2018 was a good year

Two things involving words that I have not done for a while: I haven’t written a blog and I certainly have not sent off any Christmas cards. So here I sit on a Friday night, deciding to kill two birds with one stone.

Looking back at this last year, I must say it is a vast improvement on some of the recent previous. We lost Mum in 2016, and it took a while to get used to not having her wonderful presence around. Last year I wrote my longest self-published book ‘Auckland to Orkney’ after spending weeks roaming Scotland. I figured I’ll have a go at jotting down the significant events of this year, which (unbelievably) is nearly over.

February: The week long camping trip up at Kai Iwi lakes. This is a wonderful summer tenting holiday–usually–and although my sis and I got a few days of swimming in the clear fresh water and reading, the winds began to howl around us, and the rain threatened, so we packed up and went North instead. Visited a few places I haven’t been in a while and stayed in motels or B&Bs.

April saw the weather more settled and a small but heartwarming gathering of our small church to see the sun rise for Easter morning.

May and June: Helen (sis) and I headed off for six weeks to the UK. We hung out for a few days with our dear friends in Bournemouth visiting some of the local sites.

We flew from London to Tirana, Albania, to meet up with some folk from small house church gatherings along with other women from the UK, USA, Canada and the Netherlands. It was glorious.

Then we went to Paris for a couple of days, staying in Montmartre.

We took the fast train to the south of France, and stayed in St. Remy, Provence, going out each day to visit various of the many quaint picturesque spots nearby. Every day was full of glory, from a clear green river that poured out of a mountainside, to the Van Gogh sanitarium where he spent many years, to the Roman ruins just outside St Remy. Two weeks of enjoying Provence- and we even found an early field of lavender.

We flew direct from Marseilles to Dublin, where Helen experienced Ireland for the first time, and I saw how much it had changed since I saw it thirty years ago. Our trip to Ireland finished with a trip out to County Wicklow.

July, and we were well and truly back in wintery Auckland, both of us at new jobs. Mine was as a PhD Administrator for the School of Engineering, Computer & Maths Sciences at AUT University. I am working three days a week there, but it is busy, and the other two days are spent even busier at home. I had found out the day before we left to go to the UK that my first fiction book – An Unexpected Highlander – was accepted by a publisher, and so I came home and began my second historical romantic fiction (of course!). Somewhat surprisingly, my strongest supporters turned out to be a group of engineering tutors and supervisors who I got to know going up to level 6 to make my coffee in the morning. I became known as ‘Enid’ in honour of Enid Blyton. But of course, truly, my largest band of encouragers are the many friends I have made through the Outlander fandom, who all love well – Scotland, history, adventure, romance, and a good yarn.

And so the long winter months progressed:

By September, I completed the final edits on my new book, and in October it was published and for sale through Boroughs Publishing Group (LA) or Amazon. Needless to say, I was and still am, excited and thrilled.

Also this month, I received an intriguing request from someone I didn’t know. Initially I ignored it until the person identified themselves as a child who I had taught back in 1980, in my third year teaching. They had organised a meet up at a local pub, and to my delight and surprise, a small group of ex-pupils from Edendale Primary School were there, and one of the teachers I had taught with. A happy reunion indeed!

Mid-October I flew to Brisbane, and was picked up by a fellow Outlander fan and her husband, and stayed the night with them before Amanda drove us on a lengthy day-long journey down to Glen Innes in NSW for a ‘Through the Stones’ Outlander Gathering. Here I met up with a wonderful boisterous bunch of mainly women from the ANZOFs group (Australian and New Zealand Outlander Fans), and we spent three days delighting in all things Scottish and Outlander, even meeting David Berry, who plays Lord John in the show.

In November, I sent my second novel to the publisher and am currently awaiting the response. I am halfway through my teen novel about a boy who is transformed by a magical pearl and can breathe underwater.

