Author Archives: outsidethesquare101

#110 Relearn a Language

We’re constantly being exhorted to exercise our minds as well as our bodies, so when a friend told me a few months ago about Duolingo, “The World’s Best Way to Learn a Language” (according to Duolingo’s website), it sounded like an idea that was perfect for the times. Certainly a much better idea than exercising my body which wasn’t ready for anything as dangerous as say, walking.

So I promptly enrolled in their French course, a language I had once haltingly stammered over 50 years ago, and found myself ensnared in a juggernaut of relentless encouragement.

#110 Relearn a Language

The Duo part of Duolingo, as well as meaning two, is also the website’s green owl, a mascot who keeps urging you on in that intermittent re-inforcement fashion that psychologists have shown to be most effective at keeping people trapped in their addictions.

When you least expect it, he pops up to your right

… to give you that little frisson of satisfaction and convince you to keep going

or to your left,

… just to keep you guessing

It’s much more interactive and engaging than the classes I remember at school in the ’60s taught by the rather quiet nun who’d never been within cooee of France, and the rewards (points to amass, promotion to a higher grade, or just flattering encouragement) are frequent enough to satisfy, but inconsistent enough to keep you returning.

Peer pressure works well, too. Other students will often follow you in the hope of being followed back, so you can send and receive congratulations when you both achieve your goals.

But after six months, and having successfully graduated from beginner’s to intermediate classes, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t enjoying it so much any more.

Each day became filled with too many messages urging me to do even better, work even harder, amass more points, and maintain my position. And if I slipped behind, or was about to be overtaken, the messages arrived as relentlessly as those in the opening scenes of Harry Potter, impossible to ignore.

But still they kept coming, reminding me what I’d achieved that week and what I could do the next:


Finally the shaming began. I was going backwards:

Oh no! 93 minutes less than last week. A pathway to disgrace

Things had to change.

I realised that something I was doing for pleasure, purely to keep my mind active—and to prove that I could almost recognise every fifth word spoken during an SBS French film—was turning into a nightmare. I had no time to sleep, no time to eat, no other enjoyments in life. And as I was never going to stroll along the Seine again on a warm Parisian afternoon, would I ever need to ask directions or enquire as to the cost of croissants?

Enough, I decided!

So I’m back to an enjoyable ten to fifteen minutes revision every day.

Yes, every day. I’m on a roll, you see, and what would Duo think if I suddenly stopped?.

Who cares about points and promotions?

Anyway, I have a new love now. A friend introduced me to Quordle, and I think I’m hooked.

#109 Play Around with Works of Art

If you’re ever watched the UK programme Fake or Fortune, you’ll know it involves experts investigating the provenance of little known works of art submitted by the owners in the hope that their find is a long lost piece by a Great Master.

Am I the only one who, by the episode’s end, is thinking ‘if it’s so hard to tell the difference between the real thing and this newly discovered offering, does it really matter?’ Although this admission might suggest I know nothing about art.

But the show gave me the idea for a topic to interest my Discovery friends at one of our recent afternoon get-togethers. Why not—

#109 Play around with Works of Art

—to see if we can reproduce them, for better or worse?

The brief was broad. Take any work of art you like and using materials of your choice, recreate it. Then show us a photograph of the original art work and your copy.

To allay any anxiety about the need to create something wondrous, I provided a couple of examples of what could be achieved with simple tools:

On the left is Untitled by R Ryman. It sold for $3.9 Million USD. On the right is my copyWall— worth $0

And another:

On the left: Still Life with Fruit by artist Belinda Nott. On the right: Lemons from the Garden.

Everyone was given a couple of weeks to prepare their masterpiece, and they rose to the occasion with fabulous offerings. I challenge you to pick the original!

One of these is Margaret Olley’s Pomegranates 1 and the other isn’t

Can you tell the real Kandinsky Colour Study from the fake?

The mood of Clarice Beckett’s End of the Garden has been cleverly reproduced.

Can you tell which is Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black and which is the imposter?

An excellent reproduction of Picasso’s Woman with Dove

McCubbin’s Lost (Child) set among gum trees has morphed into Lost (Wallaby) in the scrub

A masterful recreation of part of Bosch’s The Last Judgement (top half)

Portion of Blue Moon by Mirka Mora—copied using Aldi crayons

Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring—and a few years later?

