Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Alter(ed) Map

My latest passion is making boxes/alters/cabinets covered in old maps. This is my best one so far.

It refers to a current controversy about the names of a mountain and a river in Whangarei. The local Maori are lobbying to change the names by one or two vowels so that they actually mean what they are supposed to and not the English-settler mangled version which got entrenched into officialdom long long ago.

Our local libertarian MP has decided that stirring up ill feeling between Maori and Pakeha on this issue is an excellent start to her election campaign. It makes me so very very cross: the arrogant, self righteous, bigotry of their 'PC-Free NZ'campaign, the pointlessness of Pakeha staunchly defending their ancestor's historical misspellings, the way that this issue has become a hook to hang out all sorts of racist assumptions and stereotypes...

So I made this, and its such a pretty little (23x12x5.5cm) box too. I'm taking it to sell at the Art and Craft Show at Parua Bay Hall this Queen's Birthday Monday (6 June).

Authentic Box

Parihaka & Hoteo

Monday, May 30, 2005

Glorious Rain

Its raining so much at the moment that we should be shipping these soggy clouds over to Sydney to break their drought.
It's raining so much that my water tank gushes a fountain out its overflow spout pretty much most of the time.
It's raining so much that the cows look like they are wearing knee boots made of mud.
It's raining so much that when I last went out for a walk, all the stepping stones in the creek were under water and I got wet to the ankles.
It's raining so much and is still so warm that you can see the grass growing visibly from day to day.
It's raining so much that when the drops do stop banging on my tin roof I hear an unfamiliar sound that I think might be water rushing along ditches where it has only dawdled until now.
It's raining so much that it rains even while the sun is shining, making for wonderful rainbows.
It's raining so much that I can confirm with enormous pleasure that my little cottage is quite snug and dry, warm as toast with the fire going and with no sign of damp creeping up into my stacks of paper.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Hi Mum and Dad!

I know my parents read my blog, and I suspect that they use it as fodder for kvelling (talking me up) to any poor soul who makes the mistake of looking remotely interested. But I hadn't realised the full extent of their enthusiasm until a recent phone call.

My dad let slip something about a "Notebook" and then revealed they they print out every posting ("sometimes even in colour") and store it in the Notebook. But why print them out? I asked. "Who can read anything on screen?" "Oy vey, another tree sacrificed for my ego", I thought, torn between squirming embarrassment at how uncool it is to have parents who print out your blog and relief that someone else is taking care of hardcopy back up for me, should Blogger ever go down for good and take Bibliophilia with it.

Anyway, this one's for my biggest life-long fans... thanks mum and dad.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Dating Rocks

The oldest rocks in the North Island are apparently not far from here, at Whangaroa in the Bay of Islands- they are 270 million years old. Which sounds ancient until you hear that the oldest rocks in New Zealand are 508-560 million years old and the Earth is 4.53 billion years old.

Last night I went to a lecture about dating rocks. Which was a) not advice for singles seeking taciturn partners; and b) more interesting than it sounds. Organised by National Radio and the Royal Society (of scientists), it was part of a series celebrating the centenary of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Dr Hamish Campbell covered some historical ground that I've read recently about William Smith and Gideon Mantell. These two Victorian men's scientific achievements are foundational to much of what we today take for granted about the history of the earth, but because they weren't born into the 'right' class struggled to be recognised and survive financially as independent scientists.

My favourite metaphor of the evening was that the earth is a book that scientists have learned to read: strata are the pages, and fossils are the words on the pages. And the measurable radiation in the minerals contained in many rocks is one of the dictionaries that enables scientists to interpret those words. I feel an artist's book emerging from the preCambrian levels of my psyche in response...

