#86 Recondition old dolls

It began with an invitation. A school reunion — a BIG one — to be held this year in May.

After the momentary horror of acknowledging that so many years had passed since I left school, my thoughts turned fondly to the girls I knew back then and the fun times we had.

Recalling our school sports days, I idly wondered what had happened to the two dolls my sister and I had always taken to these events. They were dressed in the school’s summer uniform of the day — thanks to our mother who’d organised it from some magical doll outfitters she’d read about — and they became popular mascots for our sports team.

1960s love

Maybe I should dig them out from whatever forgotten box they’d been living in and donate them to the school? Wouldn’t that be a good thing to do?

But alas, over the years, the moths, silver fish and possibly even mice, hadn’t been kind to the dolls. It looked like I’d need to learn how to:

#86 Recondition old dolls.

One was missing part of her skull and all her hair. The other had only one eyelash, making her eyes appear rather lopsided when she blinked. They both looked unloved and rather tatty, but fortunately, nothing that couldn’t be repaired, so I began by machine washing Blinky’s uniform, while Baldy waited her turn. Shabby dolls

A Google search of dolls and their bits and bobs was an eyeopener. Unbeknown to me, there’s an entire world inhabited by dolls of all shapes and sizes, their never-ending wardrobes, and a vast selection of missing anatomy parts. Enter a local internet site called Gum Blossom Babies which proved perfect for all my needs.

The choice of wigs was amazing.

There was the ‘Annie’, with her ‘riot of ethereal curls’:

Annie

or ‘Betty’, sporting the ever fashionable sausage curls:

Betty

But mindful that such showiness was frowned upon by the nuns in our day, I settled on the ‘Doris’ a simpler, brown, no-nonsense wig that was a fair approximation of Baldy’s original tresses.

The skirt portion of both their uniforms were full of holes and unsalvageable,

Moth eaten skirts

but after washing them, then carefully unpicking the lower section of the uniform, they could be used as a template to measure new skirts using matching fabric. Thank goodness the bodice was in good nick, because I didn’t like my chances of re-creating those little sleeves and collar!

Pleats, I’ve discovered, are a bit of a nightmare, both to create and to press into perfectly crisp formation —

Pinning and pleating

until a friend introduced me to

Ironing with a Rajah cloth

the Rajah pressing cloth, a chemically impregnated cloth (gulp) that works like magic on pleats.

Once these new skirts were reattached to the bodices, Baldy’s missing pate and fresh ‘Doris’ wig were reattached, and Blinky was given a new eyelash.

The straw school hats, to which my mother had meticulously stitched the school’s hat band replete with the school crest, only needed the elastic replaced, and the blazers came up beautifully in the wash.

Once dressed, they were propped up on their new doll stands for all to admire:

Oh, the memories!

It would be such a good thing if I donated them to my school when I return there for the reunion, wouldn’t it?

Unless, maybe, just maybe, I hang onto them a wee bit longer?

I mean, I can always bequeath them in my will …

 

 

 

#85 Take a Book Blog Tour

For someone who wrote a novel about the risks of embracing social media when you’re not sure what you’re doing, I initially wondered why I chose this latest activity.

As an extension to my somewhat shaky adventure, #77 Learn the Art of Successful Marketing, my sister and I decided we needed the help of a real marketer to work on promoting our novel, Secrets of the IN-group. Which is how we came to:

#85 Take a Book Blog Tour

To explain what a book blog tour is (and I’m only fully understanding it now it’s over), it’s a method of introducing your book to potential readers right around the world without leaving home. Most appealing.

It works like this: the marketing expert we employed hires a ‘middleman’ (or in this case, ‘middlewoman’) called Goddess Fish,

an on-line promoter with a stable full of social-media-savvy book-bloggers who each have hundreds, if not thousands, of followers.

Any one of these book-bloggers will agree to showcase a new novel on a chosen date. When Goddess Fish Promotions can lock in 10 or more separate book-bloggers for 10 consecutive dates, we, as the authors, provide them with all the material they’ll need to showcase the book over the ten day “virtual tour”. Photos, excerpts, deleted scenes, anything that may be of interest to a prospective reader and tell them more about us and our writing.