Art in nature. The rainbow lorikeet, but which one is the fake?

A lovingly recreated Tea Set by Charles Sluga

Impossible to pick the real Botticelli’s Birth of Venus

A little-known Chagall: Composition with Goat cleverly reproduced.

And another Clarice Beckett: Moonlight and Calm Sea beside smokey Sunlight on Lagoon

Despite the less than perfect results, our intentions were pure, so surely our imitations can be seen as flattery?

It’s not like a certain famous Swedish furniture company that recreated Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party and van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters so they could build the sets to advertise flat pack furniture no less!




The featured image is from a still life by painter Abraham Mignon (1640-1679). The bouquet to its right was gifted to one of our participants.

#108 Make Soap (yes, really!)

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

With the Omicron peak waning, most of us happily vaccinated and lockdowns and restrictions a thing of the past, adventures far from home beckoned. So this month’s blog should have been about fresh fields, exotic travel, excitement, restaurants and glamour.

And yet here I am, explaining how to

#108 Make Soap (yes, really!)

Constructing new cakes of soap out of neglected, leftover shards of old soaps is reminiscent of the sad, lonely, lockdown-type activities of 2020 or 2021, but due to a recent spontaneous fracture in my leg (insultingly called an ‘insufficiency fracture’ as though I neglected to care for my bones sufficiently) I’m on ‘minimal-weight-bearing-until-it-heals’ orders from the orthopaedic surgeon.

And so it’s back to finding new activities that can be done without venturing from home. Or walking really.


So I scoured the internet to find instructions on how to convert all the bits and pieces of old soaps I’d found in the bathroom cabinet into brand new hearty bars of soap.

Gather together about a cup of old leftovers. It speeds up the process to shave or grate them into smallish pieces, as I discovered too late.

Place them in a saucepan, cover with cold water and leave overnight till the mixture becomes a slushy mess.

Add a tablespoon of olive or vegetable oil and a few drops of a fragrant essence or lemon zest and stir over medium heat until all the soap has melted. It can take a while —up to 30 minutes.

It helps to have a jazzy stirrer like this, but a wooden spoon works too

It ends up looking like the smooth custard you’d prepare for a Portuguese tart, but sadly cannot taste.

So appealing as it bubbles away!

Add a few drops of food colouring and pour into silicon moulds to set:

(I overdid the pink a bit)

Leave for 24 hours, then remove from the moulds and dry on a wire rack for a few more days before using.

The websites I found speak of packaging these small soaps in pretty shapes adorned with ribbons and giving them away as gifts,

but although they’ve been sterilised by boiling for ages, I’m a bit uncomfortable about forcing them onto unsuspecting friends. And they’d not win any beauty contests.

However, to my surprise, the fully dried cakes of soap work extremely well and I’m excited to see if I can collect all the shards from this lot to create even more batches in the future.

It will, of course, follow the laws of diminishing returns, but I’m hopeful it may be some time before I ever have to buy soap again.

#107 Explore Christmas Trees and Decorations

Growing up, I was lucky enough to live on a rural 5-acre property with a small pine forest as our back garden and a much larger, slightly spooky commercial pine plantation behind that.

So for my first eighteen years, obtaining Christmas trees was not an issue. My Dad would walk out the back and chop down a likely-looking specimen for us to decorate. But once I left home, it wasn’t so easy to find the perfect Christmas tree.

Should I search for a real one with its heady aroma of pine oils that scream ‘Christmas Time!’ but horrible habit of dropping needles on the living room floor before the entire tree browns and shrivels and ends up as an unloved discard on the front footpath in the anonymous big city? Or—quelle horreur—invest in an artificial tree?

#107 Explore Christmas Trees and Decorations

Without children, it was easy for me to do nothing for years. And years. But in 2021, with house guests arriving over Christmas, it was time to rethink the whole Christmas tree shebang.

What decorations are in vogue these days?

I began by checking out the council-inspired and commercial offerings in my district:

Tolerable, but hardly avante-garde or wildly beautiful.

In fact, over in the US, a Fox News Christmas tree in Manhattan, (described by Fox anchors as the ‘All-American Christmas Tree’) so annoyed somebody with its ‘ho-hum’ appearance that it was set alight:

Finally—a truly spectacular commercial Christmas Tree!