The audience was 95% grey haired (as with most of the events I attend these days- I am getting older interests even if my looks suggest I belong at a different kind of rock oriented event). There were plenty of women there, but not one of us said a word all evening. So it was a delightful surprise when, after the formal talk was over, we were shown an award-winning video made by 3 young women from Kaitaia College about Newtonian Physics. These were funky, smart, teenaged science chicks and I hope that next time I go to a Northland science event the demographics are skewed younger and women have more to say.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The secret of eternally youthful looks

If you don't know me to look at, guess what age I am from my writing. I'm curious, because I apparently look much younger than I am and I wonder if I write to my age. I have come to expect the jaw-dropping amazement of people finding out that I have a daughter of whatever age she is at the time (currently 19).

Bizarrely, the most common age I am assumed to be is still around 24, which I started passing for when I was 14. I thought when I was 34 I would surely start slipping up into my late 20s for looks, but no, I have now looked 24 for 24 years. It's almost a Dorian Gray experience except without the haggard portrait in the attic.

In our youth obsessed culture looking young is supposed to be every woman's goal, but not me. I feel no need to put expensive lotions on my face and skim over the cosmetic articles and ads in magazines. My standard 'flattered' response to the inevitable variation on 'you must have been 5 when you became a mother' is not really heartfelt. Even a sincerely meant compliment loses its lustre when heard for the hundredth time. It can be a disadvantage to look young when you want to be taken seriously as a professional or a parent. I'm kind of curious about what it will be like to finally start looking closer to my age (something I only dimly remember from my mid-20s).

Modern life makes chronological age harder and harder to guess, and less and less meaningful as milestones of education, career and family are no longer strung out in a tidy row. Of course among the affluent, more people are able to look younger for longer and poor people continue to be more likely to look older than they are. But for women especially, looking young is considered a valuable currency, and in the spirit of sharing the abundance I am blessed with, I'll tell you to what I attribute my youthful looks.

Well, in line with the advice in magazines I am pretty obsessive about wearing sunhats, sunscreen and cheap moisturiser; drinking water, eating veges and avoiding cigarette smoke (but all because I want to live to 100 and not get cancer, rather than to preserve my looks). I laugh a lot and sleep enough as that's my idea of hedonistic self-indulgence. I think having long hair and being plump add to the illusion. I got great genes from Martha, who has always looked too young to be my mother and continues, in her 60s, to look at least 15 years younger than she is.

But if you want to know my real secret, I think it's eating lots of fat! Mostly in the form of chocolate, but also anything oily yum yum yum. This is approach is heresy to most beauty therapists and dietricians and I accept no responsibility for adverse effects (such as heart attacks, obesity or acne) which may be unintended side effects of following my fatty diet.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Oh, they are SOOOO cute!

There's a bunch a little baby calves moved in next door to me. They are about a month old and make an extraordinarily deep bellowing sound for such little creatures- except for the one that squeals instead.

They drink milk powder formula once a day from an amazing contraption like a spaceship with dozens of teats. And they love suckling so much they'll suck and suck on your hand even though there's nothing coming out.

Calves feeding

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Ngawha Hot Springs

If you have seen the documentary, Kaikohe Demolition, you'll remember scenes of the men relaxing in steaming mud baths after their frenetic driving exploits. Those mud baths and hot springs are not far from my home, at Ngawha (right next to the brand new prison, but that's another story). Winding narrow back roads took us north from our farm to connect with SH1, and to enjoy a quick visit to the wonderful Hundervasser toilets in Kawakawa. Before the toilets were built there, Kawakawa was a place for travellers to lock their doors and drive through without stopping. Now the arty and welcoming feeling of the little town seems to be spilling over into neighbouring settlements as well.

Turning off the main road to Ngawha Springs is easy but at the end of the road there are two facilities which are minimally signposted. We chose the one on the edge of the bubbling dark lake because it had fewer cars parked outside and looked like it hadn't had much of anything done to it for 50 years or so. 'Please pay at the Office' said the sign but when we found the 'Office' there was no one there, just a tiny hole in the door to poke our $5 through. As we walked into the pools area, a family of Swedish chemists were leaving (in NZ for a conference, and with two days for sightseeing they came to Ngawha?!) and we had the place practically to ourselves for a while.

