Category Archives: Family, Friends and Home

#51 Construct…something

A story oft told in my family –  and it’s not apocryphal – is that when my father was conscripted into the army in 1941 and tested to assess where his skills lay and therefore where best to deploy him, he scored zero for ‘mechanical comprehension’. Zero.

Never before in the history of the AIF – and possibly the navy and the RAAF – had a seemingly intelligent chap failed to answer even one question correctly in this particular category. As a result, he became something of a cause célèbre for a while, then found his niche writing and producing sketch comedy and variety shows – in between fighting the Japanese – which helped boost the men’s morale in their down time.

What this meant, of course, is that I grew up never seeing a hammer, nail, screwdriver, drill, lever, cogwheel or any type of power tool in use at home. Ever. And although I’d longed for a meccano set as a child to no avail – though to be fair, I never told my parents this as it would have shocked them – becoming a talented handyman has long been a secret, unfulfilled desire. I am in awe of people who can build things.

So on the basis that my old letter box needed a makeover recently, the time to put to use my horribly stunted home handyman skills had arrived:

#51 Construct…something (that requires limited tool skills)

The letter box in question is nothing more than a space between bricks that had a plastic tub at the base, wedged in with two black rubber hose lengths, to catch the letters and a makeshift ‘lid’ to prevent rain dripping down. Embarrassing really…

…hence the blurry photo

So its replacement would need to be made of a waterproof material that could be measured to fit snugly, cut to size without using anything with the prefix ‘power’, formed into an oblong shape with a couple of ‘steps’ bent in opposite directions and then painted.

Material that could do all this was totally beyond my mechanical comprehension (I’m with you, Dad) so I turned to a friend and expert we’ll call my Bunning’s Buddy (or BB). We meet there most weekends; he to buy mysterious tools and materials for his latest innovative mini-Taj Mahal projects and I to watch in awe before heading to the garden section.

(I’d post photos of the AMAZING floor to ceiling bookshelves he made that can be opened with a hidden handle to reveal an entire bedroom behind, but it might make my revamped letter box look even more pathetic.)

Anyway, BB recommended using Corflute:

…a hitherto unknown product that looks like cardboard but acts like plastic!

Turns out, this waterproof material can be measured to fit snugly, cut to size without using anything with the prefix ‘power’, will bend along straight lines and can be painted. Bingo!

Using the well known rule among tradies to ‘measure twice, cut once,’ I soon realised this guide was meant for professionals. The rule for newbie home handymen, is ‘measure twice, cut once, return to Bunnings for more Corflute, measure twice, cut once, return to Bunnings again for supplies, repeat ….’

But eventually, stage one was successfully completed:

Then stage two:

And finally stage three: painted and secured:

And all done without hammering a nail, driving in a screw, using a power tool or cutting myself with the Stanley knife.

Dad would be proud!

#34 Renovate Painlessly

You’re laughing uproariously now, aren’t you? Thinking that the phrase ‘renovate painlessly’ is a supreme example of an oxymoron on a par with ‘government organisation’ or ‘business ethics’.

Of course you’re right, but it seemed a neater title and more likely to catch the eye than the more honest:

#34 Renovate Painlessly (If at all Possible – Which of course, It Isn’t) 

Over ten years ago, I did major renovations to my kitchen, moving from its outdated faux-log-cabin-look with incongruous lime green bench tops (what were they thinking?)

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to a more streamlined modern look:

New Kitchen 2003

But what these cool Before and After shots don’t show is the agony of the weeks and weeks of living like this:

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Recently, I decided to give my place a face lift, but being reluctant to suffer in this way again, took the easy approach and went with a simple repaint. And the good news is that you can feel like you’ve moved into a newer, larger home just by painting the ceilings, walls and skirting boards in lighter colours!

For those of us who waited patiently in the wrong queue when the skills for Choosing Design Features were being handed out, the agony of having to decide on a colour scheme has been taken away by the ever-helpful Mr Google.

