Author Archives: outsidethesquare101

#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!

#100 Appreciate Small Discoveries

This pandemic has challenged us on so many levels over the past—how many?—months, but there’ve been unexpected rewards along the way to compensate.

For example, the realisation that owning a dog means escaping lockdown whenever an excuse is needed to leave the house was a lightbulb moment for many. Similarly, it’s been a real eyeopener for many businesses to discover that all workers don’t have to battle peak-hour traffic twice a day when they can work effectively from home.

As the world contracts and international travel fades into memory, one way to extract the best out of life is to:

#100 Appreciate Small Discoveries


Parking in a side street a couple of weeks before Easter, I came across this cute rabbit painted on an inconspicuous wall.

It brightened my day no end:

Easter Bunny by talented local street artist Kade Sarte.
The eyes even follow you

Another unexpected offering appeared alongside the entry to a car park. This sunny butterfly frieze greets passers-by like a welcoming smile, so thanks, Kristina and Albury City:

by Kristina Greenwood for Upstream 2021

Its personal significance was enhanced exponentially when a matching beauty landed in my garden a couple of days later:

Australian Painted Lady Butterfly on chive flowers.
“Hey, you’re famous!”

The pandemic threw up another joy recently when Warburtons, a UK company that bakes much loved crumpets, released their secret recipe to comfort suffering compatriots during the depths of winter.

With a rallying cry of

who could resist giving it a go?

My first batch, cooked in a pan on the stove top, resulted in terribly mismatched crumpets, until the idea of repurposing my pie maker into a crumpet maker seemed a worthy experiment.

Woohoo! Yessir!

Have a look at them cooking:

Perfect shape, perfect bubbles, perfect browning when turned! What’s not to love about a pie maker?

Here’s the adapted recipe if you want to give it a try:

Delicious 😋

An innocuous visit to my GP this week threw up another new and exciting discovery when the doc asked me if I’d like eScripts sent to my phone instead of handing me the usual paper ones. (She’d noticed I was using earpods in the waiting room, she said, so assumed I was tech savvy. 🤣)

Heart thumping, I agreed to the eScripts, not wanting her to know the truth about my dread of technology and its propensity to go bad. Of course, the minute I walked out of the surgery, I checked my messages, convinced it wouldn’t have worked, but to my surprise …

So now all I have to do is show the pharmacist the super trendy eScripts on my mobile to get them dispensed.

Edited, but you get the idea!

There are so many wonderful small discoveries to be found at our new Harris Farm Market that I don’t know where to start, but the little lime-green kale/silverbeet/herb stripper has to be up there with the best. It rips out the pesky central stalk in milliseconds.

Insert the stalk into the hole of best fit, pull through and voila! the leaves are freed.

Harris Farm sells assorted native finger limes, too …

Little bubbles of citrus caviar

And what this means is that I can now amass any and all ingredients needed for my latest craze: the home made poke bowl with added crispy kale and finger lime bubbles topped with sriracha mayo.


And a final discovery has been the talented Marsh family from Faversham in the UK, who’ve been coping during lockdown by repurposing songs and posting them on YouTube.

Here’s their performance at the BBC Comic Relief concert. They re-worded Total Eclipse of the Heart to reflect what everyone can relate to on some level during the pandemic.

They’re more often found performing (in pyjamas of course) in their bedrooms, kitchen or living room.

Who’d have thought small discoveries could give so much pleasure?

#99 Enjoy Age-Appropriate Activities—Without Shame

Strange things happen as you age, and they’re not all as good as gaining wisdom and caring less about what people think.

For example, you become invisible while waiting in line for service; then one day, unexpectedly, the background noise in restaurants becomes intolerable; and there’s the moment when the thought of replacing your recently deceased, beloved pet raises questions like ‘do I have the energy for a puppy?’ and ‘who’ll look after it when I’m gone?’; and finally, you’re shocked out of every vestige of comfort you’ve ever known, when a news report speaks of someone who dies in their sixties as ‘elderly’.