After dipping toes in each of the 8 pools we chose 'Lobster' for our first soak. Medium hot water bubbled up through the black sand bottom to just the right height for me to sit on with my chin resting on the water's surface, my back against the wooden walls. It was like sitting in hot, sulpher-smelling champagne which was the only reason I could think of for the name Lobster, because there were three pools hotter than it, two of which I couldn't even climb into.

We spent a relaxing couple of hours letting the minerals and warmth melt all tension from our muscles while our skin pruned up and turned grey from the silt and sand. The day was overcast and humid, not quite raining. In such an environment it was impossible not to get chatty with our fellow bathers who were a mostly locals and later, a young English family whose antics kept us all amused.

The funniest moment of our afternoon was when the rural quiet was broken by a loud motor- was it a lawn mower? a jet ski? a motorbike? After some minutes of grumbling and speculation, the mystery was revealed when the driver of a mini amphibian vehicle poked his head over the wall and asked for help pulling his new toy out of the muddy lake where it had foundered. We all rose up from our steaming baths and the men climbed over to splash around pulling and pushing and offer advice, while the rest of us giggled at his predicament and embarrassment.

It looks like there is some work underway to develop the pools, but fortunately it appears modest and low budget. There are few natural hot springs left in New Zealand without waterslides and concrete bottoms and corresponding high entrance fees. Ngawha feels like the hot springs that time and the tourism industry forgot. It would be a shame if it were 'discovered' and developed out of its stinky, muddy, democratic appeal.

Friday, May 20, 2005


One of my many favourite things about working from home is cat naps. A quick doze while a pool of sunshine oozed across my bed covers and a fleeting dream about bathing in healing waters. Perhaps it is time I finally find a buddy to take me along to Ngawha hot springs.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


It was postively balmy, almost sultry today. After spending most of the day writing a funding application for someone else (my new money making activity) it was a relief to get out and get moving. There seem to be lots more birds around at the moment. I saw three different kingfishers in different places, and there are great flocks of anonymous birds that this lovely blog could no doubt identify but all I can say is they are small and brown and noisy and there are lots and lots of them.

I met a friendly cow on the way back: not only did she not run away at my approach as most of them do, but she let me scratch the top of her head, and mooed loudly when I walked on.

It was a good walk for thinking some more about book I have been mulling and planning since before I moved here, tentatively titled An Atlas of Purua. Today those early thoughts about map making to develop a sense of homeplace coalesced with other recent interests such as my collections of possum bones, feathers and invertebrate shells; obsessive box making activies; an article about an exhibition of curio cabinets; and my newly developed web design skills. I envisiged making a cabinet containing: artifacts from the farm, a book of maps of my walks, a catalogue of related poems and a CD-ROM with links to this blog and my other web site- all elaborately cross referenced and hyperlinked. I have a couple of projects close to completion and then I think I will start on this one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


This morning I was eating my porridge (with homemade/grown lemon-zested applesauce) and gazing out the window as I built my list of things to do in Town this afternoon. (Sample items: buy better mousetraps and a metallic green pen; sketch rooflines; get printer's inkjet heads cleaned; research inner-Sydney architecture of the 1970s; etc).

This musing was interrupted by loud quacking and I watched in facination as a pair of Paradise ducks determinedly chased away a big hawk. This adds to my suspicion that the ducks are nesting. Thelocal big group of ducks have been pairing off for a few weeks and seem to be defending territories- often centred on a hilltop or little mound of open ground. All this is a bit confusing to me because my limited avian assumptions were that birds nested in the spring and ducks laid eggs in the reeds around ponds.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


I have decided not to go into Town for my yoga class today, but to stay home for the second day in a row. I am enjoying my solitude, working productively in my cosy little studio while outside the rain falls steadily. I spent the weekend in social situations, and I have a meeting and a night class scheduled for tomorrow. I just want another day to myself.

Most people seem to be curious, doubtful or amazed when I say that I am happy living alone, so far from other humans. Old friends and aquaintances have to reassess their perception of me as a very social person. People just getting to know me don't readily have a category to slot me into. I grew up in a family, moved on to big shared flats, became a mother pretty young... and my last few years have been living with other people in the inner city and going to work in open plan offices. Being alone now is like quenching a desert parched throat with a long cool drink of iced lemonade.