There’s always the problems with storage for decorations that are only used for a couple of weeks a year, so I decided any type of large artificial tree was out of the question.


External house decorations are fun to view on an evening drive:

But climbing up a ladder at my age would be just silly, so house decorations were out.


Then I came across a delightful Christmas tree in the neighbourhood made out of palm tree bark:

And friends of mine have made a clever ‘twig’ Christmas tree:

Top marks for artistic merit and clever design for these two.

I finally settled on a small [fake!] tree for the hallway pedestal, jazzing it up with some mood lighting and bundles of gaily wrapped presents at its base.

So happy days and may the New Year treat you well.

#106 Try Calligraphy

It was during one of our lockdowns, while looking for an entertaining gift to send to a friend in Sydney, that I came across a couple of Calligraphy practice kits on the shelves of the local post office.

They looked intriguing. Why not purchase one for my artistic friend who seemed at risk of going stir-crazy during her enforced imprisonment?

The chap behind the counter gave a suppressed snort as he scanned the box.

‘They still selling these?’ he said. (Bearing in mind he was literally selling the item to me at that moment, it was an interesting use of the word ‘they’, but no matter). ‘Twenty-odd years ago my dad ran the Post Office in [Tinyville] and I’d help him out sometimes. They stocked them back in those days.’

This suggested that the kits are either wildly popular and timeless, or the type of horribly out-dated stock a post office would hold. But it was his next words that clinched the deal.

‘You’re in luck.’ He sounded surprised. ‘They’re on sale. Half price.’

‘Wait a sec.’ I held up my hand. ‘Let me go and get the other one as well!’

And that’s how I came to:

#106 Try Calligraphy


After a friend mentioned that she and her sons had experimented with calligraphy many years earlier and the ink stains still hadn’t come out of their fingers, it took me a few weeks to even open the kit, and I wisely began to practice with pencil.

Like being back in grade one

As the word calligraphy means ‘beautiful writing’ I went looking for a non finger-staining writing tool that might achieve this, reasoning that if I jumped into using the pen and ink provided in the kit, beautiful writing might never happen.

Enter pens created especially for the occasion. Brilliant!

The salesman in the small, old-fashioned stationery store seemed as surprised as I was that they stocked something called a “Calligraphy pen”, let alone with a choice of colours.

Time to test its ability to write in calligraphy style.

After practising for a while,

the ink in my brand new calligraphy pen began to fade, which I put down to its age, imagining it had probably been sitting in the stationer’s fusty store for years.

But on re-reading the instructions in the kit booklet, I came across this admonition:

Oops. Too late

So it was time to give the real pen and ink a whirl:


Then it hit me. While doing calligraphy is a relaxing, meditative hobby, I wasn’t going to live long enough to become adept at it, and anyway, wasn’t that what fonts were for?

Medieval monks had to spend their lives writing laborious decorative epistles because they didn’t have access to Word programmes on their computers, but we do.

So I went looking for fonts that matched the concept of ‘Beautiful Writing’ and came up with a fabulous assortment.

So…oo much better than anything I’ll ever do

I can see where this is heading. I might just become a contestant on Mastermind whose special subject is—Calligraphy Fonts.

#105 Revisit Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk

Time seems to stand still during a pandemic.

Early September arrived, and I realised with a shock that it was the first anniversary of losing Ziggy, my quirky little whippet. It seems like only yesterday.

More disturbingly, it hit me that without Ziggy, I hadn’t been on many of our previously shared outings for a whole year.

Time to:

#105 Revisit Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk

This walk was one of our pleasures, displaying wonderful indigenous sculptures in rambling bushland nestled between the Murray River and winding lagoons.

When it opened back in early 2015, I detailed the artworks in blog post #26 ‘Explore Your City like a Newcomer’.

In 2018, another sculpture was added:

Goanna by Kianna Edwards

But a lot can happen in a year, especially if your back is turned.

To my surprise, several of the gravel paths have now been sealed,

When did this happen?
Then …………………………………………………………………………and Now

(And doesn’t different weather change the mood!)

there’s improved signage

and additional, stunning new sculptures along the way.

Celebrate Together by Tamara Murray

Leaving our Mark by various members of AlburyCity’s Wagirra Team

Family Gathering by Michael Quinn

Trio of Kookaburras (guguburra) by Peter Ingram

And if you like the look of these photos, I can assure you that the real thing is so much better. Don’t wait a whole year to return.

