, with less than a week before we were getting on a plane back to New Zealand, I had to find someone to take over the payments for me.

January in upstate New York is not an easy time to sell a car, even if you don't want any cash for it. With all my worldly goods and my seven year old daughter in the suddenly misnamed Festiva, I spent the most stressful week of my life following snow ploughs through blizzards from Rochester to Binghamton to Albany chasing rumours of workmate's neighbour's relations who might be interested in kicking the icy tires. Not only was the inside of the car silted up from being our home on the road for a week (and we were both flu-ey and not completely confident that the scabies were gone), but the outside was covered in dirty ice. You can't wash a car in a blizzard. You just cover the dirt with more ice. It's not a good look. Finally, at the 11th hour I met someone's dodgey brother-in-law in a diner west of Albany and he signed the papers and drove us to the bus stop.

Alls well that ends well, we made our plane, the scabies never came back, the Tron's summer cured our colds and I only ever had to deal with a couple of long distance calls from the Ford company when the dodgey ex-brother-in-law missed payments.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Vote chocolate

Miraculously, my quiet confidence that I could come up with a realistic and inspiring new and improved doctoral thesis proposal in under two days has paid off. Of course large quantities of Whittakers Fruit and Nut are implicated. And it remains to be seen whether the Superdooper Supervisors I'm sending it to think its realistic and inspiring. So I'm not going to risk it here just yet, but for now I'm happy.

And relaxed enough to take the evening off to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's hard to believe that it could be as good as the original, but I need to see it for myself. Am taking the rest of the chocolate.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Inside my brain

I feel like I am neglecting Bibliophilia at the moment. If I am, its because so much of my life is in transition right now. Not in a bad way, but just in a preoccupied-with- uncertainties way. So that's why I've been a bit quiet and mysterious (and occasionally cranky) the past few weeks.

The uncertainty about where I'm going to live is more or less figured out for the time being, but I still have to drive back up to Northland, pack up all my stuff, say goodbye to all the wonderful friends I made this year, figure out how to get my stuff down to Kapiti (low cost suggestions and offers of help are welcome) and then unpack and settle in here (isn't it beautiful?).

I actually quite enjoy the moving process. Truely, the pleasure of moving lies in the elimination of more and more possessions from my life. I am pretty streamlined these days since this approximately the 35th time I've done it in 38 years.

However, everything else in my life is still pretty saturated with uncertainty. I am managing a little bit of book making, despite being on the move so much. But I'm planning to give away the prototype of my new book as a gift and I don't want to spoil the surprise by posting about it here first- if indeed I decide it should have a wider audience than one! I'm also investigating some marketing and sales opportunities for my books in the forthcoming installment of the NZ's annual Christmas-present-buying-frenzy, but I don't want to pre-empt anything here either.

But actually my major preoccupation at the moment is trying to write a preliminary thesis proposal for the PhD I plan to begin next year. I decided to do a doctorate because I had come up with a brilliant topic. But... the more I've thought about it and read about it and written about it the less sure I am that it's the right brilliant topic to spend the next three years of my life with. So... with only a few days to go before the first (self-imposed) deadline, all my brainpower is trying to make up a new topic that will interest me for years to come, meet with my supervisors' approval (and that of the enrollment and scholarship committees) and, oh yes, add something worthwhile to the sum of knowledge in the world.

No pressure.

Never fear, with the help of my friends, long walks, meditation, lots of chocolate and the internet (thank God for the internet!) I'm sure I can come up with something. And eventually I will post juicy details and demonstrate my ability to academic-speak with the best of them. In the meantime though, Bibliophilia might be a bit patchy.