And although I like the idea of being a hermit or a recluse I am hardly one of those! I talk to family and friends on the phone most days, send and receive emails, share my musings and anectdotes with scores of people through this blog, listen to National Radio a lot, chat to various neighbours every few days and venture into town at least once a week where I am making many new friends and business contacts.

Yes, sometimes I feel lonely. But not as often as I felt lonely when I was surrounded by people all the time. The loneliness has an old faded feeling, as though it is a much handled book from my childhood, familiar but not really relevant to my current reality. Mostly I feel like I am the luckiest person in the world to be here doing this- and this feeling is as fresh and new as an artist's book blossoming in my studio.

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Sunday afternoon in Whangarei

This weekend I had my very first visitors. My parents came up from Hamilton for a pleasant weekend with me. They met some of my friends on Friday night, were shown around the farm on Saturday, and we spent a rainy Sunday afternoon in Whangarei. I took them to check out a couple of attractions that I've been waiting for a good excuse to visit.

First we went to the Whangarei Heritage Museum which was endearingly shabby and quirky. My parents like to visit obscure local museums wherever they travel in the world. Apparently dad usually ends up writing a book, or at least an article, inspired by such visits, so I should be able to post a decent blog. But I'm not sure what to say about motheaten taxidermied birds and enthusiatic but bizarre homemade models of historic scenes using twigs to represent trees and wired cotton wool for smoke.

After some wandering around the Heritage Park admiring peacocks, miniature railways and the world's smallest Methodist church (a deeply cute octogonal chapel) we were hungry and chilled. I recommended Reva's down by the Marina, because so many people have talked about it as being good and I have been wanting to try it. Well, even though it was 3/4 empty when we arrived, and there seemed to be plenty of young wait staff, we were ignored so comprehensively for so long, that we just walked out and ended up dining across the way at The Gybe where service, food and ambience were all ideal for our needs.

We rounded out our rainy day by going to the movies to see Kingdom of Heaven which (aside from some mild anachronisms, credulity-stretching assumptions and cheesy Hollywood dialogue) was not too bad. It was beautifully filmed-even the long elaborate battles- and with Orlando Bloom as eye candy enough to compensate for the almost total absence of women in the film. Three appeared from behind veils during the two and a half hours: one speaking role for the tragic sex kitten Princess, a single line for the tragic dignified Sheik's sister and silence from the tragic corpse on which the film opens (do you detect a theme here? this is not a chick flick).

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Grazed bush

A area of bush unfenced off from a paddock close to some stockyards is so heavily grazed that it is like visiting an old cemetery. There are bare tree trunks, supplejack and dead leaves on bare earth and exposed roots. These are mature trees, though there are no really fat trunks. They grew tall to reach the sun above the understory before it was eaten by cattle.The only green left near the ground is moss. All the diversity and complextity of the undergrowth is absent. The remaining beauty of the bush is way over my head, so I keep tipping it back to look at the green canopy which is untouched and where the birds still sing.

Cat and mice

Rolling out of bed this morning, my first action was to check the two mousetraps set out last night after close encounters with a couple of bright eyed little beasties. They managed to delicately eat the peanut butter bait off one trap without springing it, and ignored the other trap!

Sighing deeply at this frustrating outcome, I pulled the curtains and Stanley, the ginger tom from next door popped his head up at the window. I let him in thinking he could eat my vermin for breakfast. But as usual on his visits he did a circuit of my little cottage, meowing loudly in a critical tone before settling down for a good wash in an inconvenient spot. The first time he visited, he pulled all my bras out of their home and rolled around on the floor with them. The second time he decided that the best seat in the house was on top of the half made Narnia book. This third tour was less eventful, but he really isn't proving his worth as a visiting mouser.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Kotare and Kiwi

A couple of kotare, kingfishers, are hanging round my place today. They have almost irridecent teal backs, and creamy chests with a peachy sheen. They perch patiently on the fence posts, stockyards or power lines, flicking their tails from time to time. They seem unfazed by all the action going on here: I've been putting firewood into my shed while my landlady has been moving scrap wood into her shed, to the great excitement of her two dogs, which in turn excites Jet, the neighbour's dog up the drive.

