Happy Camper

Last weekend we went camping. Since I’m supposed to stay off my feet for six months or more, when everyone went walking on the Saturday I stayed in the camp site. But that was fine with me, because a hundred metres or so away were some impressive views. I took my homemade ponchard box and did two paintings, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

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While having lunch, I spotted a goanna snooping around the edges of the camp site.

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I took a lot of pics, but the goanna managed to hide behind things most of the time. Later, while I was sitting quietly reading and having a cuppa, I had company again. I stayed put, and to my amazement he/she came right up to my chair. I had my iPhone on me, so I took a video, but my attempts to embed it on this page haven’t worked, unfortunately.

The walkers came back a few minutes later, and with some frantic signalling I got them to approach quietly so as to not frighten off the goanna. Much snapping of photos followed – probably much better ones than I took with my iPhone.

On the way to and from the campsite we drove past a lot of bushfire damage:

Along country roads:
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A plantation:
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Even along the main highway:
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And the coal mine was still alight:
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In Plein Air

Another “Do you remember this?” moment: aaaages ago, with Paul’s help, I made this ponchard box:

Well, three and a half years later I finally got around to using it. We went camping with friends a few weekends ago at Bear Gully, a little seaside camping spot in Victoria. I plonked myself on a stool on the beach on two of the days and was happy to find the box works perfectly – especially the all-important storage of paintings inside the lid.

The weather was very different. On the first day it was overcast but dry:

On the second the sun was out, but fortunately it wasn’t too hot:

Painting ‘in plein air’ was challenging and satisfying, but not exactly social. Which is why it took me so long to try the box. You really need a situation in which your friends/family/other half are happily otherwise occupied and don’t mind your attention being focussed elsewhere. Or else go with other painters.

Bonsai Travel

Way back when I first started travelling I assumed that the three sizes of suitcases were a guide to how much to pack. The big one was for international travel and the medium for domestic, and the small one for weekends away. Then I started working for Lonely Planet Publications as a designer and one of the many wisdoms I picked up is that you should never pack more than you can carry at a run for a kilometre.

By the time I stumbled on OneBag.com I thought I had mastered the art of travelling light. Half of what I read on the site made me feel smug that I’d already thought of it, but the other half was new and inspired me to pack even lighter.

On this last trip I travelled for most of the month with only a carry-on bag and a large handbag, knowing I’d have to haul them off and on of planes and trains with a bad back and no Paul to help. It was only at the convention at the end that I acquired more stuff than I could fit in my bag, but at that point we knew we could relax because we we would be taking a friend’s bag home with us.

So how do I manage with one carry on sized bag? Here’s some of my rules of bonsai travel:

* Make a ‘template’ packing list of essentials to copy and modify for each trip.
* Dress in layers and choose separates that will go with all other pieces. Sticking to a neutral and one colour helps. Avoid light colours if you’re travelling for a long time, as you might not have time or products to deal with food and sweat stains, which dark fabrics hide.
* If you do take light coloured clothing, remember to take a light coloured bra. Otherwise, take dark underthings.
* Choose clothing that will dry quickly and does not need ironing. I have fast-drying jeans and you can get ironing-free shirts.
* Wash clothing every few days with the hotel shampoo, using a travel towel to wring as much water out as possible, then hang on hotel coat hangers, traveler’s washing line and bathroom rails (it’s great when they’re heated, but take care not to melt delicate synthetics!).
* A shawl or sarong, depending on the climate, can be used as a scarf, skirt, jacket, shade cloth, bag and blanket.
* Reversible clothing, or clothing that can be worn more than one way, is great for travelling. It’s hard to find so keep it only for travelling.
* Shoes should be comfortable, hard-wearing and will survive being squished in a suitcase (with socks inside to hold the shape). I like to take one nice pair in case we go to a swish restaurant, but not heels as they take up too much room. I found my perfect travel shoe for this trip – black leather mary-sues with a runner-style sole. But I’d still need waterproofed runners as well if I anticipated walking in wet grass. At least one pair you take should be easily removed and without metal embellishments, for getting through security.
* Use jewellery to add interest to your wardrobe. Rigid circular necklaces and bracelets might bend and take up more room, so avoid them. Thread chains through straws to keep them from tangling. Perhaps take one chain/leather cord/ribbon and interchange pendants. Avoiding metal jewellery also helps avoid hold ups in security.
* Buy flat or small souvenirs as they are are easier to pack. I’ve often bought A4 sized artwork on holidays. It can slip inside the inevitable souvenir book. Otherwise, plan to buy things you’ll use or wear straight away. I nearly always buy a souvenir t-shirt, and like to buy socks, jewellery and scarves. I’m also a sucker for little travel-sized perfumes – non-aerosol of course.
* Work out how much you’ll use of bathroom products and decant into smaller containers. I’m always on the lookout for small plastic containers that don’t leak. Just to be sure, keep them in zip lock bags with a tissue to absorb moisture.
* Keep a lookout for products you use in travel sizes. I’ll often find they are only available outside of Australia, so I pop into pharmacies and supermarkets to see what they have.
* Choose a restricted make-up colour palette to match your clothing. For this last trip I bought lip-liners from the Body Shop and sawed them in half. (Cover your whole lip with liner before applying lipstick and you’ll still have some colour left after eating.) I also took an old, emptied blush compact and squished some lipstick colours into one compartment and cream eyeshadows into the other, then bought mini makeup brushes. Another trick is to buy foundation with sun-protection in it already so you don’t remove or have to reapply make-up when using sunscreen. Moisturiser can double as make-up remover and shaving cream.
* On some long-haul flights you can gamble on receiving some useful items, like moisturisers, lip balm, toothpaste and bed socks. If you’re travelling business or first class you might get pajamas, depending on the carrier. If your gamble doesn’t pay off you can always buy some when you get there. Resist taking what you won’t use. Don’t worry, the airlines recycle what isn’t opened or worn. (And I still haven’t found a use for multiple sleep masks.)
* IPhones are brilliant as they can be camera, torch, alarm clock, book, guidebook, phrasebook, notebook and computer as well as phone. During the parts of a flight when devices must be turned off, or when the battery is running, I have a crossword puzzle book and tear out the pages as I complete them, and a small novel or anthology that I don’t mind leaving behind when I finish it. A top-up battery is well worth having on hand, too.
* On trips where you need clothes for one kind of trip then move on to another kind (business to pleasure, warm to cool climate) or when you really want to buy something large and/or heavy, post things home or to a friend or family member. I print out slips of paper with the address on it to take with me, so there’s no chance my terrible handwriting will cause mistakes.

