Sunday, September 25, 2011


So - it's been a while since I posted on pounce - for the time of our travels I will be posting on the road rising

so here's a wee poem to say goodbye for the now.


Goodbye scooped out my heart and
left me cradling a rock in my chest
in place of of flesh
which I will carry about until it grows soft,
crumbles a bit about the edges
and so lessens its weight:
The seas of geography, and choice
are too vast to navigate
on this carefully gathered raft
of memory twigs
twined together
with rope made from bread
and tea-bag strings
and other things
like jokes about blokes with beards
and folk-music,
and tigers dressed like mooses
and showering nudists
what my heart-stone-weight predicts
is that
all the cyber in space won't replace
the warm breath of laughter and the texture of skin
and the particular lines
that particular faces cling to
and fade from
As emotions parade
over facely fa├žades
and all the moments lived between us
will grow tattered and jaded,
and be folded away like pillowcases;
and all the objects passed between us.
That red and white scarf,
that badge of a jumper,
will one day fade too,
or get lost on road sides or in untidy cars
as will the smells
of houses and clothes
and the familiar shapes of noses and toes
and the paths
that we travel
will diverge,
but the distance will creep like the mist to disguise this
until that warm morning
of our once again meeting
blows a gentle breeze
and our memories are pegged all out on a line
with brown wooden pegs
bright light linen of friendship flying in the sun once again.

Monday, July 4, 2011

utopia in a tiny painting

My fab friends Tim and Lucy are always doing inspiring projects -this time they had a drop in afternoon in a cafe where people could paint a tiny canvas that represented their idea of a utopian society, the world the way we want it. I didn't really want to put any words, I just stuck with the theme I've been thinking on lately about making the world more colourful...

Here's a selection of what folks painted - they'll be displayed in the cafe as a kind of collective display. Guess which ones are mine...

Friday, June 17, 2011

making the world more colourful

So... less words, more pictures this time. We are working on sewing some giant flags for the festival 'greenbelt'.

We are on the 'site vibing' team, dedicated to making the somewhat unattractive venue, (a racecourse), a bit easier on the eye. Also, we not only feel more involved in the festival but we earn our tickets. Last year, we made these rainbow flags to decorate the grandstand:

They look teeny in the picture but they were at least 3 metres tall.
This year, we're doing flags on a grander scale, they are probably close to 5 metres long, and made up of stripes of different coloured fabric. Here's one against the cabin, to give you some sense of it:

They are all different colours and are going to look amazing... but they take a few hours to make and we are making 20 or so, so as I sew tedious straight lines I think: making the world more colourful, hooray!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

happy happy joy joy part 2

Having rambled quite a bit about unhappiness in my last post - what about the other side of the coin?

What makes us happy?

My wise mum always said, you're only as happy as the relationships in your life. The ancient greeks had the proverb 'know thyself', and I think I would agree that understanding your inner self, your motivations and reactions, strengths and wounds/weaknesses become pretty important in finding wholeness, balance and happiness.

There is so much to say on this topic, many books have been written on it, but here's some points that really stood out to me in my musings and readings.

What I found fascinating was all the scientific studies that demonstrate what doesn't make you happier. Material wealth, beyond the meeting of basic human needs for shelter, food, clothing and the ability to participate in the society you are a part of, does not make you happy. Humans have an amazing capacity to practice what is known as 'hedonic adaptation'. Hedonic adaptation means that while a change in circumstances may initially make you more or less happy - you will soon adapt to the new circumstances and fall back to your happiness set point.(The book, 'The 'how' of happiness' talks a lot about the happiness set point - it is your 'natural' level of happiness). One of the reasons for material possessions not making you happy is that you quickly want more of the same, or the newer, bigger, better version. Upward social comparisons quickly destroy any sense of contentment. One of the reasons why dramatically unequal societies are unsustainable, from a psychological point of view among other reasons... seeing huge disparities leads to a natural progression along a scale from individual dissatisfaction to outright social revolution. Being physically attractive doesn't make you happy. Why? Happy people are not focused on their appearances determining happiness, and happy people tend to believe in internal beauty and cultivate self acceptance, which, also has the effect of enhancing external beauty. Health, education, climate, and gender also do not affect your basic happiness levels. (Though I bet whoever wrote that didn't write it in the middle of a northern winter)

What then, makes us happy?

1.having a rich social network and strong relationships (my mum was right)
we are hardwired for connection. belonging is arguably one of the greatest human needs and loneliness one of the greatest human tragedies. Love and nurture, from the moment we are born, shapes the way we react to the world, and the way our physical brains and emotional minds develop. Investing in relationships is one of the best ways way building happiness into life.