I've had a productive day, as well as moving the wood, I've finished my first commissioned work and almost finished my first attempt at making a clam-shell box. The commission is called 'Reading Narnia' and is a triptich/shadow box/tunnel book containing a scene from 'The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe', designed to be hung on the wall of the opening-soon-in-Whangarei Cafe Narnia.

Last night I heard kiwi calls for the first time. Perhaps they are coming down from the hills now that the nights are getting colder.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Radio NZ birdcalls

I support a gradual takeover of the news by the birds. Begin by adding them as punctuation between every story, then when everyone's feather's have settled over that, sneakily begin by replacing stock market reports with chirps and peeps, then substitute bird songs for sports, and as the election swings into gear begin interviewing birds instead of politician. When listening to the whole of Morning Report is indistinguishable from spending a morning in a bird sanctuary New Zealand will really have something to be proud of.

Another Beatrix Potter moment

Pulling the curtains on a bright frosty morning to see two big brown bunnies huddled back to back in the middle of a big white paddock. They were waiting for their breakfast to thaw to green, which it has done in the sun in the time it has taken to write this.

Monday, May 09, 2005

My place

Note smoothly mown lawn and lush salad garden in a box...

Red Camo

I extracted myself from this morning's Town commitments to stay home and finish, package and post a bunch of books for the Association of Book Crafts table at the Heart of Art Festival in Parnell, Auckland this weekend. That done, I couldn't resist the call of the sunshine and went for a long walk (3+ hours).

I was dressed all in red, because all my other more subdued walking clothes are drying on the line (I inevitably come home covered in mud or dust, depending on the weather) which had the advantage of (hopefully) making me look very unlike a duck. Not that I heard any hunters in the middle of this Monday afternoon, but better safe than sorry.

I headed up to 'the grandfathers', three trees on a hill top that I love to visit. The track up there has been chewed down by the big herd of calves grazing that paddock, which makes it much easier to walk through. Of course the price paid was that the grass under the trees, where I like to sit and contemplate the hills rolling out from me to the distant coast (imagined over the horizon) was liberally dotted with juicy cow pats.

So I carried on, up into the bush and then through a gate labeled "Kiwi Zone" and into the pines. There were hundreds of red toadstools, straight out of Enid Blighton illustrations. I stopped to take photos of the prettiest ones but then started laughing because there were just so many like a giant paintbrush had splattered vermilion through the forest. And there I was, another splash of red moving among them, in camoflage.

Four toadstools


In my last post I wrote about the dark side of life here in the valley, but that is such a minor aspect, overshadowed by kindness, generosity and general sense of abundance.

I have been given so much firewood over the last few days (a few sacks here, a share of someone's trailer load there), that my shed might not be able to hold all the wood I have ordered for myself. And since I have a couple of weeks to wait before the chimney sweep comes out, I can't burn any of it yet! Fortunately it continues to be warm enough during the days to have the doors and windows open, and at night, if I've pulled the drapes to hold the afternoon's sunheat and use the oven to cook my dinner, the house stays cosy til bedtime.

With all the rain last week my little lawn went from shaggy to out of control before my very eyes and yesterday Sean-my-neighbour came over with weedeater and lawnmower. It started to rain as he was trimming the lawn to velvet like smoothness, but he must have been enjoying himself because he then went on to tackle an even bigger and more overgrown area along the driveway.

