Author Archives: outsidethesquare101

#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

#77 Learn the Art of Successful Marketing

How good is Marketing?

I’ve been persuaded from recent Australian events that marketing works in miraculous ways, even if what’s being sold appears to be a pretty uninspiring product.

The other lesson I’ve learned is that money isn’t the important issue in marketing. Know-how is. I’ve heard you can spend upward of $60M on advertising and still end up a loser.

So because my sister and I now have a novel—Secrets of the IN-groupto sell, these revelations have naturally inspired me to

#77 Learn the Art of Successful Marketing

If it works for a very mediocre product, how much better would results be for a more appealing one?

And it follows, of course, that if we have a go [at marketing], we’ll get a go [at fabulous sales].

So I turned to Google to learn the basics of Marketing.

Choices, choices:
My immediate preference was, of course, to go straight to the site called “Skip Marketing 101 and read this instead”. I’m beginning to understand that clever marketing is quite devious, because after I’d done an in-depth study of their eight important rules for successful marketing, I realised they sounded exactly like the eight rules on every other Marketing 101 site I’d passed over in my haste to use this one.

So here they are, plus my attempts to follow each tip.

1. Not Marketing is Not an Option
Okay, this is a given. Who believed that Kevin Costner film claiming that “if you build it, he will come”? As if.

2. On-line display advertising can have a big impact for little cost
Sounds good, but does this work for just the one book? Possibly best to target websites that reach women-of-a-certain-age—who are looking for an up-lit read. It sounds like more research might be needed to find out where to best position our advertising.

On the other hand, sending out short press releases to the local newspaper and radio does work wonders. We scored a couple of interviews and a photo plus advertising for the local bookshops stocking the book.

 3. Play on people’s love of events
This one’s turning out to be true so far. We did a U3A talk framed like the ABC’s programme “You can’t ask that” and it went very well. The questions: “How did you not kill each other during the writing?” and “Are you two still talking to each other?” seemed popular, so we’ll be doing more of these.

4.Make the most of your website
I’m trying to. At this very minute …

But it looks like I’ll have to sort out how on earth I post details about purchasing the book at the top of every blog entry from now on.

In the meantime, if you’d like to buy a print book in Australia but can’t easily access one from your local bookstore or on-line, just email us on regal.525@gmail.com and we’ll get back to you to arrange it.

4.Email marketing is the new direct mail
Because we all love getting unsolicited emails, don’t we? And isn’t getting in touch with long lost friends just to promote your book a bit … icky?

I’m learning you need thick skin to be a really successful marketer.

 6. Social media is the new word of mouth
I know this deep down, but posting the book’s cover on my Instagram feed garnered all of eight Likes, tweeting about it scored just one Like—and the idea of actually using Facebook horrifies me. I guess this tip helps the most if you already have a large social media presence.
Perhaps the fact that our book is about how older women don’t feel entirely comfortable using social media should’ve been a giveaway that this strategy wasn’t going to be the best for us …

7. Win with loyalty rewards
Sure, why not. Here’s an offer no person can refuse. Buy nine of our books and get the tenth one free!!

Oh, hang on. Who’d want 10 copies of the same book?

8. Build a network of relationships

Aargh!! Marketing-speak! Get me out of here.


What this activity has taught me is that I have a new-found, grudging respect for the successful marketers out there.

It’s not as easy as I thought …

 

 

 

 

 

#76 Write a Novel

Way back in December 2014, in blog #24, I discussed the fun of attending the Albury launch of my sister’s middle-grade book Stand Up and Cheer. It’s a novel about the daring rescue of the Dutch plane, the Uiver, by the citizens of Albury during the Great Centenary Air Race of 1934 told through the eyes of an intrepid ten year old.

By the time the book’s second launch occurred in Sydney in early 2015, I’d decided that this book-writing caper seemed like a jolly lark, and I wouldn’t mind having a go at it myself. Sensibly, I asked my sister if she’d like to join me and write together.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was a crazy undertaking. Had I known it would take four years from beginning to end, and that retired ladies in a regional city, writing about other similarly-aged ladies in a regional city, would have as much appeal to young publishers as we do to powerful, wealthy men, I may have hesitated.

But I did not know this, and so I innocently decided to

#76 Write a Novel  

To be truthful, the writing only took us two years and 9 months. It took another 12 months of submitting the manuscript far and wide to realise that it was never going to move beyond a publisher’s slush pile.

The name’s a giveaway, really.

Does this look like something you’d enjoy wading through?

Enter indie publishing, a way to bypass established publishers who actually pay you to take on your book, who do all the work, and might, if you’re lucky and/or famous, and/or have an agent, give you an advance. In cold, hard cash. They’ll distribute your books all around the country, too, and even overseas. And they’ll help promote you.

Indie publishing, on the other hand, enables you to hire someone who knows the ropes and who’ll help you—for a fee—publish eBooks and paperback books that will be available on line. Going indie has the bonus of giving you complete control over the finished product: the look, the size, the cost, the cover, the print run, and of course, the quantum of financial loss you can bear. And it also gives you the chance to become a marketer, a distributor, a self promoter and all those things that anyone who writes, and is therefore most likely to be an introvert, truly dislikes.

But on the plus side, it can all be done in under three months.

So that’s what we did.

And after four long years, we’ve ended up with a real book with a cover that looks like this:

                                                              Superb design by Christa Moffitt 

and a story that can be summarised thus:

Twitter? … WhatsApp? … Tumblr?

Six women in the riverside city of Albury  realise that, without social media skills, they’re staring irrelevancy in the face. Their book club won’t cut it any more. Time to go virtual.
But their decision to plunge into the on-line world brings horrifying revelations and unexpected outcomes. Friendships, new and old, are tested and their lives teeter on the edge of collapse. They must navigate a path through the chaos, but who exactly can they trust?

