Monthly Archives: February 2016

‘As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.’ Calvin.

drawing on wallI have recently taken up sketching again, and I find I’m really enjoying it.   Do I sound surprised?  Well, I am a bit, considering my history with it . . .

Sketching and drawing is something I have done on and off for years—but mostly off.  Oh, I have been full of good intentions. My ‘second bedroom/office/spare-room’ is jam-packed with drawers full of sketch pads, coloured pencils, water-colour pencils, pastel-pencils, pens, charcoals, paints, inks, and paintbrushes of every size and shape imaginable.  You name it—I have it.  Most of it in ‘mint’ condition.

I also have stacks of beautiful ‘arty’ books.  Books on ‘How To‘.  How to paint water colour flowers, how to draw dogs, how to make stained glass windows, how to make your own jewellery, how to use pastels / paints / charcoal . . .   Some of these books have barely been opened.

procrastinationEvery now and again I go into that room and start to wade through all the arty paraphernalia and I come over all excited about getting ‘creative’ again.  ‘I must have a go a that . . . oh wow, I’d forgotten that, that’s cool. . . ‘  And I’ll decide to start, and get everything out that I need and organise it all (because it really needs to be organised)—and then I’ll sit and look at it for a while . . . and a while longer . . .  and then I’ll think ‘Maybe I should just go and do that bit of hoovering before I forget’  . . . or ‘perhaps I’ll just clear away the weeds in that back corner of the garden’ . . . or ‘I might just go and make a cup of tea before I start’  . . .  and before I know it everything is back in its box again and several months will have gone by and I won’t even have looked in that room again. Sigh.

Of course, getting started is always the hardest part.  I mean really getting started—not just getting the stuff out and arranging it all neatly on the desk.  In that respect it’s the same as writing—it’s all about getting that first line down (pen hovering tremulously over that lovely clean white page . . . )

ArtistBut this time I have given myself a bit of a head start.  I have company.  I enrolled in an on-line class through a fabulous site (Sketchbook Skool) I came across, quite by accident when I was looking for something completely different (don’t you just love when that happens?)  The ‘Skool’ is run by Danny Gregory and it looked like a really fun place to play so, on a whim, I enrolled in the six-week ‘Beginning’ class.

The first week of the course was all introductory.  Introducing us to the artists and teachers and the other students on the course. The artists shared their own work with us and told us what ‘sketchbooking’ was all about, what materials we needed, what to buy and what not to buy etc. (‘what-not-to-buy’—who am I kidding?—just another reason to go out shopping as far as I am concerned, even though I already had everything I needed to start.)

Weeks 2 and 3 were all about ‘outdoor sketching’.  It was lovely to watch the videos of the artists/teachers ‘doing their thing’.  Sketching in a park in Holland.  Or along the banks of the river in Goa, India.  And they made it look so easy.  (That should have been my first warning.)

womanhikingMy ‘homework’ was to take myself and my sketchbook outdoors and spend some time drawing whatever took my fancy.  Really?  I suppose I should have guessed this was coming but I am not a very ‘outdoorsy’ person.  (My idea of spending time out of doors is sitting in an alfresco coffee shop, hopefully under an umbrella.)  But I signed up for this with the full intention of giving it a proper go, so okay then.  I packed up my little bag, with my sketchbook and pen and travel pack of watercolours, put my sunnies and hat on (not forgetting to slather myself in sunscreen and bug spray), and wandered over to the park (which is only at the bottom of my street, so it isn’t as if I had a long way to go).

Long story short—total crap out.  First I couldn’t find anything I wanted (or thought I could) draw. Then, when I finally found a spot, I realised it would have been handy to actually have brought my specs with me.  Up until now I have only ever used my glasses for computer work or reading, but although I could see what I was wanting to draw perfectly well—the page I was drawing on, not so much.  Mmmm.

too hotAnd it was so hot.  My sunnies kept sliding off my nose, which gave me the irrits. And the sun was supernova-bright so I found myself squinting so hard I gave myself a headache in no time at all.  And people kept stopping to chat to me. Normally I would be quite happy about that, but I was already proper-grumpy, and I wasn’t getting any drawing done, as it also appears I can’t draw and chat at the same time (not yet anyway).  Mutter.  Mutter.  %^*$#.  Eventually I just gave up and went home—all hot and bothered and in a huff.

(That same week several American students also had ‘outdoor’ issues, but for entirely different reasons—they couldn’t leave their homes at all because of blizzard conditions . . . and there was me, bitching about the sun shining . . .)

