#67 Rediscover Jigsaw Puzzles

Following a recent posting on this site about investigating a mystery, a friend told me about Mystery Jigsaws.

As I’d recently set up a new jigsaw puzzle in the living room, this was interesting news. To think I’d reached retirement age without ever knowing that all jigsaws aren’t made to the same formula. The mystery ones, apparently, provide a murder scenario where completing the picture provides the solution – or at least gives you further clues needed to solve it. Sounds intriguing.

My friend has promised to loan me one of hers once I’ve completed the behemoth that is crowding out my home at the moment.

But this news got me thinking about whether there are different ways to enjoy doing jigsaws.

#67 Rediscover Jigsaw Puzzles

Because unless you live in a multi-roomed mansion, they really are quite unwieldy and space-hogging.

This view of what’s happening at the moment will show you what I mean (and I had to move it from the living room onto a bed and crowd it all together just to fit it into this panoramic shot).

First, there’s the large board – backed with non-slip material – needed to support the emerging puzzle, then the almost-as-large, also non-slip board to house the pieces that are still homeless, plus the inverted lid for further leftover or special pieces and of course the all important lid photograph to help with identification and placement.

It’s the stuff of nightmares if the living room has to be reclaimed when visitors arrive.

And don’t get me started on the risks of losing pieces and never being able to complete the final picture to your complete satisfaction. Or the discomfort of bending forward in an extremely uncomfortable position whenever you work on it. Or the horror possibility of the dog jumping on the boards and scattering pieces as he romps around. (Yes, he did.)

Not to mention that French puzzle I tried to complete during the Olympics. It not only had the last piece missing, but gave me a duplicate bit I didn’t need, instead!

Who’s ever seen this before?

But I may have found a solution to all these problems.

After a visit to the App Store, I downloaded this for iPad:

Does this mean there are ‘adult-friendly’ jigsaw puzzles? Ooh…

If 8.92K users score it 4.5 stars, it must be pretty good.

And it is.

Its maximum size is 550 pieces – but they can be rotated to increase the degree of difficulty – and you scroll up and down in the side panels with a flick of your fingers before dragging the required piece into place, beginning, as usual, with the borders.

AND you can change the background to suit your picture, choosing from an assortment of colours available. From this:

…to this …

to the boring, but easier-on–the-eyes:

AND, if you click on the round icon at the bottom of the screen, you can simultaneously view the whole picture while you’re solving the puzzle. The image can be dragged and positioned so it’s never in the way:

 

AND, by upgrading the app for a few dollars, you can use your own photos to create jigsaws, which also removes the advertisements. (That’s Oddies Creek, above, near home) .

NO missing pieces, NO extra pieces, COMPLETELY transportable, NO back strain, NO space restraints and NO dog incidents. And did I mention the satisfying ‘click’ you hear when a piece fits into place?

AND you get a gold star when you complete it!

Something rather unexpected has happened, though.

Waiting endlessly for doctors’ appointments, for late trains, or for fog-delayed planes is such a pleasure now.

 

#66 Sing in a Karaoke Choir

According to a study published in The Conversation last year, a shared song – “our song” – is the musical glue that binds friends and lovers. And because neuroimaging research shows that music provides a “super stimulus” for the brain, a spot of group singing with good friends would be a no-brainer, surely?

However, despite an ability to read music and play the piano, I cannot, to save my life, sing in tune.

But what if I could perform in a choir, accompanied by the original artist? Mightn’t my tuneless warblings be drowned out in such a scenario? Couldn’t I pretend that I, too had a voice?

#66 Sing in a Karaoke Choir 

Fortunately, I have a small cinema at home –  called Cinema X –  that can double up as a tiny auditorium if needed. It has lovely views over the garden when the dark curtains are drawn back, allowing light in. Ideal for a spot of communal singing.

There’s a large television in the room, and because a clever young person showed me how to ‘cast’ from my iPad to the screen using a special connection, it’s possible to find any artist on YouTube and project it onto the television. The excellent surround sound is an added bonus.

So all I needed now was a willing choir. And a program.

Enter my friends from Discovery Group. We’ve been meeting regularly for years now, and each month we try out a new activity.

All I’d have to do was ask each person who was able to attend to provide me wth a list of their two or three all-time favourite songs and bingo, we’d have a program.

Hmm. Easier said than done.

Many found it extremely difficult to limit their favourites to a mere three songs, so the lists I began to receive via email grew … and grew … and grew.

