Melbourne Dispatch – Valerie Restarick of North Carlton Ceramics




I liked ceramicist and sculptor Valerie Restarick immediately, when she didn’t want to sell me the beautiful stoneware bowl that was proudly displayed in her little studio-shop.

“Are you sure?” she asked, hugging the bowl tightly to her belly. “Have you seen the price?”

The price was actually quite reasonable. Admittedly it was 100 percent of the birthday money I had burning a hole in my pocket, but that wasn’t a whole lot anyway.

“How do you plan on using it?” she pushed further. I felt like I was auditioning for the role of Person Worthy Of Owning Bowl, which perhaps I was.

Two weeks later I returned to Valerie’s studio, this time armed with my camera.

From the front of the shop, Valerie selected a lovely vase, one of her favourite pieces. She held it up to the light. There was a wonderful texture to it, an almost lava-like pattern of swirls, that Valerie said was the result of a “smoking” process that had required a special kiln.

I asked if I could take her photograph holding the piece and, when she seemed a little reticent, I suggested, “Maybe just your hands?”

“I hate my hands!” Valerie grimaced. I looked. I thought her hands were beautiful. They were skilled, and strong, and had made every piece in that studio and shop. All that we surveyed.

I snapped some more pictures of Valerie’s clever and capable hands as she picked up a new lump of clay. Then I turned and started clicking around the shop while we settled in for a little chat, our conversation punctuated by the stop-start hum of the potter’s wheel.







Me: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Valerie: Inspiration can come from anywhere, I don’t actively go out looking for it. I might see something in a magazine, or someone else’s work might trigger an idea and I take it in my own direction.

I did a series of mummified cats after seeing a documentary on DVD that I borrowed from the library – purely by chance because there was nothing else I wanted to watch – about Joanna Lumley taking a journey down the Nile.

So how do you decide what to make next?

I just make what I like. I don’t have one particular style, or stick to any specific items, so I’m free to create whatever I like at the time. I didn’t expect to sell any of those cats, but I sold all of them. I was happy about it at the time, but now I miss them. They’re all gone.

I love how passionate you are about your work.

When I first put my ‘crown of thorns‘ pieces out someone asked me how much one of them was and I said it wasn’t for sale. He couldn’t understand it. He said, “Why would you put it on display if you don’t want to sell it?” But even if you don’t want to sell your work, it’s good to share it.

A man bought a lot of the mummified cats to use in a restaurant in Canberra. But so far they’re not displayed in that restaurant, they’re in his house. I don’t like that. I want them to be shared. Otherwise what’s the point?





Was it always ceramics?

I am dyslexic, and so are both of my children. When you’re dyslexic, you grow up with very low self esteem. You grow up thinking you’re dumb. I was never good with words, so I used my hands instead. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of recognition for my work which is nice, I guess. But that’s not why I do it.

Can you give me some tips on how you overcome creative block?

I never experience creative block. I’m pretty lucky, aren’t I? When I’m not doing a series like the mummified cats or the crowns of thorns, I make the plates and cups and bowls.

How about managing work-life balance?

What is that?

You know, carving out time to be creative, as well as all the other things and relationships in your life that need your time.

My work is my life. I think… I think this is my time. I don’t have a man around, my children are grown up, I can do this for me. I spend all my days in this studio. I feel lucky, I’ve done all that other stuff, now I can focus on what I want to do.

Before I go, is there one piece in here that you’d pick out as your favourite, so I can photograph you holding it?

That bowl. It’s in your house.





Handmade Halloween tea-treats



On the spectrum from trick to treat, I’m hoping these friendly little handmade Halloween tea-spooks definitely fall on the treat side. Next year, maybe I’ll get my act together and pair them with some skeleton gingerbread men. Or gingerbread cats. Or something. This year, I packaged them up with yellow craft paper and posted them off to these lovely blog readers.

If you need a last minute, slightly-more-grown-up treat to give to friends, a set of these little guys will take you about five minutes to make.

1. Download the template
2. Print or photocopy it onto thick paper or cardstock
3. Cut out each friend, then attach them to teabags with staples or tape

If you have a bit more time, get fancy with some lovely herbal blends, or even create a teabag of your own with a little ball of loose-leaf tea in a square of muslin, secured with string.

The friendly spooks will reach their arms around the edges of your tea cup while the tea steeps.

Happy Halloween friends!




ps. Christmas tea-friends


What’s your soap box topic?


After writing this post about people who are completely passionate about their work, I got to thinking about things that really get me revved up. Things that make me talk like these people talk: on and on and on, because I’m really into what I’m talking about.

