Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Plant-related objects that have recently come into my life (that I love)

Welcome to the second installment of my new regular post: plant-related objects that have recently come into my life (that I love). I have to admit that when I committed to making this a regular post I wondered whether enough plants and plant-related objects would continue to come into my life to make it a feasible series.

That fear has now very much been put to rest. Over the last month I have accumulated enough plants and plant-related objects that I could do three more posts. But let's not get carried away!

I have just returned from a fantastic road trip north through Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, having reached the beautiful K'gari (Fraser Island) before turning around and heading back home again (you can see photos of this trip on my Instagram). These objects have all been collected on my road trip and have made it home, securing a permanent place in my life.

Seaweeds of Australia by Bruce Fuhrer, I.G. Christianson, M.N. Clayton and B.M. Allender
I purchased this secondhand book for the purpose of identifying local seaweeds for natural dyeing and eating. I'm in the process of learning all of the skills that I need to live self-sufficiently, and as I travel around this country I am realising that seaweed is bountiful all around the coast. So I can see that learning how to identify edible (and otherwise useable) seaweeds will likely be a useful skill if I am going to live near the coast. This book has already proven very useful as a visual guide for locating and identifying various seaweed species.

Mojo Muesli
I have actually been eating Mojo Muesli for a few years now, but this time I bought it directly from the family who make it at the Mansfield Bush Market. I love this muesli not just because of the taste (it's really delicious), but because it is high in protein. This means that I can have the high protein (for long lasting energy) breakfast I like to have every day without having to cook eggs or beans. I eat it with coconut yoghurt or almond milk, and fresh seasonal fruit (if I can be bothered).

Woven seagrass bag
I bought this bag from a shop in Bangalow, NSW (I don't remember the name) to carry our towels and swimwear to the beach and waterholes. I really like it because it the perfect size, is strong and folds up really flat for travelling. Now that I'm home, I'm using it to collect foraged flora for natural dyeing. If I buy something on a holiday I make sure that it is going to be useful once I get home - too many spontaneous purchases in the past has left me with many an object that I have no use for in my everyday life!

Coconut oil + tooth tonic + remineraliser - a new teeth cleaning routine
About five years ago I decided to stop using conventional (ie. chemical and fluoride containing) toothpaste in favour of more natural alternatives. I've been using locally commercially manufactured natural toothpaste since then, but have been seeking out an even more natural, handmade alternative. While I was at The Channon Market I came upon Maya from Tooth Tonic, who makes all natural tooth cleaning tonics and a whitening remineraliser. Now my daily brushing routine is oil pulling with organic coconut oil (I use this cold pressed oil by Goconuts) followed by brushing with the (really delicious) fennel tooth tonic. Twice a week I follow up with a brush with the whitener/remineraliser. My teeth have never felt cleaner. Goodbye toothpaste!

Seeds pods
These eucalyptus and banksia pods are just two of many Australian seed pods that I collected on my recent east coast roadtrip. I love collecting seed pods even more than flowers, because they last so long. I have pods that I've carried with my for years sitting in vases around my home, reminding me of the adventures I've been on long after I've returned home.

Quartz stone
Not strictly a plant-related object, I know, but I've spent a lot of time gazing at this beauty that I picked up from the red dirt in country NSW since I found it. I really love the way that the colours of the earth run through the white of the quartz.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Upcoming workshop - Creating sustainable textiles: natural dyeing with kitchen scraps

(Image by Pierre Curry)

I've been doing a lot of research and experimentation with natural dyeing and have found that a lot of the information available encourages the use of difficult to find (and often quite toxic) chemicals. In my experimentation I've found that you can achieve the same results with simple materials and equipment that most people already have in their home, and I want to show you how. 

I invite you to join me for a natural dyeing workshop at Kinfolk Cafe in Melbourne as part of the Sustainable Living Festival on Sunday 8th February.

