Sunday, July 31, 2005

Environmental fun

This weekend I cruised up to the Bay of Islands for another visit with new friends who live on an old sugar-barge grounded in the mangroves across the water from Opua. On Saturday morning we watched the under-8s play soccer at the local school, Karetu, in warm sunshine. Karetu won 3-2 with the help of a fantail who spent much of the game swooping and fluttering close to the action, to the delight of the children.

After that we drove around to Russell on that long gravel road winding through rather lovely bush. This time the attraction in Russell was an Environmental Expo- well worth the trip too. I have never seen so many types of composting toilets in proximity before, and narry an iffy smell. I learned about small-scale water and wind generators but never got a chance to chat with the solar panel guy as he was so busy. There were biodegradable packaging materials made out of corn or potatoes including disposable dishes coloured like jellybeans. I had a great talk with Fiona who was selling the 'Keeper' an reusable rubber-cup alternative to tampons and pads.

There were not one, but two, rival companies selling special long-life cloths for cleaning with cold water only and I was so excited about this (me, who HATES housework) that I bought one (and already I've found myself enjoying cleaning the shower!). I picked up instructions for making a worm farm and information about designing your home's renewable energy system. I was tempted by the beautiful knives handmade out of salvage material and might be bartering for books soon.

There were of course various people concerned with saving various birds, plants and environments, near and far. There were governmental agencies and quangos who are doing varying degrees of good work that simply doesn't present that well at an expo and demos of assorted materials for very specific and obscure uses of interest only to those already in need.

I wish I was in a position to be considering obscure materials as I design my own eco home and permaculture garden. Since I'm not there yet there was lots about the expo that just made me more dissatisfied with my current set up and lack of control over it. But I had a really good time there, and at least I can now clean my shower without whiffing nasty chemicals.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Small parties rule

Last night I attended the most entertaining political meeting ever. It was organised for the public to hear representatives of the small parties (not Labour or National). Originally planned to include only the small parties currently represented in Parliament, heavy lobbying by the Destiny Party (yes, the Sinn Fein of the Destiny Church) resulted in opening up the forum to any small party that wanted to be there.

The result was the most ethnically, politically, generationally and amusingly diverse event I have ever attended (including those where the McGillicuddy Serious Party appeared). The audience was initially stacked by Destiny Church members- mostly well dressed Maori adults (and I had to assume my gaydar was malfunctioning when the camp-looking white guy identified himself with Destiny). Before long however, the god-botherers were completely outnumbered by rangatahi (young Maori) in their Maori party t-shirts. There was standing room only, and the crowds spilled out into the courtyard where even the youngest were mostly quiet and attentive throughout.

The usual suspects for a political meeting (the old white guys) were quite the minority, not only in the audience, but also the panel. Ah, the panel... even more interesting than the audience, and how often can you say that in politics? Maori outnumbered Pakeha, women outnumbered men, loonies outnumbered the sane.

The two current MPs (Metiria Turei, Greens and Muriel Newman, Act) were, at their respective ends of the spectrum both very professional and well spoken. I thought Muriel was remarkably brave in holding firm to her hobby horse of anti-Maori 'privilege' in such brown room, where big black-clad Maori men leaned against the door posts in comfortable bouncer poses. Metitiria was equally brave and more articulate (not to mention right-on) saying she was proud to have supported the Prostitution Law Reform bill while being heckled by Destiny congregants.

The Cannibas Law Reform woman was a complete space cadet, but very sweet and I felt a bit sorry for her even while I couldn't help joining in the laughter (more at her, than with her, I'm afraid). The Progressive woman was as uptight as the Cannibas rep had been loose. She read straight from a prepared speech that went way over the time limit and involved far too many big words. She was a little more likeable at question time, but it must be a thankless task trying to represent the Jim Anderton party as something greater than its one part.

The two octagenarians from the Democrats actually forgot that they weren't called Social Credit anymore and talked about Beetham in the present tense. It's a shame really that they are so passe because not all their economic analysis is rubbish. There were two representatives of the Maori party, but we will only remember Tamati Something, an immensely charismatic man who very well may end up in parliament, though I would think the Maori Party would be worried about such a loose cannon, since most of his speech was variations on "the party policy is 'x' but I think 'y'".

