Quiet Days

Now available in the shop: Greeting cards *** Music CDs *** New Zealand photography *** Sheet music

In this newsletter:
*** Living in the Wairarapa
*** News, Current Projects & Things for Sale
*** Painting Fools
*** Planting Food

Living in the Wairarapa

The Christmas season has been blessedly quiet and uneventful here in Featherston: a much needed respite after all the drama and excitement of the past few months!

Seeing that I have somehow managed to find a place to live that is about 99% what I have always dreamed of (I haven't figured out yet what the one percent is, but I'm sure there is one, things being always imperfect under the moon. It might be motor lawn mowers.) - I haven't really felt any need to go anywhere over the holidays.

The plan had been to work straight through the holidays and then take a proper holiday a little later in the summer, after the crowds have vacated the beaches. But I had worked myself into such a frenzy over the issues I've been having with those Enterprise Allowance people, that I actually was quite sick before Christmas. Once the holiays arrived, I simply couldn't go on.

So I decided to have an utterly unsocial couple of weeks and pampered myself with good meals, tasty home baking, a few bottles of the excellent Wairarapa red wine, and one of my favourite books. I left the car in the parking lot and instead explored the surroundings by bike, and worked on a coupe of projects that are dear to my heart, if not immediately lucrative. And for the first time in I don't know how many years, I've had my own Christmas tree! In true New Zealand style, I adapted my potted Manuka tree to the purpose, but hey.

As to the Enterprise Allowance funding - after the last meeting I had with these guys in December, I have come to the conclusion that not only is trying to comply with what these people are wanting to impose on me not conductive to being successful with my business, but also that the money that they'd give me is not worth the hassling and the bullying. I am already doing the darnedest I can, and have been for so many years - there is absolutely no point in trying to push me any further.

At least I would expect to be treated with common courtesy by a bunch of people whose job description is to give advice and help people such as myself to run up their business and get off the Dole - which is precisely what I am aiming to do. But it appears these people are living on a different planet than the one I am inhabiting, and besides, one cannot very well have a constructive conversation with someone who assumes, by default, that one is lying to them. I only wish I had! So as far as I am concerned, they can stick their money up somewhere - I'll survive. Somehow.

News, Current Projects & Things for Sale

I am very pleased to announce that my Middle-earth New Zealand calendar has now sold out! Putting them on Ebay really did the trick. That is, I have sold out my own copies - there are a few more available from René at the Tolkien Shop, so if you've made up your mind belatedly, do buy one there. He's been so supportive with this project, he deserves to at least sell all his copies. If you find the website a bit confusing, you can also send René an email and request a copy.

Next year, there will most definitely be more! If you wish to be notified when they are released, please send me an email here.

Lots of people have commented on how much they like my Vector Fox greeting card - and a few have actually bought some! I am currently working on finding a local supplier for my cards, but once I've sorted out the details, I'll be gradually adding more cards to the shop. It's a fine excuse to do more artwork! Now perhaps one ought to investigate why this artist thinks she needs an excuse to do artwork, but ... let's not go there.

I have been busily working away on my series of illustrations for Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series. I will need to adhere to a pretty strict schedule of finishing at least one painting a month, if I want to get them ready in time to make them into a 2011 calendar, but things are looking good at the moment. It's much easier to get into a regular work schedule with this now that I have a separate room to do my painting in. And besides, there won't be any disruptive trips overseas this year. Well, at least not in the first half of the year. :dreams on:

Lastly, I've put a few of my original oil paintings up for sale! There is a Lord of the Rings illustration for sale in my Etsy store, and a series of small abstract works for auction on Ebay (there is a "see other items" link below the "seller info" on the right side, if you want to check out all my listings). I participate in the Ebay Giving Works programme, so if you bid on any of my things there, 10% of the proceeds goes to UNICEF, to help kids in Haiti, or whereever else there is need.