Fortunately, one of the musical members agreed to take on the role of choir director, so the two of us pondered and culled and collated and listened to YouTube offerings until at last, our program was complete:

It may be possible to guess our ages from the play list. Not a Beyoncé song to be heard…


Well, we had a ball, though you’ll notice that all the participant’s identities have been hidden to protect the innocent.

Some songs we belted out with gusto, like the Shirelles ‘Will You Still Love me, Tomorrow?”

Our musical director took her duties seriously, baton and all

And some, like Don MacLean’s Vincent, we sang very gently, wiping our eyes surreptitiously along the way:

Click on the arrow if you’re game

We’re itching to do it again, when all our Discovery friends are available to come.

There was a lot to learn, of course, like avoiding keys that were way out of our comfort zone (looking at you, Nick Cave), or songs that were a tad too slow, or not well enough loved.

Next time, with this practice session under our belt, we’ll be even better, we’re sure.

And I learned that do-re-mi is a very good place to start and that Julie Andrews is a great teacher.

Anyone who can help me sound vaguely in tune gets my vote.

 

 

#65 Fulfil Youthful Desires

Driving to a friend’s property recently, jolting over gravel roads and rutted country tracks, I recalled his youthful desire to ‘live in a house at the end of a long dirt track, at the end of a long dirt road’.

Good for him, I thought. Because although his choice wouldn’t be mine, he’d managed to satisfy a decades-old, primal urge and achieve his dream. It’s not a bad idea to decide what you really want in life and go for it.

#65 Fulfil Youthful Desires

Of course, reality and the compromises of adulthood means these desires sometimes have to be achieved in less straightforward ways, and often take longer than planned.


I grew up, as many of us probably did, thinking that if we could just sneak back into our bedrooms quietly enough, we’d discover our toys had sprung to life and were all playing together. Not unlike Andy’s assorted pals in Toy Story.

I remember desperately wanting my beloved Teddy, in particular, to come to life.

but alas, my footfall must have been too heavy 

Even today, Teddy sits next to my sister’s bear for company in the hope that, one day when my back is turned….

But it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties, that I discovered the next best thing to teddy bears.

Dogs.

They really are like your favourite soft toy come to life.

First there was Molly, the black spaniel, who I inherited accidentally. She seemed to love me instantly, but had no time for anyone else, apart from my mother. When we discovered in her latter years that she had shotgun pellets scattered throughout her body, her general lack of trust and dislike of men in particular, made complete sense.

Then there was Topsy, the short-haired border collie. She became so famous that my sister penned an ode about her, that began,

Topsy is our border collie
Chasing cars her greatest folly
Once she caught a pickup truck
A stroke of unexpected luck…

And now I have my quiet, somewhat independent whippet who scored an entire blog posting last October. All of them wonderful in their own better-than-a-teddy-bear way.


What impressionable child didn’t long for a Secret Garden after reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel of the same name? A walled-in, hidden garden known only to a robin (swoon), locked for years by a father with a broken heart (double swoon) that eventually unlocks the secret to good health and happiness for all who labour there.

Several years ago, when my house-block gained an extra little wing (like an upside down L), my green-thumbed neighbour, Anna, had a very clever idea.

Neglected and a bit bleak before Anna saw its potential.

Why not create a garden of fruit trees, and vegetables, and flowers for bees, hidden between the back of our houses? In an area so secret, it was visible and accessible to no-one but us.

While Anna has moved on to bigger and better gardens, her legacy remains.

And without a doubt, my secret garden opens the gates to contentment.

Glimpsing tranquility


When I first visited the city I now live in, nearly forty years ago, I fell in love with its autumn colours and in particular, a tree whose leaves were of such vibrant intensity that they seemed to be on fire.

‘That’s the tree I’m going to plant one day,’ I promised myself, ‘when I have a garden of my own’.

So different to the colours of the city of my childhood, with its grey pall, bitter winds and horizontal rain. (Think Narnia, but without the charm of snow)

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 3.38.42 pm

…the tree of my dreams, the rhus

Fast forward twenty years when I finally had my own home with the ability to plant anything, anywhere.

But in the intervening period, the desired tree of younger years had turned into the devil incarnate:

Thwarted, I meekly gave up.

Then someone mentioned that the crab apple tree had wonderful blossoms and great autumn colours, so I planted one and waited excitedly for the first year’s display. It was deeply disappointing, with leaves much more akin to pale yellow flames than a roaring furnace.

Next came the persimmon tree …  

Attractive, yes, and definitely warmer than the crab apple, but still it didn’t meet the remembered beauty of the forever-out-of-reach rhus tree.