This can only mean the time has come to

#99 Enjoy Age-Appropriate ActivitiesWithout Shame

Becoming invisible after 60 can be partially overcome, I think, by wearing very bright colours, every single day.

In the first, hilarious episode of Fisk on the ABC last week, the main character, played by Kitty Flanagan, arrived for work in a gaudy shade of yellow. She was pilloried for looking like a ‘walking banana’,

Too hi-vis, they said

but surely that’s got to be better than being mistaken for the office furniture and sat upon, which is what happened when she wore brown and beige?

“Blending into the chair like some sort of furniture chameleon”

At least when she looked like a banana, she became somebody, so bring out the colours and ignore any comments, I say.

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The problem with background noise in restaurants is a tough one, because not only is it impossible to hear, it’s also so difficult to speak above the din that pretty soon, you end up with a husky voice and an inability to contribute to the conversation.

So if this means turning into your parents and dining at 6.30pm before the crowds, then so be it. Or do all your socialising early in the day. There is no shame after 60.

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A solution to the replacement pet has turned out to be easier than I thought. I’m finding that no one rejects an offer to care for their dog when they’re away. This gives you wonderful bonding time with a much loved pet (one that quite possibly has been better trained than your own ever was), takes the worry away from your friends and, as a bonus, doesn’t stymie you if you want to go on a spontaneous holiday yourself.

And if the time between dog-sitting become too long and you’re missing that tactile interaction with a pet, I can thoroughly recommend finding a realistic model that looks just like the dog you’re missing, and patting him every time you walk past.

Meet Ziggy’s not-quite-ghost, Shadow

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Advancing years bring out another fabulous age-appropriate trait to take your mind off the accelerating years, and that’s obsessively tracing your own family history after watching endless repeats of the SBS program Who Do You Think You Are?

I particularly enjoy seeing the participants of this show declare their ancestors to be quite blameless, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, or tear up over the death in childbirth of a great-great-grandmother, a woman unknown to them only a few minutes earlier.

My DNA analysis threw up Southern European ancestors as well as a side serve of Irish and Scottish ones, none of which came as a surprise.

But when I discovered that my grand-mother’s 9 year-old sister, Marie-Louise, died of ‘Rheumatic Endocarditis and Exhaustion’ in 1915, what should happen but my eyes began to glisten for a little girl I never knew existed!

Although nothing prepared me for the shock of my great-grandfather’s death certificate, where the cause of his demise was claimed to be ‘senility’. He was only 69!

My mother NEVER mentioned that her beloved Pop was senile. They must have that one wrong.

My great-grandfather would never have died with such a condition.

#98 Allow yourself to be seduced

Once you reach a certain age, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to fall in love.

That excited fluttering in the stomach when thinking about the object of your affections, the anticipation of sharing time together, the sheer joy of knowing you’ve met your perfect match at last.

I thought it was too late for this to happen again, but now realise there’s no age limit to infatuation:

#98 Allow yourself to be seduced

Harris Farm Markets has decided to favour our town with its presence and I’m smitten.

You’re very welcome!

I’d heard about this market for years from family and friends in Sydney. They’d regale me with stories of the freshest of local fruit and vegetables, the most exotic groceries imaginable, displays to make your head spin, anything and everything a foodie ever dreamed of, and all coming together under one roof. A magical land akin to a Willie Wonka factory but designed for adults.

AND NOW IT’S IN MY TOWN AND IT’S WALKING DISTANCE FROM HOME!

As I think about it, all the adjectives, adverbs, similes and metaphors in my repertoire don’t do it justice. Instead, sit back, relax, and enjoy photographs that display the long lost art of effortless seduction.

From fruit and vegetables …

Onions looking glamorous
Assorted heirloom tomatoes to make Maggie Beer envious
Can you get fresher than Living Lettuce?

To deli items …

You can never have too much cheese
or exotic crispbreads …
Oils ain’t just oils here
Instant nut butters

…to coffee and desserts

Grind-your-own
Organic single herd milk. (Yes, it’s really a thing!)