It is now December. Endless functions rounding up the year have happened at work. I have taken to cycling the three days I work in town, to try and improve my exercise – if the weather is not too bad. Have even managed to cycle a couple of times with my older brother and younger sister, which was great. We are all looking forward to summer, which has only hinted at being here. Christmas is a couple of weeks away, and then the true holidays begin.

I hope you who are reading this, have a peaceful, festive, fun season, and can face 2019 with hope and cheerful anticipation, as I am.

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What is someone’s creativity and diligence worth to you?

A word about copyright.

We live in a world bursting with opportunities, with a cornucopia of innovation and design, with an endless stream of entertainment at our fingertips. Much of what is available to us comes free, through a stream of social media apps that allow us to be able to share them with our friends or just enjoy for ourselves.

But are they really free?

If we lived in a world that had to be constructed out of our own abilities, with materials we had grown, and using skills we had acquired, imagine the cardboard kingdoms most of us would be forced to survive in. But we don’t have to rely upon our own abilities. Most of what we use is available to us because someone, somewhere, had an idea, found a producer, and distributed what we want/need to us for something that benefitted them. Nowadays, it is usually money, but it once might have been swapping or trade of some sort.

I digress.

The last two weeks have forced me to face the unpleasant side of human nature, the side that would steal or snatch from someone else what is rightfully theirs. And there is that side in us, that wants something for nothing. (Just check out the terrible videos of Black Friday sales to get some idea of what we become when there’s the possibility of getting something for much less than its worth.)

I was informed by a friend on FB that someone was selling my ‘Gabeaux Tapestry’ mugs on Amazon.com. And sure enough, when I went over to Amazon and put the words Gabeaux Tapestry into the search bar, I saw my small book that I had self-published there, and also a long range of products using the words Gabeaux in the title or copy. These are exact – or close – copies of the actual products sold legitimately through Redbubble.com here. And by the way, I invented the word ‘Gabeaux’ for my tapestry as well!

My mind drifted back to the years I had gradually worked on these 32 panels of tapestry design, and the initial idea that had burgeoned in me when I saw the Bayeux Tapestry and thought of doing the same for Outlander. It was hard work, and took a long time, but I loved every minute of it. IT COST ME. To find that some unscrupulous company or person, (changing their name regularly on the product) feels it’s okay to steal and sell my design is disheartening at the very least.

ALL OF MY GABEAUX PRODUCTS are for sale solely on Redbubble here.

Thanks to all of you who have written a review on these products saying they are stolen. I do appreciate the support you have given.

Then I found that my first published book, An Unexpected Highlander, was offered for free on some sites as a download, and to make it worse, some reviews below the download stating how happy the recipient was because they had searched for a free download for ages. Seriously? It is $3.99 to get it for Kindle – a paltry sum considering how long it took to write. (Smoke was coming out of my ears at this point). I have notified the publisher. Please spend the little amount asked for to download it from Amazon here, or Boroughs here. THANKS. (And yes, please write a review!)

I moved over to Twitter for some light relief, and there amongst the Thanksgiving greetings and memes, was one I had done a year or two ago. I had used photoshop to put each member of the cast of Outlander around the table, and put Mrs Fitz and the Laird at the far end. It took a while to do this, and I got nothing but the pleasure of knowing that people would enjoy it, out of doing it. I signed it with my customary @sniskybobfry twitter handle. In this instance, though, the person who put my old meme up, had carefully cut around the edge of the piece to obliterate my name, (also cutting out some of the people at the table), and added a Happy Thanksgiving over the top. Now, in the big scheme of things, it’s nothing really. I’m glad she liked it enough to save it and use it. But it really wouldn’t have hurt to leave my name on it as author, and I might have even been credited in the post, which would have pleased me. But no, she wanted the credit for herself. Sigh.

Thanksgiving2

And on that note: I AM THANKFUL for all the people who have regularly encouraged me and laughed at my memes, bought my book and my tapestry products.