Even the land is generous- Saturday night I made a salad with mushrooms and watercress picked on my walk, rocket from my little salad garden, sprouts I've sprouted, and ate it with home made bread, hummus, felafel and dukkah. I felt very self sufficient!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Nefarious Doings

Four days of rain have broken into a crisp clear sparkling weekend for the start of duck shooting season. Turns out the guns I heard earlier in the week were just skeet shooting for practice. As the gun fire echoes off the hills I remember the last time I lived in earshot of regular shooting. I was living in one of the very few poor neighbourhoods of Boulder, Colorado and between the pimps, drug dealers, wife beaters and just regular gun owners there were almost weekly incidents involving the police and their guns. At least this time I'm probably safe as long as I don't go outside dressed as a duck.

I found a cow corpse in a distant bush-adjacent paddock the other day, a pile of bones and surprisingly huge quantity of half digested grass with head, hide and hooves still decomposing. There was a shotgun pellet right by its head and two more (a different colour) in the grass a few meters away. Why would anyone(s) shoot a cow and leave it for the birds, taking its ear ID-tag? Hmmm.

My landlady has been searching all week for two, now three, calves missing from a paddock by the road. She says they are too small to be worth taking for the meat so it's another mystery where they have gone (perhaps fallen down a hole? but all three?).

But the nefarious doing that most directly effects me is the return of the unknown tree stripper. Apparently the week before I moved in someone came into the orchard and took every single last plum off the tree so that I never even saw what kind they were. Now, in the last few days, the feijoa and braeburn trees have been stripped of their last few dozen fruit. It wasn't me, my neighbours or the landlords... so who thinks they can not only help themselves to our fruit but take all of it!? Grrrr.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Country Women's Institute

Today I attended my first meeting of the Country Women's Institute. My only ideas about what this might be like had been formed by the film Calender Girls, but there was no suggestion of topless photography today. I don't think I've ever sat with a group of people so unambivently delighted at days of rain, competitively comparing how many millimeters had fallen on their respective farms.

I had agonised for weeks about what to take for my 'plate'. I'm glad I went to the trouble of making my grandma's Devil's Food Cake and smothering it in glossy dark icing. I'm less glad that I transported it in such a shallow tin because the icing stuck to the top of the tin and the cake had to be forced out, leaving a shallow crater in the centre of its formerly pristine surface. Despite this handicap (or perhaps because I made such a fuss of trying to fix it up with a hot knife) I was awarded second prize in the baking competition! I hadn't known there was going to be a competition, nor that this month's requirement was baking for the Hospice, so it was sheer good luck that I had made something so suitable. (If I was in a Hospice I would definitely want rich dark chocolate cake as often as possible).

It was a very jolly afternoon, where I was made to feel not only welcome, but quite at home. Today we met in town (instead of at the Purua Hall- I have to wait another month before I can satisfy that curiosity) at the home of Joan Alison, one of the long time members who has now retired into Whangarei. I was pleased to meet her as she is the author of a book I've read about the early families of Purua. I was full of questions which I didn't have a chance to ask in the busy meeting, so she has kindly invited me back to visit another time.

Later I dropped in on Ash who is preparing to open a new cafe in a Whangarei suburb. I arrived at the moment of a glitter paint crisis, but was invited home for roast dinner with the whanau, who are great fun. Mother Molly keeps (and shares) a wonderful dream journal and has a penchant for housie and pokies (I'd quite like to go along to housie with her sometime, having never done that). Camp Ash is adopting the persona of a suburban housewife for Cafe Narnia (LaQuisha watch out!). Brother Lindsay (cafe partner with Ash) has a very dry sense of humour and wants me to share recipes for the cafe menu (but reckons winning second at the Institute is not a good enough recommendation for my cake). When I confessed why I wasn't going to be able to eat any of the pork roast we had a lively conversation about kosher laws and Jewish culture and I was very well fed on veges and my suggestion to put guava jelly on the ice cream (this was very successful so I suspect some variation on this theme may appear on Cafe Narnia's menu eventually).

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Farm Safari

The farm is full of calves at various stages of cuteness. My favourites are the Jersey and Jersey-Holsteins in hot chocolate- and cappacino- colours with white bands around their square noses, a toupee like mop of hair between round furry ears and extraordinarily limpid eyes.