And right away one topic came to mind. It’s my go-to soap box topic, except I’m not really complaining about anything. It’s something that I honestly find MIND-BLOWINGLY FASCINATING and I am always mildly surprised and a little bit sad when I realise nobody else is there with me.

So here it is. Please imagine me talking faster than usual, and gesticulating wildly, letting my tea go cold or my wine get warm. It’s possible my eyes are just a little bit cray-cray. If that scares you (erm, why would it?) feel free to click away now…

One day when the kids are all grown up and the mortgages are all paid off (in other words when I’m 90ish), I want to go ahead and undertake a PhD on the origins of religion and mythology. Proper research study, not anecdotal or speculative “the gods were aliens because you can only see the Nazca lines from above” stuff.

Because to my mind there are just too many similarities in the world’s spiritual stories for there not to be a REASON. Look at the resurrection themes in the Christian and ancient Egyptian stories. Or the creation texts of the Jews and the Mayans: there’s water, separation, a serpent, so many symbolic parallels. Water and a great serpent are at the centre of a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories, too. Now look at the demigods of the ancient Greeks and the Romans: they are the offspring of a human-divine pairing, and they are great and powerful heroes. Now take a look at the story of the Nephilim in Genesis of the Bible/Torah scriptures: they are the offspring of angels and human beings (other translations say “the sons of god and the daughters of men”), and they are known as “the giants and heroes of old.”

I get that some of these stories travelled through cultures through wars and along trade routes, which COULD explain story parallels in, for example, the Middle East. But what about South America? Australia? There are SO MANY stories with similarities, all over the world and throughout the ages. Where did they start? Is there truth in any of these? If so, what IS that truth? Who started this millennia-old game of Chinese whispers?

Once upon a time our ancestors didn’t worship any gods, and then one day they did. Archaeologists can trace the beginnings of spirituality and religion in our ancestors, through signs of belief in the afterlife. A long time ago when someone died, we left them and walked away. Presumably we grieved because presumably we loved, too, but once a person was dead there was nothing more to be done for them. But then we started burying our dead, and burying them with items of significance. Items to go with them into the afterlife, to ease their passage or make their existence easier once they got there.

WHY? Why did we start believing in life beyond the material? What happened? Did it happen in just one place and then word spread, or did it happen everywhere all at once and then the different peoples and cultures developed their own stories in isolation from one another? Was it an actual god? Many gods? A spectacular and/or catastrophic natural event? Heck, let’s indulge all the theories for a minute. Did aliens teach us how to build the pyramids? Were the “heroes of old” actually just another race that existed parallel to us, like the neanderthals (who, btw, also believed in an afterlife)?

Mind blown, right? Right?


So that’s my little soap box rant and probably you won’t be that into it and to your face I’ll say “that’s cool” but in my head I’ll be thinking WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD? WHY DON’T THEY GET HOW AMAZING THIS IS?

Deep breaths.

And now I want to know: what’s YOUR soap box topic? What gets you REALLY excited, as in, almost as excited as the mystery of the origins of myth? I promise to listen. I do. I really want to know. Go!

Spooky snail mail




‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

(A strange and spooky excerpt from The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe, for your Halloween Week pleasure)


It’s been a while since I’ve shared any of the mail art I’ve been painting and sending out to blog readers. I had a lot of fun creating this little Halloween-themed batch of “friendly spooks” for you guys. I hope everyone likes their letters. (Pop back in a couple of days and I’ll give you a little sneak peek as to what’s inside.)

Yours sincerely… xo







Love your work


Lately I keep meeting people who are so passionate about their work that their attitude inspires everyone around them. Do you know anyone like this? Cases in point…

1. A landscape gardener came to look at our back courtyard and talked for 15 minutes about one particular varietal of clematis that he found particularly lovely. Everything he said about gardens was all about emotion, the feeling you get when you walk into a garden space. “A place of stillness” is what he wanted to create, emotional stillness, so that being there makes you feel at peace. Before making suggestions for our courtyard, he asked if he could come over one afternoon and just sit in the space (for three or four hours!), simply to get a feel for it.

2. We had some people come into our house recently to hang all our large pictures. We all got chatting about art, and creative perfectionism, and the difficulty of letting go. One of the men said he would look back at the way he hung pictures 10 or 12 years ago and cringe, because he had learned so much and would do things so differently now. And I thought “Wow, this man is a career picture-hanger.” He was an artisan, not a handyman, and I’d never met anyone so passionate about drilling holes in walls.

