#54 Hold a Blog ‘Retrospective’

It was Socrates who held that ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’, so as the fifth anniversary of my first blog entry approaches, it seems an opportune time to dip into the archives and ask a few questions about some of the #53 adventures undertaken so far.

What’s worked, what hasn’t …  and will the blog make it to #101?

So without wanting to sound too pretentious, here’s the latest activity:

#54  Hold a Blog ‘Retrospective’


Ah, the first blog post.  

I remember it well.  

A cold winter’s day back in 2012. Water in the bird bath had frozen and frost was still crunching underfoot as I…

Only joking.

Here’s the real review:

#1 Blog was titled ‘Start a Blog’.

How was I to know that within a couple of years, blogging and bloggers would become as obsolete as – well – Betamax video recorders? And almost as outdated as books. All victims of the relentless progression of technology like live streaming, Facebook, Instagram and their electronic offshoots.

A book about a blog? Sad.

But cursed with the trait of being a completer, I’ve persevered with this blog in the knowledge that at least it’s forcing me to undertake adventures I might otherwise have missed.

(Which probably answers the question ‘will the blog make it to #101?’)

#2 Blog ‘Create a Home Cinema’ melded nicely with #16 Blog ‘Attend a Major Sporting Event’. If there’s one thing a BIG screen is good for, it’s showing sport up close and personal.

So this is the view you have from the stands when you attend a game:

 …Just remind me again, who’s playing?

Whereas this is the view when watching from home:

…simply add ‘Surround Sound’ to further enhance the atmosphere

Combine this with #18 Blog ‘Make New Friends’ and watching the Olympic games, or the Melbourne Cup, or an AFL Grand Final (or election night for that matter) with friends, old and new, in the snug comfort of your own cinema in front of a giant screen is just the best.

#3 Blog suggested trying to ‘Cook a New Recipe Weekly’.

Why, I asked myself upon realising that this challenge was turning into a total fail, would I not just let a professional chef do that for me?

So it seemed sensible to merge this one with #17 Blog ‘Indulge in Life’s Little Luxuries’ and schedule a weekly, scrumptious meal at a café or a restaurant, preferably one located somewhere gorgeous, sampling something new…

…like at LuMi beside Pyrmont Wharf

#6 Blog discussed the day I became ‘An Extra in a Film or Telemovie.’

No doubt about it, the thrill of knowing that I was the blurry, shadowy woman glimpsed for 0.03 seconds AND my tuft of hair was highlighted for 0.01 seconds in the background of the Australian Telemovie ‘Cliffy’ has carried me through for years.

So much so that I put my hand up again recently to play an extra in a locally shot film called ‘The BBQ’ starring Shane Jacobson and Magda Szubanski which may or may not be released near Christmas.

I figure that a 0.05 second fleeting shot of me wandering around the showgrounds will constitute a Personal Best (which fits in nicely with #41 Blog ‘Take up a Sport’. Sporty people are always talking about PBs).

Alas, they wouldn’t allow us to photograph the actors or even the set, but as the day of the shoot was a real stinker, my aspiring thespian friend and I were given plastic cups half full of Kool-Aid to enjoy as a thank you for our services. Using a smuggled camera, we managed to take a blurry photograph of them. (As the drinks were lowly extras like us, they didn’t deserve to be in focus either…)

KoolAid

 

#10 Blog  was a call to ‘Keep Backyard Chickens’.

I may have taken this one a bit too seriously, as I’m morphing dangerously close to becoming a chicken fanatic.

But oh, the photo opportunities…

Dixie and her darling chicks

#21 Blog suggested it would be great to ‘Rediscover the Elegance of Fountain Pens’.

In reality, this turned into a coded blog to loved ones called ‘Guess what Someone would Love for her Next Big Birthday’ because here’s what arrived gift wrapped the following January:

AND with a gold nib. Most successful post EVER!

#35 Blog ‘Unearth Buried Archeological Skills’ together with #46 ‘Learn How to Nest’ touched on the topic of volunteering.

I learned a lot from these activities, resulting in the odd coins and bits of glass and small chips of crockery found buried in my own back garden becoming a source of great excitement. And it’s resulted in the creation of a new display of these little treasures outside:

But mostly I learned that having to turn up anywhere regularly is awfully like work.

