Monthly Archives: April 2017

‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ William Morris.

I have always been a bit of a pack rat.  I like my ‘stuff’.  I like my books and my clothes and my shoes and my ornaments (‘dust-gatherers’ my mother calls them, but I like ’em) and I like my art materials and my pretty bottles and jars and . . . well . . . stuff.

I doubt that will ever really change but a couple of years ago I decided enough was enough and I was going to at least try to become a little more discriminating about the kind of stuff I keep.  And I think I have.  My stacks (and stacks) of books are mostly gone (although, admittedly, most of my favourites have managed to slowly reappear on my kindle), clothes and shoes (and scarves and handbags and earrings . . . ) have been drastically reduced and I have even managed to downsize many of the ticky-tacky ornaments I had managed to accumulate over the years.

So, why, after all the clearing out and culling I have already done, do I still have so much stuff?  If I sat down and counted every single item in my house, how many ‘things’ would I have?  5,000 . . .  10,000 . . . 15,000?  More?  That’s a lot of stuff for just one person (and three small dogs).  And why, after decades of accumulating, do I now feel the urge to get rid of so much of it?

I don’t really know, I just do.

Well someone out there must have been listening in on my musings and decided to give me a little shove.  I was browsing one of my favourite blogs (The Minimalists) and came across what they call the ‘Minimalism Game’.  It’s simple enough.  You play the game for thirty days.  On Day One you get rid of one thing.  On the second day, two things go out the door.  On the third day, three.  And so on.  It doesn’t matter what you get rid of (books, clothes, ornaments, furniture) and it doesn’t matter what you do with it (donate, sell it, re-gift it, throw it away)—it just has to be gone.  By the end of 30 days you should have 465 less things in your house.

Okay.  So, instead of sitting muttering to myself about being weighed down my belongings I decided to take up the challenge.  I was going to follow William Morris’s example and only keep anything I thought to be useful or beautiful.

However, having made the decision to go ahead with the challenge I had to also admit that there was absolutely no way (no how) I was going to be able to keep the momentum up on a day-to-day basis.  Things would happen (work would be frantic, one of the dogs would go wackadoodle, the phone would ring, someone would turn up at the door) and by the time I settled into bed I would realise I had completely forgotten to toss something out that day.

So I decided I would tackle the challenge week by week for a month.  I would gather up my sacrificial items over the week and each weekend I would count them all up, add to them if I had to, and out they would go.  (Feeling quite smug and pleased with myself about getting rid of a whole lot of stuff all at once would be an added bonus . . . )

I also made up a few rules of my own.  Ordinary trash or recyclables do not count.  One piece of paper does not count as one thing—a sheaf of papers can be one thing.  One pencil, no.  A fistful of old scraggy worn out pencils—okay. (Although you never know when you might need a pencil . . . Sigh.  See what I did there?  I have to watch myself all the time.  I seem almost pathologically unable, or at least unwilling, to get rid of those just-in-case items.  I’ll keep that ratty old bag with the handles that look just about to drop off—just-in-case.  I won’t toss any of those (dozens and dozens) of old gift bags—just-in-case.  And those beaten and battered folders—well, you never know when you might actually need a beat-up, battered old folder . . . )

Week 1—Days 1-7.  That means 28 things have to go. Easy-peasy.  I was on a mission.  I went through my closet and the linen cupboard and had selected 28 things before I knew where I was.  This was going to be a breeze . . .

Week 2—Days 8-14.  77 things.  This time I moved into the living room and started ransacking drawers.  Old cassette tapes (yikes!) and video tapes (Why did I still have these? I haven’t had a tape or video player in years), old remotes, electrical bits at pieces left over from god-knows-what, doggies toys (ssssh don’t tell the girls.  They were all fast asleep and I don’t think they’ve noticed yet), and a couple of totally unidentifiable items which I had obviously once thought should be saved but now had no idea what they even were.   Out they went.

Week 3—Days 15-21.  126 things.  Laundry, pantry, kitchen.  Done, done, and done.  (Who knew I had so many mismatched cutlery, plates, bowls, dishes and wine glasses in my house?)  I even managed to put a couple of extra thing aside to count towards . . .