The material we provide has to be different for each book-blogger, so that visitors to the sites can take in the whole tour if they want and learn about different aspects of the book each day. As an incentive, they can also enter a raffle at each stop along the way.

To our surprise and delight, in next to no time we were told a 10-day tour spot was available, and were presented with several book-blog sites, all with intriguing-sounding names:

Rogue’s Angels
It’s Raining Books
Mythical Books
Fabulous and Brunette
Viviana MacKade
All the Ups and Downs
Locks, Hooks and Books
Musings from an Addicted Reader
Andi’s Book Reviews
Harlie’s Books
Long and Short Reviews

lt was only when an email from our marketing expert arrived on Christmas Eve that we discovered the “tour” would commence on January 13th and we’d need to prepare all the information for the eleven different posts we’d been given by January 6th.

I suspect we were the only people who’d spend the entire period from Christmas Eve to January 6th preparing their material.


As the sites we were offered on this tour are located in the USA, we rushed to the first listed website late on January 13th AEST, with the anticipation of children on Christmas morning.

To our surprise, our not-particularly-romantic novel was sited next to an array of advertisements for … um, slightly different types of books:

Only then did we wonder if our novel would have any appeal whatsoever to the readers following this particular book-blogger.

At least the post drew an immediate response from one of our friends:

She was joshing of course. She knew exactly where to look.

Over the next few days, though, the other sites gave us the opportunity to showcase different aspects of the book, such as which covers we considered before the final one was chosen: 


The giveaways associated with the websites involved completing a ‘Rafflecopter’ entry form for a chance to win, and as everyone knows, a Rafflecopter is nothing more than a widget that enables websites to embed entry forms in their pages.

By this stage, we wondered if, like the women in Secrets of the IN-group, we were in way over our heads.

It was as if we were being given a brief glimpse of another universe, one running parallel to the one we inhabit, but understood and appreciated only by people under forty.

But as the tour, and our knowledge, evolved, it got better and better. We were able to answer questions from readers and engage with them immediately. When one book-blogger gave the book a great review, and mentioned how excited she was that a central character in our novel— Andrea—shared her name, we relaxed and realised that a virtual tour was easily as good as a real one.

It’s also resulted in a multitude of readers posting to Goodreads that the book is now on their “to read” list.

You can’t ask for more than that.

#84 Hold a Sustainable Kris Kringle

Sometimes, in the face of a wilfully stupid government that leaves you feeling powerless, all you can do is quietly undermine them.

So with large tracts of the east coast of Australia now alight with unseasonal bushfires and a government still intent on promoting coal and coal mines, I’ve channelled my anger and frustration into a small act of defiance this Christmas.

No big buying spree to prop up the economy, thanks all the same, Mr Treasurer. This is the year my group of friends decided to

#84 Hold a Sustainable Kris Kringle

So much better than the usual exchange of bought-at-the-last-minute ‘stuff’.

The brief was simple:

                                       ◊ Make it
                                       ◊ Bake it
                                       ◊ Pick it
                                       ◊ Plant it
                                       ◊ Re-cycle it
                                       ◊ Re-gift it
                                       ◊ Re-use it
                                       ◊ Re-design it
                                       ◊ Re-purpose it

And here are the ideas we came up with:

  1. A re-purposed hand towel sewn into a clever shower mitt, together with a bar of perfumed soap:

2. A re-gifted book on ‘green’ drinking and eating 


3. A Garden Box full of goodies, including freshly laid eggs:


4. A jigsaw puzzle the original owner had completed more than enough times:


5. A Gift card promising a home cooked meal, with no expiry date!


6. A re-cycled novel by Ann Cleeves (who writes the Vera series) presented in a Christmas-card decorated bag:


7. Cards of assorted sizes printed on a home printer from photographs taken locally by the gift-giver:

Cards

 


8. Bonus cosmetics received after placing an order for regular cosmetics:


Every aspect of this Sustainable Kris Kringle was perfect: the pre-planning, the collating and especially the exchange of such personal gifts at our breakfast gathering.

The vote is that we’re definitely doing it again next year.

With apologies to the economy, of course.

