Tastes of Life

The CAN Company’s achievement in 2013 was little short of miraculous. Despite 2 of the 4 members being overseas for several months, and my ongoing health challenges, we managed to compile a book and calendar on the theme Tastes of Life, and stage a fabulous launch on 10 November. I say ‘fabulous’ because the feedback was fabulous.

It all started when I made the comment that, as a result of the side-effect of the medication I was taking, I had lost, not only my appetite for food, but my appetite for life as well. Lyn suggested that we explore what makes individual taste ‘tick’. For food, we have taste buds. Do we have the equivalent of taste buds for other areas of our lives—music, clothes, art, movies, literature, humour, people? Why do different people have different tastes? Do our tastes change over a lifetime? Do we gravitate towards people who share our tastes?

A fascinating topic, though I’m not sure we found any answers. Another of life’s mysteries.

My personal challenge became one of tempting my appetite back into life by offering myself choice titbits in all these areas.

We chose an art deco visual theme for the book and launch, simply because Lyn expressed a liking for a particular font to use for the titles. Being a designer, I declared that the book’s design would need to be in accord. We extended this theme to the clothing we wore to the launch—which delighted the audience.


About 60 friends and relations attended the launch and they appeared to enjoy themselves immensely, especially the ‘performance’ part of the event. At our launches we always sing a selection of songs which echo the theme of the book. In this case our selection ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime:

We’re Happy Little Vegemites  and I Like Aeroplane Jelly (to honour weird Aussie tastes)
Rum by Gum (anon?)
Bottle o’ Wine (Tom Paxton)
The Aussie Barbecue Song (more weird Aussie tastes) (Eric Bogle)
The Honor of Your Company (Tom Paxton) … not on ‘taste’ but a tribute to all the people who have shared our journey with us.

The audience listened with wrapt attention or joined in with gusto as appropriate.

Books and calendars sold well, along with a selection of ‘taste’ cards and other gift items. With the proceeds we were able to treat ourselves to a splendid Christmas lunch, while having enough over in ‘kitty’ to buy equipment, books etc. throughout the coming year.


The CAN Company itself is one of life’s miracles. In December 2014 we will celebrate our 20th anniversary. Since December 1994 we have been meeting at least once a month. Although we are all very different, and not slow to express our views, we have never had a serious disagreement. While I am considered the ‘leader’ the group operates by consensus. When there is work to be done, everyone pitches in without any need for direction.

In 2014 we will adopt a retrospective approach … details to be decided.


The arrival of the Healing Doll

Some days are just magic. 24th June was such a day.

In the morning post a package arrived. I knew it was no ordinary package because—how shall I say—my name was ‘emblazoned’ on the front. A little scrutiny revealed that it came from Barb Kobe, artist doll maker specialising in Healing Dolls. If you haven’t encountered Barb’s work, check out her website immediately.

Some years ago I took part in one of Barb’s online Healing Doll courses. It was quite wonderful, but (as is my usual habit) I didn’t complete all the assignments, making only 2 out of the 4 dolls required. Though we didn’t communicate a lot during the intervening years, there was  an affinity established between the two of us and I knew I had made a friend. 

Earlier this year Barb invited me to join her new 12-month Healing Doll course.I told her what had happened since I last wrote to her … Ie the saga of the brain tumour. I was afraid I wouldn’t have time to do the course justice, but allowed myself to be persuaded. Clearly, the timing was perfect. It was agreed that I would send Barb a number of my ebooks (which are mostly digital versions of artist books) and she said she’d make me a paper Healing Doll.

I sent the ebooks straight away, and waited eagerly for the doll.

I knew it would be lovely, because all of her work is, but I was totally unprepared  for how lovely it would be. 

 I opened the package and inside was another package, beautifully wrapped in hand-painted paper.


I opened it carefully so as not to disturb anything.

Inside was a truly beautiful folder, collaged with contrasting papers, some glossy, some matt, some textured.




 For some moments I was unable to speak and felt close to tears. I called my husband and son, who were both amazed at what they saw. I told them I was quite overwhelmed that someone I barely know would go to this much trouble for me. What you can’t see in the photos is that everything is hand-painted and lettered, and the finish is exquisite. It’s not just beautiful to look at either. Barb had given me a list of searching questions to answer, and she has been able to incorporate so much of what I told her into the doll. 