Type in ‘what is the most popular colour to paint indoor walls in 2015?’ and the number one answer is ‘Antique White (USA)’. If you then ask a couple of knowledgable designer friends and the answer is exactly the same, you know you’re on a winner. Because even if it ends up looking awful, at least it’s the colour du jour and no one will dare criticise. 

(As opposed to the delicate peach colour I independently chose for the second bedroom which has resulted in many comments along the lines, ‘Ah, an old fashioned colour. How quaint! It will probably come into vogue again one day’.)

So before long, and relatively painlessly, this:

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magically turned into this:

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And the dark hallway:

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miraculously expanded into lightness and brightness:

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…aided and abetted by furnishings and turning on lights, but doesn’t everyone cheat in the after photos?

Of course as everyone knows, once a bedroom has been painted, its fraying carpet and budget curtains scream in unison that they want a makeover too and what began as a relatively painless renovation becomes much more complicated.

However the whole experience of shifting furniture, rearranging ornaments and trying for a minimalist look has taught me that both tidying up and getting rid of junk can also make a home look so much better. Who knew?

If the idea of actually tidying up is enough to give you an attack of the vapours though, I’d recommend buying a very large, flat pack cupboard and finding a very talented person to put it together.

laundry cupboard

Bet you can’t spot the mess in the laundry any more…

#31 Photograph the Whimsical (and the Wonderful) in your Neighbourhood

 

It began as the Humans of New York project and has now been taken up by many around the world. An intrepid photographer chooses random people in their city and takes a shot or two.

In this context, even though the idea came from the US, a ‘shot’ means a photographic one, not the other sort. The photos are then posted online, together with a short autobiographical quote from the subject. They’ve become wildly popular websites.

While the idea of approaching a stranger in this way has its appeal, I sheepishly decided that in a small city where you frequently run into friends and acquaintances, it’s a bit too confronting to attempt.

So instead, I’ve been taking my own snapshots around home but with a slightly different slant.

My latest project is called:

#31 Photograph the Whimsical (and the Wonderful) in your Neighbourhood

Once you begin doing this, you’ll never look at your surroundings in the same way again.

For example, does anyone have any idea why someone would toss two pairs of their discarded running shoes over electricity wires in a busy lane, as I photographed recently?

Urban myth has it that it may signify a place where you can purchase drugs, but wouldn’t that be too obvious? Or is it a way of recycling old shoes by turning them into “street art”, albeit not highly original?

Following this discovery, I noticed that the electronic news headlines which roll around the window of our local newspaper office each day can be inadvertently humourous.

This is either due to a misprint which changes the meaning altogether…

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…or because it lacks the gravitas one normally expects from news headlines…

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…this is why I love living in a regional area

A further wander around town has highlighted some of the whimsical projects our local council is fostering. In an effort to reduce graffiti, they’re covering the small electricity boxes on various street corners in the CBD with specially-protected anti-graffiti photographic facsimiles of our more iconic buildings.

So not only do we have an attractive post office…

Real PO

but now we have a ‘mini-me’ post office as well (plus a whippet to help with perspective):

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Or if you prefer, you can play ‘spot the imposter’:

OPSM Real

versus

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While doing some roof repairs to my home recently, workmen found this little gem tucked under the eaves. It will be the envy of politicians everywhere, taking the idea of  ‘feathering your nest’ to new, literal heights as the local sparrows collect the feathers of my moulting chickens to weave their plush homes:

Bird nest one

Can you imagine how good this would look cradling the starling’s eggs shown in an earlier blog?

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Fit for a Disney Princess


And if you walk a dog often enough around Gateway Island, then one day, when the light and the weather conditions are perfect, you may capture a memorable image of Big Ears silhouetted against the lake…

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…or the local wildlife might decide to put on a show for you at Noreuil Park:

7 Aussie Cockatoos

“Seven Aussie Cockatoos
Each sitting on a post
Having so much fun to find
Who can SCREE…ECH the most”

The real benefit of this retirement activity is that it need never end.
Have smart phone …  will shoot!