Ah well, it’s amazing how precious one’s own work can become when you labour over it for hours, or days, or years—and had I never done so, I would probably not have felt the surge of disgust and dismay over the last two weeks that I have. Regardless, I will keep creating and keep hoping to make a little money out of some of what I do. And I will be careful to credit others I see doing the same—even the big fish in the pond, like Starz/Sony and their Outlander production. When I hear people suggesting there might be a way to get a copy for free from somewhere, I am equally disappointed.

Anything worth having, is worth paying for. You will value it more as well.

 

 

The Past Comes Calling

For a brief window of time after leaving school, I was a primary school teacher. I loved the first three years–one spent at Whangarei, the next two at Edendale Primary in Sandringham, and then I was thrown out on my ear to fend for myself. Those were the days when you were paid to be a student for three years at teacher’s college, and then you needed to serve out your bond for three years, and after that you were on your own. That fourth year was always a tough one. You usually got given the tough kids, the old prefab for a classroom, and the lion’s share of playground duty. That’s how I experienced it anyway. After two months of crossing town to get there, and struggling through the days with unmotivated students, I would come home and sniffle back a few tears. Finally I gave up and pursued my love of art and illustration.

Anyway, my last full year of teaching was in 1980, and I loved this class. As with all my classes, I read profusely from Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and A. A. Milne. These were children aged between 7 and 9 and ready to take on some of these amazing stories. A few days ago I got a message on my Outrageous Outlander page from someone who requested I call them. I ignored it. Then he sent a photo of the class of 1980 and identified himself, and said that some of the class were meeting today for a drink and a catch up. Naturally I decided to go and see how they had turned out.

Here’s the class of 1980.

Jennyinclass1980

With some trepidation I made my way to Sandringham to meet up with some of these students after 38 years absence. To my delight there were students from the neighbouring classrooms as well and also their teacher, who I knew as Janie Watts. I have a great two hours telling anecdotes, hearing the same, and putting faces to some of the ones in this pic.

ReunionofClass1980

I have told the duckling story for many years, partly because it was so funny, and partly because it is humbling to realise that I did such silly things back then. Yes, I set up a crude bench in the room with the legs facing OUT, and put a small duckling inside. And yes, the sweet child with the pigtails in the front row put her legs up against the bench and it came down, effectively squashing the duckling. It was Bart’s first pet – and Bart was there today.

My colleague has long since left teaching as well, although she has done plenty of unpaid teaching at mission stations around the world. I am going to find out more from her in coming days.

MissJeffriesandMrsWatts

My head is still whirling with the pleasant couple of hours spent seeing these fine men and women again. I hope the next time, a few more will come.

ThreeclassesfromEdendaleMyClassof1980

A Handy topic

Hands

I have very mixed feelings about my hands. If I were to look at them objectively, they are certainly not beautiful. In fact, judging by the poetry, paintings and literature of the past, my hands are a good indication that I come from good solid peasant stock. Much as I’d like to believe I was from a long line of needle-working ladies, spending their days in a turret room embroidering or sipping tea, I just know my ancestor was down in the dairy milking the cows or planting potatoes.

A lady’s hands look like this:

HandPainting    HandPainting2.jpg

A peasant’s hands look like this:

Handspainting5

To top it all off, I am a big lass, and you might think I could wear those gaudy rings but alas, I can NEVER get any in my size. If I had ever married, I’m sure I would have had a ring or two sized to fit and probably loved them. The thing is – I’m so used to using my hands for so much, that I can’t imagine how to do all the things I do with annoying metal bands around the fingers. I can’t even bear to have long fingernails and worry about breaking a painted nail. How can anyone type with any passion with nails like that?

