Dead Stars, Yellow Birds and a short post by a slightly driven unpacker

It’s Winter. And we’ve moved!! We’re barely a week in our new place but are successfully transplanting our boring bird people behaviour! We miss our gang gangs and magpies and felt a bit sad for days that there seemed so little native bird life but some sightings of the Yellow Rosella ( a very local sub species of the Crimson Rosella) has bought joy. This morning I watched a pair feeding in a tree in our back garden. This yellow rosella photo is not mine but was taken by J J Harrison who is part of the EBird group where we discovered that there are apparently SOME gang gangs nearby!

And I have just read this lovely poem by Ada Limon which seems apt!


Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
                 Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.

I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.

We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
       the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.

It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
       recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.

And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
       Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.

But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
       of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—

to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
       what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.
       We’ve come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
     No, to the rising tides.

Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?

What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain

for the safety of others, for earth,
                 if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,

if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,

rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?

Good bye Ainslie gang gangs

And tomorrow we leave.

This afternoon I gave myself the gift of standing on our back balcony, watching the magic of the evening light on the gum trees of Mt Ainslie, intently studying the feathers of the calm, beautiful bird feeding from my hand. A female gang-gang, pausing only to communicate with her less confident partner up in the tree, sorted through the sunflower seeds. Occasionally she cocked one steady brown eye to look at me. No doubt wondering why I was banging on about telling her family in Albury that we’d be there if they needed a feed. I confess that quiet, grateful tears rolled down my cheeks as I thanked her and her kind for the years of delight that they had provided for us. We got to know the different pairs, welcomed batches of babies and watched them grow.

Recently four character filled magpies joined the community. They would follow us into doorways and wait patiently until we went to get the food. Cocking their heads to tell us exactly where they liked it to be left. And then rewarded us with glorious birdsong. Goodness me this has been special. The rosellas, the King parrots, the kookaburras and on those wonderful occasions…the black cockatoos. We are the ultimate boring bird people eh?

And now all our world goods (and holy s&%^ there seems to be a lot of them!) are packed in boxes ready to be picked up by the removalists tomorrow morning. Our season here in Canberra is over and a new season begins. So many BIG THINGS have happened while we’ve lived here. I journalled recently about just one room, our sun drenched lounge room, which has been the crucible, the container for so much. Held me in the good times and the tough. Times of celebration, times of despair, times of recovery, times of pain, times of revelation.

And now to a new home in a new place where new discoveries await. Thank you Duffy St.

PS For truly SENSATIONAL bird photos by the fabulous Charles Davis (including some of my beloved gang gangs,) head here

Savouring and Leaving

Last year, Mal and I started chatting about where we were living. This was about four years overdue given our recent track record. Since leaving Albury in 2007, we’ve moved every 4 years, so this conversation could have happened four years ago! After returning from Nepal, my response to a move has been to complain about where we’re moving to, fall in love with the place and then complain about leaving. Now I know the pattern. I initially resist change, then adapt enthusiastically! 

 The chat happened in September and now it’s April and we’re moving in 4 weeks. My family says we are decisive. We seem to move fast. It’s how we roll.  

This move is a bit different in that it is, in a sense, a homecoming. We lived in Albury for 20 years before becoming semi-nomadic. It will be different to move to a place where I have history. Form even! I’ve changed and people there will have changed too. I’m not making any assumptions.   

The downsides of moving are obvious, and when we tell people we’re abut to move we’re usually greeted with sympathy about the logistics of moving. But moving isn’t all bad. I’m claiming it as a chance to be fallow. Mellow. (ROTFL). A move is a chance to recalibrate. To cull and simplify. Again!! I am interspersing packing (and culling) with savouring and enjoying here. And writing this blog post where I am telling my inner critic to just BACK OFF AND GIVE ME SOME ROPE! 

Not a lot is happening in the studio. Partly because it is semi-packed! And there’ll be a bit of work required until my new studio is functional. But I am making lino cuts and printing, which I love; sketching and making pink leaves; up cycling/ redeeming old components (inspired by Genevieve Williamson’s commitment to redeeming all her old bits!) and listening to Sage Bray Varon’s podcast. Let’s face it…I’m only writing this post because I listened to this! If you only listen to one podcast, try hers!!  

I’m reading borrowed books about Nepali textiles, rogue elephants and an eccentric American woman who lived in Kathmandu, never set foot on a mountain but knew Himalayan mountain statistics back to front and struck fear into the hearts of many a mountaineer. Next on my list is Winter. I was reading Nick Cave’s latest book but seem to have packed it! Something to look forward to reading in a new corner! 

So… a few photos of here. Some of my efforts at savouring.     