But I persevered with the course.  The next week we had classes on using mixed media in our sketchbooks which was a lot of fun (and, in my case, very messy).

Week 5 was about drawing animals.  ‘Beauty’, I thought.  I’d always fancied being able to draw my dogs. posing petsThe artist leading this class Roz Stendahl, is a graphic designer and illustrator, as well as a teacher.  Because most animals are constantly on the move and not inclined to sit and ‘pose’ for long periods of time, Roz suggested we go to our local ‘natural history museum’ to practice drawing stuffed and displayed animals before we started trying to draw live animals.  This would have been great except that I think the nearest natural history museum is probably about 500kms from where I live . . .

Failing that, she said, practise drawing your sleeping pets.  Sleeping pets—yes—I can do that.  My girls can always to be found sleeping somewhere about the house.  It’s a well-loved pastime. So I waited until we were all calm and tired after our walk, and the girls were all snoring happily in their favourite spots around the living room, and I very carefully (no sudden movements) sat in my comfy chair with my pen and pad at the ready, looked up and—there they all were—all three of them, wide awake and lined up in front of me—’ Watcha doing, mum?’  Seriously?

And all too soon it was the last week of the course, but, for me, it was the best week yet.  The artist/teacher was Tommy Kane and the whole week was about ‘slowing down’. Spending 3 hours on a sketch instead of 15 minutes. Really noticing what you were drawing.  It was all about the detail.  And I loved it.  This was much more my style, slow and steady.  And homework this week was to spend at least 3-4 hours sketching my kitchen.  (Yay—coffee at my elbow, fridge close by, air conditioner on . . . )  I could have spent all day drawing my kitchen.  In fact, I think I did.

drawingSo the last six weeks have gone by in a flash and this course is finishedbut it’s not all over.  I’ve enrolled in the next one (‘Stretching’) which starts tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to what I will learn next. Because In the last six weeks I’ve learned a lot.  Not just about drawing and sketching, but about myself too.

That in itself was worth the price of the course . . .


Posted by on February 26, 2016 in Uncategorized


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‘You know, in dog years I’d be dead already . . .’

sevenMabel turned 7 this week.  Seven.  That was a bit of a shock.  On two counts. . .

First . . . how did my lovely tiny 8-week-old little girlnot only grow upbut grow into almost-middle-age (in dog years)—in what seems to be almost the blink of an eye?

And second of allhow did I?

clip-art-snoopy-033022 (1)Mabel was my ’50th-Birthday-Present-to-Myself’.  (I have always managed to buy myself the bestest presents.)   And, although maths was never my strong suit, even I can work out that a number of sneaky years have also surreptitiously been added to my own age as well as Mabel’s.  But, in spite of my ‘advancing’ years, I still remember very clearly the day I bought Mabel home.  (My long-term memory is still pretty much intact—it’s remembering what I did yesterday (or five minutes ago) which is more of an issue . . .)

Baby Mabel

Baby Mabel

I had actually gone out to buy myself a new car for my birthday.  I was turning 50.  It was a ‘milestone’.  I deserved something special.  And I got it.  I was walking past the pet shop (always a dangerous thing to do), I saw her sitting by the front door, in a little pen, all on her own (I know, I know, they really saw me coming . . . ) and I went in and paid for her on the spot. I don’t think I gave a second thought to a new car after that.  (Seven years later I still haven’t replaced that old car.  I’ve had it for 24 years now.  I have, however, managed to add two more dogs to our little family.  I guess that tells you a little bit about where my priorities lie . . . )

I had arranged with the pet shop that I would pick Mabel up the next day after work (after I had been shopping for new-puppy-things (because a new baby has to have new things all of their own)and also I  had to break it to my two then very-old dogs that they were getting a new little sister), but I was so excited I couldn’t wait until after work so I went and picked her up on my lunch break and took her back to the office with me.  Joneen (the College Manager) and I spent most of that afternoon taking turns in cuddling her (when she wasn’t sleeping in my handbag) and tossing screwed up bits of paper around the office for her to chase.adopted

Now that tiny little scrap of a creature is seven years old—and I’ve come over all reflective.   I wonder how Mabel remembers her first day with me?  Does she regale her sisters with stories of how exciting or happy or scary that first day was for her? Does she even remember it at all?   Or does she think she just ‘came into being’ and I have always been her mum?  (That is indeed a possibility.  We have never actually had the ‘you’re adopted’ talk.  I’ve been waiting for the right moment . . . )

