Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Year of Downsizing

‘Downsizing’ - one of these post-modern words with undeniably horrible connotations, and which can include situations where people are given incentives to take early retirement. It usually happens to businesses – now it also seems to happen to ordinary folk living in large houses. But is this just another inevitable step along the trajectory towards death? I quipped considering the move, that it would be the last before the nursing home or the graveyard.

We went from a McMansion in the West to a rambling house in the hills – and now a small bungalow in the more suburban part of the hills called Emerald, which has its special charms, among which is the Puffing Billy steam railway. 

The hardest thing was packing up my studio… No, that’s not entirely true, as the hardest thing was saying goodbye to Granddad tree, which included a ‘merging’ by shaman and body artist Orly Faya. This was a non-negotiable condition that I placed on moving, as I feel true kinship with this mountain eucalypt. It is like an ancestor that has taught me much about belonging.

The merge with Granddad Tree
Orly Faya painting Joni into a merge
 with Granddad Tree

On the last day, when I said goodbye to the house in Ferny Creek and noted aloud to it all the things which had required my time and energy – how I chose this paint colour, how I sewed these curtains, how Philip and I laid these floor boards…it was in thanksgiving. It was to say how much I loved living here and what time and effort had gone into making it a home, as well as with what sadness it was to leave.

I told Granddad tree to behave – ‘don’t go dropping limbs or you’ll find yourself severely maimed’. When I knew I would never return, I said my goodbye. It was raining heavily and it seemed while I stood there at its giant girth, that it was raining tears on me. (Apologies if I bring up clichéd images of sadness and rain, particularly in Bollywood films.)

We’ve gone from a house where we had 7 sofas (we weren’t counting but was alerted to the fact by a visitor) to a house where can barely fit two in the lounge room. But in the scheme of things sofas don’t count. I miss my studio. While I packed I had it in mind to re-create something much like I had at Ferny Creek but perhaps this will not be possible. I feel as this relocation has taken up the bulk of the year – you don’t just put your house on the market, you put your life on hold, as well. I’m still unable to unpack my studio and it doesn’t seem that the situation will right itself for some time.

Now getting used to the new surroundings. The chooks seem to like their ‘cubby house’, which is very spacious. Albeit I’ve noticed Maudie dog and Bud cat rather melancholic. Are they too missing the studio views onto the garden? Maudie hasn’t a door of her own to slip in and out as she wishes. Bud’s outdoor activities have been curtailed, as he’s not allowed to go out at all but must amuse himself as an indoor cat.

Philip quickly built a new pond for our goldfish; and we had tradies around to make modifications to the house, including putting in a new gas pipe to accommodate a hydronics heating system, and more recently I had a red kitchen installed to replace an inadequate nonfunctional one. I couldn’t seem to take any pan out of the narrow cupboards without a whole bunch of other stuff crashing to the floor - and the cussing that went along with it. Red I thought would cheer us all up…I drew inspiration from Matisse, who said: “…I find that all these things…only become what they are to me when I see them together with the colour red.”

A new geranium red kitchen, not quite finished
Our experience of things in the new house will become what they are to us, when we see them together with the colour red, because red is a colour that boldly announces to you that it is there. It warms and delights. 

I have been in love with the colour red since an infant, when my mother dressed me in blue, unaware that it produced a violent physiological reaction that made me feel cold. I longed for red, and when I was able to choose my own clothes, took pleasure in getting together a 'little red outfit', which consisted of red slacks and a red lambswool jumper. There I was, not quite little red riding hood, but little girl in her red outfit embarking along her own path...

Back at the new place, in the shed among other paint cans and turps, I came across some Annie Sloane chalk paint and sealing wax, which the previous owner kindly left behind.  I didn't pay attention at first, but one day I woke up and thought 'ah chalk paint, I must find out what that stuff is'.  Admittedly, such sad colours (hardly colour at all) such as ‘Paris Grey’ and ‘Old White’, but still colours which I can utilize to familiarize myself with a new hobby of painting furniture. Chalk paint doesn't require sanding or stripping back the old varnish or paint - you can just slap it on right over the old layer. Just my sort of paint.  The hard work of stripping back the varnish on the bench top in the kitchen at Ferny Creek to make it more appealing before the sale,  was enough to have put me off 'restoration' for life. And yet here I am with lights in my eyes, contemplating painting furniture. 

I have my eye on a green called exotically, ‘Antibes’, for an antique dining room cabinet, which will hold itself up very well next to the geranium red of the kitchen cabinets, even though Annie Sloane advises a more sedate olive to accommodate red, which should also be used quite sparingly.  Obviously she's never come across Matisse! So, these are the things to keep my hands and mind occupied.  While fumbling around trying to buy sand paper one Sunday morning, I gratefully received a quick lesson about sandpaper from a nice man in the local trades store – for that distressed look so in vogue upon furniture. Thus, I have not been idle without a studio...

And ordinary life stuff has happened in the meantime, too.  Maudie dog has been sick with a stomach bug and other allergies.  Funny as it sounds I've had to start giving her a 'toilette' … Colour, however, through these ups and downs, continues to rule, influence, delight and heal… 

How things can change over 12 months. This time last year Philip was recuperating from Deep Brain Stimulation surgery and I was his ‘elephant touch’ carer. During the time of recuperation we lived mainly in two rooms - the bedroom and the kitchen, so it was the beginning of the end, when we realized we could certainly make do with less ...

Then my father passed away and ... well, grief is hard to process and put into words and it doesn't seem to have spent itself...perhaps I've managed to pack it up somewhere with all my other studio stuff still at Fort Knox self storage, and rue the day when I come across it in some cardboard box and have to unpack it...

However, up on the horizon, is a secret project that has been humming in the background tone of things for almost two years, which I’ll tell you about very soon…

Thanks and gratitude to Danuta Ephemeralart for the support and photos taken during the Granddad merge. 


  1. Just found your blog by way of youtube. This touched me deeply since I, too, have a tree, Helen, on my property. I could never bear to part with these five acres, which would surely be my death on this earth. Blessings on your new spaces.

    1. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment Sandra. I’m awed that you have named ‘your’ tree Helen. I’ve known several trees that have left their mark on me, yet never named them beyond feeling this is a parent, or this forest is a cathedral in which I can worship. Your Helen seems more intimately known and loved.
      In the new place, there is a very different tree being – a beautiful elegant Japanese Maple, which seems to form the centre piece of the backyard. She’s poised and stretches gracefully in her canopy – a different being to the old, gnarled, and tenacious Granddad I knew in the old place. The garden is stepped and ‘she’ is on the top with dominion over the whole place, including the house. I can see her from the kitchen and dining room, whereas, a view to Granddad was restricted from the house.
      So, Sandra, life goes on…Like human friends with whom you sometimes lose touch, trees are much the same. It’s not that you forget them as friends, but that we find new friends to give us hope, love and forbearance. We carry the others in our hearts. Blessings to you. Joni