In this half day, not-for-profit workshop you will learn how to prepare wool and silk yarn and fabric for natural dyeing, choose food materials, and use those materials to dye textiles with. We'll be using food scraps from the Kinfolk Cafe kitchen, and you'll go home with naturally dyed samples from the workshop and all the information you need to go home and start dyeing. 
I'm donating all of the profits from this workshop to the local and international community projects that Kinfolk Cafe supports so you get to learn natural dyeing and support some great programs at the same time.

Find out more and book your spot in my online store.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Choosing happiness: my tips for a happy life

(Image by Pierre Curry)

It's probably already pretty obvious to most people who visit my blog that I'm a pretty happy person. Actually, I'm the happiest that I've ever been in my life.

What might not be as obvious is that the current circumstances of my life are probably not ones that most people would be happy with, and they're not the most ideal that I've experienced in my life: I don't have a home, my income is the lowest it has ever been and I have serious health issues. So why am I feeling so content?

The truth is, I wasn't always this happy. I've usually tended to lean on the 'glass half full' side, but I spent a few years feeling quite sorry for myself, particularly regarding my ever deteriorating health issues. So what has changed between now and then? For me, it has been the realisation of one thing:

Happiness is a choice

Yes, that's it. I discovered, through the advice of a few people, that I could set up my life in a way that would bring me happiness and contentment. Not all of the people who passed on this knowledge said it exactly like this, but this is what they said. And I didn't act on it straight away upon hearing it; I had to hear it a few times and eventually I made these gradual and practical choices that have brought me to where I am today.

Live in a way that is true to your values

We all have things that are important to us, things that we think are what define a good person. Sometimes it might not be clear to us exactly what they are, but I came to realise what was important to me by thinking about the qualities that I admire in other people. For me, that includes regularly practising small acts of kindness, consistently speaking positively about other people, living in a way that means I have a minimal or positive impact on other living beings, always putting myself first, following my passions, always speaking honestly and from the heart, embracing imperfection in myself and other people, and constantly surrounding myself with beautiful things. There are many more things that are important to me, but it doesn't really matter what they are, because it's about what is important to you.

When I live by these values, I feel good. When I don't live by them, I don't feel good. Sometimes I think I'm going to feel good when I do something that is against my values, but in the end, I feel like I've cheated myself out of living the best life that I can (and that feels bad). And the more I live by my values, the easier it is and the better I feel. So this one is pretty easy to do on an ongoing basis.

Don't define yourself by things external to you
In the kind of world we live in, it can be hard to believe that you are not your social status, wealth, income, the type of car you drive, how many degrees you have, the suburb you live in, who you're married to, who you know, what school you went to, what company you work for, how any pairs of designer shoes you have, etc. But when you really think about it, are these things really important?

This value really became important to me when my grandfather died about five years ago. He was the first person who I was close to who passed away, and his death really made me consider the kinds of things that I might be thinking about as I was faced with my own death. I can tell you that, while my academic achievements were somewhere there in the distance, my shoe collection, social status and how shiny my car was were nowhere to be seen. I know for certain that these things will mean nothing to me in the end, so why should I assign them so much meaning while I'm alive?

I'm not saying that any of these things are inherently bad. In fact, I enjoy the pleasure that my nice clothing, career that I've worked hard for and fancy bicycle bring me; but they don't define me. I would feel a sense of loss if I lost any of these things, but it would not devastate me and I wouldn't feel like I was less of a person. This last point is the the key for me. It takes practice and sometimes a difficult life event to truly believe this, but I've found that just knowing that this can be a possibility and reminding yourself regularly is a move in the right direction.

Surround yourself with people who contribute positively to your life
You'd think that this one would be pretty obvious but, in my experience, it's not. I spent years with a partner who was critical and negative, friends who were snobby and judgmental, work colleagues who were jealous and mean. I thought that was just what people are like. But they aren't. I thought that I could still grow and thrive and feel good about myself despite their negativity. But I couldn't.

