Friday, December 31, 2010

Old year, new year

I have a mixed relationship with New Year's Resolutions. My mother told me that she always wished for happiness on the basis that everything flows from that and it has taken me 30 years to understand what she meant, and will probably take another 30 years of trying to achieve! On that basis why wish for anything more? It makes having more than that single resolution unnecessary. But...

...I do find lists slightly seductive: my life is shaped by setting goals. Having no faith on which to base anything I have to find a reason to do everything and lists become a fall-back on the days when that is difficult. I tend to chop everything up into bite-sized, one-step-at-a-time pieces and then try to out-do myself by achieving more than a single step at a time, storing up all the extra progress for the days when everything is difficult.

Over the last few years I've found it useful to set a few goals for the New Year. In 2008 I started doing a drawing every day; in 2009 I got fed up with being miserable and decided to study being happy over the year which really worked! This year, 2010, was the Year of House-building and I didn't think I'd have enough energy to anything else... but having achieved that, what will be the focus of 2011?

I think it has to be art. I'm a world-class procrastinator and I've been told countless times that I need to be in my studio in order to make anything. So that's my goal for 2011: to spend MUCH more time in my studio, on the assumption that MANY more hours of creative practice will result in A LOT more work, MUCH MORE of which will be saleable thus achieving the other implicit goal of MAKING SOME MONEY. There are other goals implicit in the idea of spending more time in my studio making art, such as: finally learning how to say no to people who ask me to do things that aren't directly related to spending more time in my studio, worrying less (ha!), getting less stressed by life, meditating more, learning to live with less, laughing more, spending more time with friends and family... blah, blah, blah. All of which may come if I manage to make more time for art.

Should I define the goal further? I don't know... I worry about setting unrealistic targets that will set me up for failure. I have got other commitments as well, but looking back at 2010 I think I've let some of them take over. Again.

Over the last few days I've been making bookcloth from various bits of fabric I've been storing up for a while. On the left is a gorgeous cotton sarong fabric from Kuala Lumpur: dearest husband wore the sarong for a while but it ripped too badly for me to be able to fix so it's getting a second life on some new books I'm concocting... On the right is a piece of vintage linen I picked up in Berrima a year or so ago, hand embroidered with the initial "W". I think it will also make a lovely book cover... And in the top right hand corner, partially obscured, is the yellow-ochre cotton fabric that lined the linen monogram, which I've also turned into book cloth using double-sided fusible interlining and very thin Japanese paper.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best Christmas Presents ever...

I had a very lucky Christmas considering how appalling our finances are! Dearest husband has been saying that I'm now the man of the house since I got the power tools and he got an IOU for a Fowlers Vacola once we have any money.

I've wanted a Dremel for years to do, you know, all sorts of things! Most of 'em art-related, too. This one came with no fewer than 40 attachments! I'm still working out what some of them are, but I can tell you that the battery is charged and I'm poised for action. Well actually I'm poised over a keyboard but my inner power-tool-woman is poised for action.

I've also wanted the books for ages although I didn't appreciate I'd have to think hard when reading them! I've started... not sure when I'll finish.

But meanwhile I HAVE to tell you about our best ever Christmas present!

A couple of months' ago I think I mentioned that dearest husband had created a small herb & salad patch in the wasteland out the back of our new house. We have a long-term vision of "proper" beds and a paved sitting area and lots of luscious things in pots creating a sort of jungle out there... but for now besa blocks and trampelled dirt will have to do. The herb & salad patch has been very successful and we've had lettuce, rocket, dill, oregano, garlic chives, sorrel, parsley, basil and celery already with an aubergine, chilli peppers and various other things in progress.

Anyway, the other day I headed off with darling daughter to a friend's house to do some silk painting while dearest husband was called into school to sort out some IT problems. While we were out the elves visited and we found...

the original bed had been extended at either end and...

an entire extra bed had been added to the end! Roughly where the rake is in the photo the spade had been left in the soil next to a sign that said "in emergency dig here" which is a reference to the packet of biscuits I left in our car when we loaned it to Elsbeth and Linda recently with a note saying "in emergency eat me". Under the soil was a small plastic box containing ginger biscuits, tea bags and a note with Elsbeth and Linda's telephone number. I ate the biscuits (no-one else likes them - or at least, that's my excuse).