Week 4—Days 22-30.  234 things.  Phew.  That’s a lot of things.  Time to dig deep . . .

To be honest I am not sure whether I finally made that final magic 465 number, but I made a bloody good stab at it.  When I stand back and look at my house now, it actually doesn’t look much different.  There are still pictures on the wall, books and knick-knacks on the shelves, doggie toys still littering the floor.  But it feels different.  It feels somehow . . . lighter.

So I am happy I took up the challenge.  There is more to be done but this was a great start and (for now at least) I am happy to wallow in smug self-satisfaction of a job well done.

I am also going to try really hard to keep my promise to myself to not replace all the stuff I just got rid of.

Unless, of course, it is with something very useful . . .  or very beautiful . . .


Posted by on April 28, 2017 in Uncategorized


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‘The limits of your language are the limits of your world.’ Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . 

I’ve just started another course at Sketchbook Skool‘Exploring’.  This week’s homework assignment was to explore the use of hatching (cross-hatching) to define light, and shade and shape . . .

Once your sketch is completed you are urged to upload it to the course site so that other students can see your work and you can see theirs.  This is by no means compulsory but I have found it to be a valuable exercise.  You see so many different styles and mediums and interpretationsand you get great feedback.  (There is only one rule—constructive criticism is allowed but if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all . . . )

On seeing my homework sketch of this small metal owl this week one of my fellow  Sketchbook Skool students (Leah) asked me what it was.  Was it a toy or a ‘tchotchke’?  A what?  I had never seen or heard the word tchotchke (pronounced ‘choch-kee’) before, so I looked it up . . .

tchotchke (Origin—Yiddish) a small object that is decorative rather than strictly functional; a trinket

Well okay then.  YesI guess a ‘tchotchke’ is exactly what this is . . .

When I replied to Leah’s comment I did fess up to the fact that I had never heard the word before which then prompted Leah to also look it up as she said it was a word she had used all her life without really knowing where it came from or why she used it.  (I wonder how many times we have all done that?)

So because of my homework this week I learned a number of things . . .

I learned that ‘hatching’ a spherical object wasn’t as simple as I thought it was going to be.

I learned I like adding colour to a drawing after all the shading has already been sketched in.

I learned a new word (from another language).

I learned a new word (from another language) which I really like saying . . . tchotchke . . . tchotchke . . . tchotchke . . .

. . . and I learned that I have a house full of all manner of  tchotchkes . . . .

Who knew?


Posted by on April 25, 2017 in Uncategorized


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‘Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.’ Orhan Pamuk.

I always thought I knew how to listen to my dogs.  I mean, I know they can’t tell me of the deep philosophical thoughts that wander through their minds when they are sitting, all sparkly-eyed and dreamy in a patch of sun, or what they are thinking when I look up from my book and find them gazing thoughtfully at me, but if I listen closely enough I can usually tell when they’re happy, or scared, or hungry or grumpy.  And most of the time that’s enough.  We rub along quite happily.  But sometimes, just sometimes, one of them will do something totally unexpected and out of character and I think how cool it would be if they were wearing one of those dog translator collars (a la ‘Dug’) and my bewildered “What the ??? ” would elicit some sort of lucid response . . .

I have written before about the joys of ‘bath day’ in our household (‘Anyone who doesn’t know what soap tastes like . . . )  It’s always a bit of a drama and something I only put the girls (and myself) through about once a month.  Unless of course on one of our daily walks Maudie decides to dive head first into the scungiest, smelliest, most disgusting pile of dead ‘something’ she’s just found in the park. (Oh joy!)  By the time I managed to chase her away from the whatever-it-was (or used to be) she was black and reeking—and extremely pleased with herself.  I felt a tiny bit mean spoiling her fun and dragging her home to take a bath—but only a very tiny bit.  The only other option was to give her away to one of the local fisherman to use as bait . . .