Image of Christmas Trees (at top of post) is my lettuce, having bolted in the pre-summer heat. [sigh]

#83 Encrypt a Message

It was a short note in a breakout box advising readers how to send tips to newspapers—in this instance, about underpayments in the restaurant industry— that first caught my eye:


Ooh. This is cloak and dagger stuff. I had no idea you should send a ‘confidential and encrypted’ message when contacting journalists. Immediately, I felt the need to investigate how to

#83 Encrypt a message

on the off-chance I ever want to become a whistle-blower.

Back in primary school, it was so simple to send coded messages.

For example, if you wanted to let a friend know, without others finding out, where you’d buried your treasure, you could send a seemingly unhelpful map—

knowing they’d been in the same science class as you, understood the magic of lemon juice and would put the map in their home oven to reveal the location:

But then we graduated to word processors and the level of sophistication increased. Lemon juice was out.

Instead, you could send a friend a seemingly innocent computer message that wouldn’t cause any problems if her mother found it:

Sally, of course, knows there’s a secret message encrypted in this innocuous double-spaced word document, and all she has to do is highlight every blank line and change the white print Alison has used into red print to reveal the true plan:

I’m not suggesting I would ever have done this

In a similar vein, I’ve read work references that on the surface, read positively:

but when decoded—by reading every alternate line instead—reveal an entirely different message


A friend once sent me an email that opened on my iPad looking like this intriguing, encrypted message:

Sadly, when I forwarded it onto my computer at home, it turned out to be totally innocuous:

So I turned to trusty Google to ask  ‘How do I encrypt an email?’

Suffice to say that if becoming a whistleblower isn’t frightening enough, try understanding advice given by a computer geek.

But the fabulous news is that, without knowing it, I’m already encrypting my messages:

I knew there was a reason I’ve always been an Apple girl.

Of course, this automatic encryption doesn’t take into account the times when I’m juggling the messaging app between two friends and inadvertently send the message to the wrong person:

I’m beginning to suspect that this world of espionage is not for the fainthearted—or the feebleminded.

 

#82 Just DO it!

It’s a shame that procrastination is so much easier than action.

Imagine how much you could achieve in life if instead of thinking about itmeaning to do it one day, or planning to get around to it in the very near future, you actually … just … DID it?

With that in mind, my friends in Discovery group and I recently decided to complete some of those nagging little jobs we’d been putting off for ages and report back on our achievements.

I found it so empowering that I’ve decided to keep it going and set aside the first week of every month to …

#82 Just DO it!

— even if it’s no more than completing one small job each day.

Apparently this rewards us in several ways. According to psychologists, tasks we haven’t done distract us, but the mere act of making a plan to get them done frees us from this anxiety.

Completing them then gives us small bursts of dopamine, generating feelings of satisfaction and happiness.  Bigger tasks can be broken down into so called Micro-tasks and as each one is finalised, it spurs us on to continue.

During our Discovery experiment, one of our members finally compiled an album of photos using Snapfish that she’s been meaning to do—since her 2014 trip to Italy. Now, she’s enthused about doing all the other albums waiting.

Another friend has a neat-as-a-pin office at home which, from the pictures she showed us, looks nothing like it used to look, whilst a third friend weeded her husband’s overgrown vegetable bed AND planted tomatoes for him!

My first task was ludicrously easy. I was given a lovely cushion at Christmas, but its stuffing had started to bulge a little at the back the more I used it:

Ten months it’s taken me to sew two simple strips of velcro on the back to bring this together:

                                                               Ten months!!

Buoyed by this quick and easy success, I sorted through my earrings to locate the ones needing minor repairs:

All it took was one drop of Superglue© to the backs of each detached piece:

                                                                                   Two pairs of earrings as good as new.

Not everything works to plan. One of our members was determined to bake a light, fluffy sponge which she’d never managed to achieve before. Although we didn’t get to taste the result, the report she presented on the day, reminiscent of a Maggie Beer presentation, would easily score 10 in any cooking show. It was replete with photographs of the recipes she’d consulted, pictures of all the ingredients used, shots of each painstaking moment of adding, folding, beating. It even included  images of the sponge through the glass doors of the oven. Masterful!