And then, of course, there are the age spots. Mine seem to be coming in early. I have a strong memory of my beloved Mum’s hands – bent over with arthritis, spotted with many, many discolorations, but always busy and so constantly working on things she loved or things for people she loved. Playing her mandolin, cooking endless meals, sewing, knitting, reading, playing Scrabble. My own hands – sadly – are showing signs of going the same way. The joints are getting painful and swelling, the spots are getting darker, and this is on top of being large ‘capable’ hands anyway.

HandsbyVincent

BUT – and here’s where I’m going with this. I LOVE all that my hands have enabled me to do. They’re not beautiful or decorated or photo worthy, but they have taken images in my head and made pictures with them: Books, diaries, blogs, oil and water paintings, illustrations, cartoons, memes. They are the primary way I express myself. They are how I have made my living, both as a graphic designer and now in my many and varied guises.

I rarely remember to use hand cream, I often forget my gloves, I try to hide them from photographs, but for all my meanness towards them, they have served me well.

So, this is a small but necessary tribute to the appendages at the ends of my arms, even now touch-typing the words of this blog. I hope they give a warm and firm handshake when I meet people, and I hope they continue to be a vehicle for all the ways I want to express myself.

Hands2

God bless all the peasant women down my line, who pulled up potatoes, peeled vegetables, chopped wood, did laundry, mended clothes and endured chilblains. I would rather have my strong, capable, ugly hands than the weak slim white ones of a true lady.

On the strength of that, I might just go and give them a rest and a dab of cream.

Living life with passion

This post is a little reminder to myself – as much as anything – to ‘seize the day’. I remember various moments in my life when something was said or revealed that brought forth a resounding YES inside me; something that I might never have been able to put into so many words.

everyoneattable

One of those moments was the movie ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ with Robin Williams. When he, as an English teacher, inspired his students to ‘seize the day’ and they grasped what he meant and everything changed, I was transfixed. Yes, lots of other things happened in that movie and a terrible sadness at the end, but it did not change the central truth he had espoused.

dead-poets-society-cast-now-poster

Now don’t get me wrong: I do NOT open my eyes upon waking and spring out of bed full of the joie de vivre. But I do wake up most days feeling positive and running possibilities through my head for what to do, dependent upon weather and inclination.

My list of possibilities runs like this:

Coffee and catch up with friends

Cycling on my electric bike with or without friends

Trying my hand at baking

Going for a walk somewhere, or just for exercise locally

Hanging out at the local library

Reading

Watching a movie either at the cinema or online

Picking up a manuscript I’ve started and writing some more of the story (for a novel)

Doing an Outlander meme just for fun and putting it up online

Planning a future trip somewhere

Meeting with my house church and singing and sharing

Doing a painting or illustration

Breakfast at Bach

There is another list I have, which is along the lines of things I need to do, but which I have no passion for – things like dusting (way down), taking my car for a warrant of fitness, housework, going through my clothes and dispensing with the unwanted ones. And here’s a small truth I have discovered over the years: If I get even one of the things on this latter list done now and then, my favourite things can be approached with more freedom and lightness of heart.

I feel sure I am talking to the converted here. Many people know what it is to have a passion about what they do, and the things they get excited about can be astounding to me. I work as an administrator for people doing PhDs in Computer and Mathematical Sciences. I have held a thick thesis in my hands full of gobbledegook and symbols, and look up at the earnest and shining face of the student who has devoted the last few years to compiling this tome, and recognise someone who is as passionate as I. . . for something I cannot begin to understand.

Or I meet someone for whom my second list of undesirable tasks is what gets their heart racing, and wonder how I could be so different. So it’s much LESS about WHAT you do, as about actually recognising what you love doing, and finding new and deeper ways of getting involved with whatever that is. And there will always be other people who share your specific interest.

I always loved painting – oils mainly – but over the last few years, my living space has so reduced that I can no longer find room to set up a canvas and leave it for days. What it forced me to do – once I got over my feeling of frustration – was to allow my creative energies to flow into words instead of pictures, and I discovered that I really did love to write. I paint the same pictures in my mind, but as a flowing story, and then describe it, and recently I actually finished a novel I started as an experiment. After some editing and changes, I sent it off and to my utter astonishment, had it accepted by a publisher.