2. practicing gratitude and cultivating optimism

so if you did the test from the link on my last post you'll know if you are basically an optimist or a pessimist... and guess what, pessimists tend to be less happy... but it is possible to change the way you think and actively combat unhelpful thought patterns - cognitive behavioural therapy works on this principle- interrupting negative or destructive thought patterns in replacing them with more constructive though habits. Consciously thinking of the things in life you are grateful for is a happiness increasing habit.

3. having spirituality or religion
for some reason people of faith seem to live longer and stay generally healthier. Why exactly this is is hard to say - but the social network of a faith group, the sense of shared values and also the connection to a god, gods or higher powers generally allows people to deal with existential questions, and find reasons and/or meaning in life, which all contribute to happiness. Possibly included in this - (but obviously separate for some folks) is the factor of being engaged in something that is beneficial to others, or is a cause larger than yourself, giving your life larger purpose and meaning.

4. using your strengths and skills
This is the one that Seligman and the positive psychologists are big on. You can test your strengths on using your strengths involve doing thing s that you naturally incline toward, that you enjoy, and that you get a sense of mastery from doing. Using strengths on a regular basis in your life helps happiness. Hard when you don't enjoy your job, but if you really hate what you're doing, and you practice all the habits of happiness in your workplace and still are miserable...seriously thinking about changing your career would be good. I cope with a deeply unfulfilling job because I'm only part time so still have time to do things I enjoy outside of work, that and I'm leaving soon, hooray. Incidentally, one of my highest strengths is curiousness and love of learning, which is why I loved reading five books or more on the same subject - because it's feeding one of my basic strengths. in the present moment (practicing mindfulness)
This is most interesting and well worth looking into. it involves practicing meditation, with the end goal of greater awareness of your thoughts, feelings and the resulting physical reactions to these. the 'mindfulness in action' website define it this way: 'Mindfulness means living with spaciousness and appreciation, whatever life brings.Training in mindfulness helps you to be more emotionally aware, more attentive and more fully engaged, putting aside preoccupations and waking up to what is happening right now.' It comes from a buddhist tradition, but interestingly enough the christian monastics practiced meditation in a very similar way.

6. pursuing activities that engage you in 'flow' (A very interesting concept summed up in this ted talk) I won't even try explain... but it is fascinating.

7. forgiving
This one is perhaps one of the hardest ones to put into practice, especially if you have been deeply hurt - but holding onto anger, bitterness and unforgiveness is a sure way to undermine happiness.

8. physical activity
more and more research is coming up with how good this is for mental health, for physical health. Flow feeds into why exercise helps happiness. Endorphins are generated by activity. And where your activity involves learning something there's an added sense of enjoyment through mastering a skill.

9. having compassion towards yourself
This is the one that hit me the hardest -psychologist brene brown talks about the power of human vulnerability. In her book 'embracing the gifts of imperfection she talks about learning to be compassionate towards yourself, and the way that this then flows on to improving other relationships. Mindfulness can really help with learning how to be kind to yourself- as it teaches you to recognise negative thoughts as just that, thoughts,and not infallible truths. Add to this being kind and nurturing to yourself and recognising that experiences of failure and suffering are shared human experiences, and you're well on the way to being compassionate toward yourself.

Ok, rant over, Thanks for staying with me on it, it's been an interesting learning curve. I hope to put much of it into practice. There's a cool website called 'the happiness project' for anyone interested in exploring this topic further.

Here's a pic of a sign for the meditation tent at last years greenbelt festival taken at the site-vibing 'make week'. This year we're making many big flags. But I like the word of this one. abide. yep. My ulitmate source of happiness and much more beside is Jesus, who speaks the beautiful words 'abide in me, and I in you' (john 15:4). Our worth does not come from achievements or anything we do, but simply that we are. We are image bearers of the divine, infinitely valuable and immeasurably loved. Thinking on that makes me happy.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

happy happy joy joy

With only 3 months to go before we embark on our big trip, there's not a lot of time to make things, which is sad for me! But green things are growing, and that somehow gives me great creative satisfaction. We have a fair few things in at the allotment and our little strip of garden at home is coming along, with things that will be colourful - geraniums, lobelia, pansies, sunflowers, dahlias and lots of tasty herbs, lettuce, peas and tomatoes.

So I've been pondering happiness for a while now. By the time one gets to thirty (in a few months)it is a wonderful thing to be happy. I think I have spent a good 16 or so years of my life being deeply deeply unhappy (most of my teen/adult life). At times I was seriously depressed. Why? I'm still figuring that out. I had everything I needed, materially, more than most of the world in fact, and nothing particularly traumatic happened to me, well - a serious long term illness, a marriage breakup and various other things life throws at you - nothing that other folks don't also go through and cope with. Why do some people seem to basically be happy people, and others, like myself, seem to be basically unhappy? (not unhappy at the moment by the way, feeling pretty chipper)

By happiness, I mean something like contentment, positive well-being, and a general sense that life is good. There is much to say on the topic of depression, which I think is a many headed beast. Clinical depression is an illness rather than a tendency toward sadness,negativity or anxiety, and it has a variety of causes and treatments. Some of it is chemically caused, and is sometimes just as simply treated. A genetic pre-disposition toward depression may mean that a relatively minor trauma or stress will trigger the onset of depression. More often than not it is caused by a combination of traumatic events, ways of thinking, and chemical imbalance or nutritional imbalances. But I am interested here not so much at in looking at depression, but at happiness and what makes some people happier than others - so not just the absence of negative feelings, but the preponderance of positive feelings and general contentment.

