Why I haven’t written a blogpost for six months.

Several times in the last few months I’ve sat down to write a blogpost.

About the age old practice of storytelling.

About growing food.

About permaculture.

About developing this beautiful place at Peka Peka.

About finally, FINALLY, launching ElementAll.

About figuring out what balance means and how to effectively – and joyfully – integrate my ‘work’ with the rest of my life.

But each time I’ve sat down to write, I’ve got no further than a few paragraphs before a little voice says ‘Why aren’t writing you about the miscarriages?’

Why aren’t I writing about the miscarriages I’ve had?… Good question. Because even though I’ve been fairly open with close friends and family about being pregnant and then losing the baby, there is still a part of me that says ‘Ssssh, you’re not supposed to talk about it’. The cultural norm being not to tell people you’re pregnant until twelve weeks. Although personally, I’ve found that impossible… Simply because I haven’t had the energy to make up a believable story when I order decaf or turn down a glass of wine or go home for a lie down mid afternoon because I just. Can’t. Stay. Awake. For me, it has simply been easier to tell people. Then after the first miscarriage, when the simple joy of discovering I’m going to have a baby came with an edge of potential loss, it seemed better to tell people so there was a support group already waiting in the wings if something happened.

Why haven’t I written about the miscarriages? Because to be perfectly honest apart from not being sure as to whether I ‘should’ say something, I don’t know what to say. They were hard? Yes, they were hard. My mind and body has been on a rollercoaster of hormones I’m only just recovering from. I could — should — have bought shares in Earthcare tissues. I’ve experienced disliking dark chocolate for the first time in my life… I knew I was pregnant before I took the test because one day I woke up and the smell of dark chocolate made me faintly nauseous. I’ve been admitted to hospital for the first time in my life and found that remarkably disempowering. I’ve had more blood tests in the last six months than the rest of my life — I’ve heard the same jokes from the technician at Aotea Pathology almost enough to recite them.

My Traditional Chinese Doctor told me that in Traditional Chinese Medicine a miscarriage is called a little birth. I’ve had three little births in six months. To be honest, everything else I’ve experienced kind of pales in comparison. Apart from maybe Adam, the father of these little-lost-babies, who has been amazing. AMAZING.

I’m not sure I can, or want to say more. To family and friends who’ve been here in support, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. To those of you who’ve sent me emails and waited weeks for answer, I’m sorry and thank you for being patient. And to my long suffering dogs, thank you for many many snuggles and understanding when some days there is no beach.

Why haven’t I written about the miscarriages? Because in spite of writing about a number of very personal things here previously somehow this felt too close. Too personal. But I’ve finally decided to write about this for two reasons. The first is because I need to if I’m going to write anything else. There is an elephant in this writing room and I can’t write about other things until I share this story. Secondly, I – and this is my own very personal opinion – feel strongly that we need to create a culture where people do feel more comfortable talking about pregnancy early and miscarriage. Life is precious and sometimes precarious. The reality of women in their late 30s and 40s having babies is loss is more likely. This is hard, I kind of think we don’t need to make it any harder by feeling as if we have to cloak the experience in secrecy.

So. I think that’s it. I’ve had three miscarriages. It’s been tough. I’m getting my energy back. I have more stories to share.

The Story of Frank, Part 1. I wish we’d talked about it.

Let me be frank.

Hello Frank.

Once upon a time there was a little blond girl called Frank. Her father was a doctor, he spent a lot of time away from home making people better. Her mother was beautiful and very funny but worried a lot about a lot of things. So much so that the little girl ended up being more of a Mum to her Mummy. But she didn’t realise that until much, much later.

Frank and her Mummy and Daddy lived a good life. Often Frank and her mum would while away the school holidays at the golf club pool where lots of other mummies whiled away the school holidays. With wine. And then gin. But there was nothing unusual about that. Then Frank’s daddy bought a beautiful little farm with another doctor and there were many happy idyllic years of horses and BBQs beside the stream. And more wine and more gin. And more worry. But no-one talked about that.

Frank grew up and went to boarding school. Her mother didn’t like it at all. So there was more wine and little white pills to take the edge of the worry which was growing into something bigger and scarier. And still no-one talked about it.

Frank grew up some more and went further afield. Her father became very sick. Her mother couldn’t cope and the wine began to make an appearance earlier in the day. The dosage of the little white pills was increased,  the ‘do not take with alcohol’ label ignored and people began to talk about it. The wine, that is, not the worry.