#29 Discover an Affinity with the Ancestors

Genetic throwbacks in families can be out-of-the-blue events, and I’m told there was some initial surprise when I was born. In an extended family where everyone was generally dark haired and olive skinned, this new baby with red hair and pale skin, while not unwelcome, was a little unexpected. It seems my mother had forgotten that her late, grey-haired grandmother had once been a redhead.

This has finally led to my investigating my antecedents and in particular, looking to:

#29 Discover an Affinity with the Ancestors

Some years ago, I heard a family rumour that a paternal great-grandfather, despite being of southern Italian stock, was a redhead. Alas, the only photograph I have of him is in sepia hues:

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Were you really a Ginger?
(and it’s okay for me to ask – as Tim Minchin says, only a Ginger can call another Ginger, Ginger)

So it seems that great-grandpapa’s genes combined with my Scottish great-grandmama’s genes to produce the unexpected colouring in a wee bairn a few generations later.

But while I have no doubts about my affinity for so many things Italian (think home-grown tomatoes, opera and anything to do with the preparation of, cooking of and eating of food) an affinity for things Scottish has been singularly missing in my life.

Until recently.

Did you know that every April, Bundanoon, a delightful town in the Southern Highlands of NSW turns into Brigadoon? 

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…to the extent that the sign into town is changed…

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…and even the Bundanoon railway platform has a makeover…

Bundanoon railway in April

And this year, by sheer accident, I happened to be in Bundanoon/Brigadoon on April 9th for the 39th Bundanoon Highland Gathering with my sister who, although not a redhead, has the same Scottish blood and a strange affinity for the bagpipes.

Pipe band

And what can bring a lump to the throat more than hearing a Scottish Pipe Band play Waltzing Matilda?  [click on picture]

How quickly one can develop a warmth for one’s ancestors. The moment I spotted the Highland Gathering mascot with his ginger hair and ginger moustache, I felt truly at home.

McRedHead


Some participants took the suggestion to dress for the occasion quite literally…

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 And who ever said they’re not influenced by advertising…

Walkers shortbread…has never taken real, buttery, Scottish shortbread home and found it doesn’t last long …

ShortbreadBut the best thing about discovering an affinity with Scotland is the news that the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is coming to Melbourne next year.

Bagpipes and Gingers? I’ve booked the tickets already…

#27 Find Clever Designs (that Really Work)

I’m a sucker for clever designs, and finding an item based on a brilliant idea that also functions perfectly is very satisfying.

Many’s the time I’ve acquired some gadget that looked terribly clever in the shop but let me down badly at home. (I’m looking at you, glorious, streamlined, minimalist garlic press that’s hard to use and gives me much-too-big chunks of garlic)

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…looks will only get you so far in life

So despite the occasional disappointment, finding perfect designs is worth the search and deserves an entry in the ‘101 Fun and Frivolous Activities in Retirement’ hall of fame:

#27 Find Clever Designs (that Really Work)

But while the garlic ‘press’ (garlic ‘thump’ more like) may have been a little disappointing, my Le Creuset® Butter Crock for keeping butter cool yet spreadable in summer has been a great hit:

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Just pack the cup-shaped container with softened butter and invert it into the corresponding jar which stores a small amount of cool salted water in its base. Insect-proof, attractive enough for the table and the butter stays perfectly spreadable when stored on the bench. I give it five stars for design and function.

In an earlier blog – #3 Cook a New Recipe Weekly – I mentioned finding a cushion that unzipped to become a quilt (known as a quillow). Three years have passed since this discovery and my quillows are just as clever and useful as ever, so they deserve another plug:

 

Cushion as a cushion...Cushion as a rug...            

