I’m one of those people who work best in a moderately orderly environment. With visitors coming to stay for a few months and a new puppy about to arrive, ‘orderly’ is starting to fall into the same headspace as ‘challenge’. The puppy arrives at the end of this week, the guests at the end of the month – along with their four chickens, five quail and two kittens. Luckily no partridge – and I already have the pear tree.

Our place has rather aptly been renamed Menagerie10 and will really be living up to that name over the next few months. To accommodate the various changes to our lifestyle, three rooms need to be compressed into one  and the contents of those rooms put away somewhere, baby-gates (repurposed as puppy-gates) have to go up to protect some areas from sharp little teeth and a cat run needs to be built. Since that’s clearly not a big enough challenge, we also decided to replace the water repellent, smelly back lawn with an all new buffalo variant. The existing lawn gets to be replanted out on the verge, after digging up the mostly-dead wild grass out there as well. The final item on the agenda is to lay down the conduit for a below ground power cable up to my art shed.

Clearly this little lot could only ever be achieved by chunking it into manageable mini-tasks, then working through those until the whole lot’s done … so phase one has been to accept that there is no room for scope creep, to actively set aside any bright new ideas that pop up and to focus on the core objectives.

Phase two has been to implement replacing the lawn with new turf. After a weekend of back-breaking digging, we recruited the help of strong backs (friends, family), acquired extra spades and hired a backhoe – then spent yet another weekend in the garden. Getting the back lawn up and moved was a fairly straightforward job, even if it was a long, hard slog, and it was done by mid afternoon of day one.

Phase three has taken longer and cost more, both in terms of dollars and sweat. The trench for the power cable was a fairly epic digging job and finding that a section of concrete had to be attacked with an angle grinder and chisels was just one not-so-small small hiccough along the way. By close of business yesterday the pipes were laid in readiness for the electrician and the trench was filled. At this point it was clear that there will need to be some late night gardening activity under spotlights this week in order to get the back lawn down by puppy-day (Friday). Replanting the verge was re-evaluated and has gone into the too-hard-for-now basket.
garden blitz_8&9nov14
Phase four, the three-into-one room compression, is ongoing. After flailing ineffectually at the task or a week or so, it became clear that the only strategic way forward was to take a step sideways. So I started by emptying the two rooms of everything that needed to come out, leaving one room furnished with guest beds and the other with a bookcase, table and two chairs. This effectively created guest sleeping and chill-out accommodation, so that part of the to-do list can be ticked off.

Unfortunately , this also left my study fair bursting with a combination of office equipment, books, toys, xmas decorations, craft equipment, old university notes and kitchen appliances that somehow don’t fit in the kitchen. Even though it was all stacked in neat piles, the increase in chaos in my workspace definitely pushed my limits. So it was back to decluttering basics for me: do a little every day, starting with one pile and working towards having everything either put away, boxed for storage, given away or binned. It’s the good old four box method and works pretty well for me since it forces choices: keep / unsure / re-home / chuck. The ‘unsure’ pile gets revisited for a second round of selection at the end of the process, by which stage the whole ‘do I really need or want this’ mindset is fully engaged and the decisions are easier to make.

Although it took a while, I could feel calm returning with every decision made, even if some of the harder ones stalled me out for a while. Keeping my goal of an uncluttered workspace in sight, I’ve made two trips to the Op Shop to donate some of the more useful gear and a lot more trips out to the bin with bags of junk so far. After unearthing the label-machine, all the boxes and drawers got shiny new labels as I put things away. My theory is that this will make it much easier – and less frustrating – to finding the left-hand widget (or whatever) that I know I had somewhere.

It’s been pretty satisfying to do a little every day, working around a slightly anxious dog and see the goalposts getting closer. Next step: getting that lawn down. We shall make it so 🙂

I was thinking about work time and leisure time, about success and what it all means when – out of the blue – I was struck by an ear worm from the 80s. Dolly Parton has been prancing around in my head ever since – so it’s been getting pretty crowded in here – and this is what’s leaked out.

I’m pretty sure that on most days a goodly number of us do tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen, pouring ourselves a cup of ambition on the way to the start of some version of a 9-to-5. So where do our dreams and unrealised ambitions fit into this picture and how can we shift from Dolly’s (admittedly tuneful) daily grind towards achieving any or all of them? In essence, how does one become successful? Indeed, what is success?

At various times I’ve attended mindfulness workshops, entrepreneurial workshops, professional development sessions and ontological coaching seminars that have targeted variations of those question. Whilst each event was interesting in its own way, the most interesting thing is that two clear threads seems to run through all of them. Firstly, since it’s based on personal aspirations and ideals, success looks different to every individual. Secondly, the chances of recognising and achieving success are significantly increased if we set ourselves goals.