There are many many theories and hundreds of books about the matter- here's a selection of musings from a few books that I thought were excellent and which each provided a slightly different take on the subject.

Genetics is one thing, according to Sonjya Lyubomirsky (author of 'The How of Happiness'), scientific studies show that we have a happiness 'set point' that is essentially genetically determined. Out of all the factors influencing happiness 50% is made of up a genetic set-point, to which you inevitably return, despite fluctuations in fortune generating positive or negative events. Slightly demoralising news? Not so- she goes on to say that although 10% of factors affecting happiness are made up of circumstances mostly beyond our control (accidents or illness affecting health, inherited wealth, beauty, etc), the remaining 50% is within our control : determined by our attitudes, thought processes and actions (what we think and do). Lyubomirsky's book was based on clinical trials and science based evidence, so only covered what has been assessed in various peer-revised trials. Accordingly, the happiest folk tended to:

-Devote time to friends and family (more than average)
-Express gratitude for all they have
-Regularly help others (friends, co workers and passersby)
-Think optimistically about the future
-Savour life's pleasures and live in the present moment as much as possible
-exercise regularly (at least weekly)
-hold deeply committed life goals and ambitions
-Happy people are not exempt from suffering- they just deal with it differently, and have more resources to cope with it and find purpose in it

Biologically it seems that happiness is not necessarily instinctive. Richard O' Connor ('Happiness: the thinking person's guide') argues that three main things make us unhappy. The first is biology. Our brains, it seems, are hardwired into seeking what we want - to win, to acquire, to dominate - good for the survival of the species, but bad, it seems for happiness. The second is our minds, which, use all sorts of defenses to help us survive traumatic or confusing situations. These defense mechanisms, (denial, procrastination, projection, disassociation and so on) have a useful purpose - helping us deal with stress or trauma, but in many situations they become unhelpful distortions of reality that can lead to self-sabotaging behaviour - addictions, escapism, extreme risk aversion and so on. It seems that our thinking patterns generate neural networks, that actually physically change the shapes of our brain (a great book on this is 'The brain that changes itself', by Norman Doidge). The good news is, by cultivating practices of happiness, you can change your mind (literally) so you form neural networks associated with happiness, and constructive thinking rather than self defeating thinking. Finally - society is the third factor causing unhappiness. Oliver James, a British psychologist and author ( 'Alffuenza', and 'Britain on the couch') also cites this as a huge cause of increasing depression and unhappiness in the world. Modern society relies on making us unhappy so that we'll buy more. Impossible beauty ideal, constant upward comparisons and increasingly inequality between rich and poor make us much more aware of what we don't have, and more unrealistically think that we can attain what we don't have. Overwork, constant multitasking, and debt are becoming normal ways of functioning. None of these aid well-being.

A movement called positive psychology, spearheaded by Martin Seligman (Authentic happiness) looks at optimism and pessimism, as basic personal styles of operating and how these impact on happiness. Apparently, people who are basically pessimists, interpret good events as having temporary,and specific causes (it was once off, or they were having a good day). The optimist, on the other hand, will attribute good things to universal, permanent causes (I'm really good at this and they recognised that) You can see whether you are an optimist or pessimist by doing a test on this website.

According to Seligman you can increase your optimism by recognising, and arguing with automatic negative interpretations of events. He uses ABCDE model -
Adversity (something happens)
Belief (what you say to yourself)
Consequences (of that belief)
Disputation (of your routine belief)
Energization (that happens once you successfully dispute inaccurately negative beliefs).

And whattya know, I find that I'm a pessimist. It is a little disconcerting, owning up to some traits I'd rather not have. I am highly self critical, struggle with low self esteem and insecurity, and get quite worried about people not liking me.

Fortunately, it seems that there are many thing that can be done about these traits, and since this is now rather a long post, more on that next time...

Till then, here's a nice staircase at Kew Gardens. Positive upward spirals, anyone?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

puddling in perfumery

I really like things that smell nice, oh so much, but I just can't bring myself to part with the ludicrous amount of money that perfumes go for. And I am also fussy, and don't like many of the cheap and cheerful perfumes on the market, they are usually too sweet and sickly for my liking.