           <—- from this, to this —->

 

 

In a similar vein, I have a small, flat very lightweight bag that I carry tucked away in my handbag IMG_1152

that unfurls into a generous-sized silk carry-bag when needed:

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…and for the nerds among us, folding these two designs back into their original state is as good as doing a jigsaw puzzle

Ever had the frustration of finding that a necklace you want to wear is not quite the right length for the outfit? Well, take a look at this:

IMG_1150Necklace hangs low, or…

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with a slight adjustment, necklace hangs high…

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and all because of this devious little ball with firmly fitting cords that lets you adjust to any length. Very clever!

Wandering through the Reject Shop® recently I came across a set of 6 small wire squares that could be quickly linked together with vertical wire posts.  It looked too clever to be left in the store, although I wondered if this impulse buy would ultimately be a disappointment. Not a bit of it. I went back for two more sets.

Here’s what can be done with light, simple fencing around the garden:

Frame 2…or…

Frame 3…or…

Frame 4And that’s just the beginning. With the eighteen panels I now have, it’s like my very own Meccano set!

Larger items that fold away discreetly are another design delight. I’m thinking of the fold up Robinhood Deluxe Ironing Board® a friend has just bought that disappears so effortlessly onto a wall:

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 Or the Ulisse Fold Away bed I’m working on my sister to choose when she eventually does her renovations:

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So much more subtle than a fold out-couch  

But the ultimate in a Clever Design that Really Works has to be my Moha Crack-it Egg Cracker, which, with a lift and sharp drop of its vertical bar gives the cleanest beheading of the shell of a soft-boiled egg you could imagine.

Let the pictures tell the story:

Egg topper

Egg topper 2

Egg Topper 3

Frivolous?

Possibly, but you’ve got to marvel at the design!

#26 Explore Your City like a Newcomer

A young friend of mine has recently moved to Milan for love – and possibly work –  so is blogging about her experiences at The Impoverished Hedonist.

Dauntie's site

 

She’s finding the experience challenging, because the Italian city’s not the easiest place in the world to be seriously impecunious while seeking out pleasure and barely speaking the language. In addition, if the population of a city doesn’t appear to put a premium on civic pride it can be difficult for the newcomer to see beyond the superficial squalor.

But my friend’s adjusting well to the challenge by seeking out the very best, sometimes hidden, gems of Milan and its surrounds rather than dwelling on any downsides.

So thank you, D (you know who you are) for inspiring this blog entry:

#26 Explore Your City Like a Newcomer

There can be so much to like about your own city, if you just remember to look.

My place is Albury on the New South Wales/Victorian border, which has a mighty river only a minute from the centre of town:

 Screenshot Noreuil B&WThanks to the wonderful River Deck Cafe at Noreuil Park for this image

And I was particularly interested to explore our newest addition, a walking/bike-riding trail that meanders along the Murray River and is dotted with the most amazing Indigenous sculptures along its length called the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk.

Yindyamurra trail

 

The sculptures speak for themselves, nestled in the superb bushland beside the lagoons and the river:

Sculpture one

Reconciliation Shield by Tamara Murray 

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Creature seatsCreature Seats: Goanna: Liam Campbell, Turtle: Sara Jackson-Edwards, Snake: Raymond Jackson–Edwards and Goanna: Jaidyn Hampton

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Goanna

‘Googar’ Goanna Sculpture by Darren Wighton

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Wirradjuri woman 2

Wiradjuri Woman by Leonie McIntosh 

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Sculpture Walk 2The views between sculptures…

Horseshow lagoon

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Message stick 2

Vertical Message Sticks by Girralang (Carmel Taylor)

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Bogong mothsBogong Moth Migration by Ruth Davys

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net‘Maya’ Fish Trap Sculpture by Uncle Ken (Tunny) Murray, Darren Wighton and Andom Rendell

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Yindyamarra missing sculpture

It must be somewhere! How can I not find it? 