Does Mabel remember when she was tiny and old Harry would grumble fiercely at her (while slyly wagging his tail at the same time), or how Frankie would lick her ears for hours and let her sleep on his back to stay warm? Does she miss them? Does she feel older—or does she still feel like a puppy inside?  (I don’t think I feel much older than I did 7 years ago (well—okay—except for one of my knees.  That knee often feels about 10 years older than the rest of me), but I am talking about ‘inside’.  ‘Inside’ I don’t feel anywhere near 57.)dogandbowl

I guess I’ll never know.  Anyone who has a dog knows that dogs have at least some concept of the passing of time (just look at their faces when you try to ignore their usual walk time, or are fifteen minutes late with their dinner), but it does seem that time, and memory, work differently for them.

We (humans) have what is called an ‘episodic’ memory.  We remember things based on individual personal experiences, specific events and emotions.  Those in the know believe that dogs don’t have this type of memory—they ‘learn’ what they need to from their experiences, rather than ‘remember’ specific events.  (Mabel caught a bee in her mouth when she was little and it stung her badly.  Her little face swelled up to twice it’s usual size.  To this day she is scared of ‘buzzie buzzies’ (among a myriad of other things) and will run and hide if she hears one.  She has ‘learned’ that bees are bad, but does she ‘remember’ why?)

snoopy-danceDogs, they say (the ubiquitous ‘they’), are programmed to live ‘in the moment’ (which is just another reason to love them even more as far as I am concerned) and it’s this programming that allows them to forget about what happened yesterday (or before lunch) and not worry unduly about what will happen tomorrow.  It’s also probably why they never seem to hold a grudge.  (We could learn a lot . . . )

All grown up.

All grown up.

So, if this is true, I guess I am going to have to do all the ‘remembering’ for all of us.  I am going to have to get all soppy and nostalgic about past-puppy experiences and embrace future doggie-delights my own way, and let the the girls enjoy them their way. I think I can probably handle that.  (Besides, if I keep telling you lot all about them, I’ll have you to help me remember too.)

So, Happy Birthday Mabel-girl, and here’s hoping we continue to share many more birthdays together.  (Although I do just have to say, it’s a good thing that the ‘dog years’ thing doesn’t work the other way about . . .   because in dog years . . .)


Posted by on February 19, 2016 in Uncategorized


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‘Be careful about reading health books. You might just die of a misprint.’ Mark Twain.

dogsniffSunday morning, and I’m just pottering around the house, doing a bit of this and a bit of that, and I suddenly think, ‘What’s that smell?’  (I have a notoriously bad sense of smell so for me to even be aware of an odd smell is worth blogging about.)

I do a couple of circuits of the house, popping my head into each room, opening up the cupboards and drawers, sniffing at the air all around (followed closely by three curious little dogs . . . ‘What IS she doing’ . . . ), but nothing seems out of the ordinary, nothing out of place.  What is it?  Where the hell is that smell coming from?  It smells like something . . . burning.  And then it comes to me.  It smells like burnt toast.

But why would I be smelling burnt toast?  It can’t be coming from my house, I haven’t made toast.  (In fact, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I made toast.)  toastBut that is definitely what I am smelling.  If next-door’s breakfast had caught fire would I be smelling it all the way over here?  And why is smelling burnt toast bothering me so much anyway?  Is it a ‘thing’?  I think it’s a ‘thing’.  I’m sure I have read something weird about smelling burnt toast, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it is.

So I ‘google’ it.  Big mistake . . .

peg on nose. . . Phantom smells, like burnt toast and burning hair, can be a sign of a stroke, but they can also be a sign of other conditions. Though it’s possible that people will detect phantom smells for no reason, smelling them is often due to a neurological issue. Mayo Clinic refers to this phenomenon as phantosmia, or olfactory hallucinations. The odors that are detected will vary by individual, but typically they are unpleasant and described as being chemical-like or burning.  In addition to stroke, people will often experience phantosmia as a symptom of other conditions including head injury, brain tumors, epilepsy and Alzheimers . . . 

Sigh.  So—it is a ‘thing’ . . .

Well, it can’t be a stroke, I don’t have any other symptoms—and I am ruling out Alzheimers (at least for the time being), so it’s probably a tumor . . .