Ursula Le Guin: A Wizard of Earthsea: meeting the shadow (detail) Ursula Le Guin: A Wizard of Earthsea: meeting the shadow (detail) Ursula Le Guin: A Wizard of Earthsea: meeting the shadow (detail) Ursula Le Guin: A Wizard of Earthsea: meeting the shadow (detail)

Ursula Le Guin: illustrations for A Wizard of Earthsea:: meeting the Shadow (oil on canvas)

Painting Fools

+++Warning: spoilers for Robin Hobb's "Tawny Man" books ahead+++

Since I was feeling such a need to be unsocial over the holidays, I picked up Robin Hobb's Tawny Man series again for company. I've already written about Robin Hobb's massive triple trilogy in a previous newsletter - but it has been very worth my while reading those books again, and so I'm sure it won't hurt writing about them again. :)

I've gradually been working my way through the entire set of nine books, to refresh my memory before I delve into the most recent continuation of the saga, Dragon Keeper. And to make sure that once I did, I wouldn't have to wait too long for the next sequel: Dragon Haven is due to be released in May. The Tawny Man series - and Golden Fool in particular - remains by far my favourite of the current set. But I must admit, I have been missing out on a lot of the subtler stuff the first time round.

Of course it helps to know how the story pans out, and to have a good knowledge of all the characters and their particular foibles. You might have figured out that I don't read books for suspense - in fact, the first time I read the Tawny Man series, I kept skipping ahead, because I was far too impatient to plod my slow way through the nearly 2000 pages of the trilogy to find out what happened.

One thing I almost entirely missed out on before, is the profound sense of humour that happens between the lines. Fitz, the main character and narrator of both the first and third set of trilogies, is just such a self-deluded, and rather paranoid, fellow. Endearing, but not very perceptive about his own emotions, and those of the people around him as they relate to himself. Indeed, at several points in the story one feels like taking him and shaking him. I do get passionate about the characters in my books.

His friend the Fool reappears in his life after fifteen years of absence, and quickly shakes him out of his quiet rural existence and back into the polical intrigues of the Buckkeep court. The Fool, whom we have seen in several different incarnations in previous parts of the saga, now takes on the character of a foreign nobleman - a persona whom readers will easily recognize as being flamboyantly gay, in his obsession with expensively tailored clothing, cosmetics, perfumes, and the finer things in life. Not to mention his ruse to employ Fitz as his "bodyguard", in order to hide his true identity, and to show him off on every occasion, which naturally gives rise to all sorts of rumours at court.

The only person who seems to be entirely impervious to all the subtext, and to the Fool's persistent and ingenious courting (including supplying his "servant's" dismal little valet's chamber with a set of particularly scratchy woolen blankets), is poor Fitz. He is, after all, in love with Molly, and has been since book one, even though he hasn't seen the girl in 16 years, and she has gone off and married Fitz's foster father and made lots of children. And even though he is actually completely gaga over the Fool - a fact that appears to be glaringly obvious to most every other character in the story except himself.

You're welcome to blame it on my own heterosexual blind spots, but this last is something I really only picked up on on second reading. Since Fitz is himself the narrator of the story, his own attraction to the Fool is not once explicitly stated - but it is very obvious in the way the Fool is being perceived and described (not to mention constantly thought and worried about), by Fitz, the narrator. Which, I must say, is a pretty clever artifice on the part of the author. It fooled me, the first time round, and I consider myself a fairly perceptive reader.

I did have a weird feeling that I had missed something, though. That is, after all, why I decided to read the whole lot again. The first time round, I was full of sympathy and heartache for the Fool's unrequited passion. This second time, it reads more like a story about Fitz's struggle to find the courage to admit his own emotions to himself. One does wonder if he and Molly will be very happy when they do get back together in the end. Most of the clues would indicate that this is not very likely! I really do hope the story is not finished telling yet.