Not that weird

One of the weird things about being catapaulted from Kathmandu to Canberra in less than 24 hours is just how weird it isn’t any more! I used to come back and be overwhelmed by the choice of shampoo in shops, the orderliness of the roads and the car parks, the quietness. Now, it is just part of the two worlds I live in. I can arrive in either place and feel a bit like I have never left.  On this most recent trip, Ron Lehocky (well known to many in the polymer community and a man who took possibly several thousand photos in ten days) asked when I stopped taking so many photos. Not sure! I know that I often get sent gorgeous photos from Colourful Journey travellers and that on my first trip in 4 years last November, I took more than I had for years. But more and more I find myself just…being there.


So far, I have had the luxury of not having to think that this is going to be my last time in Nepal.  However I always need to remind myself that each trip might be my last time there. That today might be my last day on earth. Not in a morbid way, and not in a desperately squeeze the last drop out of every second way which used to be my modus operandi! More in a savour this; be here now kind of way.

Usually, it is the very ordinary moments that I treasure;
standing in the kitchen with Babita and Kopila chatting about what they are making;
chatting with my parents on WhatsApp with the deep reverberation of Kopila’s oms filling the air;
meeting the milkman on his bike as we head out to our morning walk;
listening to the anxiety bird’s anxious calls (actual name: koheli. Anxiety bird was the name we heard in Dharan and it’s stuck!);
negotiating the uneven path to the Samunnat buidling saying namaste to all the neighbours who have seen my comings and goings over the years;
sitting with my bhai Bishnu enthusing about new adventures…

I don’t ever take for granted the good fortune that I have in being able to do this. To have these homes in two worlds with the blessing and tolerance of my family and friends. I feel like it all fits in with my work…loving the world…standing still and being astonished! To quote Mary. Again!

What am I doing in Nepal?

I spent Tuesday in Birtamod working on the new Samunnat wholesale websites. It was Holi and we had a holiday. I had a head cold which I was relieved was just a head cold and a quiet day was a good idea. It was punctuated by turmeric tea, hot honey and lemon and spicy snacks…including an amazing thing where orange slices were served in a syrup of oil, fenugreek seeds, chili and panch poran. OMG…amazing! But I digress.

Doing this website stuff is SO out of my comfort zone but needs must so here I am. It’s the flip (and much less fun) side of spending my day with the women as we create!!! Here at Samunnat, one of our goals for the past few years has been to empower the polymer artists to develop their own voice. It’s a sign of the maturity of the group I think that they are moving beyond just making what sells (which is still vital since sales of the jewellery funds their wages and 90% of the program!) and wanting to develop an identifiable Samunnat Nepal voice. You can read a bit about that here.

I don’t do what I do at Samunnat so women can express their individual creativity or connect with their inner artist. I do that when I teach back home in Australia! Fort the past 16 years, my aim is to equip the women with skills that will help them to earn money. Why? Because that’s what the Board of Samunnat Nepal want. That’s what they asked me to do. That’s the bottom line. They want to empower these women to escape violent situations and be able to independently feed their kids, pay their medical and educational expenses, possibly buy somewhere to live. Maybe even support their ageing parents. Making the polymer jewellery is just one of many income generation activities that Samunnat Nepal trains women to participate in to empower them to leave violent situations.

Expressing themselves creatively, having an artistic voice, is a luxury item here. And sometimes I wonder if individual artistic expression is a more Western concept.  I try to avoid imposing western concepts. The women here seem more excited by coming up with ideas together than claiming individual ownership of an idea or design. So often I excitedly carry on like a pork chop about something and say This is wonderful! Whose idea was this? and am greeted with huge smiles and, We all did Didi! We thought it together! And they are thrilled!

The other thing that seems more exciting and gratifying to the women is celebrating traditions and creating work that has Nepali roots. They love coming up with cane designs, bead designs, jewellery designs that have Nepali inspiration. We pore over photos or actual pieces of indigenous Nepal jewellery and think about how this could be adapted. They bring in ideas from their gardens, their fabrics, their mehendi designs. Some of the very first beads we sold were based on henna designs. Our latest dhaka range has bought great joy as the colours and designs come from Nepal’s beloved dhaka fabrics! Everything is collaborative and new women are welcomed and patiently trained by more experienced artists. Skills and ideas are recognised and initiative is encouraged. Our lessons with Kathleen Dustin and Christine Dumont have really empowered the women. Just before Kathleen returned home this week, we decided to get serious again about our design days (Khelne Din) which we once had regularly but kind of forgot! They’ve announced that the last day of every month will be a day to work on new designs, to explore ideas, to experiment and….play which is what khelne means!

I guess this post could have gone on the Samunnat blog and one day it might but for now, for you my dear lovely readers, that’s how it is! Mwah until next time.