Fortunately, before I could start googling ‘tumors’, the phone rang and I had a very long and pleasant chat with a friend, and by the time I hung up I could no longer smell burning toast (the neighbours must have cleared away their incinerated breakfast) and I had forgotten I was suffering from an almost-tumor.

Now, in spite of what I have just written, I actually don’t spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about my health.  I do all the things I am supposed to do.  I try to eat just-about-right and exercise almost-regularly, and get 7-8 hours of sleep a night (when the universe lets me).

doctorWhen I turned 50 our local medical centre offered free ‘fully body’ checkups for those over that age so I went along and was duly poked and prodded and pinched and weighed and had all the requisite blood tests done, and (apart from the doctor looking a mite horrified when I told him the last blood tests I had were around 25 years ago when I was in the Army) all my results came back ‘plumb normal’.  I have continued to get my yearly checkups and so far so good.

So, given there is absolutely no evidence that I have anything whatsoever to be concerned about, it is interesting to me how, with only a couple of possible options (‘somewhere there is toast on fire’ versus ‘you have a tumor’) I, if even only for a few seconds, imagined the worst.

cyberchondriaHow many other people out there also ‘research’ their symptoms (real or imagined), diagnose themselves, and then worry themselves sick (sicker?) about a condition they are convinced they have, but still don’t go to a doctor to have their fears checked out? The stats I saw stated that almost 80 percent of women scan wellness and medical sites online, and around 60 percent of the searches are done specifically to diagnose a medical condition.sheldon-spray

(Interestingly, the stats didn’t note how often men search these sites. My dad, a bone-fide hypochondriac all his long life, would have, for a certainty, been on every online medical site he could find.)  

Apparently women visit the doctor an average of 3 times a year but spend around 52 hours online searching for answers. Psychologists have given this on-line obsessing over real and imagined symptoms a name: cyberchondria(Dad would also have insisted that ‘cyberchondria’ was the one disease he didn’t have.)

Anyway, I am certainly not suggesting that researching medical information on the internet is an altogether bad thing.  There is some very useful information out there—although I admit, I usually research my dogs’ health issues rather than my own.  dog-teeth-clipart-1(When Maudie recently had 8 (no, that is not a typo, eight) teeth out (poor baby!) I googled to find out how many teeth dogs normally have (42, in case you were wondering) and was relieved to find out that she still had plenty left to work with and wasn’t going to have to gum her food to death just yet.)

I am just saying it is probably a good idea to get a proper medical opinion (whether it be a doctor or a vet) before you go diving into the internet and become severely freaked out by all the often confusing, overwhelming and often panic-producing information (and mis-information) out there.  Save the internet for follow-up information and support for after you get an official diagnosis.  After my short-lived internet-induced medical emergency, I am going to endeavour to do the same.

I am also pleased to note that I am not the only one who didn’t know that smelling burnt toast was ‘a thing’.  I came across a James May twitter feed (mid 2015) which I thought I’d share . . .

 James May:
Doctors etc: I there something wrong with me if I keep thinking I can smell toast?

Twitter responded the only way Twitter can, with a huge amount of replies—most of them along the lines of the ‘stroke/tumor’ information.  Way to calm a guy down, people.
An hour or so later James replied . . .

James May:
I have located the toast smell.  And I’m glad.  I didn’t know about the stroke connection.  You’ve all scared the shit out of me . . . To celebrate not having a stroke, I went to the hotel breakfast room to make toast . . .  and set the toaster on fire.  It’s a sign.


Posted by on February 12, 2016 in Uncategorized


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‘From ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night . . .’ Scottish saying.

I like to go for long walks in the early morning. Girl-walking-dog-animated-gifThe very early morning, when it is still dark and quiet and cool and peaceful (and I am unlikely to come across anyone I have to stop and talk to).  I can stride out and let Mabel and Maude off their leads for a good run without me having to watch their every move.  (Well—I do still have to look out for kangaroos . . . and possums . . . and foxes . . .  and the occasional water rat.  If the girls see one of them before I do, what started out as a nice calm orderly constitutional turns into a mad free-for-all of epic proportions.)  

We have a usual route that we take every morning—out of the house to the end of the street, turn right on to the main road which runs alongside the river, up past the small row of shops and on to ‘Bunny’s Corner’ and back again.  The street lights are on and, although there aren’t many people about, lights are starting to come on in people’s homes, the newsagency and the baker are open, and early-shift workers are already dropping in to get their daily paper and expresso coffee hit.  The ducks are waddling drowsily around the park, the kookaburras are starting to chuckle throatily, and the songbirds are starting to test their daytime voices.  The world is starting to wake up.