A small town
A world wide web
Is the net really a friend?


So if you’ve enjoyed reading this blog over the past six and a half years and would be interested in moving on to Contemporary Women’s Fiction written by the same author, but one whose writing has been markedly improved by having a second, better author join her, Secrets of the IN-group is now available.

It’s published by Resisters and will be officially released on May 2:

(Resisters. That’s us!)

You can order an eBook or print copy at Amazon or Booktopia or find other eBook retailers on books2read.

If you live locally, Dymocks in Albury is stocking it, as well as Beechworth Books and Collins Booksellers in WaggaWagga.  Perfectly timed for Mother’s Day.

Should you enjoy it, please do tell your friends …

and we’ll cherish you for life if you post a positive review on Goodreads.

Featured image from Gladys Peto’s Told in the Gloaming published by John F Shaw & Co Ltd London, circa 1920
Resisters Logo designed by Laura Pike

#75 Learn to Tessellate

It’s a sad fact of life that there are always massive gaps in one’s eduction, and the most glaring one for me is in the field of art.

Thinking back to my school days, I have no recollection of any enjoyable art classes and no instances where I learned any techniques or tips about either art execution or art appreciation.

So it’s only recently, thanks to hearing about the Escher exhibition in Melbourne, that I gained a minuscule understanding of design principles, which has now made me to want to:

#75 Learn to Tessellate

Although I didn’t make it to the exhibition myself, several friends raved about it, so we had an Escher afternoon where photographs were shared and we discussed various aspects of his life and work.

Being more scientifically inclined, I chose ‘Escher and Mathematics’ as my topic. Talk about naive. Escher is mathematics! Why was this information never explained to me in those rudimentary art sessions I had in primary school? Or in the more complex maths classes I enjoyed at secondary level where they didn’t bother to mention there might be a functional aspect to recurring decimals? Like I said—massive gaps in my education.

It turns out that “Mathematics as it applies to Escher’s work” is a topic way too complicated for a ten minute dissertation over afternoon tea.

How on earth did he conceptualise something as glorious as Sky and Water I ?

So the best I could come up with for my contribution to the afternoon was a short demonstration on how to do a very basic tessellation, also known as how to cover a surface by repeated use of a single shape, without gaps or overlapping. The technique can result in an endless array of mosaic designs and gives one a certain modicum of personal satisfaction.

There are some excellent YouTube tutorials on making a tessellation here and here so I followed one of these and managed to produce something that might scrape a pass in an art exam in grade two or three. Quite an achievement!

I began by cutting out a small square 10cm x 10cm and drawing a curvy design along one side like this,

before cutting the shape out precisely, sliding it across to the opposite side of the square and aligning it perfectly before taping it down like so:

Then I drew another design on the adjacent side of the square, cut it out, slid it across and taped it too:

This little brown template was then used to trace a design onto a larger sheet of paper repeatedly, and

… thanks to the magic of design and recurring patterns, it fits perfectly into itself—over and over:

All that’s needed is a peaceful 30 minutes to colour it in and to add a few markings.

Presto! I had an original design—

This is possibly the most artistic thing I’ve ever managed to create.

I love you M.C.Escher!

#74 Admire Public Art

Imagine being in a job where you’re rarely praised, often the target of harsh complaints and dismissively known as the Rates, Roads and Rubbish people.

Such is the lot of local councils, but in reality, they’re so much more than that. The council can help make it a real pleasure to live in your town or city.

At our most recent Discovery Group meeting, a local artist, Ken Raff was invited to speak to our members about the public art works he’s been commissioned to create for the Albury-Wodonga area. Since hearing him speak, it’s caused me to stop, look around and …

# Admire Public Art

Ken spoke about the evolution of a public sculpture, and it was the first time I’d realised that our council has people assigned to this very process. Impressive!

Extensive work is involved in the development of such pieces, involving the tender process, the artist chosen, site evaluations, various council departments as well as engineering and fabrication experts and businesses. And through all of this, the artist has to hope that the vision of his work will be maintained.

Here’s one of Ken’s wonderful creations, where it all came together so well.

Called Porta, this installation is sited at the entrance to Victoria from NSW

The choice of colours and even the tilt of the spheres have been meticulously considered by the creator.

And a panoramic shot may give you a better sense of its imposing height and perfect positioning …

This also shows the importance of ‘place’ in public art. In the wrong spot, it might have been lost, but here – simply magnificent!


My public art crawl has now ranged from the stainless steel facade sculpture by renowned artist Matthew Harding, sited at the back of our Art Gallery, MAMA,

Degrees of Separation  (Crossing Paths)

to another of Ken Raff‘s works in the main street …

                                                                      The River 

and on to the imposing galvanised steel artwork called Grow by Warren Langley, representing the crimson spider orchid, an endangered flower found in Albury, but few other locations …


Then there’s the latest sculpture in the Botanical gardens …

The Fern by Michael Laubli

… so perfectly suited to this position.


Public art can also encompass improving some of the plainer aspects of modern living, like applying mural art to otherwise dull areas such as drains and NBN boxes –

Birdwatcher painted by Kade SarteBanana Joe by Kristina GreenwoodThe cover-up!

It’s exciting to come across the art in your local neighbourhood.  I know there are several more pieces for me to discover.

During this adventure, I stumbled across a copy of Banksy’s Rage  – local artist unknown – stencilled under a bridge on the New South Wales side of the Murray River.

It’s positioned to look like the person is about to lob a hand grenade – into Victoria!

Fortunately, the missile is a bunch of brightly coloured flowers.

Cute.

 

 

Photo of the Tai Chi Bunnies taken at Circular Quay, Sydney in January at the Chinese New Year celebrations. I’m told they glow at night!  

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