How does this whole goal setting thing work? No doubt there are as many different answers to this question as there are people to ask it, but not everyone has the time or opportunity to follow the bouncing ball through workshops, seminars, ice-breaker sessions and supplementary reading… so here’s my take on it.

I found that a pretty good starting point is to take about 10 minutes of quiet time. Find yourself a comfy spot and just sit there – on your own – for a while. No, I’m not urging you to meditate, burn incense or sit cross-legged – although feel free to do so if it’s your thing. What I’m suggesting is that you just sit quietly, take a deep breath and think for a bit. Think about what it is that you want to achieve – the big things and the small things. Don’t avoid them just because they seem unachievable, just let them all drift through your mind one by one as you sit there.

I found this part quite hard to work through and had to have a couple of goes at it before I stopped floundering, but I gradually got there. This made the next step, which is to write them all down, a whole bunch easier. Since no-one gets to see your list except you (unless you choose otherwise), it’s important not to self-edit at this point. Just write all those ideas down, then look at the list you’ve created and select four or five major objectives (goals) and a similar number of smaller ones to focus on.

Don’t panic – there’s more. Here’s where I tell you that literature on this subject suggests that it’s a good idea to set SMART goals. This is workshop-speak for goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. I wasn’t clear on what that meant at first, given that the literature also advocates dreaming big and not ruling out things just because they seem unachievable. The two ideas seemed mutually exclusive.

It turns out that there’s a trick to all of this: first you set some goals (write them down),  then you define how the goal can/will be measured (the exact $, the size of car, the variety of holiday, the number of children, whatever). Moving on, you look at the goals you’ve written down to establish whether they’re attainable – then you take the BIG goals and redefine them if they look unmanageable. Essentially, you CHUNK the big goals into smaller, achievable steps to move you along the pathway towards where you want to be. It’s that old trick of starting a journey with a single step. The last two points are to ensure that the goals you’ve set are relevant to you (not someone else) and to set a timeframe for achieving each goal (3 months, 1 year, 5 years).

Voilà! SMART goals.

What I did next was to create a vision board of my key goals. I spent a bit of time hunting around online for images that could represent my various goals visually, to give them some specific shape and clarity. I put them all together on one page, printed it out and stuck it up in my study. Why? Well, what both the chunking of the goals and then the visualisation does is to help me to stay focused on them. It provides that little nudge I sometimes need on down days and an affirmation on up days. Either way, I end up feeling like The Little Engine Who Could – chugging away “I think I can, I think I can”  as I gradually move forward.

Success is always a work in progress as some goals are achieved, some are reviewed and others are replaced by more relevant goals. What’s pretty clear to me is that the top only remains out of sight if you don’t start heading towards it. I can honestly say that my forward momentum started with me actually articulating my goals, looking at them and making some decisions about what’s important to me. Perhaps this will work for you. If you do decide to give it a go, please be kind to yourself on the journey. Dust yourself off and start again if things don’t quite work out sometimes – and celebrate your successes – no matter how small – when they do.


the little engine that could

Years ago my daughter learned how to do linocuts as part of her TEE art programme. She made me a gorgeous cushion cover, printed from one of her designs — and I still sit on the cushion at my desk everyday, 15+ years later. At the time I thought it would be good fun to try out linocuts too, perhaps to print some fabric or cards. Every now and then I’d think of it again as something I’d get to eventually, but somehow the years passed and it never quite got to the top of my to-do list.

Then, just recently, a friend sent me a link about a one-day linocut workshop at Jude Taylor’s studio in the Swan Valley. I pounced on the opportunity without a moments hesitation. It was clearly time to make some space for creativity in my life – and I was delighted to be able to do so under instruction from one of WA’s top print makers.

The workshop was a very full day. We started by working on the design phase, which took a fair while as most people drew their designs from scratch. I, however, had trawled the internet for pictures until I found something that appealed and took the picture along to the class, where I redrew it and augmented it with some vaguely leafy shapes in the background. To do this I had to actually go out into the gardens and collect some leaves to copy, since drawing is not something that comes naturally to me.

Once all the sketching was done, the next step was to rub compressed charcoal on the back of the design, turn it right way up on top of the lino (actually a medium called combi board, but I’ll just refer to it as lino for the sake of simplicity), and then go over the lines with a sharp pencil to transfer them. Putting the sketch aside, we all went over our designs (now on the lino) with marking pen, then coloured in the sections of the design that we wanted to be the focus of our prints. This step made it much easier to see where to cut the lino and where to leave it intact a little later on.