So maybe I’ll take it up volunteering seriously when I’m tired of retirement…

If there’s one thing Socrates has taught me though, it’s that only good things can come from a blog examined.

After spending quite a bit of time laboriously reopening and reviewing all 53 previous posts on my outsidethesquare101 website during this journey of self discovery, I received an unexpected message from WordPress, the host site of the blog, telling me just how successful my site is becoming.

And if WordPress doesn’t guess who’s been viewing it so much and thinks outsidethesquare101 is a booming blog, that’s good enough for me.

 

[With special thanks to LR for traipsing to the outskirts of Balmain to photograph the ‘Memory Lane’ street sign for me]

 

 

 

 

#53 Encourage Native Birds into the Garden

Who doesn’t have fond memories of the Rosella logo on the ubiquitous bottle of tomato sauce that was a staple of growing up in Australia?

It was the only brand my mother ever entertained using. In her case, it was for the taste: in mine, for the gorgeous crimson Rosella on the front.

So since childhood, I’ve cherished my tiny, brightly-coloured enamel rosella pin which the company used as a promotion back in the day when children didn’t expect their favourite toys to be endlessly interactive or need batteries or gigabytes to function properly.

Rosella Pin close up

And what a marketing ploy. More than fifty years on
and I still balk at using any other brand
!

But imagine if these pretty birds could be enticed to come into your garden every day. There’s a challenge:

#53 Encourage Native Birds into the Garden

So there I was recently, sitting on my front verandah drinking a mug of hot chocolate, when who should flutter by for a quick drink but this little beauty. 

Sorry, starling, but I don’t mean you…

One brief glimpse was not enough though. I wanted him to visit regularly, and I figured that the best way to do this was with food.

Mind you, an article published in The Conversation last Spring suggests that the jury is still out on the virtues or otherwise of feeding and watering wild birds. Do they become dependent on our largesse, resented in the bird-working world as seed-bludgers, expecting handouts on a platter? And does the bird population implode due to a lack of resilience should you go away leaving them with no food and water for a time?

Notwithstanding this debate, I raced out to my favourite hardware store and purchased a small bird feeder, filled it with wild bird seed and placed it close to the backyard bird bath. There was a lot of fluttering around it, but no takers. Was it because the treats weren’t being served on a platter for easy access?

No worries. There’s a waterproof material that can be cut to shape, spray painted and rimmed with clear plastic tubing to keep the seeds from falling off. Good old corflute.

Enter bird feeder Mark II and a lot of interested birds, first watching and hovering…

…before landing and enjoying:

It’s a magnet for sparrows, starlings and spotted doves who empty the feeder in no time.

Based on this early success, I bought a second feeder for the front garden this time, which is where I’d spotted the young beauty in the first place.

A kind friend made a real wooden base for it before I perched it on an upturned pot and waited for the flurry of activity and the return of my lovely rosella….

…and waited

and waited…

It’s been filled with wild bird seeds for over two weeks now, but not one taker. In fact, no interested party has gone so far as to land and inspect it.

What’s going on?

It is too wooden? The wrong colour? Too square? Not far enough off the ground? Does the fact that the seed is Homebrand® offend the birds’ sensibilities?

What must I do to entice you back, gorgeous Rosella?

I don’t want to sound needy, but I’ll do anything, buy anything, make any changes you desire.

But please come back.

 

#52 Bake an Authentic Austrian Torte

Aah, Austria.

How could I ever forget my one-and-only visit to this beautiful land-locked country?

Three of us on the obligatory rite-of-passage backpacking trip around Europe found ourselves in Salzburg at Christmas in 1974.

Mozart, the Sound of Music, golden cakes and tortes and strudels that reached out from shop windows to embrace us and our first ever White Christmas.

Magic.

But then life got in the way and I forgot all about the country and its delicious pastries until a few years ago when I was gifted a small slice of an Austrian Panama Torte, baked by my elderly Austrian neighbour Martha and kindly brought over by her husband Joe, as a thank you for the spare eggs I’d given them.

