Category Archives: Family, Friends and Home

#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!

 

 

 

 

 

#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:

#60 Learn New Tricks

Working out if there are better ways to manage all the small domestic activities that make up a life isn’t something that’s consumes a lot of time for many people. This is a pity, because without reflection, one never knows if removable barriers exist on the pathway to an easier life.

Recently, I had a chance to view my domestic habits through fresh eyes.

OMG! Was there ever room for improvement…

#60 Learn New Tricks

It all came about when long-standing friends whose home renovations were progressing more slowly than planned and who were temporarily without a functioning home, came to stay for several weeks.

Not only did I have the pleasure of sharing my space and time with two good friends, but the changes that I’ve made courtesy of their insights have resulted in stunning improvements to my life.

[I hate to disappoint anyone reading this who thinks they may learn new or exciting tips, but this journey began from a pretty low base. My domestic blindness, it would appear, knows no bounds.]


Hot Water System
I have gas hot water. It’s very efficient. Too efficient. When you turn on the hot tap, it’s dangerously hot. For aeons, anyone having a shower at my place has risked second degree burns if the cold water tap isn’t turned on immediately.

But had it occurred to me that I could rectify this?

No, it hadn’t, until more intelligent people living in the house brought a solution to my attention.

Simply move the dial on the outside gas hot water tank down from ‘5’ to ‘3’ and – presto – cheaper gas bills and no more scary showers. D’oh!


Extension Table with Solid Chairs

I upgraded my kitchen table about three years ago, and for some obscure reason, bought one that could be enlarged with an extension to accommodate 8 to 10 people. It also had solid chairs that even Hercules would have had trouble shifting.

Nice enough, but …

I live alone. I don’t need a table that can accommodate 8 to 10 people. In fact, the thought of entertaining so many in that space gives me palpitations. Nor am I a weight lifter.

But it wasn’t until I was complaining about the table-setting to my new house mates that it struck me I didn’t have to put up with it. I could pass it on to someone who’d love it in a way I never could, and buy a more suitable arrangement.

 so…oo much better!


The Laundry

When you only have to wash and dry for one, it’s easy to overlook the fact that you’re bending to put the washing in the machine, bending to pull it out, lifting and carrying a loaded basket outside and bending repeatedly to peg it on the line.

But people who are getting a little older shouldn’t have to do all this bending. So imagine my delight when my house mates affixed a metal stand they no longer needed to lift the front loading machine a foot off the ground. No more bending.

But wait. There’s more.

I didn’t know you could still get those clever laundry trolleys like my mum had in the 60s, but it appeared one day and has remained here. I feel quite spoilt.

And with its new, improved functionality the laundry space cried out for a mini makeover. No more baskets crammed higgledy-piggledy everywhere. Now they’re strung in a faux French-Provincial style from the roof and much more accessible. Très bon!


Kitchen Tips

Where to start?

*Roasted hazel nuts make everything better:

breakfast muesli,
salads,
stir fry,
chicken and avocado sandwiches,
for munching while walking the dog
with any form of chocolate
ground up for cake-making flour…

Simply Fabulous.

*Filo pastry triangles can be reheated in a sandwich press. Crisper than a microwave, faster than the oven. 

*If trays and large plates are stored vertically rather than horizontally, your heart won’t sink each time you have to extract them. Simplicity itself.


The Garden

Then there was an old fire pit bought in a fit of madness one day.  The one that consumed massive amounts of wood and briquettes, and sent immeasurable quantities of CO2 into the air such that I couldn’t justify using it any more.

Rather than offload it at the local Waste Management Facility, I was inspired by my house guests after hearing of their plans to make wicking beds for their new vegetable garden.

So the pit’s now lined with black plastic – with a small window cut out to release the water overflow – has some AGI-pipe and stones in the bottom then geofabric under the soil.

It’s a bit amateurish, but so far the basil is thriving, the coriander and parsley seeds are emerging and it only needs watering once a week.