After a very relaxing and chatty break for lunch (super tasty corn and leak soup, plus a pumpkin muffin an much-needed caffeine hit) we finally got down to carving out our designs. This turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. The medium is quite soft and as a result the tools are easier to control than (my experience of) wood carving tools. This aside, there were a few ‘oops’ moments when I overshot an edge of the design and then had to change it ever so slightly to incorporate what Jude referred to as happy mistakes.

It was fascinating to see how everyone’s designs changed as we went through the process of cutting, test printing and recutting to refine and tidy them. Each test print was put up on a board so that we could step back and look at them analytically. Then came the iterative process of assessment, tweaking, reprinting and checking  our respective designs until they were how we wanted them – after which the printing press ran hot!
linocut wkshop_25oct14
For someone who generally has restrained hysterics at the very thought of drawing, this workshop was remarkably enjoyable. The energy and enthusiasm that Jude shared with us was uplifting, as was the pleasure she very clearly experienced in doing so. The end of the day rushed in all too quickly, but we all left on a high. It was a great day of creative fun and this is definitely a do-more craft for me. I didn’t make a cushion cover, but I did create a pretty attractive gecko picture. Perhaps I’ll use the design on some fabric in the holidays and make some crazily colourful outdoor seat covers for the patio.

I watched a TED talk  by Dan Buettner last week. In this he talks about why and how it is that some people live longer – much longer – than others. There appear to be a number of factors in involved, but the one that really struck a chord with me was ikigai – a Japanese word that encompasses that sense of purpose that makes one get up in the morning, one’s reason for being.

As Buettner notes, this has nothing to do with the inevitable early morning bladder pressure, or with letting the dog out or making the school lunches. It’s that thing, or combination of things, that makes each day the start of something new – full of possibilities and opportunities for experiences, big or small.

I guess a phrase like living life with a sense of purpose sounds rather New Age, a bit psychobabble and back-to-the-70s. Even so, I think that believing that life is worth living is intrinsically purposeful and is, to some degree, a self-fulfilling prophesy. Apparently a strong sense of purpose helps to boost your immune system. It also lowers  your levels of stress hormones and enables you to cope with adversity more effectively. Whether or not it makes one live longer, it certainly seems to make one live better.
Trying to figure out what my ikigai is has taken up a fair bit of contemplative time over the past few days – and the process continues. Perhaps figuring your own out will be super obvious for you, but I had to go back to basics and think about  what makes me happy. This led me to think about what activities, food and people leave me feeling calm and fulfilled. Once I had a handle on those – and there are many – I went on to considering what my short, medium and long term goals might be – the big ones and the small ones. While I was doing that I thought about how achieving any or all of those would make me feel – and found that just thinking about that made me smile and want to step out boldly. Ikigai in action 🙂


puppies_19oct14We visited the new puppy again on Sunday and she’s (still) completely adorable. Actually ALL the pups are. The biggest in the litter weighs in at 7kg, whilst our little girl is a far more petite 4.5kg – although the size of her paws tells us that there’s going to be a lot of growing happening over the next few months.

We sat on the grass and had 12 little fur bundles clambering all over us, licking our faces, nibbling on our hands-feet-clothes, then racing off on adventures only to come racing back, falling over their own legs – and each other. The aloe vera in the garden took quite a hammering once they discovered that the fleshy leaves came off and the lawn has numerous little proto-holes dug all over it. Thank goodness only one pup’s coming home with us!

Since then we’ve done a little audit of our house and garden to see how safe and secure they are for the puppy. It turns out that SO many things will need to be packed away over the next couple of weeks if they’re to survive the onslaught of the needle-sharp teeth and boundless energy.

We also just took Hot House Flower (dog number one) to the vet to check out her intermittently runny tummy. The last time we took her along to check this out we were told that she has the canine equivalent of irritable bowel syndrome, that we should add psyllium husk to her meals and just keep an eye her. Since things haven’t improved and the back lawn has turned into the bog of eternal stench, we took her back for another round of tests – just in case…

The vet duly sent another faecal sample off to the lab – this time for more comprehensive testing than the last sample – and the results show that HHF has a little more than an ‘irritable bowel.’ She has both coronavirus and campylobacter in her system. These are a huge risk for puppies and can lurk in the system (both the dog’s and environment) for prolonged periods.

The solution is apparently to change HHF’s diet a bit (no more raw chicken!) and to inoculate both dogs against the coronavirus. Since the vaccination takes two weeks to be effective and since the puppy will only be getting her C7 vaccination at the end of October (at 10 wks), she’ll have to stay with the breeder for a bit longer than planned. Disappointing, but we’d rather err on the side of caution – particularly since coronavirus can be so dangerous for puppies. Besides which, it’ll give us a couple of extra weeks in which to puppy-proof the house and replace the bog of eternal stench with some all-new virus-free lawn. What fun!