I was told this was a special-occasion cake, complex to make and based on a precious recipe they’d brought with them from their home country to Australia after the War.

Clearly this was a very special offering and after the first bite, it was obvious why. It was melt-in-the-mouth chocolate and almond nirvana. The future was now clear for me:

#52 Bake an Authentic Austrian Torte

I asked for the recipe a few times over the years, but with our busy lives, it never quite happened so I resigned myself to the memory of that cake rather than ever tasting the reality of it again.

Until one day, three months ago, Joe brought frail Martha over to my place – together with her handwritten recipe, translated from the original German, for the famous Austrian Panama Torte!

We sat in the garden as Martha haltingly talked me through the Byzantine instructions and I faithfully took notes and tried to make sense of the sometimes confusing translation.

2 ½ ribs of chocolate? Who measures chocolate in ribs?

Austrian cooks, that’s who and they mean horizontal ribs, not vertical

The almonds and the chocolate, I was instructed, MUST BE carefully hand grated. No food processor should go anywhere near them or this whole light and fluffy flourless concoction would come crashing down.

And the egg whites have to be beaten to within an inch of their lives but their folding into the almond/chocolate/egg yolk mix must be done with the tenderness of wrapping a newborn.

The oven door has to be propped ajar for the first 15 minutes of baking or the mixture might just refuse to rise.

this was serious baking

And yet it worked, and a newly minted, pleasingly light and fluffy cake came out of the oven:

Martha’s had a lifetime of practice slicing it horizontally to perfection – two cuts, do you mind – before spreading the chocolate butter icing between the layers, but my skills doing this tricky manoeuvre with such a mercurial cake were untested.

Enter, the ever helpful YouTube with instructions on how to measure the cutting lines before marking them with toothpicks…

… then gliding a fresh piece of dental floss through the cake just so…

… creating three (almost) perfectly cut horizontal slices.

This only left the chocolate butter icing to prepare and spread between layers and all over, before garnishing with lightly toasted almond flakes…

…and cutting into slices to share with family and friends

And the taste?

 

 

#51 Construct…something

A story oft told in my family –  and it’s not apocryphal – is that when my father was conscripted into the army in 1941 and tested to assess where his skills lay and therefore where best to deploy him, he scored zero for ‘mechanical comprehension’. Zero.

Never before in the history of the AIF – and possibly the navy and the RAAF – had a seemingly intelligent chap failed to answer even one question correctly in this particular category. As a result, he became something of a cause célèbre for a while, then found his niche writing and producing sketch comedy and variety shows – in between fighting the Japanese – which helped boost the men’s morale in their down time.

What this meant, of course, is that I grew up never seeing a hammer, nail, screwdriver, drill, lever, cogwheel or any type of power tool in use at home. Ever. And although I’d longed for a meccano set as a child to no avail – though to be fair, I never told my parents this as it would have shocked them – becoming a talented handyman has long been a secret, unfulfilled desire. I am in awe of people who can build things.

So on the basis that my old letter box needed a makeover recently, the time to put to use my horribly stunted home handyman skills had arrived:

#51 Construct…something (that requires limited tool skills)

The letter box in question is nothing more than a space between bricks that had a plastic tub at the base, wedged in with two black rubber hose lengths, to catch the letters and a makeshift ‘lid’ to prevent rain dripping down. Embarrassing really…

…hence the blurry photo

So its replacement would need to be made of a waterproof material that could be measured to fit snugly, cut to size without using anything with the prefix ‘power’, formed into an oblong shape with a couple of ‘steps’ bent in opposite directions and then painted.

Material that could do all this was totally beyond my mechanical comprehension (I’m with you, Dad) so I turned to a friend and expert we’ll call my Bunning’s Buddy (or BB). We meet there most weekends; he to buy mysterious tools and materials for his latest innovative mini-Taj Mahal projects and I to watch in awe before heading to the garden section.

(I’d post photos of the AMAZING floor to ceiling bookshelves he made that can be opened with a hidden handle to reveal an entire bedroom behind, but it might make my revamped letter box look even more pathetic.)

Anyway, BB recommended using Corflute:

…a hitherto unknown product that looks like cardboard but acts like plastic!