I realised that these aren't bad people, but something about our interaction was bringing out these negative traits in them, and it was making me feel bad about myself and the world. Maybe they were going through something bad in their own life, maybe they didn't really like me (and didn't realise it), maybe no one who was important to them had shown them true kindness. In the end, I decided that it didn't matter what the reasons were - I need to be around people who contribute positively to my life and who live in a way that I admire and aspire to live myself.

So, little by little, I put distance between myself and the people who were sucking the life out of me and found new (and reconnected with) people who had something positive to give me. I got a new job, broke up with that partner and stopped returning calls from those friends. I found a new job, reconnected with old friends who have always made me feel great about myself and made new friends who are joyful, kind, positive and intelligent. Eventually, I found a new partner who I admire, lives the kind of life that I want to live, shares my values and makes me feel good every day. And any time someone who is a negative influence enters my life, I gently push them away.

Every moment that I spend with these positive people, I'm growing as a person. I now have a bright light inside me that cannot be extinguished, and I'm discovering new things about myself every day. I feel good about myself and the things that I've achieved and I feel good about where I'm going. I know that I could not be in the place that I'm in without having removed the negative influences and replacing them with positive ones. I'm standing on the shoulders of spiritual giants.

Give generously
It may seem counter intuitive, but I've found that the more I give, the more I get. There was a time in my life when I felt that I had so little for myself that I couldn't spare anything for anyone else. My health was incredibly poor, I was unable to work, I had a lot of financial burdens, my friends and family were not very understanding of or helpful in the situation that I was in - I felt completely empty.

As a way of keeping my career going, doing something meaningful with my life and having something to get up for, I decided to take on a volunteer job for one day per week. It was coordinating part of a major sustainability event in Melbourne using skills that I was already good at and could be done mostly from my computer in bed (which was where I was 90% of the day due to my health issues). It turned out that I ended up working more than a day each week, especially in the lead up to the event, and I was managing a team of volunteers, both of which were stretching my physical capabilities at the time, but the amount of joy and satisfaction I got from the process made it worth it.

Then, through a series of situations and events that followed shortly afterwards, I practically fell into an amazing part time job for a fantastic organisation right around the corner from my home. Then (also seemingly randomly) I met a husband and wife team who are natural health practitioners and were willing to treat my (then) mysterious health issues almost for free (and they continued to do so for a couple of years). And then a family member very generously invited me to come and live in her family home (with her husband and son) rent free until I could get back on my feet (which was two years!). Many, many more amazing things have happened in my life since then.

Are these all random coincidences? I can't believe that they are. They all happened after I decided to give a little bit, and ever since I've been given so much I want to give more and more. And the more I give, the more I continue to receive! Call it karma, divine intervention or whatever you like, I believe that the more generous you are, the more you will continue to receive. And it feels good to give - even if you don't think you're getting anything else out of the experience, the feeling of giving without expecting anything in return feels so good that I can only conclude that it must be a natural state of being for us as humans.

Take responsibility for the parts of your life that you do have control over - and let go of the things that you don't.
This one is huge for me. For most of my life I've been an unstoppable perfectionist, setting incredibly high standards for myself. I wanted to control every circumstance in my life, which was both exhausting and impossible. After years of trying to control everything, I eventually got to the point in my life where I was completely exhausted and incredibly frustrated that I just couldn't keep that control and have everything as I wanted it to be. So I swung the other way, believing that I had no control over any aspect of my life. I was a victim of circumstance and just had to suffer whatever ill fortune came my way. It was kind of nice to let go of the responsibility of my own life (especially after years of being a control freak), but was just as exhausting and even more depressing. And I still wasn't happy.

Then, largely with guidance from the husband and wife team of natural health practitioners that I mentioned above, I came to the understanding that the truth lay somewhere in the middle of these two places. I have control over many things in my life (and I should take control of and responsibility for those things) and no control over others - and I should let go of those and let them happen as they are going to. I can make choices to better my life, acting and reacting in ways that bring me the life that I want. All of the things that I'm talking about in this post are good examples of this.