But the highlight of the night was the preacherman from Destiny whose speech was accompanied with murmered support from the congregation in the manner of gospel churches calling halleluiah during a sermon. He wasn't particularly coherent but that doesn't matter does it, as his emotional appeal was based on nostalgia for a fantasy of the family as a safe haven.

New Zealand First and United Future did not send representatives, if they had, the panel would have no doubt been skewed back towards boring white males. They probably thought it wasn't worth coming because who could have anticipated the TV camera (Maori TV I think) and the huge crowd. Admittedly few in the huge crowd could be classed as undecided voters, that most attractive of political prey. Except me, I still haven't decided where to put my electorate vote to best use, even if my party vote has long been firmly planted.

I left during question time when someone started ranting about the ACC conspiracy and it seemed like most of the fun part was over. I went with a feeling that I am very pleased with MMP which we might just be starting to get the hang of. I came away impressed with the new Maori party's ability to mobilise rangatahi who are usually the most disenfranchised voters in the country. I was impressed with the local Greens for organising such a generous, inclusive, successful event, in which they happened to stand out as the most reasonable of the small parties.

This may be the highlight of my election campaign experience. I don't anticipate anything involving the big parties being nearly so hopeful. But, dear readers, if you have an opportunity to attend a small party event in the next few weeks, I recommend it, if only for entertainment value.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Lois McMaster Bujold

What is your comfort reading? For me it is generally novels or at least authors I have read before, and feel I can be assured of good quality writing. New books can be so risky, and sometimes I crave a nice safe predictably satisfying read. This week my comfort reading involves ignoring the tottering stacks of library books that furnish my little home, and instead plucking one of my collection of Lois McMaster Bujold novels from the shelf.

Anyone who knows me very well has likely been subjected to an enthusiastic review of her work since I discovered it about 6 years ago. LMB's work is first and foremost written with exquisite skill, charactered with humour and depth, plotted for maximum thrills and satisfying loose end tying and suffused with integrity and inspiration. She happens to write in the genres of sci fi (specifically 'space opera' for us geeks in the know) and fantasy. Do not, I repeat, do not let any prejudices you may hold about these genres prevent you from enjoying an aquaintance with Miles Vorkosigan/Naismith, his family or associates. Few writers seem to be able to write from the point of view of an recognised genius without exposing their own lack of it. I suspect LMB may be a genius from the way she describes Miles' idiosyncratic runaway trains of logical thought and his intuitive leaps across hyperspace. But most of all, like many characters in the books about him, I am made loyal by his absolute sense of honour

Other sources of comfort reading for me in recent times include Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, KM Peyton (who has been comforting me since I was about 12 years old) and early Barbara Kingsolver novels such as Animal Dreams.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

New books

I've just finished two new books, created for the Bookbinding Exhibition at the Auckland City Library 18 Sept-2 Oct 2005. The Dream Journal (pictured on the far left) is described in detail in the previous post.

The second book is a tiny map book secreted inside a plastic ring and it is soooo cute! It is called Disengagement Ring and is about getting lost.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Dream Journal

On Sunday's market, when people asked me where I get the ideas for my books, I told them that they come to me in dreams. And although I really get ideas from all sorts of sources (not least, other book artists) it is true that sometimes I wake up from dreams about books, such as a pink pop-up house for dead family members to live in.

In honour of my book-inspiring dreams, I decided to create a dream journal that would be as laden with symbolism and as challenging to access and to read as are dreams.

Each dream is written on a page made as a Mobius strip, so that it is a surface with only one side and one edge (formed by joining the ends of a rectangle twisted 180 degrees). Since most book pages tend to have two sides and three edges the Mobius page is a challenge to the waking mind, yet just the kind of thing that we encounter in sleep. M.C. Escher was fond of depicting Mobius strips in his dreamlike drawings.

When I bound the pages together, I was delighted that the book looks a bit like the brain where dreams emerge from, except its green instead of grey. Because the resulting book is as round and delicate as a brain I put it inside a (clamshell) box instead of ordinary covers so that the Mobius pages don't get squished flat. The box is not skull shaped, that would be very cool but is far beyond my current skills and available time. It's a chunky half cube (15 cm diameter and 7 cm deep) . I lined it with painted butterflies from Italy (via Passion for Paper) and the outside is a metallic bronze with inset gold titles.