Turns out, this waterproof material can be measured to fit snugly, cut to size without using anything with the prefix ‘power’, will bend along straight lines and can be painted. Bingo!

Using the well known rule among tradies to ‘measure twice, cut once,’ I soon realised this guide was meant for professionals. The rule for newbie home handymen, is ‘measure twice, cut once, return to Bunnings for more Corflute, measure twice, cut once, return to Bunnings again for supplies, repeat ….’

But eventually, stage one was successfully completed:

Then stage two:

And finally stage three: painted and secured:

And all done without hammering a nail, driving in a screw, using a power tool or cutting myself with the Stanley knife.

Dad would be proud!

#50 Find the App of Your Dreams

apps-header-2Looking for the perfect app isn’t that far removed, I suspect, from finding the ideal partner on a dating website.

A lot of trial and error, then just when you think you’ve struck gold, a flaw is found that’s significant enough to lead you to think, ‘No, you’re not the app for me.’  But the search can be fun, and you get to go on lots of app dates as you try and:

#50 Find the App of Your Dreams

I came to the app dating scene quite late. The truth is, in the early days, I didn’t understand what an app was for and why I’d need one, and I dreaded the thought of investing in something that turned out to be a dud. But when I discovered that heaps of apps are free, and that a pointless app or even a less than perfect one can be banished, no questions asked, by applying a little pressure to its logo before giving it the Flick! from your screen, I turned into a serial app dater. And unlike partner interactions, it’s okay to keep several of them on the go simultaneously, toying with them and using them only as long as they remain useful.

So here’s a run down of some that I’ve tested.

instagram-logoINSTAGRAM

A young friend told me Instagram was essential, though I was reluctant to give it a try, due in part to attending a filmmaking course once where the teacher kept interrupting the session to say “I’ll just put this on my Instagram feed.” Already I’d judged it a tad narcissistic, endlessly gazing into the mirror with admiration and pride at its own reflection.

Then I came across this Instagram post about a breakfast prepared by a famous chef for his young daughter:

insta-prat

I LOVE breakfasts, but as John McEnroe might have said “You cannot be SERIOUS!”

How could I join in the Instagram game and keep a straight face? Time to Flick! this one.


So I moved onto

pinterest-logo

PINTEREST

I’ve had this one for a while now, but to be honest, apart from being a mild diversion during times of boredom, I’m not sure that it does anything useful. Maybe I don’t understand it well enough, but I’m finding it a bit repetitive. How many times do I need to see a cute puppy? I’m tempted to give it the Flick! toobut then again, I’m a sucker for cute puppies…


shazam-logo

SHAZAM

Who hasn’t heard a piece of music they love and wanted to identify it? If so, Shazam may be the app for you, but be prepared for disappointment. Without doubt, it will let you down one day.

By the time you’ve opened the app, clicked on the start button and waited for it to ‘hear’ the music, it will tell you “we didn’t quite catch that. Please get closer to the sound and try again”, the music will have stopped and you’ve missed your chance. I call it the Sloth app. Too slow to be considered the dreamboat you’re after.


cluckar-logo

CluckAR

This is Choice’s clever little app that tells you, after you photograph the carton, if the eggs are truly free range. But as I can hear them being laid in my back garden, it’s not quite the one for me, though I’ve talked it up to my friends suggesting it may be a real keeper.


vivino-logo

VIVINO

This app’s very impressive. Ever walked into a bottle shop and been overwhelmed with choice? Just photograph the wine’s label and receive instant feedback on its rating.

vivino-1

In my dreams….

They’ve added an even more impressive feature lately – listing the best wines available in a certain price range.

vivino-2

 Too easy

Bit worried spending too much time with this one might lead me down the path to alcoholism, though….


snap-send-solve-logo

SNAP SEND SOLVE

Finally, an app that sits slap bang in my demographic. An app whose logo tells me EXACTLY what it does, so I don’t have to look at it and think “What’s this one for again?” But even better, one that has the word SOLVE in its name.