Eat high quality, fresh, unprocessed food
Of all of the practical, everyday things that I've done to improve my life and bring myself happiness, this is by far the most important. I'm not a health professional, so what I'm talking about here is based on what I've been told by experienced health professionals  and experienced myself, but I eat like my body is a temple and now that I know what it's like to eat really well all the time, I will never go back.

When I talk about eating well to people who have lived their whole life eating by 'the food pyramid' or low fat or just plain unhealthily, I can see it in their eyes that they think I'm crazy (or their eyes glaze over with boredom). I know exactly what they're thinking because I felt the same way not that long ago. I thought I was pretty healthy, and by most people's standards, I was. But I wasn't really that healthy. It took the degradation of my health to the point where medicine couldn't fix me (actually, nothing could fix me) to listen to the advice of people who understand well how the human body works. And once I had a good understanding of that advice, I went on to learn how to listen and understand how my own body works. Now my body has started to heal itself!

Once I understood that food can be a medicine or a poison, I knew that I couldn't live a good life while I continued to fill my body with poison. I'm going to share with you the way that I eat, and this works really well for me. This is only general and there are more foods that I focus on and avoid but this is really the crux of it.

  • I never eat refined sugar, wheat, anything with chemicals/numbers/ingredients I don't understand in it, red meat, poultry, highly processed foods.
  • I avoid gluten, dairy, white grains, starchy foods, processed foods.
  • I eat lots of organic wholefoods, fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens), fermented foods, protein, fat. Yes, it's more expensive, but I'm totally worth it.

If you're not used to eating this way it might seem really difficult, but I promise that it's not. It is hard for a few months, and then it becomes a new way of life. Once you make new habits and your body gets used to the new flavours (and having all that extra energy and vitality), you will never look back. I do sometimes eat some of the 'avoid' foods when I'm eating out with friends, but I make sure that it only makes up less than 5% of my diet.

If you want some ideas on the kinds of things you can make and eat, I recommend getting The Whole Pantry and Nourish Yourself apps, and following The Holistic Ingredient. I use all of these resources myself, and I'm an exceptionally lazy cook (so I won't make anything that's hard work). If you want to start eating more healthily, do yourself a favour and buy these two apps. They're totally worth the $5 or so you'll spend on them.

Meditate daily
Before I started meditating I thought that meditation sounded like really hard work. I thought that I would not have the time or patience to do it. I pictured Buddhist monks in temples at the top of mountains in Tibet, or hippies who don't have jobs or deadlines sitting cross legged in their sarouel pants on rainforest floors practising vipassana.

Then I saw a medical doctor who specialises in chronic pain and autoimmune diseases who recommends meditation as a form of treatment (yes!). He suggested that I do a meditation course to get started, so I did this one. Wow! Since then I have officially been a meditator, and it has been life changing. Some of the key things I learned about meditation as part of this course were:

  • You don't have to meditate for an hour at a time - ten minutes a day is enough.
  • The benefits of meditation are experienced even when you're not meditating.
  • The benefits of meditation increase the more that you meditate.
  • You're allowed to move during meditation.
  • You can get apps to help you meditate (this is one of my favourites)
  • It's not a mortal meditation sin if your thoughts wander during meditation.

Since I've been meditating daily (for about 18 months now) I've noticed that I'm calmer, less reactive to stressful situations and happier overall. It's hard for me to say exactly how much the meditation has contributed to improvements in my health, but I'm sure that it has. Importantly, it seems to have changed my perception of life and how I experience it. And that's probably more important than anything else, I think.

You don't have to do a course to become good at meditation, but I think it helps to get some guidelines to start. I recommend the app that I use, or you might want to take part in Mindful In May.

Get rid of your television
I'm not saying that I don't enjoy watching the movies, documentaries and TV shows that I like. What I'm saying is that I buy the things that I want to watch, watch them when I want to (on my computer) and don't watch the things that I don't want or need to watch.