Consequently the original bed has tripled in size! Huge thanks to Elsbeth and Linda for the idea and the hard work, and to Taja, Ruth and Darren for conspiring to get us all out of the house. Subsequently they turned up for Christmas dinner with pots of seedlings and cuttings and so I've planted up the beds with Lebanese cucumbers, various lettuces, carrots, tomatoes and coriander. We are still slightly overwhelmed by the generosity and thought that went into it - it has certainly been the best Christmas present we've had in a few years. Thank you!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Essentially Christmas is comprised of various parts that may come in different order depending on your family traditions. For example: trees (real or artificial), presents (wrapped, unwrapped, more or less of them), socks and knickers (contained in the aforementioned presents, if you can call packages of underclothes a "present"), decorations (ranging from little bits of tinsel to extravagant electrical installations that require their own power station), etc. etc.

In my family no Christmas was complete without Christmas tree presents (I believe these were a pact between Santa and my parents: tiny things wrapped and hidden in the branches, specially designed to keep recalcitrant children under control until after dinner with the threat that "if you don't behave you won't get your Christmas tree present". Works like a charm.) and Christmas Pudding.

Years ago I bought this cookbook and it's been my indispensible guide to making food ever since, although these days it largely functions as a holder for various scribbled recipes given to me by family and friends or gleaned from the weekend newspapers.

The picture of the Christmas pudding is a decoy because the important thing in this photo is the collection of pieces of card showing my grandmother's original recipe and my attempts to work out different quantities for different sized pudding basins!

Mama's Christmas Pudding recipe


NB: there are 3 quantities given: the first and largest quantity makes several Christmas puddings i.e. 3 x 2lb (3 x 1kg) puddings plus 2 x 1ilb (2 x 500gm) puddings. The second quantity given makes 2 x 2lb (2 x 1kg) puddings or 4 x 1lb (4 x 500gm) puddings. The third quantity makes 1 x 2lb (1 x 1kg) pudding or 2 x 1lb (2 x 500gm) puddings. Personally I make the largest quantity and then freeze them: we've just eaten the last pudding from 2008!

1lb (450gm) each of sultanas, raisins, currants and sugar (or 1/2lb /225gm each or 4oz / 115gm each)
4oz (115gm) each mixed peel OR chopped apple, and ground almonds (or 2oz / 55gm each or 1oz/30gm each)
1lb 12oz (795gm) breadcrumbs (or 14oz / 400gm or 7oz / 200gm)
1lb (450gm) butter (or 1/2lb /225gm or 4oz / 115gm)
large pinch salt
5 eggs, beaten (or 3 eggs or 1 big egg + 2 small ones)
teaspoon mixed spice
brandy (optional)

silver coins or charms (optional)


Mix the dried fruit, ground almonds/chopped apple, salt, sugar and breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a pan and add to dried ingredients, mixing well. Add the beaten eggs and a good slosh of brandy (how much is up to you!) and mix well. Grease your pudding basin. I use various different sorts, from glass bowls with no lids to plastic ones with lids to metal ones with clip-on lids. It doesn't really matter...

At this point you need to add the silver coins or charms, if you're using them. This tradition is an old one in England: a silver coin or charm was wrapped in buttered paper and hidden in the pudding, and whoever found it in their helping was King or Queen for the day! In my family I use several coins or charms so that most helpings have one... it's just a fun thing to do, it doesn't confer any favours, and if you find it you show everyone proudly and then give it back to me to use in next year's pudding!

Fill the basin to close to the top edge, dropping in your charms or coins, wrapped in greased or buttered paper. Top the basin with two sheets of greaseproof paper, greasing the bottom one where it will come into contact with the pudding. Pleat the sheets together across the middle. Then lay a sheet of foil much larger than the basin over the top. Mould the foil around the edge of the basin and tie around the basin tightly with several rounds of string. If you've made the foil large enough you should be able to turn it back up and over the string and scrunch it into a handle that you can use to lift the pudding basin in and out of the saucepan.

