#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.

 

#79 Découpage a Table

Such an evocative word, découpage.

It conjures images of hidden Parisian streets harbouring tiny shops containing all manner of long forgotten artisanal works, like hand painted marionettes lying on a dusty bench, or glimmering, lacquered trays adorned with olde world photographs.

So now I have the time, why not give découpage a try?

#79 Découpage a Table

Put simply, découpage involves cutting out pictures, gluing them to an object and then coating the pictures, and the object, with layers of varnish.

But exploring this activity has led me to the realisation that there are two distinct forms: the Art of découpage and the Craft of découpage.

The Art form involves exquisite design and a dedication to perfection. Beautiful pictures are chosen, meticulously cut out and then pasted onto a surface in ever increasing and overlapping patterns. Layer upon layer of varnish is applied, with careful sanding between coats. I’ve been told up to 70 applications might be in order. This results in a finished design that shines with a glorious lustre and depicts a three dimensional scene with depth and colour the envy of any Renaissance painter.

The Craft form, however, involves cutting out a pretty design, pasting it onto a surface, then coating with—oh, maybe five or six applications of varnish. This form of découpage has any number of YouTube and Pinterest and Instagram examples. I quickly realised that this was my level of découpage.


Step one: Select your surface

I had an old Queen Anne dressing-table stool of my mother’s which no longer had its dressing-table and so cried out for conversion to a small side table.  After removing the cushion insert, my talented Bunnings Buddy was able to make a solid table top for it. All it took was a coat of paint to make it ready to be découpaged:


Step 2: Chose your pictures

This is where the artistic skill comes in. Choosing a montage of photos I’d taken over the years, my original plan was to stick these on before varnishing:But it was pointed out to me, by someone with more artistic skill than I, that this was looking like a table littered with old weekend magazines. Not quite the image I was after.

Then I thought of using a photograph of a bunch of gorgeous flowers a dear friend had sent me recently, after she stayed for a weekend: So lovely, but could this be enhanced even further to incorporate the idea that a découpaged piece should have hidden depths behind the picture?


Step 3: Increase the level of complexity

It was then I hit upon the idea of turning this photo into a photomosaic, using dozens of smaller pictures from my photo album.

So I turned to a clever website that allows you to instantly turn your photos into photomosaics. Simple to use, and free—or, if you’re after a higher definition, relatively inexpensive—the image it produces can then be copied across to a USB for printing at a photo shop.


Step 4: Glue and varnish and sand, glue and varnish and sand …

After a few days of glueing and varnishing and sanding the photomosaic, the final result wasn’t half bad:And if you look very closely at the picture …No, go in closer…you’ll see the entire picture is made up of hundreds of tiny snapshots of a life.

Now this is going straight to the pool room!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#78 Rate the Justice System

It was my misfortune recently to be the victim of a crime. This means that I’ve had dealings with our justice system up close and personal, and let me tell you, it’s not a pretty sight.

It all began when the tax agent who’s looked after my Super Fund for the last ten years suddenly went rogue and stole my tax refund. He was able to do this by virtue of him being my tax agent in the first place, because the position gives him entry to my tax portal at the ATO.

This, I’ve now learned, is like giving him my front door key and mentioning that I’d be away for the long weekend and that a very valuable package was about to be delivered.

So several thousands of my hard-earned dollars — dollars that the ATO was supposed to refund to my account — were shifted into his account instead.

Getting justice has proven to be quite difficult, so I seem to have been left with only two options. Either go mad and turn into yet another old person yelling at clouds, or

I feel your pain, Grandpa Simpson

#78 Rate the Justice System

And thanks to the great example set by Miles Barlow, there’s a precedent for scoring life’s experiences as one would review a restaurant or film. So here are my star ratings for the whole sorry saga.

1. The Criminal (hereinafter known as X)

Despite my repeated phone calls and emails to X, he has proven resistant to repaying the stolen funds. In fact, he went so far as to suggest that he had been unable to look at my problem “due to health reasons” before adding that “the only thing I can think is that another client … [with a name identical to yours] … owed us money and had agreed to us receiving her refund.”

Really, X? That’s the only thing you can think?

Verdict: ***** No stars

2. The Lawyers

The lawyers sprang into action for me. They were outraged! The man was a criminal who had committed fraud and irrespective of his company’s ability to pay, he had stolen this money and was therefore personally liable. A very stiff letter, outlining sections and subsections of the Corporations Act was sent demanding return my money … or else. The lawyers even had the chutzpah to add “your assertion that these changes were intended to apply to another of your clients named …[exactly the same name as our client] … is, frankly, absurd.”

I was buoyed by this, even more so when X responded asking them how much he owed me now, including their fees. That was until a report came out in the local newspaper:

…it was pointed out to me that trusting anyone who’d
wear a lime green tie might have been my first mistake.

It turned out X owed over a million dollars and had assets of about $15,000. So my lawyers reluctantly, but kindly, suggested that any further action on my part might be throwing good money after bad. I had to agree with them.

Verdict:   *****  Four stars. (At least they tried)

3. The Police

If you can avoid living on the border between two states, I’d urge you to take that option. I live in New South Wales. X ran his business across the Murray River in Victoria. My experience with the police has thus far entailed both me and my statement bouncing from one side of the river to the other for several weeks as they decide which jurisdiction should handle it and whether to call it fraud (NSW) or theft (Vic).

My statement’s currently down a rabbit hole somewhere in Victoria, but they’ve assured me they’ll ring me back the minute they find it. Very, very soon, or possibly even earlier.

Verdict: ***** Two stars.
(They are trying. In more ways than one)

4. The Liquidator

So then I rang the liquidator and spoke to his offsider, a youthful sounding lawyer by the name of Will. Such a perfect name for someone who comes in at the death of a business.

Will didn’t say it in so many words, but after he’d explained that I was at the back of a long line of creditors, with the Tax Office at the front of the queue, I gathered that the likelihood of ever seeing my stolen money was even more remote than my chance of visiting Antarctica soon.

Verdict: ***** Three stars. (It’s not his fault
that the cupboard is bare).

5. The ATO

It seemed a reasonable idea to lodge a complaint to the tax ombudsman. After all, the ATO knew X’s  business was heavily in debt to them as they were the ones who wound it up, so why would they meekly pay my tax return to him without checking with me first?

Nope. Not our fault, they said. It was ASIC who had the strike-off action against his business, not us. We just entered the game at the end. So move along, please, nothing to see here.

Verdict : ***** One star. (I bet it’d be my fault
if the roles were reversed)

6. The Regulator

Make sure you report X to the Tax Practitioner’s Board (TPB), everyone from the lawyers to the police, the ATO to the liquidator, exhorted me. The TPB won’t stand for this behaviour. They’ll come down on this miscreant like a ton of bricks.

So I lodged a complaint with the TPB, was heartened when the case officer took a keen interest in my complaint, elated that she understood all the points I made, relieved when she said the Board took these issues very seriously.

Then I received this letter from the Board:

No further action after one of their own stole money from his client? Ton of bricks indeed! More like a piddling pile of Lego.

Verdict: ****** Minus one star. (The extra deduction’s for using
the term ‘incorrectly’ instead of ‘feloniously’)


Quite frankly, I’m a bit disappointed. For years I’ve watched the opening credits of the TV show Law and Order tell me that in the criminal justice system the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the police, who investigate crime;  and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. And their stories are always resolved in an hour.

Sadly, this awful episode, which just drags on and on, has been my story.

Verdict: ***** One star