Now that I don't have a television, I have more (and better) conversations with the people that I love, I have more space to place flowers in vases, I'm not forced to watch any advertising for products I don't want or need, and I'm not bound to a certain time and place to watch a television show. As an extension of this, I also don't read, watch or listen to any commercial media - and I feel so much happier and more free because of it. I made this change about two years ago and I don't miss it at all.

So that's it! I could also add things like enjoy the simple pleasures in life, do something creative regularly, spend time in nature, exercise daily, etc, but I've found that these things have happened naturally since I started doing these other things. Since I decided to choose happiness, I've continued to make choices that make me happier and happier.

I'm also always on the lookout for things that I can do to increase my happiness and enjoyment of life. What practises or habits do you swear by to make your life a happier one?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Plant-related objects that have recently come into my life (that I love)

It might already be apparent to those of you who follow me here or on my Instagram that I love plants. I'm fascinated by everything that the world of plants has to offer us and it seems that I have, unintentionally, made it one of my life goals to surround myself with all things plant related.

I love experiencing plants with all of my senses, both in their natural form and lovingly manipulated by humans. They bring me joy, they calm and uplift me. I am constantly discovering new things about plants and the things that it's possible to do with them, and every new discovery brings me a great sense of awe and wonder.

So I've decided to share these discoveries with you in a new regular post: plant-related objects that have recently come into my life (that I love). It will feature plants and plant related objects that I've encountered, found, bought or been gifted by friends and family that I've taken a liking to for one reason or another. I'll be sharing them here and on my Instagram, and I'll be posting as often as I feel inspired.

Welcome to the first post in this series! I don't intend to have themes in this series, but because of the timing of this post, the objects featured here have a bit of a holiday feel. I'm now officially on holiday from work and am preparing for a summer road trip (where I will no doubt discover more plants/plant related objects that I love), so I'm already in a pretty relaxed mood. So here they are!

R A W Chocolate
I am a super conscious eater, only putting into my mouth (and my body) food that is going to contribute positively to my health and wellbeing. This doesn't mean that I'm happy to eat things that taste bad. No way. In fact, since I started eating more consciously I've become even more fussy about the quality and taste of my food - and my love of chocolate has not wavered. There are a few raw chocolates available in Australia, and R A W Chocolate, made in small batches by Casey Pringle in the Macedon Ranges, is one of my favourites. Casey uses fair trade, raw, organic ingredients to masterfully handcraft the most exquisite bars of chocolate that she wraps in recycled (and recyclable) packaging and sells at farmers markets in the Macedon Ranges area. Does it get any better than that? You can also buy them online and at stores across Victoria, but I recommend going along to one of the farmers markets where Casey has a stall and meeting this lovely lady while you pick up a few bars.

Organics for Lily tea 
I'm right into both herbal tea drinking (all day, every day) and taking time for relaxation, so when my friend Em gave me two little jars of Organics for Lily herbal tea blends I was excited to try them out. The teas are selected for their therapeutic values and hand blended by Melbourne based naturopath Melissa Khonsavang using organic herbs. I've tried Calm Me and Remember Me and love them both (I'm sipping a cup of Calm Me while I type this, actually!). Melissa also sells her teas at local farmers markets so you can meet Melissa while trying some of her blends.

Australian native floral embroidery
I'm really into learning new crafts (especially those that allow me to depict or use Australian native flora), but I can't stand rigid, structured crafting. If there are grid lines, strict rules and/or everything about the design I'm creating is predetermined before I start, I'm not interested. For me, craft is meditative and free flowing. It allows me to escape from the rigidity and structure of life. So as you can imagine, I've never really been a fan of embroidery. I've always understood it as a craft where there are strict right or wrong ways to do things, so I've never really delved into it much (except a little bit here). When I was invited to teach a weaving workshop at The Craft Sessions, I also had the opportunity to do a workshop and learn a new craft skill from someone else, I was immediately drawn to Melissa Wastney's workshop, Embroidery from the Natural World. After spending a day with Melissa, I have developed a love for a freeform embroidery. Yes, that's a thing! Melissa taught us the basics of embroidery, sent us out to pick some flowers and we spent a few hours recreating with thread the flowers that caught our eyes. It has become one of my favourite portable crafts (along with weaving, of course) and I'll be carrying my embroidery hoop with me on my summer road trip.