The journal records my dreams during autumn and winter 2005. I have had a number of reoccurring themes in recent dreams including bicycles, being chased by animals, exploring ramshackle or messy houses and planting trees. In one of my animal dreams, I was surrounded by a cloud of butterflies. The butterflies lining the Dream Journal box are not quite contained, spilling out across the outside surface of the box, in the same way that dreams can seep into waking awareness if you catch them quick enough.

I'll post a pic if I can borrow a camera before I have to send this off to the exhibition I created it for.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Breathing and peacocks

A day at home alone at last. It's my first whole day of solitude in over a week and it feels like walking outside of a stuffy room and breathing in fresh air. I did that too, though actually its been so warm and sunny here I had the door open most of the day before I went walking.

I saw lots of peacocks up the road, and I'm facinated by how swiftly they slink over the land, rarely flying far. When they do take flight, their wings are rusty red and the long tails swoop behind them. Mostly though, they stay close to earth, undulating so they are more like snakes than birds. They are almost camolflaged against the bright green grass, it is only their movement and slightly brighter and more irridescent colour that catches my eye.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Events and Offers

If you are lucky enough to be in Whangarei this weekend, you can see me read poetry tonight at the Mokaba from 6pm. This is a Montana Poetry Day Event.

On Sunday, come along to Forum North for the Midwinter Artisan's Fair. I'll be selling my books and boxes at special prices for the Fair. But to be fair to those of you unfortunately stuck somewhere else this weekend, you too can enjoy 20% off the prices on my website if you place an order before 11.59pm Sunday 24 July, New Zealand Time.

Since I still haven't managed to put my boxes on the website, here are a couple of sample pix. The Map-in-A-Box is on sale for only $24.00 this weekend, and the Alter(ed) Maps are only $60.00. Get in quick!

Dead Cow

I found a dead cow on my walk this afternoon. She looked like she died from a miscarriage or a bad birth.

I'm very sad.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Small world

The Friends of the Library invited me to be part of their programme called "It's a Small World" at the Whangarei Public Library. I should have been alerted first off that the organiser referred to my work consistently as 'miniature books', even when I corrected her. I didn't want to be too much of a pedant about it as lots of my books are much smaller than ordinary books. But... it was the first real dodgy clue some months ago when I first said I would do it. At that point I thought that they wanted to put some of my books in a display cabinet for a week, which sounded like a fine plan. Then it turned out that the cabinet display was for small scale 'international' crafts and in fact I was agreeing to bring along my books and talk about them for two hours on a Thursday morning.

Then when she called to confirm last week, she mentioned in passing that I would be sharing my scheduled time with a woman who spins and makes lace. OK. But I still had no real information about where in the library we'd be or who would be the audience. By this time my expectations of this event had sunk below zero. But it didn't seem worth worrying about, let alone making much effort to prepare for, so I went on holiday and had a great time until almost the last minute before the library gig. When I arrived this morning, the spinner was already up and spinning at the round table we were sharing in front of the Large Print Reader's Digest stand and under a very noisy air conditioner.

Turns out that on a Thursday morning much of the library traffic who choose to linger at a table of artist's books and shawls are (unsurprisingly) people whose age/dress/visible disability/ etc indicates that they are not in paid employment. Mostly they were much more interested in the spinning and knitting action. The spinner was spinning alpaca wool into gossamer thread and knitting it into cobwebs which was quite entrancing. I had an excellent conversation about the inadequacies of the mental health system with a woman who knows it much better than I. She liked my books and would have liked to try making some but felt she wouldn't be able to. I thought that was because she had no index fingers, but she said it was her inability to concentrate, which is fair enough.

The rest of the Thursday morning library punters seemed to be mothers with children on school holidays. Happily, this category included my friend who makes wonderful artist's books and other objects using her abstract photography, and her penguin-obsessed five year old. They cheered me up and afterwards we went out for lunch together. Then I came home and took a walk through these familiar hills, found a nest of possum bones, scared a dozen peacocks from their roost in a totora tree and got a message that I have won the Kamo Branch Library's poetry competition... which more than makes up for my blah morning at the Central Library's very small world.