I’m always looking for new ways to pack light. One product I want to get hold of for my next trip is a couple of hooks that can clip onto those annoying anti-theft hotel coat hangers so I can hang clothes in the bathroom to dry. Clothes nearly always dry faster in the bathroom than in the wardrobe.

One product that is impossible to transfer into another container and I can never find in a travel size is a hypo-allergenic deodorant, so this time I made my own using this recipe. I’m tempted to try making other products now – especially if the result is solid and dry so I don’t have to put it in the liquids bag to go through security.

But while seeking out and trying products for bonsai travel is fun, the most effective way to achieve it is to simply take less stuff. I nearly always find I didn’t wear or could have done without one or two items of clothing, and only occasionally wish I’d brought something else. Usually the latter is something I couldn’t have predicted, to do with the local climate, and in that case what I need is usually available there. The only garments I wouldn’t gamble on finding at my destination are wet/cold weather gear and a bathing suit.

Not every travel tip will suit every traveller, too. The OneBag.com site advises against using a bag with wheels, since the mechanism takes up space and adds weight. But my back won’t stand up to carrying a 7-8 kilo bag round, so it’s a compromise I’ve accepted I have to make. Fortunately, wheely bags are getting lighter and lighter.

Gifted

The lovely woman who wrangles the writers at Supanova, Ineke, is a crocheter. A few years ago she made some fabulous, whacky Futurama hats for us. I adopted the Zoidberg one. This year she made amigurumi critters. When asked what I’d like, I suggested a sea turtle, since they eat jellyfish (long story there).

I think there was some frantic hooking between the Supanovas. When I arrived in Perth she presented me with this adorable guy:

In the meantime, I’d got to thinking that I ought to make a thank you gift in return. The first Supanova was in Sydney and we stayed a few extra days, and of course found ourselves walking past Tapestry Craft/Morris & Sons. The ground floor level, where all the cross stitch and embroidery products are, was suddenly more interesting than the yarn filled basement. I had an embroidery project in mind for my gift – perhaps a small pendant – then I spotted cross stitch mobile phone case kits.

It’s very likely I did cross stitch as a child, but I can’t remember. Still, it’s all about squares, be they crossed or pixels. So I bought some graph paper, googled for images of Ineke’s favourite Futurama character, and only needed to acquire two more colours than what I had for the projects I’d taken with me.

It was a lot more addictive and a lot slower than I expected, and I had to be very sneaky at snatching stitching time to get it finished by the last day, but I made it:

Of course, it meant I didn’t get much work done on the embroidery projects I took with me, but I was having too much fun to care. However, my eyesight has suddenly deteriorated a little, so I’m worried that all this stitching is the cause. I do most of it of an evening where the lighting isn’t fantastic but, well lit or not, working close is bound to have an effect.

I’m already rationing the time I spend stitching so be nice to my back and hands. Perhaps a good light is all I need. It can’t hurt.