Frank’s beautiful but by now not nearly so funny mother spent a week in the drug & alcohol unit at Kenepuru Hospital. It stopped the drinking but traumatised her. Not the best way of dealing with chronic anxiety. Another time she was prescribed a medication to stop her drinking, one that intentionally made her as sick as a dog when she drank (in fact even sicker than any of Frank’s family’s dogs). But Frank’s dying father while dying was still  very much a doctor, he couldn’t stand seeing her so violently sick and had her taken off it.  

Frank’s father died. And her mother spiralled, disconcertingly elegantly, out of control.

Frank tried to talk about it. Although often she wanted more than anything not to talk about it. But she felt that someone had to. Except that most people didn’t want to hear. 

And they still don’t really want to.

Particularly now that my mother has alcohol induced dementia.

At this point let me say, I’ve thought long and very, very hard about whether I could, and should, publicly write about my mother’s journey and my part of her story. Not just thought, I’ve searched my soul. But there are two things which lead me to hit the ‘publish’ button. The first is that I am now at peace with where we both are, in relationship to each other and her history. That’s not to say I don’t feel profound sadness, sometimes acutely so, for her condition. However the frustration, anger, grief and confusion have passed and replacing these feelings, for the most part, is deep compassion.

The second reason I choose now, not only to write about this but do so publicly, is that it would have helped me enormously to read similar stories and understand that I was not alone. One of the consequences of people not being willing to talk about it, particularly for an only child, was that I felt hugely alone. Often the unwillingness to talk was prefaced by a few brief comments about my mother’s condition not being my responsibility. And while I understood the reasons for such comments, this in fact only amplified the feeling of isolation.

I don’t believe in regrets. But I do wish we’d talked about it. I’ve no doubt that the reason for not doing so was to protect me, but I was a smart kid. I may not have realised there was anything odd about the level of wine consumption – it was normalised – but I did on some level, unconsciously and energetically, register the anxiety and the extraordinary lack of communication in my family. And instead of ripping of the bandaid and confronting the dysfunction in the family and allowing the wound to heal, under the bandaid of middle class civility, it was left to fester and become something much more diseased.

I could go on. It is said that you should write about what you know. And heavens knows, I know something about having a relative suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. I suspect I will go on, there is a great deal more I would like to share, hoping it may be of help to people in similar situations. And I suspect there are many… This morning in fact, I came across an article stating that eight million prescriptions for pills to treat anxiety and depression were dispensed in New Zealand 2011-12 (current population 4.4 million). I would say it’s a fairly safe bet that for a significant number of people taking this medication, alcohol is part of the mix.

I began this post by attempting to summarise forty years of experience, forty years of this story, my story as part of my mother’s. Somehow, telling it in the same way I would tell a children’s story intuitively felt like the most simple way of beginning.

Of course this is not a simple story, but my message in this post is simple. I wish we’d talked. It took me a very long time to do so, with family or close friends. Because we didn’t talk about it as a family, I didn’t even realise it was a problem for ages. Talking with family might have caused something to crack, but as Rumi (and Leonard Cohen) have said, it’s the crack that lets the light in. Reaching out to friends, having friends brave enough to talk about it with me and listen, helped let light in for me and consequently allow some of my own, long suppressed light, to get out.

For those of you in similar situations, of course I don’t know how it is for you and your family. Clearly  I’m not a health practitioner, but I do have decades of life experience in health. I grew up in a medical family, within the last ten years, my father, grandfather, grandmother and two uncles have died. My father had Lewy Body dementia, my grandmother Alzheimer’s, both Uncles died far too young of cancer. I have a profound interest in health and take a holistic approach. I work in communications. With stories. I believe in the healing power of storytelling.

So, my message in this first post, part 1 of the Story of Frank, is ultimately simple. Please talk. If there’s even the tiniest window try, if not, see if you can make one. It might be, probably will be, scary, it may well be uncomfortable, you could well feel as if you’re not getting anywhere, but if I were you – and in many respects I have been – I would try. It’s never too late.

To be continued…








Connect our dots, create a campfire, find our way.

Once upon a time, but not all that long ago, we used to find our way by connecting dots…

It has taken me many years to understand that what I love to do and what I’m good at, is connecting dots. It’s taken me even longer to say that out loud…’Hello, my name is Tink Stephenson and I’m a dot connector’.