There I was, thinking “I don’t deserve this”, when my son said, “She must really appreciate your work”. (In fact, Barb had told me so … she was lavish with praise for my ebooks).

It started me thinking. Maybe all the wonderful people I know, who give me so much, do so because they think I’m wonderful too. I’m not quite ready to say “I’m wonderful”, but I guess I must be OK.

The doll had begun her healing work.


The missing cello

The seach for the missing ingredient


Following is a summary of a story from the Introduction to Arjua Ardagh’s book, Leap before you Look.

Fred had always felt something was missing in his life. After years of research he came to the conclusion that he had lost his cello. From then on Fred became a dedicated cello seeker. He travelled the world, sought out teachers, and attended countless cello music concerts. He even joined support groups of people who were, like him, trying to rediscover their inner cellos. Fred became a professional cello seeker, subordinating everything else in life to the quest.

One day, when he was rushing to yet another support group, he ran into an old friend. Fred said he couldn’t stop to talk because he was on his way to his cello finders’ support group. But the friend brought him to a halt and said, “What’s that thing on your back?”

Well, you’ve guessed it, haven’t you? The thing on his back was a cello. Fred was amazed and overjoyed … he had at long last found what he’d been looking for.

There was a corollary to the story … having found his cello, Fred then had to play it, and practise so that he would get better and better and bring his gift to others.

(If you’re interested in reading the full story, which is beautifully told, go to the Sounds True website  where you can purchase the softcover book, ebook or audio download.)

The lesson to be learned, of course, is that many of us already have what we’ve been looking for. But while we can’t see it, others often can. With this in mind, I asked several insightful friends what they thought my missing cello could be. I’d rather hoped they’d all come up with the same thing, and that my path would then be clear. No such luck. It seemed I had a whole orchestra hanging around my neck.

One said I often needed the affirmation of others, because I couldn’t find it in myself. He pointed out that I already had the affirmation of others … and I had to admit he was right. People frequently praise me and my work, but a critical inner voice says they don’t know what good is. This is really stupid, because many of these people are very accomplished themselves.

Another said it was my ‘artist’. She said everyone else considered me an artist, though I didn’t accept it myself. I protested against this because, though I acknowledge that I have the potential to be an artist, I so rarely practise. You can’t call yourself an artist if you hardly ever create art.

Yet another, the amazing dream coach Jane Teresa Anderson , asked me what I yearned for in childhood. The reply came spontaneously, “excitement and adventure”. “That’s what my life lacks,” I continued, “excitement and adventure.” Jane began to laugh. “I’m sitting with a woman wearing a pirate scarf and an outrageous eyepatch, who’s lived in a very challenging situation for many years, and she tells me her life has no excitement and adventure.” I saw her point, and giggled. I thought about it a little, but then realised it wasn’t the same thing at all. What I had experienced was not excitement and adventure, but danger and insecurity. They can all go together, but they don’t have to. One could discuss this at length, but at another time perhaps.

I certainly don’t yearn for danger. I want the sort of excitement that makes me eager to leap out of bed in the morning.

It doesn’t have to be something ‘big’. Small stones will do.


On with the journey: finding a life purpose (or something like that)

Sometimes you can think too big (my parents would have said so).

Ever since childhood I’ve wanted something ‘more’, something ‘different’, something ‘special’, something ‘beyond the ordinary’. Probably because of my parents’ attitude, I came to believe that only special people did special things. ‘Ordinary’ people like me didn’t become great opera stars, for instance (they do, of course, but I didn’t know that then). My mother even told me that a friend’s daughter was an opera singer, and that it was a ‘terrible life’.

My parents only ambition for their children was for the two girls to get married and have children, and the two boys to get good ‘safe’ jobs. I suppose that’s not uncommon for people who had been through a world war and a depression. ‘Adventure’ didn’t come into the picture.

My siblings and I, in today’s education world, would have been put in the ‘gifted and talented’ category, yet nobody encouraged us in childhood to consider being artists, writers, scientists, travellers, university professors. Wanting to be anything but ordinary, to my parents’ minds, was ‘having tickets on yourself.’

So I grew up with a yearning that my conditioning told me could never be fulfilled.