A Week in New Zealand

We just returned from a week away. Some writerly friends arrange a writing retreat each year, and this time it was held at the new home of one of the couples – a big property in New Zealand that they’re planning to turn into a retreat hosting business. I had already decided it was going to treat it as more of a holiday than time for writing before the RSI struck, because now that Paul is going to photography school we can only travel during school holidays. Also, we didn’t make it north of Auckland when we visited in 2008, so it seemed like a good opportunity to cover that end of the country.

Our hosts’ new home even has a waterfall:

The first day trip we did was to the Kauri forests. It’s almost impossible to convey a sense of scale in photos. They’re huge:

The second trip was to Cape Reigna, the furthest north you can get by road:

And stopped by Ninety Mile Beach on the way back:

Our third was to Russell and the Bay of Islands:

All these photos were taken on my iPhone, whereas Paul took a ‘serious’ camera’. I did a little sketching, first of our host’s house:

And then their dog, Buffy:

It was great to see this bunch of friends again. They live far from me, so I tend to only see them at conventions or the retreat. We’re all writers so there’s a fair bit of writerly discussion and debate with a good mix of opinions and interests to spice it up. Along with lots of stirring and laughs, and a fair bit of overeating.

The end of the retreat was pretty much the end of my time off. It’s been a strange ‘holiday’. A lot of what I’d like to have done was scuttled by RSI, and I suspect I’ll have a nagging feeling I wasted the break when I look back. With that in mind, I’m relieved I organised to spend some time away from home.

It’s a shame, but I really do need to get out of the house in order to have a proper break. I guess it’s a down side of working from home. I can’t help checking websites and Twitter, and unless you tell people you’re not going to be home on your holiday they’ll still contact you about work.

A week away from the computer, craft, housework, cooking, etc. seems to have given my right hand and wrist the rest it needed. It feels a lot better, though the true test will be when I get back to work on Monday. I have some changes to make to my book by the end of the month. If I get through that without the RSI flaring up, things will be looking promising for the future.

Happy New Year

Paul and I just spent a week away, heading to Adelaide via Mount Gambier and back again spending a night in Halls Gap. We saw the New Year in with friends holding a musicals themed costume party, me as Sarah from Labyrinth and Paul as the construction worker from the Village People movie.

2011 was the year I gave up on LJ and started writing LJish blog posts here as well as craft posts. I began the year over at LJ with this list of things to achieve:

Work Stuff:
Writing The Book
Going on tour
Finishing, polishing and editing The Book
Bringing together ideas, writing a proposal for and selling the next series
Writing more short stories

Non-work Stuff:
Honing my drawing/painting skills (start life drawing classes)
Continuing making things and learning new skills (craft and art)
Reading more (or listen to audio books when my back is too stuffed for reading)
Walking more
Spending less time sitting at the computer making my back worse

Wow. I actually did nearly everything. The only item I’m not sure I achieved was walking more. It’s not that I didn’t do any walking though.

So what else did I do in 2011?

* Finished watching all of the films in the ABC Top 100 Films list except for Wings of Desire, which I still haven’t been able to get hold of.

* Was transfixed by the QLD/NSW/VIC flood news footage.

* Used up most of my silk painting materials at a Craft Day.

* Had the paving finished off, which was effectively the last bit of the big renovations.

* A week or so later a picture rail fell down and our lounge flooded.

* Opened an exhibition, at which a chat with the curator of the gallery about “contemporary with a small ‘c’ versus contemporary with a big ‘C’” that sparked lots of thought about art and whether I really fit with the art group I was in.

* Tried Ethiopian cooking.

* Tried a few printing methods and decided it was waaay too messy.

* Rearranged the workroom and decided to call it ‘the studio’. (Name didn’t stick though.)

* Was transfixed by the Christchurch quake news footage.

* Saw Hawkwind with Paul (and liked the support band a lot).

* Culled my cd and dvd collection.

* Culled my to-read pile down to 130+ books.

* Got my stash down to ten kilos.

* Got all my unframed art framed, updated the gallery site and managed to sell some work.

* Was transfixed by the Japan tsunami news footage.

* Launched a friend’s book.

* Was ‘filler’ at Supernova. (As we writers are next to the Big Stars.)

* The neighbours arranged to replace the fence and ‘fix’ the retaining wall. Then a tree branch fell on the fence. And the garden bed started washing through the holes in the shonky wall repairs…

* Had to say a final goodbye to Peri Peri, my 19 year old feline companion of 16 years.

* Finished making the pattern for and sewed up two sets of robes for characters from my books, photographed friends wearing them and started doing character sketches.

* Signed up for The Sketchbook Project.

* Adopted Slinky.

* Decided I wouldn’t start a BA in fine art, which is just as well because…

* Got RSI and had to give up knitting.