She was disappointed that the end result was more like a dense cake than the light and fluffy concoction she’d been aiming for, but the most teethgrinding moment for her was when her husband—who’d never baked a thing in his entire life—tasted it and suggested perhaps she should have separated the yolks and the whites.*


It’s true that each completed task encourages you to do more.

I came across a letter in an old storage box a few months ago that had been sent to me in 1985 by someone who was beginning to think at the time that I may have been the one for him.

He’d been hang-gliding for a week up Newcastle way, and the letter was full of the exhilaration of his exploits and a humorous tale of how he’d landed —unexpectedly—almost on top of a young women lying on the beach.

Well, Reader, he married her!

So I felt this letter belonged in his family archives, rather than mine, and after a Google search for his work address, (I’d not seen or heard from him in 34 years) I returned the keepsake, with slight trepidation.

He responded very quickly, saying he was thrilled to receive it, planned to show his children the story of the exact moment he met their mother, and finished the letter with an invitation to meet for coffee in a few weeks as he was returning to the district for a weekend … 

Now in the grip of reconnecting with times past, I decided it was time to dig out the 8mm films my grandfather had taken of the family back in 1962. Walking past the local camera store these past umpteen years, I’d seen their signs saying they could convert old 8mm film to a DVD, and had always thought, ‘One day, I must …’.

That day had arrived. In next to no time, I was watching, in all its flickering glory, my parents as gorgeous young thirty-somethings on the terrace at home with my older sister and me. 

With our mother

                                                                                 Misty-eyed viewing, if truth be told

There’s a lot to be said for Just doing it.

  • * Separating eggs won’t make a sponge lighter. It’s all about beating lots of air into the mixture and having sufficient raising agents!
"Summit Drive" Mt Clear

#81 Research House Names

It was while fossicking through an old box of memorabilia recently, that I came across my very first bank book, sporting our home address from years past:  

“Summit Drive”, Mt Clear, Vic was the family’s home as I was growing up, a white brick house built for, and named by my parents. It was perched on top of a hill at the end of a steep drive in a small town on the outskirts of Ballarat.

No number, no street name, no Roadside Mail Box. Not even postcodes back then. They were barely a twinkle in the Post Master General’s eye. Nothing more than a descriptive house title and the hamlet where it was located.

This led me to ponder the genesis of other house names and onto my latest activity:

#81 Research House Names 

Most of the names I’ve uncovered on walks around my current town seem to date from the early years of last century. Name plates, cast in copper or brass, the letters fading into illegibility, are attached to the front facade of the homes. Some titles have been created using the bricks of the building, while other are add-ons to gables, entrance arches and fences.

But all tell a story.

From history to geography, botany to animals, play-on-words to puns, it’s all there on display if you look for it.


First there was Roanoke, a grand home around the corner whose name, judging by the shine on its name-plate, is still loved.But where does the term Roanoke originate?

My internet search uncovered random queries that suggested mystery and intrigue, questions like,  ‘What really happened in Roanoke?’ and ‘Is Roanoke a real story?’

Well, yes, it is. Back in the 1580s, none other than Sir Walter Raleigh tried to establish a permanent English settlement in North America on an island called Roanoke, off North Carolina.

Bit of a mistake, unfortunately.

The first colony was abandoned due to difficulty shipping in provisions, but, in a worrying sign that no lessons were learned from this, the second attempt failed even more spectacularly and became known as the Lost Colony.  This is because of the unexplained disappearance of Roanoke’s entire population. Think the Mary Celeste but involving a fully inhabited island rather than a boat.

To this day they’re not sure what happened to the people who mysteriously vanished, so countless conspiracy theories have arisen.

It’s a fascinating story—but I doubt I’d be rushing to name my home after it …


There are several house names that suggest a longing for mother England, like Orwell, a town in Cambridgeshire, and Ince, a village in Cheshire.  You can imagine new arrivals suffering through a summer heat-wave wondering if they’d made the right choice as they thought wistfully of winter snowfalls and roaring log fires back in old Blighty.

And then there are several names pointing to a homesickness for the highlands of Scotland, names like Inverness, Dalrye, Iona and Strathnaver.