Aside from many calves in all shapes and colours, I encountered a plethora of wildlife on today's walk. First I startled a piglet the colour of 70% chocolate and as soft and wriggly as a labrador pup, but hiding in the grass and snorting at me before running away. I also surprised a ferel sheep, hugely shaggy, but with a finely shaped white face poking out from its dirty dreads.

Picking my way down a steep scrubby slope I stopped, entranced by a four fantails dancing around a tree. Then I realised that there were three or four of them in every direction I looked, I was in the middle of a flock of 20 or 30 all snacking on the late afternoon haze of flying insects. Fantails, always a delight, are nonetheless commonplace round here, usually just one or two at a time. I didn't even know they flocked in such numbers. And then screeching through the middle of this kaleidescope of fantails came a couple of rozellas, the brightest coloured birds in Aotearoa.

As soon as I got home, continuing until now, as it falls dark, someone is shooting, presumably ducks since May is the season for it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Night before last I was woken by rain beating down on the corrogated iron roof. In my befuddled state, for a second or two I actually thought it was a fire crackling (not an entirely illogical thought in the context of the big dry we've been having). This is the first serious rain since I moved out here and I hadn't realised how loud it could be. Too loud for me to fall easily back to sleep, especially when my mind slipped into the groove of a knotty book structure problem I have been pondering for a couple of weeks.

Anyway, it's been raining on and off now for nearly 48 hours, at least in our little valley, which seems to have its own microclimate. It did clear up enough yesterday for me to take my usual walk, along a track that has swiftly turned from deep dust to deep mud which splashed all over my legs. I had a quick and unproblematic shower when I got home, though I am usually frugal with water as I depend on rain for my tap water and there's been a distinct lack of rain.

Weird water problems set in a couple of hours later. My neighbour called to say her washing maching was broken and could she do a load of laundry in my machine. While this was running, I noticed that the kitchen hot tap was dry, and the cold tap was running hot, but engrossed in my current book project (a commission on the theme of Narnia) I ignored this oddity.

By the time the washer had finished it was apparent that this problem wouldn't go away by itself so I rang my landlady and she said her partner would come and have a look in the morning and could I leave the key out for him. I got home this afternoon to find a gift of three fresh field mushrooms at my doorstep (obviously sprung up in the rain) and the taps all running water at the appropriate temperature. (Ah, the joys of renting from lovely landlords!). I don't have an answer to the mystery of the taps yet, though my lunch companion speculated that it was to do with water pressure and pumps. I'm just very glad that water is flowing, in my house, and from the sky: into the tanks, onto the fields and my little salad garden.

Later... turns out the stopcock in the header tank was broken...

Monday, May 02, 2005

See new books!

I have just this minute finally finished up loading the new pages for my website. The most useful thing that I have changed is the navigation so that you can find your way around a lot more easily (though there may still be some tweaking to get this just right).

But the most exciting thing is that finally, after weeks of teasers in this blog, you can see the beautiful photos Katrina Ching has taken of all my newest books. The gallery has been completely revamped so that each book has its own page, most with a selection of thumbnails that click through to larger pictures if you want to see them close up from several angles...

I also added a new events page with book arts related events through out New Zealand- including but not limited to those featuring my work ;-) I find out much of this information through the Association of Book Crafts (NZ) who don't have their own website, so I am hosting an information page about the ABC on my site.

The links page is also much expanded and I am eager to keep adding more links to make this a valuable resource for anyone interested in the book arts- let me know what you think I should add.

By the way, this is all my own work. I have basically taught myself web design, with some valuable coaching from Connie. It's not a slick a site as the perfectionist in me would like, but I am settling for functional and beautiful to the best of my current abilities. And now it is done, I can get back to making books!