Robin Hobb: Ship of Magic: Amber Robin Hobb: Ship of Magic: Amber and Paragon (detail) Robin Hobb: Ship of Magic: Paragon Robin Hobb: Ship of Magic: Amber's face

Robin Hobb: illustrations for The Liveship Traders :: Ship of Magic:: Amber and Paragon (Photoshop/tablet)

Robin Hobb: Fool's Errand: Fool, Fitz and Nighteyes (detail) Robin Hobb: Fool's Errand: Fool's face Robin Hobb: Fool's Errand: Nighteyes Robin Hobb: Fool's Errand: Fool and his horse Malta

Robin Hobb: illustrations for The Tawny Man :: Fool's Errand:: Fool, Fitz and Nighteyes (Photoshop/tablet)

Planting Food

The community here in Featherston is not lacking in initiative - they even got their own Facebook page! Finally a way to keep up with community events that suits my own modes of communication. :D The local Community Centre seems to be quite a hub of activity. Just before Christmas, they put on an exhibition of local artists, where I boldly invited myself and was made quite welcome.

The other event I attended was a seminar on bio gardening, which mostly went way over my head and made me realize just how much I do not know about growing my own vegetables. Apparently there is more to it than just stick a plant in the ground and see what happens... :P

Incidentally, the only other attendee turns out to be a film editor who lives just up the road. He actually went and looked up my website and Youtube channel - much to my embarrassment, after I had a look at his channel. Make sure to check out that New York showreel ! Once I snap out of my current utterly unsocial phase, I really do need to go and knock on his door sometime.

But back to the topic at hand: My completely inexpert attempts at growing some food stuff in my backyard are showing the first tentative results. I have been religiously sautering small handfulls of my own green beans and peas, and though so far they haven't exactly been plentiful, I've seldom had a better meal.

The lettuces are now big enough to harvest and promise to supply me with fresh green stuff until the season is over, and there is hope of tomatoes in the near future. I also discovered that radishes grow really fast and are seriously tasty when plucked straight out of the ground! They never were my favourite vegetable, but I might change my opinion on that.

The first challenge I faced when I moved here in November, was digging up some of the lawn - which turned out to be quite the physical task. Since I was also anxious to get my plants into the ground before it got any later in the year, I did a bit of a shoddy job of it, and ended up planting things hodge-podge whereever there was enough of a hole in the ground. But I suppose I can do a better and more thorough job of it this winter, and have proper organized beds next season. As I intend to live here for the next 10 to 40 years, there really is no rush.

The other thing that took me by surprise was - THE WIND! We did get some fierce winds here in November and December, and even into January, though I am told it is a seasonal thing and ought to calm down from now on. I sure hope so - since my garden consists mostly of a piece of open lawn, there isn't a whole lot of shelter for my poor vegetables! The zucchini are struggling, but hopefully as the weather grows more stable, they'll still come along. The broccoli and cauliflower have really benefited from the very rainy weather this week, the onions and leeks are beginning to look like onions and leeks, rather than chives, and I'm all in suspense to see if the eggplant and capsicum will actually produce some fruit.

The trees and shrubs I've been moving around with me in pots for the last several years also seem much happier to be living in the Wairarapa. The two feijoa trees looked close to dying after their three years in Northland, but now that I've put them in the ground, they are growing for a wonder. My olive tree was even worse off, but now you wouldn't know it - apparently the Wairarapa climate is really suitable for olives, which is also why there are olive farms springing up left, right and center in this area. My lemon and lime I have not put in the ground yet - I'll need to observe the wind situation a little longer before I do that. At the moment they live in sheltered, if somewhat shady, nook behind the house. For a tree that has already been clinically dead once, the little lemon is doing splendidly indeed.

New in the family are a red and a black currant - I couldn't resist buying one when I spotted them at the Warehouse garden centre the other day, and since I couldn't decide if I wanted a red or a black one, I took them both. The red has been suffering much from the wind, but the black is doing beautifully.

The cherry tree in front of the house was a bit of a disappointment - it turned out to produce only tiny little wild cherries for the birds. One of the fruit trees behind the house seems to be a peach which is too old or sick to have peaches, the other is too old and sick to even identify itself, but the third one is definitely an apple tree, and I see plenty of apple pie in my future. And then there is a walnut! I'll be posting photos of the pies I will be baking later in the year, I promise. :)

Arohanui, from Asni