On packing

You can never have too many plastic bottles... Ideally smaller then 200ml but larger than 30ml. Actually, 100ml, the limit; that's ideal. Ideal, but hard to find.
Try to buy bottles which are smaller than 200ml but larger than 30ml. Actually, 100ml, the limit; that’s ideal. Ideal, but hard to find.

Between leaving for New York on May 11 and returning from Noumea on June 22, I’ve stayed at 12 different locations.

For someone who dislikes packing this has been…yet another, learning experience.

Hence, 12 suitcase tips for the travelling journalist:

1) Pack light. By the time I got to Philadelphia, my bag was far too heavy. Tell you what – I was regretting those extra purchases as my luggage literally pulled me backwards down an escalator at the train station. I survived, obviously, but only thanks to two quick-thinking and stronger-than-me strangers

2) You won’t need that many pairs of pants in America in springtime. Black jeans are the answer to every occasion

3) Roll your clothes when packing. (More space, fewer wrinkles)

4) Pack carry-on contents with care, so when airport security staff take your satchel for bomb testing, they’ll think: “Wow, this person is very organised and probably not a felon. We should let her through.”

5) You can never have enough clear plastic snaplock bags

6) You can never have enough small plastic bottles. Particularly when you need to repackage expensive shampoo

7) Pack light because it’s not always a good idea to accept help with your suitcase, especially in the United States where you’re expected to tip. (Don’t ask me when it’s appropriate to tip – I don’t know. That’s why I never accepted help)

8) If you’re flying with carry-on only, train your upper body so you can effortlessly carry your 12kg bag so it appears to be only 7kg

9) Pack light, so you’re not one of those travellers shamefully repacking their suitcase in the check-in lounge at the airport

10) Bring a few empty shopping bags for when your sink-washed t-shirts don’t dry in time for your next flight

11) Pack light, so you don’t have to spend the last of your local currency on a backpack to carry all those books you probably should have bought as digital copies

12) Just pack light. That’s pretty much it.

Behind the scenes behind the wall

Finally (and many reading this will know how warranted “finally” actually is), finally, I’ve published my story on the Carmelites.

It’s a story that began… well, I first knocked on the monastery door early last year. You can read about the conception of the feature in this post.

I’ve met with the sisters many times, and kept in touch with Sister Cushla over the phone and via email.

The Carmelites are amazing women; having chosen to relinquish the outside world, forever, and dedicate their lives to praying for us. They’re full of laughter and light and love. They radiate happiness. It was a joy to work with them.

And there was always plenty to talk about. Sister Cushla loves reading, and I’m currently part way through one of her recommendations: The Ear of the Heart (it’s very good).

When I passed my camera through the turntable to her, I eyed her suspiciously and said: “I know where you live.” She gave the DSLR a once over and replied, “Oh you don’t need to worry, I’ve taken a vow of poverty.”

She turned out to be a talented photographer:

Upstairs corridor, taken by Sister Cushla
Upstairs corridor, taken by Sister Cushla
The quadrangle, taken by Sister Cushla
The quadrangle, taken by Sister Cushla
The machine that makes the bread used in Holy Communion, taken by Sister Cushla
The machine that makes the bread used in Holy Communion, taken by Sister Cushla

I saw on Twitter someone comparing the story to a project done by the New York Times. They said Stuff’s interactive must have been done “with a small team on a small budget”. I’m not sure if this person realised the truth in their statement — in that the content was completed largely outside work hours by me-myself-and-I, and of course our developer Andy Ball.

It’s a humble project, but hopefully it gets its message across.

I insist, it’s not just a story about religion. It’s a story about happiness.

Along a main road in Christchurch, 15 minutes from the city’s centre, a block of land is enclosed by a high stone wall.

Most passersby wouldn’t know this is the Carmelite Monastery, home to 10 women — nuns — who have committed their lives to contemplative prayer and a deep relationship with God.

Shut off from the world, they pray for us.

For this story, Carmelite Sister Cushla borrowed our reporter’s camera to document scenes of the nuns’ daily life, offering the world a glimpse behind the wall.