Now, of course, I am hooked. My book comes out in October – no, I’m not revealing its name just yet – and I am still amazed and thrilled that my imagination conjured up a story that a publisher wanted.

Anyway, if you’d asked me ten years ago what I would be doing today, I couldn’t have guessed. It has so much to do with following trails and meeting people and traveling, and opening doors and dealing with sudden changes of circumstance. And amongst it all: maintaining a passion for living and trying out new things. Going on adventures you were too afraid to do on your own when you were younger. Looking after the people you are close to, and being kinder. Watching your negative attitudes and words and consciously turning from them. I have so many people who have inspired me in these latter statements, the list is longer than I could name. . . these are the people to watch.

Okay, ramble over.

HandaIsland

Rollercoaster ride

I’ve been back just over a week now, and fully adjusted. That means I’ve gone from this:

IMG_4647

to this:

WetBusstop

From places that are so dry that the ground is hard and baked:

Dry

to a place where every crack and cranny seems green-tinged with mould and moisture. The grass is sodden, the roads seem never to lose their wetness, and the trees drip over my head as I walk to work. Winter in Auckland.

I’m trying to keep up the exercise, although it is SO EASY to huddle indoors and stay dry. But I’ve just come back from a cycle between showers feeling refreshed and energised again.

It’s amazing that my body has coped with the utter difference in the seasons, and the opposite timeframe, so that I am once again sleeping when I was walking the dry streets of Provence only recently. And I’ve started a new job, which means working at one of these:

Desk

At least my new desk allows me to stand now and then. And if I shut my eyes I can still smell the dry air and imagine myself beside the pool in St Remy, Provence.

EnjoyingSun

I can even here the cicadas – can you?

Just an observation about British vs USA actresses. . .

Now please, don’t be offended. I have no intention of denigrating the talents of any of these actors, but it is an interesting thing to me how different the perceptions and expectations of older women actors in both countries come across.

I’ve just come back from seeing an excellent documentary/movie which felt just like taking tea with the gorgeous women we know and love in so many British dramas and films; all of them Dames: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins. Here’s the pic of them:

Tea With Dames

Three of them are 83, and Joan is 88. At no time do I remember seeing them play parts that were not entertaining and rich in character – often quirky characters but always absolutely riveting on screen. Note that they have grey hair, wrinkles, and no botox or plastic surgery apparent. Just some wonderful CHARACTERFUL faces.

In the prelude to seeing this film, the shorts were shown of this one from the USA that is coming: Bookclub. Four very fine actresses are in this as well, although it was marred for me for two reasons: 1) the silly premise – it just feels flippant and lightweight and revolves around four older women (all totally made up and glamorous in every shot!) and their love lives. 2) to some degree or other they were trying to look 30 years younger than they truly are. Oh, they were playing older women, but not as I know older women – these were women who relied heavily on looks and plastic surgery. Here they are:

BookClub

If the goal is to try and look as young as you can, then they succeed. I go to movies or watch series on tv for much more than that. This is not a movie I’m interested in seeing AT ALL!! Admittedly, their ages range from Diane Keaton (72) through to Jane Fonda (83), so they’re a tad younger over all than the British women above, but what a different journey and experience they have had in their ongoing careers beyond their 40s.

Any of the movies or series I have seen the ladies in the top picture in, have been compelling viewing for me, and very much about women who are comfortable with who they are right now: Witty, funny, sarcastic, charming, and all of their vast experience is written upon their faces. I want to be like that in ten and twenty years myself.

The ladies in the lower pic have worked very hard to maintain their careers – I’ve never seen them play anything but attractive, funny women trying to bumble along in life with as much panache as they can. No other types or roles are apparently available to them any more.

