Photo taken by Joy's grandson Weston
Photo taken by Joy's grandson Weston
PO Box 42
Featherston 5740
New Zealand

November 2017

Dear Friends,

When we were children, Time seemed to crawl on its hand and knees, so that we had to wait forever for the next birthday. But time learned to walk, then run, then sprint, and now, surely, Time is driving a sports car that roars past, leaving us sitting on the road in a cloud of dust. Do other octogenarians also feel this way?

Terry and I had hopes that we would grow old disgracefully; but I am sure our lives appear as ordinary and boring as those of our grandparents. We study crossword puzzles and weather forecasts, remind each other about medication and hold hands crossing the road. Yes, we can still feel guilty about eating a whole carton of salted caramel icecream between us, although the rare luxury of guilt is kept until weíve finished it all, and we regularly go to sleep in front of TV, waking to a duet of snoring.

In fact, all this is not ordinary and boring for us. It is rich and tender and the inconvenience of age seems quite superficial. I wrote something about this the other day. Iíll include it in this letter. But first up, I want to introduce you to something special, a new appearance of an old character. It is Elizabeth Fullerís lovely Mrs Wishy-Washy doll which is being manufactured in New Zealand by Chris Stephens of Antics for world distribution.

Allow me to tell you a little about Mrs Wishy-Washyís history. That washerwoman is nearly 50 years old. I did the original design because I needed to test stories in schools, and the stories needed illustrations. When the first Wishy-Washy book was published, Liz Fuller built on my drawings and perfected the characters. For years, Liz and I sort of shared the image of Mrs Wishy-Washy. In recent years, however, weíve discovered that unauthorised people have been making and selling products with the image of Mrs Wishy-Washy Ė including Wishy-Washy dolls. We appreciate that people have been meeting a demand, but this is illegal and in breach of copyright. I have now signed over all commercial production rights of the Wishy-Washy characters, to Liz. These are rightfully hers. She has designed this wonderful doll which will soon be commercially available.

If you want to find out more about the Wishy-Washy doll, do email or

My writing continues, albeit at a slower pace and in new directions. There are still a few childrenís books to be published, but Iíve also enjoyed writing some stories for the New Zealand String Quartet. Talented composer Gareth Farr puts these to music and the String Quartet presents them in schools. The main area of writing, however, has been in the preparation of retreats and spirituality workshops. In 2017 Iíve facilitated an average of two retreats or workshops a month. I donít seek to do this but say yes if asked, and I find it very inspiring to connect with others on spiritual journey. I am Roman Catholic but most of the retreats are ecumenical = there is one great heart of loving wisdom beating in us all.

In the last two years, Iíve also written two ĎOpinioní pieces a month for an on-line Catholic News blog. These 500 word pieces are also spiritual reflections. If thatís your sort of journey, CathNews is online and free. Just google CathNewsNZ to enrol.

Iíve been facilitating retreats for about 30 years but people donít always equate this work with the childrenís books. Last year, at the Mercy Centre in Auckland, I was pinning on a name badge when a woman pointed at it and exclaimed, "Youíve got the same name as that writer!" Fortunately, she went on talking and I wasnít obliged to respond.

There have been two significant "book" celebrations this year. The first was the annual "Featherston Booktown" weekend. Our village of Featherston has about 2000 people and several bookshops plus other shops that also stock books. Even the cafes and restaurants have stocked bookshelves. And once a year there is a Book Weekend Festival that attracts thousands of visitors. Itís wonderful.

The other great weekend was the Storylines Writers Hui in Auckland at Kings School, a gathering of new and established writers for learning, discussion, celebration. This is a small country and when writers get together, it is like a family reunion.

What else has happened? I received an amazing gift for my 81st birthday from my youngest son James. I had always admired Mini Coopers but knew I would never own one. My usual car has been like a convenient wheelbarrow near its use-by date. So when James emailed to say he wanted to buy me a Mini Cooper, I thought those words too, could be wishful thinking, But that is what happened! And not an ordinary Mini, either. Itís a Mini Cooper Bayswater, dark grey, black leather and chrome inside, six gears, turbo, 0 Ė 100 in less than 4 seconds. I have to admit, I didnít think I could ever LOVE a car. But Iím totally smitten and so is Terry. Deficient sight means Terry canít drive but he gets much satisfaction in the passenger seat as Mini growls like a tiger through the gears.

Having admitted this geriatric love affair, I will now add the reflection on Aging.


There is a joke that my husband and I revisit with much pleasure. It concerns two elderly men who had memory loss. One said to his friend, "At last Iíve found the solution! Iím going to a wonderful memory school. They give you strategies you can put in place to remember things."

The other said, "Iíd be interested in that. Whatís the school called?"

The man held up his hand. "Just a moment and Iíll tell you. There is a very popular flower.
Itís fragrant, it grows on a bush and it has thorns Ė "

"A rose?" suggested his friend.

"Thatís right!" the man replied. He then turned to his wife. "Rose? Rose? What is the name of that memory school?"

While we can laugh at inconvenience of aging, there are also gifts given us. Here are a few that hold my gratitude.

1. In the earlier stages of life, it seemed that I was all over the place. When I look back now, I see a straight line from there to here, and all of it appears right and necessary for growth.

2. Some of the hardest times can now be seen as the richest. Pain makes good compost for growth but it takes a while to break down. Looking back, I see times of pain associated with a rebirthing in myself.

3. I thought I was mature at 16. People told me I was mature when I turned 21. I discovered that the real age of maturity is 50.

4. When I was in my twenties, I was full of questions about the meaning of life. I donít think I got any answers. The questions themselves just disappeared. I realized if there was no answer to a question, I was asking the wrong question.

5: I cannot tell young people how to live. They would not understand. We can always see where weíve come from but not where we are going. But I can listen to young people and be with them where they are. A good honest memory is important in this, and I need to resist the temptation to rewrite my own history.

6. I smile when I remember the anxieties of youth, the shyness, the embarrassment, the fear of making mistakes. Making mistakes was and still is, an important part of learning. This makes me eager to tackle new things without fear. Learning something new is one of the richest gifts of life.

7. There is a saying in Judaism that we live in only one per cent of reality, knowing only what comes through our five senses. The other ninety nine per cent, they say, is the spiritual realm all around us. One of the lovely things about getting older is that we are getting nearer the ninety nine per cent, and the spiritual world sometimes creeps in by osmosis.

8. We get a sense that everything that happens to us is a teacher. From day to day, we experience amazing coincidence. We ask a question: the answer turns up. We have a need, it is met. Possessions become less important, and we seem to have grown beyond our earlier definitions of material values. We realize that the only wealth we really keep, is the wealth we give away.

9. As the old prison of a body starts breaking down, we become more aware of the life within us. We canít describe that either. It is like a light that shines through the cracks, like a weightlessness, like a song, like a smile that is waiting for a homecoming.

My love to you all,

Joy Cowley

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last update 10 May 2011