Until …

Why not plant a Japanese Maple, reputed to have flaming red foliage in autumn?

And lo! It came to pass that in the autumn of 2018, my long held desire sprang to life.

Take that, rhus tree!

 

 

 

 

 

#64 Make a Silk Necklace out of a … Silk Tie

There will come a time, probably in the not too distant future, when scientists will be able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Seeing they can already turn pig connective tissue cells into stem cells, and create any manner of products using 3-D printers primed with stem cells, they may already have done it.

But until I get a 3-D printer at home, (don’t laugh, Aldi had them on sale recently for $299) I’ve settled for the next best thing:

#64 Make a Silk Necklace out of a … Silk Tie

A friend introduced a group of us to this technique at a fun afternoon workshop recently, and I’m sold on the technique.

So here’s the brief.

You’ll need the following materials:

One unwanted silk tie, the brighter the better
Tape measure, scissors and matching coloured thread
One chopstick or knitting needle
5–7 wooden beads 25mm diameter, 1 fastening hook, one 7mm jump ring & two 15mm plain rings (from Spotlight or Lincraft)

The technique isn’t too complicated.

First, cut off the bottom 20cm of the tie – 

Then unpick the remaining long piece and discard the lining –

Next, press the tie open with a hot iron, protecting it from burning by using a tea towel on top.

You should end up with a very long piece of silk fabric, narrow along most of its length but getting much wider at one end.

The aim is to trim this very long piece of uneven silk fabric into a perfect, long, thin rectangle, so it can ultimately become a perfect tube.

To achieve this, fold the right sides of the fabric together lengthwise, measure the narrowest width and pin the tie all the way along its length to this width, just so:

Sorry, it’s a bit too long to photograph the full pinned length…

Then cut just below the pin line and discard the wider pieces of fabric you’ve cut off.

If you then trim the ends at an angle, you should  end up with something like this:

in other words, a long, thin silk tube waiting to be sewn closed

Stitch along the length of the tie, leaving one end open but sewing the other end closed at an angle. It’s quickest with a sewing machine, but can be hand sewn. Perfection is not a prerequisite. (Just make sure the tube is wide enough for 25mm balls to fit through). 

Now comes the fun part.

Once the sides and one end have been sewn closed, it’s time to turn the fabric tube inside out. Because it’s silk, it’s nice and slippery, but this manoeuvre is helped with a little patience and by using a chopstick or knitting needle to cajole it through.

The result is a silk tube, closed at one end, with the right side of the material facing out.


Assembly time:

Sew  the closed end around one of the 15mm rings.
Then tie a knot about 15cm from this end, slide a bead through the tube until it hits the knot and hold it firmly in place as you tie another knot in the fabric.

Repeat the process until all the beads have been put in place firmly with knots between each one.

You’ll have a balanced necklace if you use an uneven number of beads:

Finally, stitch the open end closed, attach the second round ring and add the split ring and clasp.

Voila!

I should warn you though, once you start,  it’s impossible to stop at one.

There’s barely a silk tie left in any Op Shop in a fifty kilometre radius of home…

 

#63 Investigate a Mystery

Enid Blyton must take some responsibility.

The idea that you can spend years entertaining children with exciting tales about other children solving mysteries (The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Five Find-Outers & Dog) without it having repercussions in their later life is fanciful. Without a doubt, it’s the reason I’ve always had a deep seated urge to solve mysteries. And this need continues well into retirement.

#63 Investigate a Mystery

It began back in mid January when my sister bought me a birthday present online to be sent directly to my post office box. But when my birthday came and went and I hadn’t thanked her, she realised the item had gone missing, and so began the investigation initially known as The Mystery of the Missing Parcel. 

No problems. A copy of the original Australia Post receipt, showing its tracking number, should set things right:

But when we checked on the Australia Post website, the parcel appeared to have been delivered to my local post office two weeks earlier, just a few days after it had been sent.

…curiouser and curiouser

A trip to the post office will sort this out, we thought naively. The gift will be there, sitting on a bench waiting to be collected. It did seem odd, though, that they hadn’t placed a ‘parcel awaiting collection’ card into my PO Box.

‘No,’ they told me. ‘We don’t have the item here. It’s already been picked up.’

Not by me it hasn’t. Who signed for it?

They shrugged. No one has to sign to pick up parcels any more nor show any ID. Even when the parcel’s been registered and the sender took out extra insurance. Naturally, I made a fuss. It was my birthday present after all. They finally offered to look at the CCTV footage taken of the Post Office collection hatch at the exact time the parcel had been collected –  ‘11.28am Mon 22 Jan’ – to see who’d picked it up.