None of my girls have ever liked baths so I was sure I knew what to expect. On realising a bath was imminent, Maudie would immediately adopt her floppy, unresponsive, dead-dog persona (although she doesn’t seem to have cottoned on to the fact that dead-dogs don’t normally squeal . . . ) Molly would run in frantic circles, barking madly, ensuring the whole neighbourhood was aware I was about to murder her sister (and possibly her too) and Mabel . . .  well, Mabel  would creep silently away to find herself a deep, dark, quiet place to hide and ‘wait me out’ . . .

Imagine my surprise then, after wrangling Maudie into the bath (and actually getting some water on her—she’s a squirmy little sucker) I turned to find Mabel sitting quietly on the bathroom floor next to me, watching the proceedings with interest.  “Oh.  Hi Mabes.  Have you come to watch Maudie have a bath?”  Mabel wagged her tail and smiled at me.  Well, okay then.  This is new . . .

Even more surprisingly (and in spite of several further earsplitting Maudie-shrieks) Mabel stayed, peering over the edge of the bath as Maudie was shampooed, rinsed, and shampooed again.  (If I didn’t genuinely believe that dogs were better than humans I might have wondered if there was a little of the old ‘schadenfreude’ going on there . . . )

I hadn’t intended to also bath Mabel that morning ( because Mabel was a good girl . . . Mabel hadn’t rolled in some decomposing dead thing) but after Maudie had been dried and released and fled the bathroom (doing her usual four laps of the house and frantically flinging herself into every cushion, pillow and other soft furnishing she could find) Mabel continued to sit calmly beside me . . . almost as if she were waiting . . . I decided to take a chance.  “Sowhat do you think Mabes?  Does Mabel want a bath now?”

I honestly expected her to bolt.  I really did.  I thought it was some kind of new game she was playing with me.  Feign interest and then run for her life.  That’ll be a good game.  But no.  She let me take her collar off (usually another ‘no no’), stood quietly while I got the water to the right temperature, and happily let me repeatedly lather her up and rinse her off.  No shivery shakes, no sad ‘why me?’ looks, no trying to escape as soon as my back was turned.  She even seemed to be kind of enjoying it . . .

So what happened?  What changed between last month and this, after years and years (eight years to be exact) of trying to avoid a bath at all costs?

I have absolutely no idea, and I suppose I never will.   But I’ll bet there’s a good story there.  A story I would love to hear.  If only we all spoke the same language . . .


Posted by on April 21, 2017 in Uncategorized


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‘Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands—and then eat just one of the pieces.’ Judith Viorst.

Chocolate.  Mmmmmm . . .

Over the years I have done the old ‘I’ll-buy-myself-the-‘family block’-and-make-sure-I-only-have-a-small-piece-(or two)-after-dinner-and-it’ll-last-until-my-next-big-shop’ dance more than once.  It never ended well.

I would start with the very best of intentions.  I would eat one small piece of chocolate (slowly, slowly, savouring it, letting it melt in my mouth) and then another . . . and maybe just one more. Then I’d ‘be good’ and put the rest safely away and go do some reading, or work in the garden, or get out my sketchpad and pens and . . . nope . . . no good.   How could I possibly concentrate on anything else when there was chocolate in the house begging to be eaten?  It was beyond me.  I would invariably end up eating the whole block and then spend the rest of the day castigating myself (‘. . . this is the  very last time  . . .  I will not be buying any more . . .  no more . . . ever . . . ‘) while also madly trying to exercise my latest indiscretion away.  (Where was Dr Phil and his ‘How’s that working for you?’ when I needed him?)

Moderation does not come easily to me.  For some people it is perfectly sensible to have only one piece of cake, or one glass of wine, or to buy one pair of shoes at a time.  I am not one of those people.  I struggle against ‘wanting’ things all the time.  I want another sketchbook (although I still have a stack in my office that I haven’t used yet).  I want that lovely red sweater I saw on-line the other day (I already have a red sweater, although, in my defence, it’s not the same kind of red)  . . . and I want another puppy (sssshhhh, don’t tell the girls . . . )

I don’t need . . . but I want.

I am (slowly) getting better at wanting less.  Wanting less ‘things’ at least (although, puppies . . .  sigh . . . ) but I still struggle hugely when it come to food.   Especially sweet food like biscuits  . . . and cake . . . . and lollies . . . and chocolate.  I (usually) manage to keep these constant cravings at bayat home at least.  I just don’t keep any of those lovely sweet, sticky,  yummy things in my house.  Out of sight out of mind.  Right?  (Fair warning: if you come to visit me you will need to bring your own cookies with you.)   Most of time this strategy works . . .

. . . but not at Easter.  Easter eggs are my downfall.  The first Easter eggs appeared in our shops here right around New Year.  I remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s just rude.  It’s pure commercialism and I am not going to buy into it.’  And I didn’t.  I made sure to quickly avert my eyes every time I came across them (or hot cross buns) in the supermarket aislesI was not going to get sucked in.  Not this year.  I felt all very virtuous and pleased with myself.

And then two weeks ago one of our college students presented me with a great big scrummy chocolate Easter Bunny.  He was gorgeous.  I took him home promising myself I would not touch him until much, much closer to Easter.  Who was I kidding?  I don’t think he even made it to tea-time.  Sigh.

Since then other lovely friends have also gifted me with all manner of glorious festive Eastery treats.  So that’s it.  I’m done for.  Chocolate coma, here I come . . . 

Happy Easter All!

This is an example of what can happen when Sally is let loose with her kiddie paints while on a chocolate high.
It got a little messy . . .


Posted by on April 14, 2017 in Uncategorized


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‘If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.’ Mark Twain.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

I feel like I have been eating frogs all week.  Honestly.  One frog after another after another . . .

And it shows in my writing.  Everything I tried to write this week has sounded grumbley, whingey or whiney so, as I believe there is enough of that in the world already, I have decided not to add to it (not this week anyway . . . )

Instead, I have decided to post a sketch of a frogone that I didn’t eatand I promise to be in a more cheerful frame of mind next week.

Have a great week everyone . . .


Posted by on April 7, 2017 in Uncategorized


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‘Doodling is the brooding of the hand.’ Saul Steinberg.

 Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

I have only recently taken up doodling again.  Or at least I should say, I have only recently ‘consciously’ taken up doodling again . . .

I used to doodle a lot, especially when I was working at the University where I seemed always to be taking Minutes for the (terminally dreary and seemingly endless) departmental meetings.  I never let anyone see my notes for those Minutes before they were all neatly typed up and distributed—partly because they were covered in elaborate doodles and scribbles—and partly because I tended to add my own thoughts on the conversations to my draft pages (some of which may well have got me sacked if anyone else had read them . . . )

Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time I think I used doodling as a way of keeping myself ‘present’ in those meetings.  I found if I just sat and listened my mind would invariably wander off (no doubt looking for my ‘happy place’) and I wouldn’t hear a thing that was being said (or I would become so bored I would find it a real struggle to not run screaming from the room) but oddly enough, if I drew on my pages as I listened I was more able to attend to the talk, remember who said what, and note down all the salient points.

It seems I knew what I was doing.  I recently read that research has now determined that people who doodle during meetings or through phone conversations can recall up to 29 percent more information afterwards than those who simply take notes.  It is also believed that the seemingly distracted scribbling also aids creativity, helps us to mull over problems and promotes ‘thinking outside the box’.  Who knew?

Although I don’t need to doodle my way through meetings to keep my sanity any more, I have started using doodling to ‘kick start’ me when I am in a sketching slump.  When I am tired or tetchy or in one of those I-really-want-to-draw-something-but-I-can’t-decide-what-to-draw kind of funks, I  just pick up a pen and a sketchbook and start scribbling.   And it works.  It gets my creative juices flowing, there’s no pressure to create a ‘final piece’, and it’s fun.

Nor am I alone in my enjoyment of this simple pastime.  Check out this Doodlers Anonymous website to see some seriously fabulous and artistic doodles.  

Or better still, spend some time doodling yourself and upload one of your own . . .


Posted by on April 4, 2017 in Uncategorized


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