My rave is over. My point is made. Be who you are and be glad, and grow old gracefully. Please.

Home again

We arrived into a dark and foggy morning here in Auckland and 5c temperatures. Lovely to be back and especially on a day that gradually put on its best dress for us: sunny, blue, no wind.

Naturally, I went to bed.

The homeward journey was greatly improved (for me) by an upgrade to business class for the first 12 hour leg of journey. I made full use of the lounge at Heathrow:

And wiled away a few hours there while Helen roamed the terminal and sat in departure lounge. Business class meant the unheard of delight of being able to lie down in some comfort- and I managed to sleep for much of this leg.

At LA we actually had to change planes which meant not only did we have to go through the interminable immigration process (we were transit passengers!) but we had to retrieve our bags and put them on another Air New Zealand flight. I won’t complain though – the man ahead of us at the check-in desk was none other than Sheriff Longmire from the excellent series on Netflix- i missed greeting him, sadly.

After another less comfortable 12 hours we arrived home early this morning. I’m pretty spaced out and feel like I’m walking in a daze. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Last full day in Ireland and a trip into the country

I’m starting with the last bit which was the best: meeting this gregarious and voluble butcher – Isaac Lett by name.

More on that later.

We set off on the Graylines coach for a day’s jaunt around Wicklow and Glendalough. Some 30 years ago my friend Cathy and I had stayed in a hostel nearby and I remember the stone tower clearly.

It was a full bus and the driver a chatty Englishman called Richie. He kept up a lively monologue and in betweentimes played Irish ballads. Helen and I have decided we don’t like ballads.

We wound up to Enniskerry through narrow winding roads, overhung by trees and hugging the hedgerows.

It looked a bit like Scotland at times.

At one point we were shown a trickle of water that would prove to be the start of the mighty river Liffey:

Then stopped to view the ‘Guiness Lake’ – a wonderful dark peaty lake in green surrounds.

As the sun lifted the mists away it was lovely to see.

On we rumbled from the highest town in Ireland down towards Glendalough – where an ancient monkish city is now a tourist attraction complete with visitor’s centre and carpark. (Unlike 30 yrs ago).

We wandered from the ruins to a boardwalk that circles the lake. Very pretty – and busy with walks – all around here.

I returned and paid to view the exhibits inside.

We pushed on down to Avoca – and stopped at Tinnahinch for a late pub lunch – ham steak and pineapple for me, cottage pie for Helen.

On the way back to the bus a butcher came out of his shop to chat – very funny and friendly. Who would have guessed he’d been a bikie in the past! He even knew and revered the notorious Hell’s Angels in NZ. He insisted on the photos and forgave us for flooding the UK market with NZ lamb. Although he’d never stock it himself of course.

What a great trip!

Nearly the end of the adventure – second-to-last day in Dublin

Yesterday was Sunday in the middle of the long weekend here, so the place is throbbing with people. We set off by DART – the local train – to the coast at Howth. On board with us were families all bound for what we thought was the beach. You can tell the Dubliners here – they’re the ones in sleeveless summer dresses or skimpy tops.

Anyhoo, at Howth we disembarked to find most people went straight off to one of many seafood restaurants. By the time we reached the end of the pier only a scattering of others joined us.

We walked back and went on around to a tiny low-tide beach where a few children shivered in knee-deep water as their parents watched from further back.

I think we missed a much nicer beach over a set of stairs on other side of train tracks.

That evening we were entertained soundly at the Brazen Head – the oldest pub in Dublin.

What we were after was traditional music so were a tad disappointed it was not. Tonight we’re heading out to find it.

This morning we have walked miles! To St Stephens Green after coffee at Bewley’s:

St Stephens Green is a great patch of lush park in the heart of city:

Then off to find U2’s old pub. We went by tram

And saw a hilarious yellow viking boat bus complete with horned tourists on the way.

No pub left out by Windmill Lane but some great dights.

Home to rest and now out to find music!