And this is where the story takes a darker turn. An unidentified man was seen on CCTV taking possession of an identical box to the one I was awaiting at exactly that time. This was no longer a simple mystery, this had turned into a crime.

The birthday present, it turned out, was a box housing four bottles of Vino Cotto, an elixir so delicious that, well, it just had to be found or someone would have to pay. My sister had recently discovered that this little gem was being made to the original Italian recipe right here in Australia.

Its literal translation is ‘cooked wine’ but it’s so much more than that.  Making vino cotto involves the long, slow reduction of grape ‘must’, the juice of a particular variety of grape, with the addition of ash from the burnt grape vine. The resulting rich, exotic syrup is then stored for months before being brought out for special occasions.

When I was a child, my grandmother would slave over its production so that every Easter it could be retrieved from storage and served drizzled over Crostoli as the entire family – parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, scrambled for the last drop of this liquid gold. Making it was so laborious, so complicated that we all knew we’d not see it again for another year.

That did it. No strange man was going to get away with my birthday bottles of vino cotto, so I swung into investigative mode and set up my white board.

IMG_3903

I’ve concluded my investigations now and have decided the most likely sequence of events is as follows:

  • The box arrives at the post office on 22 January
  • The staff place a ‘parcel to collect’ notice in the wrong PO Box. Exhibit A shows a photo of PO boxes in close proximity to mine. Exhibit B (taken peeping through a slatted grille) shows the boxes snapped from the reverse angle. Quite a jumbled mess, suggesting it would be simple for the ‘notice to collect’ to be placed in the wrong box
  • An unidentified man, probably with a PO Box close to mine, takes this incorrectly placed notice from his PO Box into the collection hatch and is given the parcel, no questions asked. It doesn’t worry him that he’s not expecting a birthday present and that it isn’t addressed to him either
  • Aforementioned unidentified man then takes the parcel home, opens it without any concern that his name is not on the label and that it isn’t his birthday, sees the word ‘Vino’ on the bottles and thinks all his Christmases have come at once.

The Post Office hasn’t taken kindly to my suggestion that they place a WANTED poster sporting the unidentified man’s image on every billboard around town, so I have little hope of discovering his identity.

But a couple of things cheer me up. Australia Post has finally refunded us for the value of the goods so I’m expecting more bottles of vino cotto to arrive any day now.

And best of all, unidentified man wouldn’t have had a flood of lovely childhood memories as he indulged in my vino cotto and I trust he was bitterly disappointed to discover that, despite being utterly delicious and addictive, it contains no alcohol whatsoever.




Yay!

My culprit may remain elusive, but three bottles of vino cotto PLUS a jar of marinated wild baby figs in vino cotto arrived at my door (thank you to Angela from Il Baronello) in time for Easter. Just drizzle over fresh Crostoli.

The verdict?

Squisito!

 

 

 

 

 

#62 Take a 30-Day Challenge

Every time something like Feb Fast, Movember or a so called ‘fun-run’ comes around,  I’m itching to join in the party, but so far, I haven’t found any cause that’s grabbed me enough to want to commit to it. Being an extremely light drinker would make Feb Fast way too easy, Movember is out for obvious reasons and I refuse to be involved in anything whose name reads to me like an oxymoron.

While the idea of giving up chocolate for a month is too ridiculous to contemplate, an opportunity did present itself recently when I came across a small box in a trendy gift shop that suggested I

#62 Take a 30-Day Challenge,

pick up my phone, and shoot a photo a day, following their suggestions for the topic.

“Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like,” David Alan Harvey’s quote on the back of the box exhorted me. What a way to improve my skills, I thought:

It was only after I’d bought the little box that all was revealed. Hidden in the small print – once I’d ripped it open – was the awful truth. This was an Instagram challenge. Or should I say, #Instagram #challenge?

Now I made quite derogatory comments about this particular social media activity in an earlier blog #50 Find the App of Your Dreams and discovering that the first four days’ suggested shoots were

– all a bit self absorbed, trivial or pointless –  didn’t help my frame of mind. That’s it, I thought. This is not the right challenge, thanks very much and even though I’ve spent money for the box.

But then I realised that maybe a challenge should be a bit uncomfortable. So with that in mind, plus the encouragement of a younger friend who promised to ‘follow’ my Instagram posts and who’s the bee’s knees with social media (she makes top class podcasts for a Sydney Arts Organisation, do you mind!) I plunged in.