So I was delighted when I found in a herbal book a recipe for 'Carmelite water' which involved infusing delicious ingredients like lemon balm, coriander seed, cloves nutmeg and cinnamon in vodka.

Hmm. she thinks. I could try that:

So - 500 ml vodka (£5)
cloves (from the kitchen cupboard)
cinnamon sticks (as above)
20 drops of benzoin resin essential oil (already in my stash)
5 drops of myrrh essential oil (in stash)
star anise (from the cupboard)
15 grams (approx) of moroccan solid 'amber' perfume, chopped.(about £3-4 pounds)

So it is good to get a blend of top middle and bottom 'notes' in perfume.
I always like warm, spicy rich smells but also sweet and floral smells - ylang ylang would be just about my favourite scent on earth, possibly only matched by Labdanum, and then followed closely by benzoin resin. Labdanum is an interesting one - it is a sticky brown resin obtained from the Cistus ladanifer (a kind of rock rose) Traditionally it was collected by combing the beards of goats, who got it stuck to them as they wandered about grazing.

We bought a block of solid 'amber' perfume in Morocco, which is also pretty lovely. Apparently it is a combination of woods, resins, incense notes, patchouli and vanilla. It can be light and fresh (heavy on the frankinscence), or dark, thick and sweet (lots of patchouli and vanilla). My one was definitely on the thick and sweet side.

I think my top notes will be the gently anniseedy star anise, and the slightly rose-like benzoin resin. These are the first impressions of the scent, and linger the most briefly.

The middle notes, the body of the perfume which make up the fullness of the scent will be the sweet thick amber and the spicy, aromatic cloves, and the base notes, which linger longest and give 'depth' to the perfume, will be cinnamon and myrrh- woody, resinous and warm smells.

I am very excited- now all I need to do is shake the bottle every day for a couple of weeks, and eventually, add a bit of vegetable glycerine for longevity (on your skin) and strain out all the bits and bobs (cloves etc). My very own perfume.

It would be fun to make a slightly lighter version using vanilla beans and ylang ylang, with some orange and cinnamon and geranium thrown in there. scrumptious.

The wisterias, in full bloom at the moment also smell amazing...

On a completely unrelated note, the bluebells are out, and they are magical...
These are at the Harcourt arboretum, the tree part of the Oxford botanical gardens.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

sneaky disguise bag

So - being somewhat afraid of drawing undue attention to the brand new camera that has recently become Malcolm's pride and joy (thanks to a generous return from mr taxman on finding out he'd been on the wrong tax code - yay)..

The night before we set off to morocco, Malcolm decided he needed a bag. I thought I'd have a bash, and decided to do it 'properly' which, when you are tired, slightly stressed and still packing is maybe not entirely wise. Much unpicking, some swearing and a few hours later...we had a sneaky disguise bag, with slits in the straps so you could feed the camera bag handle up and through it. Here it is, manly yet unassuming, I hope - it seemed to do the trick nicely:

And in other news, it is spring. relief. bliss. blossoms everywhere new leaves popping out, and sunshine.

I cant put into words how good it is, so here's some photos- the neighbours huge apple tree behind our tiny cabin is looking amazing!

Monday, April 4, 2011

marrakesh colour

I love colour. Our recent trip to Morocco was a feast to the eyes for colour. Marrakesh makes everyone paint things the same colour by law, so the result is a dusty pink city with some glorious details of faded chipped paint and scuffy walls.

Then the majorelle gardens, final resting place of Yves St Laurent, are an oasis of green and blue amidst the faded pinks of the rest of the city. Look at these luscious bougainvilleas- and of course, the famous 'majorelle blue' trademarked by french artist Jaques majorelle. I do love that colour.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Booties for big feet

So I am reaching the capacity of my felting space. I thought since I'd mastered the art of little booties, I would have a go at some larger ones, but the template only just fits between the basin and the wall, which means for any feet bigger than about a 41/UK 7 1/2 I'd have to find somewhere else to felt. These take a serious 4-5 hours of hard work, you can't put them down and pick them up while making like knitting, it's best to do them all in one go, and by the end your arms ache! I use a square of ridged decking boards to work on, since you need some decent texture to make the fibres mesh together well. Hard work but well worth it. I reckon these are pretty lush, if I can say so myself... not a bad outcome from a pile of wool, soap, water, and elbow grease.

And to make them even better, I sewed some leather onto the soles, so that they don't wear out too quick. 5 layers of merino, these should provide their recipients with seriously toasty toes.


So when you do a lot of digging, you find treasures sometimes.

Here's a selection of my favourite things Malcolm has found buried in the ground. He has his favourites too, and I leave for him to tell about those, but I like these ones, because to me they are like a little story, a literal fragment of something that used to belong to someone, somewhere, and was used by them many years ago. I wonder how old they are, and what they once looked like.

And then i wonder if they could be made into anything... maybe a mosaic in a one day garden.

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