3. I stepped into a potter’s shop last week to buy a bowl I’d been admiring through the window for a long time. The maker clutched the bowl to herself and said “Are you sure?” when I told her I wanted to buy it. As she wrapped it up, she said, “I’m sad that bowl is going.” She had made everything in that shop, with her own hands, and it was all beautiful. But while she made a living from her work, she LOVED her work too. She created it because she wanted it, and that made it hard to let go.

I walked away from each of these conversations feeling energised, and determined to give myself permission to give my all to the things I loved. To stop apologising for my passions. You know? I don’t think it matters what your passion it is, or whether or not others share your passion. It’s your excitement and energy and commitment, and the sheer joy of doing what you love, that shines through. That joy puts a smile on the face of everyone around you.

She runs away

1 floriade

2 floriade

3 floriade

4 floriade

5 floriade

6 floriade

She runs away from me, a little further each day. Squealing with glee, captioning her flight, as if I didn’t know it:

I running away Mummy!

Even as she runs she longs to be close. She twists to watch me as she races the other way, bumping into walls and trees and tumbling down hills because no matter how many times I call out, “Watch where you’re going!” she is always looking back, to me, not forward.

I guess that’s the nature of independence in its seed form, isn’t it. The growing confidence of a toddler who is testing the boundaries of her world from the safety of her mother’s and father’s love. Without a strong hand to shake off or a safe harbour to farewell, independence is just loneliness.

Later, she curls on my lap and we read stories.

I really lub you Mummy, she murmurs. I lub you for ebba.

8 floriade

{Joyful springtime photographs brought to you by a rare and incredibly precious mother-daughter morning at Floriade in Canberra}

Textile artist Jacqueline Fink on the creative process


“My work is as much a physical feat of endurance as much as it is a loving creative respite.” ~ Jacqueline Fink




Jacqueline Fink is a knitter, and some. She is also a crafter, a dreamer, and an artist. And a mother.

Jacqueline learned to knit, like so many others, from her own mother. She told Trend Tablet magazine that as a child, she was “too impatient to commit to the language of knitting” to be able to follow a pattern. But five years ago, after her mother received a double lung transplant that saved her life, Jacqueline had a dream that heralded the beginning of her creative brand, Little Dandelion.

Now, she creates large-scale knitted works that range from gorgeous, textural blankets to chair covers and enormous ‘pure art’ installations.






From time to time, as a creative person, I struggle to find inspiration. I also struggle to manage my work-life balance. And I feel overwhelmed, stifled even, by burnout and writer’s block (that’s been happening lately).

But somehow in my mind I put creative professionals – “real artists” as opposed to hobby creatives like me – up on a pedestal when it comes to the creative process. Subconsciously, I imagine this is all seamless for them. Which is untrue, and probably rather unfair of me. Professional artists, designers, crafters, writers and every manner of other creative folks have to find inspiration, balance priorities and beat burnout, too. Duh. Of course.

So… I figured we might all be able to learn a little something from how other artists approach these challenges, and Jacqueline was kind enough to share a little from her own experience.


My process is perhaps a little unusual. I don’t draw on external references for inspiration: I’m not one to trawl through magazines or the internet and while the natural world may influence my preference for a natural colour palette I create purely to please myself.

Inspiration typically finds me via a subconscious thought stream when I am engaged in something completely unconnected with my work or via a dream. I see the creation in my mind’s eye and, because I cannot draw, then have to hold it there while I work out a way to make the piece.


I have learned to do the following:

1. Just park the problem in the too hard basket and do something completely unconnected with your craft for a while
2. Spend time in the company of elbow creatives whom I love and admire. Their energy always reinvigorates me propels me on
3. Keep creating. I’ve often overcome great difficulties with one project through the process of making another


I gave up on trying to achieve a work/life balance long ago and I don’t beat myself up about it. It is what it is. I work in our living room and so there is no separation of space for any of us and our life is pretty much chaotic most of the time. But we are a very flexible bunch and can tolerate mess so we just do the best we can with what we’ve got. When you have something you want to achieve it is very important that you don’t place roadblocks in your path as an excuse not to give it everything you’ve got.

And one last (exciting) thing…

Jacqueline is now developing her own oversized knitting yarn “so that others can experience the joy of slow craft and this rather unusual method of knitting.” Hooray! If you want to stay tuned, or take a look at more of her lovely work, Jacqueline’s website is at, and you can follow her on Instagram at

All images here are used with Jacqueline’s kind permission, and taken from the Little Dandelion website. Photography credits are as follows (top to bottom): 1. Sharyn Cairns 2. Jacqueline Fink 3. Jacqueline Fink 4. Jacqueline Fink 5. Sharyn Cairns 6. Jacqueline Fink 7. Jacqueline Fink 8. Jacqueline Fink 9. Paul Westlake

8 things I loved at the Grand Designs Live Home Show

I am super grateful to the folks behind the Grand Designs Live Home Show in Melbourne for sending me tickets to this event on the weekend. Here are eight things I spotted at the show that I really wanted to spend my (sadly non existent) money on.