Fun in the Rain

I'm just back from a few days away playing in the rainforests in the Hokianga, not far north of here. They were very rainy days, and very fun too. The Flemish Giant rabbit is called Hohepa and the strange bird is a New Game Hen, bred for muddy conditions. That's me in Waipoua Forest with a pretty leaf I thought would make a good hair clip.

Gotta dash now, I'm talking about my books at the public library this morning.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Just one more before I go

A minute ago I went out to get the wood for tonight's fire and found, neatly tucked into my shoe, a wee mousie. Dead. A gift, I assume from Stanley the ginger tom from nextdoor who has been hanging around here most of today. I do appreciate the killing of local rodents, but am a bit taken aback by the careful placement of this one.


Some days, for no apparent reason, I just want to eat all day long. Actually it seems as though there are many days like this, which is why it's hard to pick a reason such excessive stress (not since I moved to Northland), lots of exercise (hahahaha) or PMT. I admit that I frequently use reference to the current point in my cycle as an excuse for eating too much. Right now I'm kind of post-menstrual, pre-ovulation which, I'm pretty sure, gives me absolutely no hormonal justification for consuming, in the space of five hours:
  • a large bowl of porridge with assorted seeds, fruits, and quince jelly
  • four mandarins
  • one pear
  • two prunes
  • two little almond biscuits made (by me) with rose water and no flour
  • two pieces of Vogel's toast with homemade (not by me) tomato & basil pesto (to die for)
  • a bowl of popcorn flavoured with flaxseed oil and flaked yeast
  • a glass of grape juice
  • the last piece of chocolate covered ginger.

Right now it is 12.45pm which is still theoretically lunchtime, a theory that my appetite is in full agreement with, even though the toast, popcorn and most of the fruit were consumed in the last hour. I'm pretty sure that what I really want to eat are M&Ms but the nearest are about 30kms away. I've tried distracting myself with work, which is going pretty well, with a walk to visit the nice horse next door who spat out the piece of carrot I gave it and with planting basil seedlings in my little garden. Nope, I want M&Ms.

There is chocolate in the house. Jo left me with most of the bar of heavenly Oxfam dark fondant (has anyone else noticed that politically correct chocolate tastes the best?). Spectacular as the smokey, rich flavour is, it's not calling to me but I may eat some anyway, just to distract from the compelling thought of crunching on those little colourful candy-coated pellets of compound 'chocolate' grown and harvested by slaves and dilluted almost beyond recognition by sugar and milk solids.

By the way, from tomorrow I am taking a little holiday from blogging, just until Thursday. Bye til then.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

House guest

I am enjoying the company of my very first house guest here in beautiful Purua. One of my oldest and most loyal friends heroically rode the bus from Hamilton to Whangarei to come and sleep on my floor.

The trip took 6 hours, and half of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. While we both fervently support public transport in principle I think this experience has satisfied Jo's need to support it in practice for some years to come. I picked her up and took her with me to the library where she selected three books for me to check out. I am always happy to accept Jo's advice about what to read because our taste is pretty similar, and she knows me well enough to not bother trying to make me enthusiastic about oversized magic realism novels set in India.

I borrowed an airbed which we took turns pumping up and you know, it's always good to get the heart racing just before bed. I had to move all the furniture to the edges of the room to fit the airbed in and then it took up all the remaining floor space. I though it was a quiet night as the rats in the walls didn't wake me up at all, but Jo found them a little more noisy than she is used to. Although, as someone who has recently aquired a young golden labrador who barks everytime one of the two cats comes in during the night, I would have thought she would have found a little light rat scrabbling relatively soothing.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Fantasy Landscapes

While flicking through a notebook from late last year I came across a dream I'd written down and forgotten about until now. In the dream I was at an art exhibition and the works that most excited me were three-dimensional fantasy landscapes constructed out of maps.