#104 Turn a Guilty Pleasure into a Treasure Hunt

The blame must be placed squarely onto lockdown. When you’ve exhausted all the decent shows on every streaming service you have, and when your brain can no longer hold the intricate, weaving plots needed to enjoy another Scandi thriller, you find yourself reaching for some trite, mind-numbing Guilty Pleasure.

Like Bargain Hunt.

#104 Turn a Guilty Pleasure into a Treasure Hunt

In case you haven’t sunk quite as low as I have, Bargain Hunt is an inexpensively-made UK show where two competing pairs of Very Ordinary English People with teeth Untouched by Dentisty are given £300 to spend. Under the guidance of an antique ‘expert’ each team must buy three items at a flea market before on-selling these ‘treasures’ through a reputable auction house.

The team that makes the most profit wins the money they make, and in true British style, this averages out at about £2 per pair. If they’re lucky.

Sadly, I’m hooked on the show. I love shaking my head at their purchases and muttering ‘You’ll never make a profit on that piece of junk’, or yelling, ‘Yes, it’s a lovely vesta case, but £150? Really? ARE YOU MAD?’ Six months ago, I’d never heard of vesta cases, but now, I’m a self-appointed expert on English antiques.

So when a team purchased a Chinese painted blue umbrella-stand recently, I sat up and gasped, ‘I’ve got one of those. Somewhere!’

And so began a treasure hunt to find it and to re-examine all the pieces accumulated throughout a lifetime, from grandparents, parents, or purchased myself on trips overseas. How exciting to think that some of them might be hidden treasures.

Cue Google searches to learn more:

I’m now convinced my stand is a long lost Chinese Antique worth a small fortune!

The search became more and more involving as I discovered Grandad’s green hand painted vase might be a Bohemian antique:

Then there were his old fashioned lustre vases:


Every time one of the experts on Bargain Hunt comes across an item with silver detail, they whip out their magnifying glass to decipher the silver hallmark. So I tried to do the same with a small cut glass bath salts jar I’d bought many years ago on a trip to the UK.

Things got more interesting when the small bronze statue I’d fallen in love with at an outdoor art market in London back in the early 70s —

had a legible stamp of the maker:

So I went searching for G Schoeman and what should I find but this:

Oh, my! I’d been at the right place at the right time to purchase a small work of art from an emerging artist!!

By this stage, I was becoming quite invested in Giovanni, so was sad to see he’d died at the relatively young age of 41. What had happened? A tragic illness? A ghastly motor accident?

Then I came across this small snippet:

On no! My lovely sculptor had moved to the US and clearly been innocently caught in the crossfire of the US culture of arms and hitmen. That such talent should be lost so early. Poor Giovanni!

The police found the hitman, a Walter Mitty type “from the dark side”. He was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life in prison where he remains to this day.

However, there’s an even stranger coda to this story after I found additional news items:

So my new sculptor friend was a diamond smuggler AND a purveyor of lead-shot-filled fakes?

Now I have to wonder if my little bronze statue is quite what I think it is.

#103 Cheer up Family and Friends in Lockdown

When Sydney entered lockdown in early July, several Melbournians posted ideas on how to keep up the spirits of lockdown-ers. After their own hideous experience of prolonged lockdown in 2020, the Victorians knew what they were talking about.

So with family and close friends now into their fifth week of misery in Sydney, and as I’m spared the bulk of that pain because I live in regional NSW, I came up with a plan to

#103 Cheer up Family and Friends in Lockdown

Fortunately, the digitally-savvy ones knew how to create a WhatsApp closed group, so we’ve been holding daily photographic competitions to keep up morale.

At around 8 am each morning I post the topic of the day, one that is amenable to being photographed within the confines of the Sydneysiders’ restricted lives working from home:

Entries are posted throughout the day, then at 8pm, once I’ve chosen the winner, we have the ‘Rose Ceremony’ where the lucky person gets to accept a [virtual] rose.

Decisions, decisions!


It was great to see that even in lockdown, they were managing to spoil themselves:


Another readily accessible topic was this one:

We’ve had to become more flexible with the topic at times!

The next challenge was especially good fun …

… because it produced these two rip snorters among others:


At the end of the week, we move onto the People’s Choice award where everyone gets to vote for their favourite entries of the week and an overall winner is declared.