Clockwise from top left: This sweet set of four animal wooden spoons from Anrol Designs :: Painted geometric coasters from Amindy :: Hand carved and painted stoneware cups from Koa :: Lightweight, wooden K bowls, from Eco Wood Design :: An “eyoi yoi” table lamp (I used to have an eyoi yoi floor lamp that I loved) from Marc Pascal :: Humble milk crate tables & chairs made lovely with wooden tops, from Sawdust Bureau :: Shadowbox shelving from Cantilever Interiors  :: An image created from the text of an entire book, from Spineless Classics

(A little note about the pics: I did take my camera along to snap photos while I was there, but the combination of limited natural lighting plus the wearing of a toddler in the Ergo did not a steady hand nor pretty picture make. So to do these lovely products justice, I’ve used images from the makers’ or vendors’ websites.)



Have you seen the tumbleweed rolling through this corner of the Internet lately? I feel like it’s ages since I’ve been here, and I’ve missed it. I’ve missed YOU.

To be honest I feel like I’ve lost a bit of writing momentum. We went away on a little holiday and I brought back all kinds of stories to share with you but, before we’d been back a week, little Harry got sick and ended up in hospital. He’s fine, he’s a tough little guy, but it was a tiring and stressful and all-consuming period.

And then of course by the time Harry and I got home from the hospital I was miles behind on work deadlines and all the little jobs and big jobs that life throws your way every day. They had piled up one on top of the other and it was all a bit overwhelming. It still is.

I’m trying to work my way from underneath the domestic and emotional detritus. Sometimes I see daylight, but then (for example) Madeleine throws up all over herself in the fancy food court at Emporium in Melbourne, and the world and worry tighten their grip on creative thinking, all over again.

(Silver lining: the outcome for Madeleine was not at all bad. We stripped her to singlet and nappy and cuddled her the whole way through to David Jones, where she got to pick out a new outfit for herself while checking out the toys. On the way home, riding in the Ergo with me, she announced, “I love my new clothes. I going to wear them ALL DAY. I going to wear them for EVER.”)

I signed up for an Inspiration Information for Bloggers course by Pip Lincolne, which started at the beginning of this month. I’ve barely had a chance to look at it, but now I’m going to start reading, retrospectively, through the past week-and-a-half’s worth of lessons. Hopefully, it will help me get my mojo back, and I can start giving you content worth your time. Some time. SOON.

I really hope so! Thanks for your patience, dear friend. x

ps. Were you as shocked as I was at the outcomes of The Block Glasshouse auctions? Did anyone else NOT see that coming? I feel so bad for the contestants. Imagine giving up three months of work, and being away from your family for three months, only to come away with next to nothing. I know it’s a competition, but that’s got to be really tough.

Shake it off





I want to be like Rowley’s mum. This is Rowley and his mum:

I want to be the kind of fun mum who does daggy dancing with her kids, even badly choreographed dancing, in public. Especially in public. I don’t want to be self-conscious about my body, or my dance moves, or what I look like from behind in that skirt. What I want to be conscious of is my children. About making them laugh, sharing their joy, and teaching them – through my example – that there is more to this life than keeping our cool.

Lately the kids and I have been dancing to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. At the chorus, we shake it like a polaroid picture (remember?). We love Taylor’s video. Madeleine says “I no like this” at the ballerinas and “I like this one” at the hip hop bits. And we both laugh when Taylor gets her dance moves wrong.

Let’s be honest. Taylor Swift is young and slim and gorgeous and just looks kind of “cute and goofy” when she stuffs up her dance moves. I definitely look more like Rowley’s mum. But at what point did that start bothering me? When Madeleine dances, it is with the total abandon and the pure joy of leaping about to music that only a toddler can bring. Harry dancing is a giant butterball that wiggles and bounces and bobs his head when the music comes on, a smile of delight on his face and, more often than not, a glob of dribble making its way over his chin.

I want that to be me (minus the dribble). Music. Joy. Love.

Last week I took Em for a mani-pedi and we were chatting about being self-conscious. It’s super pertinent for Em, since she’s 16 and right in the thick of adolescence and peer pressure and “being cool” (not that she’d call it any of those things because that definitely wouldn’t be cool) and all that jazz. We were thinking about how sometimes, by worrying how we appear to others, we actually draw attention to our insecurities. Whereas if we really OWN what we’re doing, even if that thing is daggy like being a traffic monitor or dancing really badly (I’m back on Diary of a Wimpy Kid now), people kind of respect that.