My current journey with maps is getting more fantastic... here's a photo of a prototype which I am continuing to develop. It's called Canada-in-a-Box and uses a simple 'meander' structure to turn a flat sheet of map into a 'book' that is can be folded into a tiny, tidy box, or as in the photo, springs out in an wild and untamed spiralling 3-D journey. It's a very dynamic work especially as I perfect my skill at cutting and folding for maximum contrast between containment and release. I have also got Taupo into a tiny box which it erupts from most dramatically, and am almost finished a commissioned work to put the Northwestern coast of Scotland into a box. It's the best yet and I'll try and get a photo before it goes off to its new home at the end of the week.

I've also been experimenting with using maps to make flexigons, which are sort of folding paper puzzles which conceal, reveal and juxtapose different surfaces on a deceptively flat sheet.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Pompellier House

In the weekend I enjoyed another long-anticipated Northland experience by going to Pompellier House in Russel. Not so interested in the Catholic history of the house, I was keen to see the printing, tanning and binding operation that the brother's ran there. I was not disappointed.

The house, which is lovely, was full of beautifully restored book making equipment which the French brothers used to print and bind Maori translations of Catholic texts in the 1830s and 40s. The Anglican's and Wesleyans were already publishing religious and anti-papist tracts across the water, so it seemed a matter of some urgency for the Catholics to get their point of view into print also.

An excellent guide showed us round the printing presses (one of them pictured here), extensive tannery (for the leather book covers) and binding room. This later interested me the most with its large sewing frames, enormous book press made of kauri, a plough cutter for trimming the pages and other book making tools similar to slightly more modern equipment I have seen and/or used before in Barbara Schmeltzer's workshops. What was lovely about Pompellier house was that everything was on a large scale, all the wood was beautiful native timbers, and the guide demonstrated how many of the tools worked. I do recommend this Historic Place for anyone interested in books.

Farm stories

Walking up the road this morning, on a bright clear warm winter's day, the trees bare lattice against a pale blue sky full of birds singing and flying around. In two hours, I saw five woodpigeons, four peacocks, three pheasants, innumerable smaller birds, cows and sheep; two children, three horses, four dogs, one car, one stock truck, and a helicopter.

I have been hearing the helicopter since early in the morning- and still late in the day as I write this. It is spraying neighbouring farms now that it is starting to dry out a little after our big rain. I don't know if it's my imagination, but I thought I could taste something chemical in the air, and eventually I turned back, away from where I could see the helicopter sweeping over the paddocks.

I'm enjoying reading the local farming memoir I've been loaned. For years I have looked at grassy paddocks and tried to imagine the land when it was dressed in diverse, ancient forest. Briscoe Moore tells a great yarn with lots of interesting detail about his work in the 1920s to clear the bush and plant the grass. Some relation of his actually cleared the farm I'm on, and he refers to this place with an anectode about rolling kauri logs down a hillside I have climbed.

I hadn't really understood before the symbiotic relationship between stock and grass, which Briscoe is giving me the history of, and conversations with my landlady are explaining some of the current issues. Healthy grass requires strategic grazing as much as healthy animals require good grass. In Briscoe's day grass seed was sown by hand onto the ashes of the burned bush, the workers scrambling over jagged stumps and charred branches. Today the same hills are swathes of smooth and lurid green maintained from the air.

I'm developing a real fondness for old Briscoe Moore. He is very readable and led an interesting life, not only farming but also as a cavalry officer during WWI in Palestine. In his old age he developed a real passion for planting trees which I find incredibly endearing especially in light of his vigour for removing them 40 years earlier.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


I wish there was a rain gauge here. I was so jealous at the Country Women's Institute (CWI) meeting this afternoon when the women on either side of me started comparing their rainfall for the last two days. Amazingly, given that we all live relatively close to eachother, one had 40mm and the other had 131mm. I definitely feel like I've had 131mm here! The creek is higher than I've ever seen, almost topping its banks with muddy brown water. The paddocks look to be more mud and puddles than grass, and I can't even get to my car without mud splashing up on my Town shoes.

At each CWI meeting there are a number of 'competitions'. Regular readers may recall that my chocolate cake did ok last time. This time I interpreted the theme of the floral art competition "In a picture frame" broadly enough to enter one of my books. Waipoua Forest is probably my most spectacular production to date, and despite having no reference to flowers and being composed entirely of paper and card, it was given a first. I feel I ought to say that I don't think anyone entering the competitions comes away without winning a place, and there's only a dozen or so people there anyway! But it's nice to contribute, and to be appreciated.