Didi/ Bahini

Two young women smile at me from over 15 years ago. Kopila and I are both a bit vague about dates but we do clearly remember the occasion when we met in Dharan in eastern Nepal.. I was on the verandah of a friend’s house where we were staying while we sussed out the details of our eventual move to Nepal. I was making small sari clad figures and she came to visit our friend. She saw me and wondered what I was doing.  I shared wth her and we made earrings together and that’s how it all began! Not Samunnat Nepal which had already begun, but my role in the group.

I have lost track of the number of times I have come to Nepal since my first visit in 1976. Once, you had to keep a tally for entry requirements when you flew in and I recall that when it got to more than 40 I just guessed. But I’ve flown here definitely more than 40 times, which is pretty amazing!

I look at  the faces of these two young women and think several things. One is that I am so glad we can’t see the future! If you had foretold either of us then about some of the things that happened in intervening years, we’d have wondered how we’d survive. There’s been some big stuff. Often somewhat relentless, big stuff. But we’ve survived. Not always classily, often messily,  and in our own funny ways, but we’re still standing….And my survival has been helped by what happens here in Nepal. Getting together, talking, walking, working, crying, laughing, making, reading, picking ourselves up and starting again wth a bit more knowledge, bit more experience, bit more wisdom. And quite a few more grey hairs in my case!!

The other thing that I thought about is my enormous good fortune in making that connection with Kopila and Samunnat. Anyone who knows me, knows what a huge part of my life this is. And through the big stuff, Kopila, the people of Samunnat Nepal and the purpose and meaning that being a part of Samunnat gives, has been part of what sustains me. So…to Kopila bahini, all those who have been involved in Samunnat over the years and all the bahini haru….dhanyabad!*

One of us in particular is looking a bit more weathered in this recent photo but we still talk non stop when we get together!!

*None of them read this blog but I tell them regularly anyway!

Wriggle room and wanderings!

My friend, Genevieve suggested that the word margin might be more appropriate than the word laziness which I talked about here. Having margins is about building rest or spaciousness in to your every day life. Not just heaving a sigh of relief if something is cancelled! It’s about NOT giving 110% (how I hate that phrase!)  Allowing margin is having some wriggle room.

She also mentioned that her daughter (clearly gentle wisdom runs in this family) talked about the rhythm of a day needing to be like inhaling and exhaling. She wrote Inhaling being working, producing, cooking, learning, active thinking… And exhaling being exercising, napping, just sitting and doing nothing. Each day needs both

Like Gen, I realised that there’s not much exhaling going on sometimes. And precious little wriggle room. For rest, or error or anything else! Yesterday evening, amidst packing for Nepal, packing up our house, racing through the lists in my brain, I saw Mal on the deck feeding his beloved gang gangs. Exhaling. I stopped whatever it was I was doing and joined him to sit on the steps with seed in my hands. Two birds came and fed as ten or so others swooped around impatiently. We were still and quiet and happy. It was lovely.

I don’t think I’m alone in struggling with building in spaciousness. I recently ran my traditional New year classes. Some glorious women and I met together and talked about the kind of qualities we’d like to bring into our year; what we’d like more of….things like rest, self-kindness, connection, pauses, freedom, creativity. Things that are harder to experience in days without margins. We talked about how tough we are on ourselves; how we pressure ourselves to be perfect. We chatted and read and played and made shards which we used to create a piece, like a talisman, to wear as a reminder of our hopes and intentions. I’ve included a few photos of these beautiful and significant creations with this post!

All things being equal, as you read this I’ll be in Nepal again. This time travelling with a polymer holy trinity! Kathleen Dustin, Cynthia Tinapple and Ron Lehocky are heading to Nepal to visit the women of Samunnat. I’m meeting Kathleen in Kathmandu on Sunday and the other will join us in Birtamod.  Kathleen, Cynthia and Ron are a very significant part of the Samunnat family and I am so excited that they will finally be THERE to see how things roll! And to be felicitated to within an inch of their lives! I’ll be posting photos on Instagram at (My Insta swansong I suspect!)

The importance of noticing

Recently I heard Helen Garner talk about her life and writing. She reflected that writers probably have an overdeveloped sense of noticing. Not just writers! I reckon most artists do. When I’m in Nepal or on my walks in the bush, I feel like my noticing skills are more finely tuned. It may be because the situation is novel, and I am so grateful to be there. But I also suspect in these contexts, I’m more curious and open. I’m actively looking with an intention to notice, rather than just blindly moving through my environment.

The author Verlyn Klinkenberg is big on noticing! He writes:

…everything you notice is important. Let me say that a different way: If you notice something, it’s because it’s important. But what you notice depends on what you allow yourself to notice…

…start by learning to recognise what interests you…what you notice is important and it’s important because you noticed it. What if you pay attention to the pattern of the way you notice the world around you? What if you pay attention to the perceptions that you have and the character of them, and trust their validity?