Have you seen something in your local area you’d like fixed? All you need to do with this app is snap a photo of the problem, send it to the relevant authority from the list it provides and sit back and wait for it to be solved.  Probably too good to be true, I thought, but worth a try.

Crossing a small footbridge recently with the dog, I discovered loose, rotting boards underfoot crying out to be repaired before they gave way and injured someone.

dog-on-bridge

But I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to send the photos off that day, so I returned shortly after to verify the address for council, only to discover:
fixed-bridge

THEY’D READ MY MIND AND FIXED THE BRIDGE ALREADY!!

This app was definitely looking too good to be true.

So shortly after this spooky event, the aforementioned dog was being walked in a dog-off-leash park adjacent to a fenced children’s playground when he found a space beneath the bars and shot inside. This wasn’t good. It took some coaxing for him to return…

dog-returns

Time to test the app for real, so I fired off the photos with this message:

snap-complaint-2

I kid you not, three days later I received a call from council to explain that although fencing in children’s playgrounds is strictly controlled by a number of inflexible by-laws that prevents netting being added, they’d work on a solution.

The very next day, here’s what I found:

dog-block-2

Try getting through that, Ziggy!

I’m smitten.

Of all the apps I’ve spent time with, this might just be THE ONE.

#49 Enjoy a Leisurely Breakfast (every day)

There are breakfast people and then there are others. 

Others need coffee to coax them into consciousness and consider breakfast a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, at least until mid morning. But we breakfast people spring out of bed alert, alive and raring for a three-course meal. And the greatest gift retirement gives us is the ability to

#49 Enjoy a Leisurely Breakfast – every single day

I always found getting to work on time played havoc with achieving this goal. With so many other tasks demanding attention in the morning, squeezing in the full feast was often a challenge and sometimes I’d have to limit myself to two hurried courses or even – quelle horreur – a mere one course.

And don’t get me started on those ‘breakfast’ work meetings that promised the world but delivered a balancing act involving a plastic tub of faux-flavoured yoghurt and a cold, dead croissant.

So turning breakfast into an extended art form has been one of my greatest pleasures these last few years.

It begins with an introductory bowl of muesli (Coconut, Almond and Maple flavour *) with blueberries and yoghurt enjoyed in the garden, before moving onto the main event.

cereal-in-garden* ‘No added Sugar, High in Whole Grains’ – or so they say

Then … Choices, choices.

Eggs! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

•Eggs Florentine

No longer restricted to restaurants, Eggs Florentine enjoyed for breakfast whenever are the new black, and they don’t take too long to prepare.

Okay, making Hollandaise sauce for one person can be a tad labour/butter/egg intensive, but after much pleasurable testing, I’ve decided Maille, the French brand, is an excellent approximation. So it’s now a staple in the pantry.

sauce

My supermarket even sends me an email when it’s on special! 

In a mere 10 minutes, you can have this…

eggs-florentine

Beats me how some people don’t want breakfast

•Coddled eggs

Coddled eggs are having a resurgence, and I can understand why after a friend recently gave me this lovely little coddler in exchange for supplies of small, 40 gm eggs laid by my older chickens. She needs that size to fit into the delicate little porcelain containers.

Who’d have predicted even hens are upsizing these days?

Coddling is a gentle way to soft-boil an egg by simmering it before eating straight from the coddler with toasted soldiers. No fear of the dreaded shell-chips contamination.

Butter the coddler, slide in the egg, add any other ingredients you want to spice up the experience like the cheese and spring onions I used here, screw the lid on firmly, then simmer for 6 or 7 minutes…

coddling-sequence

                                           (while making your pot of tea)

…and enjoy.

You may have noticed that the coddler pictured here has a slightly different pattern to the coddler my friend gave me (above).

Yes, I’m turning into a coddler collector already.

•Eggs any other way

Omeletted, scrambled, pancaked, fried, baked with beans, in a bun with bacon and relish, frittered. Oh, I could go on…


But for the non-egg lovers, there are, of course

•Other options

Like Danish pastry, toast with an assortment of toppings, crispy, hot croissants with fillings and of course, muffins…

muffins

But if you really want to go restaurant style, there’s always

•Grilled Haloumi with Cherry Tomatoes and Smashed Avo on Toasted Walnut bread

My sister first prepared this for me a few years ago when I was recuperating from surgery and it tasted magnificent. It’s stood the test of time so its appeal wasn’t just because I was craving comfort and it was great having someone look after me.

breakfast-in-garden-2


Finally, top off the most important meal of the day with a whizzed up drink made of – well, whatever you want really, but here’s one with cashews, coconut water, prunes, yoghurt and cinnamon.