More great galleries

My recent trip Southwards has added four more galleries to the list of those stocking my work. I recommend all these galleries not just because they sell my books, but because they are filled with gorgeous things created by many of New Zealand's most talented artists and craftspeople.
  • Wellingtonians can (from next week) buy my work at Pohutokawa Dreaming in Kelburn.
  • If you are driving through Taihape, see if the Hot Artz Gallery is open.
  • Waikato residents and visitors should check out the Heritage Gallery in Cambridge.
  • And last, but not least, my books are now on sale in Parnell, Auckland at the Textures Gallery.
(If none of these places are handy to you please check out my website to see photos of my books, to find out about my other galleries, or to email me for direct sales or commissions.)

People I meet often suggest all sorts of places for me to try selling my work but I am very choosy about where my books go. For a start, I sell through galleries rather than bookshops, because even though my work appeals to book lovers, it doesn't make sense to compete with mass produced 250 page books selling for about the same price as my handmade four page book, The Optimistic Heart.

I have become very swift at assessing whether I want to approach a gallery with my work. I check that everything they currently sell meets very high standards for craftmanship. I look for 'authored' crafts, that is handmade objects signed with the artist's name. And I want to be in the company of original New Zealand art that reflects and interprets the unique qualities of Aotearoa through a genuine artistic vision. When I find a place that meets these criteria and show my work to the buyer (who is usually the owner, as this kind of gallery is a passionate project) they are almost always enthusiastic about stocking my work.

In general my work is stocked as 'Sale or Return' which means I don't get paid until the gallery has sold a book. The risk is that the books won't sell, and will be returned to me soiled and worn from handling. The advantage is that galleries take a smaller commission and their retail prices can strike a balance between rewarding time and effort that goes into making each book and what customers are prepared to pay for a small and unfamiliar art object calling itself a book.

Marketing and selling artist's books is a challenge, and requires very different qualities than those needed for creation and production. But I think of the business side as just a way for me to share my books with people who love them as much as I do.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Northland Seder

Oy vey! Because I am a glutton for punishment, or actually just a glutton, I managed to attend three Passover seders (ritual dinners) this week. (I have briefly enumerated the Wellington ones in another posting). Last night was my introduction to the Northland Jewish Association over matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs). It reminded me a little of Hamilton's community seders when I was younger and the Hamilton Jewish community was much much smaller.

About 36 people came from all over Northland, some driving quite long distances to be in Whangarei for the final night of Passover. With only a couple of exceptions (including me) they were either families with young children or much older folk. All were friendly and welcoming, though I was a bit taken aback by how comfortable several were in asking about my marital status within seconds of our introduction (none of your business either).

The inevitable problem in such gatherings of diverse, secular, diaspora Jews is what tunes to sing for the required songs. An ingenious approach was to play recordings for us to sing along with, karaoke style. Unfortunately the recordings were unfamiliar, though highly enjoyable, contemporary arrangements that didn't make our singing any less ragged. Fortunately I had had plenty of singing practice earlier in the week and was more confident about carrying a tune than usual (those who have heard me singing might not think it a good thing for me to feel confident about it).

The hagadah (order of service) was admirably concise for a gathering with so many young children, who had rehearsed to sing the four questions and tell a funny version of the Egypt story. Through out the rituals there was much hilarity as a trio of women leapt up at intervals to sing silly seder songs.

Asi, who was leading the service, kept asking me how I thought this compared to a traditional seder, but the truth is I don't know that I have ever attended a 'traditional' seder. Each of the several dozen in my life that I remember has been a quirky expression of that family's or community's relationship to Judaism. I once found a very camp hagadah on the internet, full of references to classic Hollywood movies and highly unsuitable for young children- and because that year I was expecting a gay couple and no kids, I used it. One of the many things I love about being a Jew is that there is a tradition of challenging orthodoxy and experimentation. As long as there are the makings of a Hillel sandwich (yummy apple and nut paste with horseradish and matzah- a taste that probably needs to be aquired young), at least four glasses of blessed wine and plenty of dipping, I'm happy.

The Northland seder covered the necessary halachical (religious law) bases yet was as relaxed, and playful, as most I have attended. I ate too much, enjoyed myself very much and made some new friends... nothing more could be asked. Chag sameach.

** While writing this post I glanced out my window to see a flock of 8 pukeko highstepping across my lawn!