Fast forward fifty+ years …

Mine is not a long-living family. My father died at 67, my mother at 71, my sister at 68. Then came my cancer diagnosis. OK, so, for the time being at least, I’ve survived that. But even if I live another 20 years, it’s not long is it. Twenty years is nothing.

Having faced my mortality, I find that I don’t want to die before I do that ‘special something’. Trouble is, I don’t know what that is. Before the cancer thing, I would have said I wanted to be the best artist I could be, but now that doesn’t seem to matter … especially as I haven’t developed any area of the arts to any great extent. There’s a feeling that the ‘something more’ I yearn for is something I haven’t yet discovered.

Or is that just another side-effect of medication!

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on all this over the last year, and in the absence of any answers, I thought I’d better push on with the stones project, even though the impetus had slackened.

Back to wrapping stones.
I explored online, and found lots of people doing lovely things with stones. Then I came upon a Japanese tradition of stone-wrapping

I rather liked this idea of tome ishi, or Sekimori ishi, and made my version as a present for a friend on her birthday. She thought it too nice to put out in the garden and has it on display inside her house.


I think I’ve just had an enlightenment! The paths I’ve really wanted to follow in life have all had ‘stop stones’ on them.

Oh my!

Perhaps my life purpose is to identify and remove them.

(Or could it be that one’s life purpose is to discover one’s life purpose.)  

More experiments with beach stones (and a few broken shells)

About this time, The CAN Company engaged in a photographic exercise on the theme of ‘white on white’. I liked the results so much that I decided to shoot a series of white-ish stones on a plain white background. As luck would have it (had to be luck, because I didn’t do it on purpose) I noticed a spot in my haphazard ‘studio’ where the light for most of the day was bright, but softly diffused. In a rare moment of industry, I cleared a space, found some white card, and set to work.

For a period I became a minimalist. Image
Once more I created a series of cards. I had enough material to keep me going for years, if the Bright Shiny Object syndrome didn’t intervene. It occurred to me that I could make other ‘designer products’ using the stone and shell images. Putting the cart before the horse, I designed a brochure to promote them …

I even visualised a small exhibition, using the cards, framed images, altered stones, and maybe even ‘sea spirit dolls’ (I’ve long been flirting with the idea of making artist dolls, but like so many other good ideas it remains in my head in the ‘one of these days’ corner).

I haven’t given up on this idea, but it’s been pushed aside for a while.

Where can I acquire creative energy and motivation?

The source of the beach stones: an interlude

Sometimes my best work is done ‘on the way to work’—in other words, when I don’t think I’m working at all.

Late one afternoon, when the tide was very low, I walked down to the small cove where I had gathered the most colourful stones. My intention was to explore the area and determine some suitable spots to set up my ‘altered stones’.

The light was lovely, long soft shadows falling across the sand and drifting across the water. Absent-mindedly, I began aiming the camera. Excitement grew, as everywhere I turned the viewfinder sand and water ripples called insistently ‘take me!’  For the next hour or so (I lost track of time) I was lost in a magical world of light and shadow and reflections.

Later I created a series of cards, printed on watercolour paper. I couldn’t decide whether I preferred the images in black and white or colour, so produced a series of cards in each.

I’m not often satisfied with my work, but I really liked these images and cards. There was something particularly pleasing about the combination of slightly textured ivory-coloured paper teamed with kraft envelopes. I thought I might even have bought them if I’d seen them in a shop, created by someone else.

For the first time in ages I felt I had a ‘direction.’

Things you can do with beach stones : creative play

For a while I was in danger of becoming a mere beach stone collector. I had to remind myself that the higher purpose was to use the stones as a catalyst for artwork of some kind. Half-formed ideas whizzed around in my brain, but no clear direction emerged. There was nothing for it but to start.

First some simple wrapping:


This was more difficult than I expected. Despite the rough stone surface, the cord was inclined to slip, so I tried gluing it to the rock. Image

This was successful, up to a point, but I had no confidence in how long it would hold. I’d need to do a number of prototypes.

Other experiments followed, combining collage and wrapping.


By this time my mind was wandering … how would I display the finished stones? Mounted in a frame perhaps; placed on another stone (this raised the problem of finding suitable stones with the right sized ‘resting place’). I wished I had a husband who made beautiful boxes out of driftwood. Or that I were one of those splendid women who are skilled with boy tools.

A break was called for, to allow the Universe to provide.