Alliteration is all the go, too, with these two catching my eye: 

which led me to briefly consider calling my house Whippet Wonderland, and

that’s Tulip Terrace … though the tulips seem to have faded.


A European name gives a home a certain cachet …

because isn’t Bella Vista so much more exotic than ‘Pretty View’?


There’s also acknowledgement of our indigenous heritage in some house names, with

said to mean ‘dry country’ which is quite apt around these parts, and

the indigenous word for ‘Beautiful.’


Some names combine alliteration with a play-on-words, like

I read this as Mye-Den, before being advised it’s actually My-Eden. Oops!


I didn’t find an example of the once popular Emoh ruo, the name that spawned an Aussie movie in the ’80s. It’s a title that only makes sense when read backwards.

However, I did come across one house-name forever seared into the bricks of a 1920s building. If you buy the house, you’re compelled to get the name, too.

I can imagine whoever commissioned this back in the day thought it was the height of fun. (If you’ll pardon the pun.)

#80 Practise baking a Sourdough Loaf … again … and again … and again …

It all began when a friend suggested we attend a one-day sourdough baking course run by the Bicycle Baker, local artisan bakers who sell delicious sourdough loaves around the Albury district.

The idea of learning how to make them at home was very appealing. Who doesn’t love the smell of freshly baked bread in the morning, the crunch of biting into a perfect sourdough crust and the unique taste and texture of hand-baked bread?

It was at this point, I should have shrugged and said, “Nah. Why bark when you have a dog?” After all, it was no trouble to nip down to the shops and buy a loaf. Takes me ten minutes, tops.

But no, because I’d done a bit of yeast bread-making years ago I thought it would be a quick refresher and I’d have the aroma of freshly baking bread wafting around my kitchen in next to no time. I expected this blog post to be titled #80 Bake a Sourdough Loaf.

Ha!

Here I am, weeks later, agonising over every step of the procedure as this activity morphs into:

#80 Practise baking a Sourdough Loaf … again … and again … and again…


The class was great fun and we all went home with a fresh, delicious loaf of sourdough bread.

What I hadn’t appreciated was the effort that Nicky and Tim, aka the Bicycle Bakers, must have put in over the preceding weeks to help us all produce these perfect loaves on the day. Baking a sourdough loaf is nothing short of a protracted labour of love.

The sourdough starter is the secret, that magic ingredient used as a leavener in lieu of commercial yeast. Sourdough starter is needy. Very needy. In fact, we were advised to give a name to the little blob of sourdough starter we were handed at the end of the course. That’s because it has to be fed regularly, nurtured with care and even taken on holidays, lest it die of neglect. Like I said. Needy.

I thought of calling it Bear, so the phrase ‘Feed the Bear’ could become my daily mantra, but before long, I changed its name to Bambi.

Because I didn’t want to be the one to kill Bambi

The magic of sourdough starter is that it begins life as nothing more than a mixture of baker’s flour and water. But after daily feedings—you discard 80% of the previous day’s mix before adding fresh flour and water—you eventually have a little jar of bubbling, wild-yeasty-smelling starter that gets better and stronger the more times you feed it.

                                                                   Modern day Bambi

If I may be allowed to mix my mythologies, Bambi can only be used for bread making when he reaches the Goldilocks point: not too bubbly, not too flat, not too whiffy, not too bland. I’ve learned through trial and error that this Goldilocks point is rarely reached at a convenient time for baking bread.

But once that moment arrives, you mix Bambi with your bread flour, water and salt, do a little kneading, then leave it to ‘prove’.

For THREE to TEN HOURS!

By now, it’s about four in the morning, but you’re so invested in your loaf that you get up to work it into its final shape, let it rise once more, slash designs on the top as best you can to let out steam,

then place it in a preheated oven that will never be as hot or as reliable as a commercial oven.

If you’re lucky, you may end up with a loaf that rises tolerably well and browns nicely.

When cut, it even has the look you’re after.

And the taste … ?

Hmm. It’s ok…ay.

But maybe I’ll nip down to the Bicycle Baker’s and buy a loaf to tide me over before my next marathon session.

Or I could just list Bambi on GumTree. Free to a Good Home, of course.