There have been lots of other little improvements too, like finally working out how to pre-program the heater so the kitchen’s warmed before I get up in the morning, or how something called graphite will make a lock that a key’s always jammed in work much more smoothly.

But my friends have moved into their sparkling, renovated home now and I’m bereft of company and ideas.

Will there ever be the opportunity to gain such insights again?

Naturally, I asked them if they’ve changed anything about their lives as a result of sharing with me.

I’m pleased to report that just a few streets away there are now ziplock bags in a freezer containing peeled, whole ginger waiting to be grated into something delicious for dinner any time they need it.

#57 Enjoy the Royal Melbourne Show

Despite a childhood growing up in regional Victoria, followed by several years living in Melbourne, I’ve never been to the Show.

This year, unexpectedly, my time finally arrived:

#57 Enjoy the Royal Melbourne Show 

In the ’50s and ’60s, it seemed the only ones who snared such an exotic outing as the Show were the kids with fabulously wealthy parents or indulgent grandparents who could afford the trip to Melbourne, the entrance fee AND the cost of the enviable Showbags. Or the kids who, lucky little sods, had a carnie for a relative. How I envied them.

They’d all return after the September holidays full of exciting tales of terror-laden big dipper rides or crazy dodgem cars and they’d be sporting the coolest toys that the rest of us could never have because they were only available in select Showbags once a year and only at the Show.

Toys like yoyos with red and white curly logos reading CocaCola on the side while the rest of us had to make do with plain, ugly ones that didn’t advertise anything, or hula hoops with glittery colours, so much more sophisticated than the plain-jane ones we had to suffer.

Show 1

                                                            …aah, the carnies

Of course, by the time I moved to Melbourne to study at eighteen, no self respecting, cool ’70’s chick would be seen dead at the Show. Not that I could afford it then either, but how naff would it have been to admit I wanted to go?

A few weeks ago, my sister and I were reminiscing about Bertie Beetles, those little insect-shaped treats of our childhood made up of the crumbs of Violet Crumbles coated in chocolate. We discovered, via the internet, that they can no longer be purchased in shops, but here’s the rub: you can buy Bertie Beetles once a year if you purchase a Bertie Beetle Showbag at the Royal Melbourne Show!

Foiled again, damn it!

But there’s a joy in growing older. Now that there’s no-one to impress and nothing much embarrasses me any more, I could jump at the chance to attend the Show when friends invited me to stay an extra day recently while I was visiting them in the city.

As I was telling my friend the Bertie Beetle story on the train, having just accepted her invitation to attend the Show the following day, she mentioned that the Showbag pavilion could be bumper-to-bumper with people sometimes (there’s a whole pavilion dedicated to Showbags? Really? Amazing!) and it might be difficult to get the Showbag of my choice. So I said it didn’t really matter if I didn’t get a Bertie Beetle show bag.

A stranger sitting opposite, a woman about my age who evidently overheard our conversation, leaned forward, looked me in the eye and said.

‘Yes, it does matter. You must get a Bertie Beetle Showbag.’

Aah, I thought. A woman who understands what a 50 year history of Showbag envy feels like.

As well as the Showbag pavilion, there were other things I didn’t know about the Show. Something called Pie in the Sky

Pie in the sky

which is apparently as well known a meeting place at the Show as Under the Clocks at Flinders Street station is in the city.

But then I saw the plaque about it, and it seems it’s a pretty recent addition…

Pie explanation

…it only went up in 1977

The joy of the Show is that there’s something for everyone.

The baby animal petting arena was a delight – though the animals wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to capture a good image – and the dog shows were … well, different, unusual, nice.

There was the sublime…

Show 3

the humorous …

Show cake

and the ridiculously wacky…

Show 2

But best of all, there was this:

Berties

So thank you, my lovely stranger on the train, for your understanding and encouragement.