A while ago I read an interview with Michael Richards, the man who played Kramer in Seinfeld. He said something along the lines of how in developing the Kramer character, he decided to deliver all of his lines as though Kramer somehow, mysteriously, knew it all. That approach instantly transformed Kramer from being a bit of a dim-witted idiot into an eccentric doofus who, nevertheless, frequently managed to convince people to go along with his crazy schemes. And Kramer almost always got the girl. The rest is television history.

Which is all a LOT of pop culture references to say, let’s shake it off! Let’s dance like nobody is watching. Hey everybody, let’s OWN this life, shall we?

(Images are all screen-grabs from the Shake It Off video on YouTube)

Gundagai dispatch – the Niagara Café





(I tried to resist the cliché. I failed. Play this song in the background)

There is a little country town about half way between Sydney and Melbourne, called Gundagai. It has a population of about 1500. It was made famous by a folk song called The Road to Gundagai, which was written in 1922 by Jack O’Hagan (who lived, incidentally, just around the corner from me in Fitzroy). I think the song is about a soldier returning to his home town after the Great War. In my head, that’s what I imagine when I hear it.

We pulled into Gundagai on our way home from Canberra last week, because Harry had just woken from his nap and we needed somewhere to sit and feed him his breakfast. Purely by chance, we chose the Niagara Café.

The Niagara is 112 years old and has been owned by Greek immigrants the entire time (not the SAME Greek immigrants, clearly). It opened in 1902 as an Oyster Saloon, and took the name Niagara in 1928 because apparently American names were considered en vogue at the time.

The décor had a snazzy new update in 1938 that made it THE super-cool and happening night-spot in all the bustling metropolis of Gundagai. And, apart from some beautiful lights lost to a fire in the ’70s, it HAS NOT CHANGED SINCE THAT TIME.



I’m talking scalloped booths, gloriously narrow and uncomfortable bench seats, and lime-green table-tops. Art deco mirrors, doors and windows. And a century’s worth of newspaper clippings framed on the walls, celebrating celebrity (mostly political) visitors and other events in the café’s history.

Events overlap events and nothing is removed. A banner proudly boasting the 50th anniversary (in 1992) of a Prime Minister’s visit still graces the back wall.








The Niagara Café is SO COOL. It is the best kind of kitsch. The most authentic kind of nostalgia.

But everything looks worn and tired. It is clean, it is friendly, but it is tired. The mirrored counter is cracked and tired. The scalloped, lime-green booths are chipped and tired. The owners look tired. I’m sorry to say it, but even our food looked a little tired. [Update 7 Oct 2014: I just want to clarify that the food was neither old nor bad, and I recommend you eat here. This comment was meant to reflect a sense of weariness in presentation that I totally understand, having experienced first-hand how exhausting cafe work is.] I can hardly blame the Niagara, I reckon I’d be tired after 112 years, too.

Despite this, we fell hard for the Niagara. Mr B and I spent the next 200 kilometres (in between numerous rousing renditions of The Road to Gundagai on Madeleine’s request) discussing how we’d like to move to Gundagai and take over the Niagara Café and restore it to its former glory. Celebrating history and attracting the tourist dollar, you know?







We’re heading off on holidays this weekend. To the glamorous, fun-filled, culture-soaked destination of… Canberra. In other words, the destination is the people we love, not the places. Luckily, there is a LOT of love for the people on this trip.

I’ve decided not to write in my blog while we’re away. I won’t even bring my computer. I want to take the time to unplug and just enjoy this time out as a family. So I’ll see you in just over a week.

In the meantime, here are some lovely links to keep you clicking away happily, and some letters in shiny envelopes I’ve been painting and sending to blog readers. I hope they like them!

I might just try this: home-made hanging planter

Next holiday, if Canberra is unavailable, I want to go to this blue-painted town

Have you heard? There’s a hippo in the Thames!

How to graciously say no. Handy to know

Cute! Park your VW, park your keys

You think you’ve seen a treehouse, but then you see THIS

Would you do this to your old plates and saucers and cups?

How to be a good dinner guest

It’s my birthday next month and I really REALLY love these ceramics. Those two facts might be unrelated. But then again they might not

Vanilla rosemary pudding. Looks so delicious!

Do you remember ages ago when I told you about the OTO food trucks for kids? Now, they’re also made for cats. Which is so wrong, but so right