Today's activity was a demonstration and play with fimo, that wonderful colourful modelling clay. As soon as I saw it I knew how to solve my bead problem. I've used up all the lovely little wooden beads I bought in Wellington, as handles for the doors of my alter(ed) maps and haven't been able to find anything remotely suitable to replace them with in Whangarei. The only beads here seem to be nasty cheap looking plastic or overly ornate and expensive. Seeing the fimo I realised I can make my own handles, customised for each map if I want. Hoorah!

They've asked me to write an article about blogging for the WI Home and Country national magazine. So, amongst the 90th birthday photos, collections of carnival glass and yorkshire pudding recipies will be my high tech contribution!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Rainy Day

It has been raining hard for two days... the radio says that we've had a month's worth of rain today, and to expect as much again tonight. The calves in the paddock round my place are looking pretty bedraggled, they spent most of the afternoon huddled under the totora tree, but now are out in the downpour eating grass. My landlady said she couldn't get to the back paddocks because the ford is too deep and swift for her quad bike. The electricity company who had said they were coming out to replace a powerpole outside my house never showed up (I wouldn't be playing with electricity today either!) so I haven't been without power.

But my little cottage is cosy and dry, the fire pumping out heat enough to cook my food. I've had a intensely satisfying day working on a new commission for three map boxes, and playing with paint.
I'm glad I don't have to go anywhere, the radio warned drivers to be careful, and I've heard stories about our unpaved road flooding in the past. As long as the rain stops before I run out of chocolate I don't care.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Entering Narnia through the wardrobe.

Narnia Opens!

Cafe Narnia opened in Whangarei today. On such a wild and wet winter's day entering through the enchanted wardrobe was irresistable. Inside was warm and inviting and while I was there, at lunch time every table was busy and they were running low on counter food.

Ash made me 'my special hot chocolate' with almond milk...mmmm and we had yummy vege pie and cake. All good.

An added bonus is the fabulous art on the walls... Ash has painted some cute pictures on the fantasy novel theme. They also commissioned a book from me for the cafe, called 'Reading Narnia'. And I have a selection of my other works on exhibition and for sale on the shelves.

So if you are in Whangarei, get on down to Cafe Narnia, 74 Kamo Rd, opposite the Countdown in Kensington.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The inner girly-swot comes out to play

OK, I think I am settled enough into my decision to come out of my closet of academic aspirations and reveal my latest mad scheme for extreme girly-swot indulgence... Yup, I'm pretty sure I'm going to enroll for a PhD next year. I think the fact that I'm having so much fun window shopping for scholarships and bibliographic software is a good indication that I am geek enough to carry out a doctorate.

I will carry on making books, but after what I hope will be a crazy 2005 Christmas rush, I won't be making so many, nor making them so available. So my advice to you, my many fans, is buy now while you can. 'Cos they are getting cuter every time I let go of my grandious plans for artistic credibility and just let myself play with paper. I put Canada in a box today and hope to post a photo soon so you can see how much fun I'm having.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Chance Encounter

The last week or so, as a change of scene and escape from the mud, I have been taking my walks along the road rather than back into the farm. The farms to the south are very picturesque, and I inevitably see many peacocks. Usually there is very little traffic- I might see two vehicles in an hour.

Today I was overtaken by a farming couple on a quad bike who stopped to chat with me. I explained where I live and she asked if I was a 'book binder' because someone had given her a couple of books to pass onto me. They gave me a ride on their quad up the road to their farmhouse to collect the books. When I heard their name (Atchison) I said I had come across their family in my local history research and this prompted Jim to loan me a local memoir called From Forest to Farm and offer to take me on a tour round the district when I return it to him.

He has been farming on Riponui Road for over 50 years, and his family was among the original settlers. He told me that the farm that I live on was once the most dense stand of kauri in Northland: "there were so many stumps that we had 37 fires in one day to try and clear them".

Saturday, July 02, 2005


I borrowed a digital camera yesterday to take photos of my newest book, 'Getting Bush'. I'll put up a web page for it shortly, but here's a sneak preview, of a picture I like partly because it doesn't look much like a book.