Perfectly imperfect eucalyptus leaves
I collected these leaves from the ground at Turpins Falls, just outside of Kyneton. I love the colours and patterns in them; it never ceases to amaze me how different the leaves of a single genus of plants can be.

Trees of Victoria by Leon Costermans 
This secondhand book, also gifted to me by my good friend Em, is a fantastic little guide to some of the more common native and naturalised plants of the state that I live in. It now lives in my handbag and is pulled out at least every few days when I spot a flower, leaf or tree that I'm not sure about.

Kakishibu fabric by Karina Nielsen Rios
I recently did a swap with talented Denmark-based textile designer Karina Nielsen Rios. I sent Karina some Australian seed pods and, in return, she sent me some of her exquisite handwoven and hand sewn textiles - including this sample of this kakishibu (persimmon-dyed), handwoven ramie and silk scarf. Wow. I actually do not have words to describe how amazing this fabric is.

Vintage bottlebrush flower ceramic vase 
This vintage vase was a gift from Rose of Yes Vincent when she visited Melbourne earlier this year. Not only a talented tapestry weaver, Rose also has a fabulous vintage pottery collection (she shares photos of it often on her Instagram), and she knows how to please someone who has a love of ceramics and native Australian plants.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Planthunter: Growing a dye garden've written another article for The Planthunter, this time on one of my favourite topics - natural dyeing. Like any practice, this ancient technique can be done in a quick, easy, chemically assisted (!) way, or it can be done a slow, laborious, natural way. Personally I choose the latter (for various reasons) and I'm drawn to other people who have chosen the same path. We seem to be kindred spirits, people who create for pleasure, discovery and to reduce our environmental impact.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Myf Walker, one such kindred spirit, about her thoughtful, holistic natural dyeing process and amazing natural dye garden. She took my on a tour of her garden in the Dandenongs and shared her thoughts on natural dyeing and how she came to grow this impressive collection of dye plants. You can read my interview and see photos of her garden on The Planthunter.

The top photo here is native Australian indigo (Indigofera australis) leaves and an indigo dye vat, naturally fermented with honey and lime, and below are some of the textiles that Myf has dyed with plants from her garden. I'm really inspired by the way that Myf uses locally grown and foraged plants to dye with, and her commitment to a truly natural (chemical free) dyeing process. It was great to sit down with her, share a meal and chat about our mutual love for slow, laborious, pleasure-filled natural dyeing. You can find out more about Myf's process and her work on her website and Instagram.


These wall hangings are now available at ART&ARTICLE: Salt Lakes, a triptych inspired by the incredible salt lakes that I encountered while camping in northern Victoria earlier this year. They featured a variety of lovely soft pinks, taupes and whites and the most amazing textures.I cuold not have asked for a more inspiring landscape!

These pieces are hand woven with cotton, bamboo, linen and vintage yarns and fibres, some being plant dyed and undyed, and hang on Australian hardwood rods.

There is also an interview with me on the site, where I talk about my creative process, favourite things and (slightly unusual) life.

New at Otis & Otto

Photos by Otis & Otto
These two Alchemy products are now available at Otis & Otto: Point Addis woven wall hanging and a limited number of wild harvested Australian native smudge sticks
Point Addis is a one of a kind woven wall hanging, inspired by a warm spring day spent on the beach at Point Addis, Victoria. It is hand woven using pure Australian wool yarns and fibres that are naturally dyed using locally foraged eucalyptus leaves and barks.
The wild harvested Australian native smudge sticks are a generous bundle of wild grown eucalyptus, casuarina, melaleuca, callistemon and acacia that have been hand harvested, naturally sun dried and bound with organic cotton thread. Use them to fill your home with the scents of the Australian bush.