I have been taking these early morning walks in the dark for many years now, and I have never been worried or frightened or creeped-out during all that time.  Except once.  ssshhLast weekend I watched an old episode of the X-files (the X-Files are back—yay!) and while watching that episode the memory of my one spooky encounter came flooding back.  I don’t think I’ve ever actually told anyone this story before, but, for all you X-Philers out there, I thought I’d share it with you now.  (Don’t tell anyone else though—they just wouldn’t understand . . .)

It was a couple of years ago.  I am pretty sure it was around 4.30am because my neighbour-across-the-road’s light came on just as I stepped out of my door—she was getting ready for her early nursing shift.  It was very dark as we headed towards the top of our street where a large pool of light gathered around the streetlight.   walking_cat_thin (1)As we walked I saw the silhouette of a large black cat move slowly into that light.  I remember thinking, ‘Perhaps it will move quietly away before the girls see it’, and I wrapped both leads around my hand one extra time, ready for the jolt that would inevitably come as soon as the cat was spotted.

As I watched, the cat stopped moving, slowly stood up on its back legs, fully erect, stretched its ‘arms’ above its head and then—the only word I can think of is ‘morphed’—into what looked like a small person (where the hell did its tail go?) and continued to walk, fully upright, along the street.

surprised-dogSeveral things then happened very quickly.  My jaw hit the floor. Maudie stopped dead in her tracks and started to rumble menacingly in her throat (‘Danger, Will Robinson!’)  Mabel ran behind me, whimpering, and dissolved into a puppy-puddle.  The ‘cat/person’ suddenly became aware of us, turned, looked directly at us for a second or two, then turned back the way it had come, dropped down on all fours again, morphed back into a cat and slunk quickly away into the darkness.

Now I know what you are thinking.  Well—I don’t, but I can imagine.  WTF?  Right?  Don’t worry, I know how it sounds . . .

I immediately started to rationalise the experience (Dana would have been proud).  Well—it had to be a trick of the light didn’t it?  Or I was still half asleep?  Cats sometimes walk on their hind legs (half way down the block)—don’t they?

By the time I had coaxed the dogs past the last few houses to the spot where the creature had vanished I was even more spooked.  Maudie was baring her teeth and all the fur was standing up along her back. She was sniffing the ground where the thing had been, but was all tense and tippy-toed, ready for flight. Mabel was desperately trying to drag me home.

There was nothing there of course—and no sign that anything out of the ordinary had ever been there.

itsbehindmeSo, I decided it had finally happened—I had definitely lost the plot.  ‘Shake it off, Sal—just keep walking.’  Well, I tried. But, I cannot begin to tell you how incredibly unnerving it is to be walking, alone in the dark, with your dogs growling warningly and looking back over their shoulders the whole time.  (OMG—is it following us??)  We didn’t get far before I gave in to the heebie-jeebies and turned back.  I was hard pressed to keep up with the girls as they bolted for home. (Mabel continues to hide from cats to this day.)

So, there you are.  My brush with the seriously freaky. Up until that point I had never experienced anything even approaching ‘supernatural’ (and I am sure many would say I still haven’t).  I have never seen a ghost, or heard voices, or been on the receiving end of any unexplained phenomena.  I have never ‘dabbled’ in the occult—unless you count reading Stephen King or Dean Koontz (‘Odd Thomas’ would not have batted an eyelid at my experience)—and I have never gone searching for faeries at the bottom of the garden.  (That doesn’t mean they aren’t there though. . . )

ghostI like to think I have an open mind.  Like Mulder, ‘I want to believe’.  I sincerely hope there are aliens watching us from afar (please make them friendly and not just wanting to eat our brains).  And how cool would it be if all the ‘ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties’ we’ve all been told tall-tales about actually existed?  (It would also be really cool if these ‘beasties’ didn’t creep up unexpectedly in the dark and frighten the bejesus out of me and my dogs, but there you are.  You can’t have everything.)

But did I really see something weird and wonderful that very early morning, or was it just all in my head?  I honestly don’t know.  I certainly haven’t experienced anything like it again.  But what I do know is this—when I relive the experience in my mind today, several years later, I still see, and feel, exactly what I saw and felt then.  It was a cat, then it was a person, then it was a cat.  And the hair still stands up on the back of my neck . . .  (cue the X-Files music . . . )


Posted by on February 5, 2016 in Uncategorized


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