Just like a delicious milkshake…

milkshake

(…only thinner)

A picture is beginning to emerge, isn’t it?

A breakfast with NO limits, NO time constraints and, if you’re happy to make it yourself, minimal financial cost.

Could retirement get better than this?

 

#48 Mess About in Boats

It wasn’t until Form One (as Year Seven was called back then) that I was introduced to the magical world of boating.

This was courtesy of Kenneth Grahame’s engaging tale of the adventures of Ratty and Mole, Badger and Toad in The Wind in the Willows.

Who wouldn’t be seduced by Ratty’s pronouncement in the very first chapter?

quote-messing-about

Alas, I was growing up in a bitterly cold, inland city without a beach or river to its name, nurtured by loving parents who… well… you couldn’t call them outdoor types. (This may explain why, on my first-ever camping trip at age 22, I had no idea that you didn’t pitch your tent in a cosy hollow under a gum tree. Especially without checking for the possibility of torrential rain during the night.) So my love of boating was entirely imaginary for many years.

What better time to change all that now though, and live the dream. A chance to…

#48 Mess About in Boats

Ratty was spot on – it’s so worth doing.

Boats, of course, come in all shapes and sizes. And degrees of safety.

There was that disastrous early experiment with three friends, when we were sent down a raging Murray River in two canoes, on our own, by the Dodgy Brothers’ Hire-a-Risky-Boat Adventures. 

Thanks to life jackets and expert recreational kayakers who raced across to pluck us from the water as we parted ways with our canoes and careened towards South Australia, I lived to brave the river again one late afternoon as dusk was falling. But this time, it was in the back of a canoe with a World Champion/Murray River Marathon winner doing all the hard work in the front seat. Bliss!

Racing down the Murray and up Wodonga Creek taking curves at breakneck speed with an expert guide is truly exciting, even though he mistakenly thought he could further spook me with a diversion past a bat colony.

bats-ahoy

Amazing. Flying mammals! What’s not to like…?


If Scandi Noir is the mood you’re after though, then messing about in a boat at New Zealand’s Doubtful Sound is just the ticket. All dark and brooding and ominous. No wonder James Cook was doubtful it was navigable when he named it.

nz36-nov-11

You could well be at the end of the earth. Oh, hang on a minute…

Even the silhouette of a travelling companion takes on a sinister hue in this part of the world.

nz38-nov-11


Exploring in a boat means you can get up close and personal with all manner of wildlife.

Spot seals sunning themselves,

seals

Or water birds doing a picturesque pose694

…in splendid isolation


But you don’t have to travel miles away from home to find a relaxing boating experience.

The Sienna Daisy is a new cruise boat purpose built for the Murray River right here in Albury. No more worries of a river too low to support the mechanism of cumbersome paddle steamers, romantic though they may be.

sienna-daisy

Take a 60 or 90-minute scheduled river cruise or book a private function. Include the Captain’s Lunch of a BBQ and salads if you want and complement this with a glass of wine.  All your worries will disappear into the water as you float along, caressed by the gentle movement and sense of escape.

And If you’ve ever wondered why Noreuil Park has such an unpronounceable name, you can find that out, too.

I could have boated all day…

monument-from-river

and just a stone’s throw from home…


No doubt about it, messing about in boats is the bees knees.

I wonder if it’s too late to consider buying my own boat? Of course, I’d have to get a bigger car, too  – with a tow bar  – and a boat trailer. And learn how to reverse them all down a narrow driveway and a slippery ramp without jack-knifing. Is that do-able for a post-adult woman, I wonder?

Because I can’t help thinking that being the skipper of your own boat would make you feel like a Master of The Universe.

1-charlie-at-the-wheel

Wouldn’t you agree, Charlie…?