Why do I find it so hard to say? Because while I’m in my element connecting and instinctively feel that it is worthwhile, I’ve struggled to see, let alone articulate, the value. Largely because that value lies in the space between two or more dots. In creating something where before there was simply potential. Also, because quite frankly it’s hard to quantify in monetary terms. When the action lies in the realm of potential and connections of future value, it’s really hard to know how to put a price on that…But in the last few weeks, the foundation for valuing my dot connecting has begun to take shape and the catalyst has been the word navigator.

Two weeks ago I went to the Carter Observatory to hear Paul Curnow, a lecturer at the Adelaide Planetarium, talk about Aboriginal night sky knowledge and indigenous navigation. Then later that week, during a conversation about ‘super powers’ I described mine to a wise and smart friend Nick Potter as the the ability to gather a whole lot of ingredients, pull back in order to have a panoramic view of them all, connect the dots and then then zoom in to synthesise. Or something to that affect. Nick’s response was “Maybe you could describe that as “navigator” – super powers – an ability to see the constellations and draw connections among different points of light, create an image or story that connects them and use those images to guide the way”.

I believe you can tell when people are in their element or in touch with their own super power, because they light up, their eyes shine brightly. What gets me positively fizzing with excitement is watching other people light up and then connecting their spark to another and another and so on… Magic lies in connecting people whose spark has been lit. Create a campfire, connect people whose eyes are shining and there is potential for something alchemical.

So to last week and another talk at the Carter Observatory. This one with Dr Julie Teetsov who talked about the history of Western Navigation and her own experiences of celestial navigation as she and her husband sailed from the United States to New Zealand. Early on in her talk Julie mentioned ‘connecting the dots as a way of navigating‘ and I sat up straighter. She went on to talk about the certainty of stars and their capacity to, in some way, allow us to connect with our inner selves. How in these days of sophisticated GPS systems, we may not need the stars to get from a to b, but we still need them. My spine tingled.

In my last post, I referred to Carl Sagan’s comment ”we are all star stuff” by which he meant that nearly every atom inside our bodies was once inside a star. In previous posts, I’ve talked about this point in history as a convergence of crises and a time of massive global transition which will require us all to work together and connect to our selves, each other and nature.

Here’s the thing. You’re all stars. You truly are. Not only are you made of star stuff, but each of you has an element, something that you’re naturally good at, something you love doing and being, something that makes you radiant.  And yet you shine even more brightly in relationship to other stars. When you’re connected to other dots and when you share your story. The power, the potential, so much possibility, lies not just in who we are individually but who we are collectively. The stories our constellations tell.

In learning about ancient ways of navigating, yes, I’m connecting more of my own dots and beginning to seeing its value. Which is good. But what feels great, is this dawning realisation that we really do still need stars to find our way from a to b. If we are to find our way to a brighter, collaborative, infinitely more sustainable future, now more than ever before, we need to connect dots. Your dots. And the potential in that is is making this little star shine very brightly indeed.







A lost cat & A beside note.

The witching hour. 6pm. The high risk period when Mum would need a drink. When she couldn’t get alcohol, she would work her way through a block of cheese. Something, anything, to alleviate the high anxiety. These days she can’t get wine, so she obsesses about her cats. One in particular. Piddle.

Poor Piddle, an extremely elegant little Occicat, who went through a phase of piddling as a kitten and the name stuck. However Piddle is now wonderfully self-sufficient. She usually disappears for a day or so on the full moon, spends time roaming across the nearby golf course. She always comes back. But these days, every day, at 6pm, Mum goes outside and calls and calls and calls. Then she comes back inside and tells her caregiver that she is worried because ‘Piddle is hungry, lost and alone‘.

But Piddle is not the one who is hungry, lost and alone.

There’s no ‘medical proof’ of this of course, but my theory (and while I don’t have a psychology degree or a medical one, I have a lifetime of experience) is that as Mum becomes more childlike, she is becoming more open with her feelings. And while she can’t, has never been able to, will not ever say ‘I am hungry, lost, alone’, I know that this has how she feels. And this has how she has felt for a very long time.

The hunger, of course, is not a hunger for food, but a hunger for a very different type of nourishment. A sense of fulfillment. While she is not physically lost, she lost her way many years ago. And while she has constant company, my lovely mother feels that she is alone.

The anxiety, an almost constant presence of worry, preceded the alcohol dependence and the dementia. I have no doubt it started before I arrived on the scene. According to New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation, New Zealand has a high prevalence of anxiety, mood and substance abuse disorders, exceeded only by the US for anxiety by the US, Ukraine and France for mood and only by the Ukraine and US for substance abuse disorders.