Even if you intend to freeze some of the puddings now is the time to cook them first: find a saucepan into which you can put a trivet (to stop the pudding basin from touching the bottom of the pan directly - I use a cookie cutter!), then the basin and still be able to fit the saucepan lid snugly. Fill the saucepan with water from a hot kettle to about half way up the basin and put the lid on. Simmer the pudding for about 2 hours then remove from the saucepan, remove the foil and the greaseproof paper and leave to sit for a little while. Put a plate of the top of the basin and turn it over, and with luck the pudding will come out whole!

If you want to freeze the puddings, leave the foil and the greaseproof paper on the basin, leave it to get completely cold and then seal in a freezer bag and freeze. When you want to use it, take it out of the freezer the day before you want to use it, and then reheat by steaming for one hour as described above.

No Christmas pudding experience is complete without Brandy Butter and custard. I'm afraid the custard is usually shop-bought (although I buy the good stuff with eggs and milk rather than lots of E numbers!), but the Brandy Butter is easy: beat together a quantity of softened butter with some raw castor sugar and add a good slosh (or three) of brandy, depending on your taste. This gives me plenty of opportunity to taste it as I go... then chill until you're ready to serve the pudding.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One, Two, Three, "Oooohhhh!"

My friend Sally has a job at at the moment which involves going out at dusk with a torch so that she and her colleagues can spot native wildlife living in an area which is about to have a 4-lane highway built through the middle. Sally and her colleagues then relocate the wildlife to a safe area not far away. Sometimes, though, attempts to relocate animals are only partially successful.

This little critter is a 'puggle', which is the word for a baby echidna. Sally estimates she's about 4 months old now and she weighs just over 500gm. Sally found her mother on one of her twilight outings, with the puggle safe in her pouch but as sometimes happens, when the mother was disturbed she ejected the baby and subsequent attempts at reuniting them failed.

Sally has since been hand-rearing the baby (she has a licence to do so, just in case any of you are worried!), and yesterday I was privileged to be part of the evening feeding rituals. The photo quality isn't great because it was dim light and I couldn't use a flash...

The puggle currently eats about half a cup of warm milk with "native rodent food" mixed in, which I think is basically crushed dried ants/beetles/worms which reconstitutes itself from a coarse powder into a sludge in the milk! They don't have teeth, as such, but a series of bony plates and ridges inside their mouths against which I guess they grind up their food.

I have to say it was a very cute baby: very sleepy to begin with and it wouldn't uncurl but eventually one back leg appeared and did some scratching, followed by the other back leg for a scratch on the other side. Finally a nose appeared, some very mole-like front feet and a tiny tongue. It had a little walk on the grass outside, went to the toilet, and then got on with dinner before curling itself back into a spiny ball and going to sleep.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On the 18th day of Christmas

My true love said to me, "Why is it that the bigger my customer the less likely it is that they will pay my invoices on time, or even at all?"

Yes folks, we're talking about one of the biggest banks in Australia - or at least, its insurance division which is part of the same group.

They've had dearest husband's blood, sweat and tears for 18 months, accepted the invoice with the 14-day payment period, and have casually announced that they'll pay it some time next year once their legal department has drawn up a contract that satisfies them.

Another client is in Ireland - yes, that's right, the financial black hole of Europe at the moment. Their accounts people can't read and have sent a useless cheque out, probably to our old address, despite the fact that the (overdue) invoice has payment terms of 14 days and direct deposit written in red ink all over it. They do this every time.