… not forgetting a seafood stall and a butchery, a smokehouse and a florist, a juice bar and an on-site baker’s mill—among too many other delights to mention.

I realise I’m in the early days of my infatuation and that the shine will inevitably fade. I’ll emerge from these crazy, heady days of unbridled pleasure with an overstocked pantry, feeling a tad guilty about neglecting the lovely Swedish baker and the excellent bulk food store to the south of the town, the well stocked essential ingredient shop in the town centre and the European deli to the north.

But until that happens, I’m basking in this flood of oxytocin.

And did I mention it’s walking distance from home?

#97 Explore Ways to Cook … Parsnips?

Every home gardener knows it.

One year, you produce crops so lush, so abundant, so profuse, that you’re convinced your gardening skills are unparalleled. Then the very next year, you can almost hear the whispering coming from the garden as the veggies declare, “It’s my right, as a living, growing seed, to deprive you of my bounty this year for no apparent reason.”

And so this summer, the zucchini plants refused to flourish (I know! Who can’t grow zucchini?), the eggplants lay down their drooping arms early, and the sugar snap peas refused to be either sugary or snappy. Only one garden bed flourished while my back was turned.

And this is why I find myself forced to:

#97 Explore ways to cook … Parsnips?

Months ago, I threw some newly purchased seeds into an empty garden bed which then appeared to stay dormant for so long that I forgot I’d ever planted anything. Imagine my surprise when these lush leaves appeared, seemingly by magic:

What was this strange growth?

It was parsnips! Purportedly a winter vegetable, it had decided to grace my garden bed—no, take over my garden bed—with summer produce.

So what do you do with a glut of—parsnips?

It turns out you can make several delicious dishes, beyond the well known roasted parsnip.

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The easiest dish to cook is from a recipe sent to me by a friend when I put out the call for parsnip help. Called Parsnip Puff, and featured in an early Beverley Sutherland Smith cook book, my friend had scribbled the word ‘great!’ by the side of it, which is always a good sign.

Not only does it taste richer, creamier and more flavoursome than plain old mashed potato, it even looks yummier:

Good enough to eat!

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Buoyed by this success, I moved on to the ever reliable, ever moreish parsnip chips.

Just peel a parsnip with a vegetable peeler until it’s been reduced to a pile of shavings, then drop these into a pan of sizzling peanut oil until they turn golden. Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt and try to stop yourself devouring them in one go. So delicious.

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But why restrict yourself to savoury recipes? What about giving Catherine Berwick’s parsnip and maple syrup cake a try? Honestly.

It has a 5 star rating from 194 reviews, which is very impressive, but more importantly, it charmed my friends over the festive season:

It even freezes (if it lasts that long)!

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But there’s no point keeping parsnip all to itself.

This zucchini slice from Taste (4.9 stars from 822 reviews!) can be raised to a 5 star rating with the addition of a grated parsnip (and carrot) in the mix. If you have fresh golden eggs directly from a friend’s chickens, it will end up looking like this and keep you going in snacks for… ooh, at least a day:

I’m now sold on parsnips, and plan to grow them again next year.

Although I fear they’re already out there muttering, “If she thinks she’ll get an abundant crop like last year … tell ‘er she’s dreamin’.”

#96 Uncover Historic Secrets in your Own Back Yard

Some years ago, I volunteered to clean archeological remnants that had been uncovered during the extensions to our local art gallery, MAMA. Every broken pottery piece or metal item that was unearthed had to be carefully cleaned and catalogued because it represented a glimpse into our history.

Discovering that one generation’s discarded items are a later generation’s history lesson made me wonder what secrets my own back yard might yield.

#96 Uncover Historic Secrets in your Own Back Yard

In this venture, I was helped immeasurably by the chickens who scratched around and inspected every square inch of soil, every waking hour, with forensic detail. Pretty soon, I was picking up small archeological scraps daily, wondering how I could have lived there for twenty-five years and not noticed the veritable treasure trove at my feet.

So I washed and dried every small discovery and carefully stored them all in a pottery dish protected with glass.