Recently, I read a fascinating article by a Rick Hanson PhD, a neuropsychologist on Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: A 21st-Century View of Meditation. Addressing the field of contemplative neuroscience, Dr Hanson concludes by taking the reader through a simple 5 step meditation. Becoming attuned to the breath, conscious relaxation, a feeling of safety, wellbeing and connection. What fascinates me, is that for each stage, he provides an explanation of what happens to the brain. The element of safety, struck a particular chord.

“The third suggestion focuses on feeling safe. This is a very important one, although it’s often hard for people because we have what I call “paper-tiger paranoia.” Essentially, we evolved to overestimate threats and to underestimate opportunities and resources for dealing with threats. Although that may have been a great way to pass on gene copies in Africa two million years ago, it’s a lousy way to experience quality of life in the twenty-first century. Most of us can feel safer than we normally do. I prompt people to feel as safe as they reasonably can because there is no perfect safety in life. None of us is safe from old age, disease, or death, for example, but most of us can afford to feel less guarded, less braced, and more confident in our capacities to meet life.

It sounds so very simple, but at the end of the day – and at the beginning, middle and every moment in between – isn’t that what we all want?Nourishment, mind, body and soul. A sense of purpose. To be attuned to our self, to feel relaxed, safe, well, connected.

I cannot undo a lifetime of feeling hungry, lost and alone for my mother. It took me a long time to realise that’s not my responsibility.

But she is my mother and I love her and I it makes my heart ache to think that she feels hungry, lost, alone. So next time I visit, I think I might just put a little note beside her bed which says ‘Your life has purpose. You are loved. You are safe. You are home‘…If I could, I’d sprinkle a little fairy dust and put one beside your bed too.

A lesson from Countess Zofia, lying in state.

My car, a grand old navy blue Volvo, is currently lying ‘in state’. The head gasket has gone and my compassionate mechanic (otherwise known as Jason at Brendon Motors) told me that it would cost the best part of $2500 to get her going again. The answer was no. However I’m irrationally fond of the old girl and in spite of the fact that she ‘died’ a month ago, she is still in the garage. Calling the wreckers to have her taken away, somehow feels like calling the knackers yard to have an old horse carted off.

In the days since she ground to a halt, I’ve learned quite a lesson from Countess Zofia ZF 1860 (named by my lovely friend Stephanie who is of Polish descent). She has taught me about the benefits of not having a car.

While Zofia has sat quietly in the garage, I haven’t looked for a replacement. Partly due to lack of time – well, of course I’ve had the time, it’s simply that I’d rather spend a spare two hours connecting with friends – but mostly because I’ve been enjoying walking. And not having to pay for petrol. Or accrue parking fines.

Not having a car has also required me to schedule less into my day. Because I divide my time between a number of enterprises, I’ve tended to schedule as many things into my day as possible, racing from one appointment to the next.

Being car-less has meant more space. Fewer meetings sitting down. More movement.

Not having a car has coincided with a whole-hearted realisation, born out of a recently embedded daily yoga practice and learning about stress and our physiological response, that as humans we are designed to move.

The combination of not having a car and consequently walking for an hour a day, becoming more attuned to how my body responds to movement and food and yoga has meant that I’m leaner and fitter. I have more energy. I’ve dropped a dress size without trying.

I do realise that it’s easy to say this when the weather is unseasonably beautiful. Perhaps it won’t be so easy to extoll the virtues of being car-less when a whopping southerly strikes. Although I have, it has to be said, made myself get out and walk in the rain. I quite like walking in the rain. Perhaps I’ll get a corgi. And call her Zofia.

Enough of that.

I’m still not quite ready to stand on the pavement and wave at Zofia as she is spirited away.

Perhaps I’ll wait until I know I’ve formed a new habit of walking whenever and wherever I can. According to a paper published in 2009 in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes on average 66 days for a new habit to form. Zofia died just over a month ago, on the day of the Royal Wedding (speaking of corgis and walking in the rain). Which means another 35 days of being without a car.

I’ll let you know how it goes. The walking and the waving goodbye.




Don’t worry, try these 5 things and be happi(er).

A pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five notes per octave. Apparently it is very common and found all over the world. The brilliant Bobby McFerrin (of ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ fame) illustrated the universal nature of the pentatonic scale in this delightful little experiment at the World Science Festival 2009. I highly recommend that you watch it. Three minutes of your time, it is informative and it will make you smile.