The third of our incompetent trio is in England. Another large insurance company with customers around the world. Don't worry about what these people do with your money folks, because they certainly aren't wasting it paying their suppliers... So to the Heads of their IT departments, their well-paid Board members and CEOs may we wish you a VERY Merry Christmas, apparently paid for by us.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The view from here

We've had two days of sunshine and temperatures of over 30 degrees C, and then the clouds rolled in late this afternoon. I'm not complaining, honest! The temperature's gone down and the air has cleared. Looking out of the window this evening I saw these low clouds with the street lights reflecting off their bottom surfaces and my trusty little Nikon CoolPix P1 managed 2 second exposures again, braced against the top edge of a chair.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Books on books on my shelves

The book meme has been doing the rounds and I was recently asked by someone what books on bookmaking I used, so here are my Top Ten bookbinding books:

Franz Zeier Books, Boxes and Portfolios - I find this book really useful, and he has a great section on proportion and use of colour

Gwen Diehn Books that Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop-up, Twist and Turn - a great resource for working with children making books

Heidi Reimer-Epp and Mary Epp The Encyclopaedia of Papermaking and Bookbinding

Kojiro Ikegami Japanese Bookbinding

Sue Doggett Handmade Books

Keith Smith - well anything, really! His books are not always easy to get to grips with (seen the visual instructions for caterpillar binding, anyone?!) but they are GREAT so I have Bookbinding for Book Artists, The Structure of the Visual Book, Exposed Spine Sewings, Smith's Sewing Single Sheets and Books without Paste or Glue

Pauline Johnson Creative Bookbinding

If you count the Keith Smith volumes separately that's ten books, but I've got some extra titles that I love/find inspirational/look at when I'm feeling a bit lost:

The Penland Book of Handmade Books
Nancy Williams More Paperwork
Gabrielle Falkiner Paper
Tomoko Fuse - well anything really: she does mathematical origami and I LOVE her work
Carol Barton The Complete Paper Engineer, volumes 1 & 2
Peter Randall-Page In Mind of Botany
Jennifer New Drawing from Life: the Journal as Art
Mel Gooding Patrick Heron
Deborah Hart John Olsen
Reed & Shapiro Degas: the Painter as Printmaker

So there you go.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Rhubarb's Top 10 books?

All that adding up of book titles read (see previous post) made me think about books I have read and loved and so I'm posting a "Rhubarb Top 10", all of my very own.

We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (I can hear my entire Bristol book group groaning!)

The Robber Bride by Margaret Attwood

Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge (all my childhood princess dreams in one book)

East of the Mountains by David Gutterson

Top 10's are so hard, aren't they? I just know I'm going to look at that list in a few days' time and want to change it!

ps. I tried my luck with the Australian Top 10 listed on Duck's blog and scored.... TWO which promptly wiped the BBC smile off my face!

Friday, December 03, 2010

A quacking read

Blog friend, artist and generally wonderful person Ampersand Duck alerted me to the BBC's list of 100 books, and because I'm sitting here trying to avoid going off and doing any more bloody boring financial thingummies I'm allowing myself to be diverted by the exercise! I've already cleaned the toilet and both cars so things must be really bad...

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.


Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.

Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2. Lord of the Rings – JR Tolkien

3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6. The Bible
(yes, as a child I read the entire thing, cover to cover. Yawn)

7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte (absolutely HATED it)

8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell ('A' level set text) - in 1984!)

9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14. Complete Works of Shakespeare

15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20. Middlemarch – George Eliot

21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
('O' level set text in 1982)

23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens

24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34. Emma – Jane Austen

35. Persuasion – Jane Austen

36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

41. Animal Farm – George Orwell

42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
(not in a million years, thank you)

43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50. Atonement – Ian McEwan

51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52. Dune – Frank Herbert

53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens (I just can't get into Dickens somehow...)

58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov (read it at school, to the great consternation of my teachers!)

63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
(god that was hard going)

70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72. Dracula – Bram Stoker

73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75. Ulysses – James Joyce

76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78. Germinal – Emile Zola

79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80. Possession – AS Byatt

81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84. The Remains of the Day – Kazu Ishiguro

85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White

88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom (hmm, I've read the back cover - does that count?)

89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton (nope, not going to happen)

91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94. Watership Down – Richard Adams

95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
('A' level set text in 1984)

99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

So where does that leave me? If I counted correctly I've read 67 of the 100 books listed and excerpts from a further 3. I think that leaves me with a BIG reading list! Talking of the BBC, I was just looking on their website and found notice of an upcoming programme called "The Beauty of Old Books". I'll have to look out for the podcast...


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