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Frame 2

The Bigger Picture by Katrina Weston

or for a completely different perspective:

Frame Reversed 2

The Bigger Picture by Katrina Weston

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by The Wagirra Crew – working on the trail

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face

Teaming Life of Milawa Billa (Murray River) by Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk Steering Committee 

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Wonga goanna

Goanna by Kianna Edwards

Despite my missing sculpture (somewhere between the ‘Maya’ Fish Trap and The Bigger Picture) the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk is such a delight that even this not-very-fit novice bushwalker was entranced along its length. And of course, it’s a smorgasbord for keen bird watchers.

The whippet and I even had a close encounter with a snake, who slithered away in horror faster than we did.

We would loved to have glimpsed a mammal but you can’t have it all. And we did spot something moving past us so fast it seemed to be fleeing for its life.  Just a whir and a blur and a flash of colour. Possibly a mamil

Massive accolades to Albury City Council and the Indigenous artists and community for creating this hidden gem.

The trail deserves to be hugely popular.

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STOP PRESS

The mystery of the ‘missing’ sculpture has been solved. Although there are twelve red dots on the map marking the site of each sculpture, I could only find eleven.

But here’s an excerpt from the Council’s newsletter:

Yindyamarra 11 sculptures!

Eleven, not twelve sculptures…

#24 ‘Stand Up and Cheer’ at a Book Launch

Writers penning opinion pieces for highly reputable sites – like The Times or The Conversation –  will often have a disclaimer after their by-line. Something along the lines of: ‘Thomas Fotherington-Smythe does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.’

So in the spirit of full disclosure, I must declare an interest in my next fun and frivolous activity:

#24 ‘Stand Up and Cheer’ at a Book Launch

The truth is, I have familial ties to the author of the book in question. I even did a spot of editing during the early drafts. So,

I did work for –

I did consult with –

And I do have affiliations with –

the author, so am duty-bound to declare my interest, even though the cheque must still be in the mail…

Naturally, it was exciting to help organise its special regional launch recently at the Albury LibraryMuseum, and as you can see, I even made matching bookmarks to accompany the gorgeous art-deco design of the book.

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Did I mention that the book’s title is Stand Up and Cheer?

And I’m proud to declare, with a possible hint of bias, that it’s a thrilling children’s novel based on a true gem of Australian history that we should all celebrate, namely the rescue, by the people of Albury, of the Dutch DC-2 plane, the Uiver lost in a fierce thunderstorm over the Riverina during the Great Centenary Air Race from London to Melbourne on the night of 23rd October 1934.

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A Douglas DC-2, at the Albury Aerodrome during the Open Day in October 2014.  Although not the original Uiver, it’s one of only a handful of surviving DC-2 planes in the world.

Written for 8 to 12-year-olds, and enjoyed by everyone who loves an exciting and true aviation story*, Stand Up and Cheer is set in Albury at the height of the Great Depression and tells the story of the Uiver’s rescue through the eyes of the 10-year-old hero, Jack, the son of the local ABC radio announcer who plays a pivotal role in organising the townsfolk help the plane find a safe place to land.

Of course, helping organise a book launch isn’t the only fun and frivolous entertainment to be had around books.

A friend of mine was visiting her family recently in the Northumberland region of the UK when she noticed that Tim Winton, Australia’s highly decorated author, was reading from his latest book, Eyrie, at a small pub nearby. Not knowing how these events work, and concerned that she may be asked questions if she attended, she dutifully read the novel beforehand.

Now apparently, Tim Winton isn’t quite as well known in the north of England as he is here, so only a small group of people turned up to listen to him read in a cosy, intimate setting. And my friend was the only one to have read his latest book and have thoughtful, relevant questions in mind.

So that’s how she came to spend a marvellous evening chatting one-on-one with the charming Tim Winton on a cold night in the north of England.

See how fun and frivolous activities can often lead to so much more?

* The Australian adventurer, Dick Smith wrote: ‘I stated reading Stand Up and Cheer and couldn’t put it down – it’s such an exciting aviation and adventure tale. I think everyone will want to read it.’