I suspect that part of discovering your voice as an artist is to  notice what you notice. When I do this, I create with more intention. Or more congruent intention. Intention that goes beyond making stuff to sell. (And for a fascinating discussion on intention tune in to Sage Bray’s not surprisingly terrific podcast here!) For example, when I am making something and am surrounded by a pile of pods and seed heads, or fabulously textured Nepali cloth, I am more likely to get into that state of flow and the products feel very congruent. Writing and teaching classes that go beyond teaching techniques but explore the connection between creativity and life always feel more fun and authentic. The photos I have used for this post show just a few of the pieces that I have made over the years that have felt like that. Different from one another, perhaps not all recognisably from the one maker, but all united in that they arose from deep noticing!

And Genevieve….wow did your thoughts about margins and exhaling prompt some thinking and lots of discussion! More on that soon!!

Wintering….but it’s Summer here!

It’s the height of Summer here (albeit a cooler, wetter one) and I am contemplating the process of Wintering! Since the cochlear implant, I have become an enthusiastic podcast listener. And Krista’s Tippet’s On Being is a favourite. recently I listened to this one. It was about Wintering and Krista spoke with Katherine May who defines Wintering as:

the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.

She acknowledges that there can be self punishing ways to be sad and self salving ways to be sad. Wintering is distinguishing between them. I loved Katherine’s descriptions of the process and the links between the metaphor of Winter and being.

Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.

It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing these deeply unfashionable things — slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting — is a radical act now, but it’s essential. 

Having been through times of Wintering, there was a deep sense of relief and gratitude that the circumstances of my upbringing, reading, experiences etc meant that I think I was able to be sad wisely. Not necessarily through any wisdom on my own part but because those other things fell together. I was forces to see there was no other way. Sure there were the moments of kicking and screaming and rejection and denial but ultimately I think that I am learning about how to Winter. the cycles of life; the need to make rest part of every day in some form. Tippet spoke for me when she said:

I really recognized myself in some of the ways you described the self that you were reflecting on, …You were forced to stop. You were forced to go inward. You were forced to slow down and seek replenishment, as much survival as anything that would feel luxurious, as you say. And I have to say, I recognize in what you describe, also reflection I’ve been doing and would not have forced myself to this kind of stop, but that the pandemic forced. But I’m trying to take this wintering moment, both the season and in our culture, to try to get really clear in myself who I do want to be on the other side, how I want to live on the other side.

Again, I recognize myself so much. You say, “People admired me for how much I got done. I lapped it up, but felt secretly that I was only trying to keep pace with everyone else, and they seemed to be coping better.” [laughs] I felt like that all the time, for so many years of my life.

Goodness me. This all links with acknowledging my need for laziness (I still wish there was a better word! Spaciousness is growing on me). I plan to order the book and really loved both the On Being podcast and Katherine May’s own podcast here. These images are from a magical Winter morning walk on Mt Ainslie in August last year.

Still banging on about creativity and discipline!

My dear reader may recall that my random word of the year was discipline. I am discovering the link between discipline and habits. Genius eh? Bet no-one else has thought of that*. Then, there is a strong link between establishing habits and having a super bloody low and highly specific bar. Not exactly sure what a specific bar would look like but give me some rope. For example, I need discipline to exercise. I am not what you’d call a natural exerciser in any way, shape (definitely not shape) or form. But I like it sometimes while I do exercise and I feel better if I do. If I say Exercise once a day it doesn’t happen. If I say Do 30 Days of Yoga and one 20 minute Pilates tape every day, it usually happens…it becomes a habit. If I say walk for 20 minutes, three times a week, I usually walk for over an hour 5 times a week. However….if I said walk for an hour 5 times a week, I wouldn’t do it. But…let’s be honest, there is really not much more boring than talking bout someone’s wholesome exercise routine. What has this become? The only worse thing might be real estate. Cue wry smile. I am just saying, if something’s a habit, you need less discipline!

The habit/ discipline I DO want to talk about is part of my creativity routine. Or as I like to think of it, daily Vitamin C. Once again, the secret for me has been LOW BAR and CLEAR STEPS. That’s the beauty of a month of carving a lino tile. I tell myself that enlightenment lies in carving one tiny tile once a day. What actually happens often been several tiles each day and the making of quite bit of jewellery! Do I really need to be so sneaky with myself to get results. Apparently, yes. Well, whatever works. The tiles don’t need to be for anything saleable, or even good. I just have to carve one tile. I carve in stages and stamp as I go. If I preferred a tile in an earlier iteration, I can always do it again. (You can see this in the picture of a page from my carving journal, top left, where my favourite was the very first carve. I have carved another stamp of the stage I liked best.) There is no pressure. Most tiles are a celebration of seeds. And some have already emerged as jewellery as you can see in the photos. I’ll keep you posted on how I am going. Mwah.


*Only lots of other people like James Clear etc