Because I can still go out browsing and shopping, I’ve collected an assortment of small gifts to be bundled up and posted to the winner each Monday.

Bits and bobs to go into the weekly Lockdown stocking

The aim is to find items that create a spark of joy, like yummy chocolates, fast-growing seeds for planting, items from craft shops that can be readily constructed, painted and decorated, or an engaging book to read.

When life is tough, you realise that having something to look forward to, however small, is so important.

My main worry is that if this goes on as long as it looks like it might, I’ll run out of engaging topics and be reduced to asking for photos of things like the fluff gathering underneath everyone’s beds, or dust motes floating in the sunlight.

Perhaps all these small glimpses of locked-down lives can eventually be collated into a book I’ll call “Passionless Moments”, in homage to Jane Campion and Gerard Lee’s 1983 short film which reduced my sister and me to helpless, uncontrollable, side-holding, rib-hurting laughter in a small Melbourne cinema all those years ago.

It’s the small, seemingly insignificant moments of life you recall the best.


#102 Learn to Arrange Flowers — in an Ikebana Style

Almost everyone has a special skill, although sadly, many of us don’t acknowledge it.

Praise someone who can sing in tune, and they’ll shrug and say ‘anyone can do that,’ but for those of us who are pitch imperfect, that’s just not true.

In a similar vein, people who can arrange flowers to look effortlessly gorgeous don’t understand how some of us struggle to coax a single rose to stand up in a narrow specimen vase.

So a recent opportunity to

#102 Learn to Arrange Flowers — in an Ikebana style

with a group of friends was too good to pass up.

Freshly gathered, awaiting expertise

Ikebana is the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging and is governed by 7 Principles: silence, minimalism, shape & line, form, humanity, aesthetics and structure.

As we were good friends teaching ourselves how to cut and measure and determine correct angles using videos and Youtube demonstrations, you’ll understand that the first Principle of Ikebana went out the window in no time.

But we embraced the concepts of minimalism, of using simple shapes and lines (based on a triangular pattern) and eschewed busy-looking, heavy, symmetrical Western designs with gusto.

Just as pleasing was discovering that the small metal, spiked flower base many of us found at the back of our vase cupboards—

aka spiky frog

is a specific device used in Ikebana called a kenzan.

While I know the designs we created are not true examples of Ikebana (hence I’m calling this blog post in an Ikebana style) we were thrilled with the results, marvelling how creating an elegant flower design doesn’t have to be a daunting task after all—even in the middle of winter with sparse pickings.


Another bonus of this activity was discovering a hidden flower growing among my narcissus in the back garden at home.

Called an Erlicheer jonquil (not an obscure Latin term, but named because it’s an early-flowering specimen guaranteed to cheer you up in winter!) it’s a new favourite.

I’m imagining a mass planting of this fragrant beauty in my front garden next year!

#101 Finish a Blog

Whoever claimed ‘It’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey’ clearly never suffered from motion sickness. I have vivid memories of every childhood holiday (and fortunately they weren’t too frequent) spent in the back seat of a hot car with my head over a bucket wondering if I’d die before we made it to our destination.

And don’t remind me of the horrendous boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef in the ’80s where I became that pariah below deck, throwing up her insides; nor that New Year’s Eve yachting party on Sydney Harbour in the ’90s where a water-taxi had to be called to ferry such an embarrassing guest away. Oh no, journeys have rarely held much pleasure for me.

So imagine my surprise to discover, on finally reaching my destination of completing 101 Fun and Frivolous Activities in Retirement—after almost 9 years—that I’ve actually loved this particular journey. Not a hint of travel sickness.

But where to from here?

#101 Finish a Blog

So for something a little different to celebrate this 101st and final blog post, I’ve created an interactive one for a change.

If you like quizzes, this one’s for you; if you love crosswords, it will fill in a few minutes of your day; and if you’re of a literary bent, you’ll enjoy recalling past reads because this one’s a literary-themed crossword.

And in a final twist, there’s a mystery message to be deciphered at the end.

My apologies that it’s not a crossword where you can type in the answers, but that skill’s way above my pay grade.

Clues:

Once you’ve found the answers, you can go on to solve the mystery message:

And if you think I have too much time on my hands, you may be right, but it sure beats travel sickness!