It’s amazing what you can find … if you look

When the archeologist involved in the MAMA dig returned recently to our LibraryMuseum to tell us about her work and share the fascinating history the items revealed, I asked her about my own small finds.

She shook her head.

Of very little interest, she suggested gently. To anyone.

I might have guessed.

… sigh …

But it was still fun to sort through the detritus of a past age in my little quarter-acre block and see what it revealed.

One of my favourites was the old metal soldier with no head and badly damaged legs:

Still standing to attention.

I imagined some little boy playing with him for hours and being heartbroken when he was lost.

Then there were a few loose marbles found separately over several months. Did these roll away from my imaginary friend as well?

A glass stopper was eventually reunited with its bottle neck:

and there was the usual assortment of patterned crockery chips:

mostly blue, of course

But the most exciting find was a 1910 ha’penny with King Edward VII’s profile on it:

I wonder what a 1910 ha’penny would be worth now, taking into account inflation?

But all these trivial bits and bobs from the past were trumped during a recent visit to my sister’s back yard in Sydney’s inner west.

For there, in all their prehistoric beauty, were what could only be described as dinosaurs.

I give you:

TWO brush turkeys.

Just hanging around an inner suburban back yard as though they belonged.

Beats chipped crockery any day.

#95 Learn more about our First Nations People

There was barely a whisper about the history of our First Nations people while growing up in Australia in the 50s and 60s.

Occasionally a momentary regret at my ignorance would surface—like the year a young Irish girl, who spoke Gaelic*, attended our school for a while. As we crowded around this transparently-skinned lass with nary a freckle on her pale face, listening to the glorious lilting description of the lush green hills of her homeland, we assured her that we, too, knew and spoke an indigenous language.

We managed to string a few words together— ‘yoothamurra’ (the name of the property where one of us lived) , ‘burrumbeet’ (a tiny town nearby, where we occasionally picnicked) and ‘bet-bet’ (we were reading The Little Black Princess that year)—but even our new Irish friend Noírín, saw through the pretence.

Later, any historical education I may have gained—white or indigenous—was waylaid by taking predominantly scientific and mathematical subjects. But on the basis that it’s never too late to be educated, the time has come to:

#95 Learn more about our First Nations People

It’s clear why Australia Day is thought of by so many as Invasion Day, because that’s exactly what it was. Changing the date to a more inclusive one seems a no brainer. Back in my childhood, in the land of the long weekend, it was always celebrated on the Monday closest to January 26th, so it would fall on any day between the 23rd and the 31st of January.

By way of proof, my 1968 diary entry:

(Early to the realisation that James Bond films were not for me)

Note that entry for January 29: ‘… It’s a public holiday for Australia Day.’

So—hardly a date set in stone.

Then there’s our national anthem. We stood for God Save the Queen until about 1984. Then we switched to Advance Australia Fair which exhorted Australia’s sons to rejoice. Australia’s daughters made a fuss, so that became Australian’s all rejoice. But if the daughters were cross, imagine how the oldest known civilisation on earth must feel having to claim to be ‘young and free’. So that needs to change.

I’ve just finished reading Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe’s breathtaking book,

outlining the evidence that land cultivation, sustainable farming practices, housing, water and fire management were all practised for aeons before the arrival of the white settlers. The victors always get to rewrite or whitewash history, I guess, but reading it gave me one of those rare moments when the worrying way we’ve managed this continent hit home. By introducing cloven-hoofed animals to clomp around the place, destroying the soil and eating what little arable grasses exist right down to stubble, we’ve done a great disservice to the land.

As the judges of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards said: Dark Emu is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what Australia once was, or what it might yet be if we heed the lessons of long and sophisticated human occupation.’

So then I turned to the Uluru Statement from the Heart to better understand how we can become a more inclusive nation. It’s a beautifully worded rallying cry for us all to come together.

Surely a voice in Parliament must be the first step?

Meanwhile, my journey continues …

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*I have it on good authority that ‘Gaelic’ is a term no longer used. The language is known as ‘Irish’ now.