Mother Dorothea Mary of Jesus is sorry to hear the Captain Cook Tavern has closed.

The former Otago scarfie studied social work and education, hung out at “the Cook”, and didn’t believe in God.

“In fact, I couldn’t bear Christians!” she says.

Today, she speaks from behind an iron grille, at the Carmel of Christ the King Monastery in Christchurch. She is dressed in the traditional habit of Carmel: brown and white, with a black veil. The black veil represents service until death, the lifelong promise a woman can make, usually six years after entering the Order.

This is a story of happiness. An examination of the human experience of cloistered nuns, and of the power of The Contemplative Life.

Mother Dorothea is the Christchurch Carmel prioress, the elected leader of the sisters. She has been “behind bars” since 1981, residing within the stone walls of the 2.5 hectare block which constitutes the monastery in Halswell.

Her junior, Sister Cushla of Mary Immaculate, entered in 1999, and is one of the younger sisters at the monastery.

With a beatific smile, Sister Cushla says the habits are actually quite practical. “You can hook it up and deliver cattle in these!”

She describes their daily routine; a timetable which includes more than six hours of prayer and spiritual readings, five hours of work, and about two hours of recreation. She admits it can be hard to adjust to the Carmelite lifestyle.

“If you haven’t got up at 5.30am for most of your life… then it’s not easy.”

To read the rest of this story and view Sister Cushla’s images, click here.


Dispelling prejudices upon entering the blogosphere

I approached this task with a skepticism bordering on sheer reluctance.

You see, to me at least, the concept of blogging evoked brooding teens and a population of vegan-recipe-swapping leisure-class females.

Perhaps I was thinking of Pinterest.

Anyway, quick research revealed that my view of blogging was outdated.

Oh, I’m quite sure that pregnant women are still swapping sewing patterns for elasticated pants on Tumblr, but the frontiers of the blogosphere have been commandeered by an altogether more intellectual and opinionated crowd:


I’ve been living in a cave, according to Mark Glaser (and so has anyone else who “still believes that bloggers are one breed and journalists are another”).

Now that I’m a student journalist, not only do I have to vacate my cave, but I’m expected to join this online frenzy. “Student journalists have no excuse [to not have a blog]. Get a blog. Get writing. Get used to it.” Credit to Adam Westbrook for that wakeup call.

I like Mindy Mcadams’s metaphor of the blogosphere as a giant network of nodes (I admit, I initially misread “nodes” for “noses” and was baffled for several seconds by the notion of an online hongi).

A sense of interconnectivity is promoted amongst major bloggers – both individuals and media organisations. Indeed, Westbrook points out that “the thing that actually makes a blog a blog (and not a normal web page) is its RSS feed, which identifies each individual post as part of a larger series and delivers new posts to peoples’ newsreaders or inboxes.” (Side note: I still haven’t figured out how to use an RSS feed – feel free to enlighten me in the comments section).

So, what makes a good news blog? I consulted Annabel Candy’s blog for handy hints on “effective blog habits”, and her contributors provided – in my opinion – the most insightful tip of all: “Having a thick skin” is integral to being a successful blogger.

I’ll admit that I’m still struggling to place the light-hearted, often-personal culture of blogging within the realm of “hard-news” journalism.

What makes a good news blog?

Just today, I stumbled upon a recent post by our own Russell Brown on Public Address; it begins:

“Hello! I wrote up the following for this week’s Media3, but it didn’t make the cut. I thought it might make for a conversation-starter here…”

Although Brown’s facetiously self-deprecating comment suggests second-rate material, this post wasn’t necessarily unworthy of official publication. It was simply more suited to the multi-directional, multi-media platform of social critique that the blogosphere provides.

Not all bloggers are journalists, but almost all new journalists are bloggers. But, what does this mean for “news” in its traditional sense?

I’m not sure, exactly, how one should go about separating and appropriating their media “presence” to cater for today’s complex news industry.

How do journalists succeed at blogging while maintaining their status as credible, impartial observers?

Cartoon by Alex Gregory, New York Times
Cartoon by Alex Gregory