Bobby McFerrin at the World Science Festival

Speaking of making you smile and being happy, recently I watched (am I beginning to sound like I spend all my time watching online presentations?) a fascinating TED talk by statistician Nic Marks on the Happy Planet Index. Essentially, he is looking at alternative measure of progress which measure how happy people are and how happy the planet is, i.e. alternative to measures such as the GDP which arguably measure everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

However what really captured my attention was Nic talking about the project he undertook a couple of years ago for the U.K. Government Office of Science and their evidence based Foresight programme. Basically his organisation, the New Economics Foundation, was asked to come up with 5 positive actions you can do to improve your life. Not, as he says the secrets of happiness, but the things that he thinks happiness will flow out the side from.

And they are…

Connect. With your loved ones. Invest time in your social relationships.

Be active. Go outside and walk. Get up and dance around the room.

Take notice. Are you aware of the seasons changing? Are you aware of your self?

Keep learning. It doesn’t have to be formal. Be curious.

Give. The fact of the matter is, we feel good if we give.

So, as I finish writing this just before the stroke of midnight and the beginning of Friday, I have five questions for you:

How have you connected with the people you care about this week?

Have you gone for a walk? Danced? Skipped?

What have you noticed? Been aware of ? Outside and within?

Have you learned something new?

How have you given?

Five things we can do from which happiness may flow. Five notes on a happiness scale.

A weird thing happened on the way off the mat

I’ve wanted to practice yoga for years. I’ve tried. I’ve gone to the occasional class at a gym, but haven’t stuck with it. Mostly because I dislike gyms intensely and have taken out a membership against the advice of my intuition. I’ve also tried the odd class at a yoga studio, but whether it’s the time of day, or the size of the class (i.e. large), these haven’t worked for me either.

This year, however, that same inner voice that advised me against joining a gym became increasingly insistent that I find some way of developing a regular yoga practice. And so when I serendipitously came across Marianne Elliot’s 30 days of yoga online programme designed to help you develop a practice at home, something felt right and I signed up.

Forty days later, I’m on the mat each day and while I’m there a mysterious thing happens. Actually, part of the mystery is that I’m there at all…

For me, one of the best things about Marianne’s programme has been the focus on intention. At the beginning of the 30 days, but also at the beginning of each daily practice. On the very first day my intention was, and everyday my intention is, simply to show up.

There are numerous days when quite honestly, it is the very last thing I feel like. I am not a morning person so it’s not part of my morning routine. And so often, as is the case today, I still haven’t got to the mat by 10pm. But I know I will. As soon as I’ve hit the ‘publish’ button for this post, I’ll sit down, take a deep breath and begin the practice. And this is where the heart of the mystery lies, I begin and something weird happens to time. Before I know it, 40 minutes have passed and I’m chanting Om to finish. I don’t know how it happens, but it does, every single day. And I’m loving it.

So thank you to my inner voice for insisting I find a yoga practice that works for me and thank you to Marianne for appearing at exactly the right time. Long may the mystery of my yoga practice continue.


“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

Henry David Thoreau

For Kylie, Stephanie and Richard.


Not counting sheep

I don’t know if this quirky little custom is found elsewhere in the world, but in New Zealand, if you can’t sleep, it is suggested that you count sheep. Close your eyes, imagine a big green paddock with sheep. Lots of them. Which I suppose is not unreasonable in a country of just over 4 million people and just over 40 million sheep.

However, I have to say, it has never worked for me. Even when we had a sheep farm.

And yet last night, I once again found myself attempting to count sheep. Heavens only knows why, actually now that I come to think about it, it probably has something to do with developing a merino clothing range… Anyway, I very quickly got bored with sheep but it occurred that there may be something to this whole counting thing. So I switched to people. Specifically, people I’m grateful to.

This time last year, I had just embarked on a 2 month trip in the United States. In part, a market research trip for Onemeall, over the 8 weeks I was fortunate enough to have conversations with many truly amazing people. And I was able to make that journey, and have those experiences, because of amazing people here.

As I worked my way backwards through time, I held the faces of hundreds of people in my mind’s eye and far more effective than sheep have ever been, they sent me off to sleep. The conscious, soft focus on people’s faces, one after another after another, definitely worked. But unlike the sheer monotony of counting white woolley creatures (having said that, I’ve met some sheep with fabulous personalities and I think they’re highly underated) this process was delightful. Remembering people’s faces, rocked me gently, gracefully, gratefully off to sleep.