I’m up to Day 15 already, dutifully following the daily instructions my little box of surprises throws up, and what began as a task akin to making a silk purse from a sow’s ear has morphed into a most enjoyable, although not always easy, challenge.

What’s a novel way to present a #selfie? Is there a new interpretation of the ubiquitous #coffee photo? And how is it possible to depict #texture in a two-dimensional picture?

#Instagram cleverly allows you to apply filters to your photos, which makes them look almost professional. A website titled Your Instagram Filter Cheat Sheet by Lucille Zimmerman has been a marvellous help for artistically-challenged folk like me.

So here are a few of my posts to date:

#architecture

Albury’s own LibraryMuseum


#books

They can change your life


#happy

a sing-a-long to the Vegemite song is mandatory


#greenlife

Just practising Instagram techniques, now!


#art

Glorious little parrot painted by my friend Heather one afternoon recently


I’ve managed to garner a few ‘likes’ and even a few ‘followers’ over the two weeks I’ve been posting to date, but everyone using Instagram seems so young and gorgeous and uber successful.

But that’s its beauty, I guess. As long as I never post a shot of myself, I can pretend that I’m twenty or thirty-something, beautiful and just like them!

 

 

 

 

 

#61 Upgrade Christmas Crackers

January again.

That month after Christmas when it’s too hot to move out of your own shadow, so the country takes its month-long siesta. Which means it’s the perfect time to

#61 Upgrade Christmas Crackers

You may be thinking that the weeks following December 25th aren’t the most logical time to do this, but there are several reasons why January is, in fact, the perfect month to begin:

  1. The memory of how disappointing Christmas crackers really are is fresh in your mind.
    Pretty as a picture with a cracking start they plunge downhill after that.
    Paper hats that make the beautiful look plain, and the not-so-beautiful look plain and silly, and jokes that would cause any self respecting dad to weep. [‘Q: WHAT DO YOU CALL A HORSE IN PYJAMAS?  A. A ZEBRA’   Really? After two hundred thousand years of evolution, this is the best we can do?]
    The final blow, of course, is the useless, tacky, plastic toy that’s destined for landfill.
    Sigh.
  2. In January, the big department stores offload their unsold Christmas crackers for peanuts. I found a box of six very elegant ones, normally priced at $75 for half that price. However, $37.50 still seemed a bit steep for higher quality paper, a louder cracker bang and a slightly better class of rubbish inside.
    In the end, I lashed out on this box of ten crackers for – wait for it – 50 cents. For the entire box.
  3. By starting this project now, you have a whole year to discover more flattering festive attire than a flimsy paper hat, find jokes that are truly rib-tickling, and source tiny thoughtfully chosen items that can be tucked into existing crackers. Hand-picked treasures to match the interests of family and friends.

The first task is to gently disembowel the crackers of their contents, taking care not to damage the cracker strip.

Enter the toaster prongs – perfect for the job

Not confined to the kitchen any more

After removing the small bow and straightening out one end, it’s an easy job…

…performed with surgical precision

While the contents may have delighted a child in the 1950s, they don’t quite cut it any more:

Although at 50¢ for the lot, it seems churlish to complain

Now comes the fun bit: thinking up ideas for better gifts that are small enough to fit into a cracker and will give the recipient a lovely surprise.  And you have a whole year to find them! Twelve months to keep an eye out at stationer’s supplies and hardware stores, garden centres and kitchen shops, and every retail establishment you might enter between now and December.

A quick scout around home has turned up a few ideas already:

  1. Brightly coloured handkerchief – large or small
  2. Mobile phone hook – it attaches to back of the phone, rotates 360º and lets you hang it in the car, slip it on your finger or rest it on an angle for photo taking or viewing
  3. Strawberry huller (yes, really)
  4. Garden seeds – for the green thumbed
  5. Ear buds – for the podcast devotee. Handy to have more than one set…
  6. A wee nip – for comfort
  7. A USB stick
  8. A mini book-reading light
  9. Lipstick
  10. Book of stamps – remember them? Still needed on the rare occasion.
  11. Hair bands
  12. + 13 + …    = Your imagination.

Finding a glamorous alternative for paper hats has proved much more difficult. Does anyone look good in one?

So what about including larger colourful handkerchiefs for folk to tie rakishly around their necks during the festivities instead? At least there’d be a use for them after Christmas. A few colourful paper hats for the littlies mightn’t go astray, though.


Finally, write down the best jokes or the pithiest tweets or the funniest comments you hear throughout the year. They’ll be perfect to include in the cracker when December rolls around.

Or better still, ask a relative to come up with some bespoke cartoons. You never know your luck: