Category Archives: Family, Friends and Home

#71 Research Weather Vanes

Browsing through the back pages of a gardening magazine recently, I came across a dazzling and tempting advertisement for weather vanes.

Now over my lifetime, these roof/garden accessories have never really occupied my thoughts. They’re nowhere near as vital as, say, a capacious water tank, nor as obsessively absorbing as a rain gauge.

But due to the power of advertising, I looked longingly at these beautiful fripperies and began to hanker after a weather vane for my own little pitched roof.

And so began the journey to

#71 Research Weather Vanes

This activity has thrown up so many questions.

  • How long have weather vanes been around?
  • Who purchases them?
  • Are they in any way useful?
  • Now I’m wandering the streets around home looking for them, how many have I missed over the years? (In short, every one of them)
  • Why are there so many roosters on weather vanes?

This little cutie’s just a block away from home, and yet I’d NEVER spotted it!

Also known as wind vanes (which is a more logical title, bearing in mind the point of the arrow can only tell you where the wind’s coming from) it’s claImed they were invented over 2000 years ago by the Chinese and the Greeks, who independently arrived at the idea.

The Greeks love to say that their design was first, but I’d give bragging rights to the Chinese, as theirs was documented in 139 BC, a full 89 years ahead of the bronze Triton built atop the Tower of the Winds in Athens.

And despite it being the wealthy Greeks and Romans who adorned their homes with wind vanes in the shape of ancient gods, the term ‘vane’ is not a variant of ‘vain’ at all, but comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘fane’ meaning wind.

It does seem that they have little functional purpose for most domestic homes, but now I’m on the hunt for them, they’re the prettiest, most eye catching little adornments on a roof you’ll ever see. If you actually notice them.

Another one I’ve blindly walked past numerous times over 27 years

This brings me to the rooster question. I’m beginning to spot so many of these birds that I’ve lost my child-like excitement at finding another vane and feel disappointed if it’s a boring old rooster cut from the same template.

There are two theories for the prevalence of roosters. The first is that in the 9th century, Pope Nicholas 1 ordered their image be placed on every church steeple to remind the congregation of Peter’s thrice betrayal of Jesus (before the cock crowed). The second theory is that the tail is the perfect shape to catch the wind.

I have a third theory. If you’ve ever owned a rooster, you’ll know that they think their rightful place is on top.

It was pleasing to come across another vane nearby that didn’t bother with the rooster theme, though…

Yes. Another one close by that I’ve never noticed before [sigh].


Then I spotted a weather vane on our city’s railway station tower as I was hurtling along the Sydney to Melbourne freeway.  It’s a big one, befitting such a building and I wish I had a camera with a telephoto lens to better see the design.

Almost the cause of a multi-car pile up on the M31

This led to a friend telling me that our Post Office tower also has one. As I first moved to Albury in 1978, this would make it, oh, 40 years during which I’ve managed to not notice it. D’oh.

The ball on top is simple, but the N-S-E-W takes the prize for artistry


One of the problems with weather vanes is that because they’re on the roof, they aren’t convenient to watch. It’d be just as easy to step outside and rotate your face through 360º to feel which way the wind is blowing.

Enter my Bunnings buddy, a peerless innovator and inventor, who’s designed the cleverest system to see the direction of the wind while the family sits in the living room.

With a wire and lever rig that’s way beyond my intellect to understand, let alone explain, he’s connected his roof’s weather vane down through the wall cavity into the living room so that a lever moves every time the vane does:

Here are three positions photographed to show how the lever moves. 

But there’s more genius to this device. The lever has been cleverly attached to the back of a 3-D bird on a water colour painting of his property (done by the very talented estate cartographer, @catherineo’neilldesign) hanging on the wall, such that as the lever moves with the wind on the rooftop weather vane, so does the bird in the painting. 

Can you believe this …?

It’s breathtaking in its beauty and cleverness. But quite scary the first time you visit my Bunnings buddy’s home.  Seeing the bird move out the corner of your eye is akin to being in a haunted house where the eyes of an Old Master’s portrait flick about … watching, watching.

And the weather vane to which this marvellous device and painting is attached?

A bespoke masterpiece he designed, of course:


Now that I’ve returned to the gardening magazine ads that set me on this adventure, I’ve realised that vanes featuring icons like a cockerel, a ball or a bird are way too prosaic.

I’m going to have to design a vane that befits my home and my life.

Perhaps something like this one I mocked up on the computer …?

 

 

#70 Commission a Bespoke Design for the Garden Shed

About five years ago, I snapped up a small garden shed at Aldi’s during the two-and-a-half day window they allow you to grab any must-have-item-you-didn’t-know-you-needed before they move on to their next set of specials and you’ve lost your chance.

(Aldi’s specials are so reminiscent of the rotating magical land at the top of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. You never know if you’ll find the Land of Goodies, replete with tins of biscuits and chocolates, or Dame Slap’s School where bins spill over with lycra, gym equipment and barbells.)

Anyway, when this particular Land of Desirable Garden Equipment arrived, I was seduced by the kit shed and phrases written on the box like ‘easily assembled’ and ‘few tools required’, so I brought it home to put together over an afternoon.

Three gruelling days over Easter later, and after calling in a friend who’d once built the ‘Taj Mahal’ for his chickens, four of us actually followed the instruction sheets …

(… a stunning achievement on its own)

… and completed the task. Most satisfying.

                                                                    A sturdy little fellow

But despite loving it for the last few years for being so useful, I wasn’t able to get rid of the feeling that it was a little … plain?

So last year, when an artistic friend came to visit for a few days, we made a deal.

I’d

#70 Commission a Bespoke Design for the Garden Shed 

which she’d plan and execute, and in return I’d cook all her favourite meals for the duration.

                                                                      Preparing the templates

I messed up badly, though. Against her advice (artists must DESPAIR of some of their clients), I chose bright blue, water soluble paint for the background, thinking it would look like the sky on a hot summer’s day. But after cleaning and prepping and masking the shed, then applying the first coat, it was obvious this particular blue was more reminiscent of the eye-watering gaudiness of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Luckily, before we progressed any further, it began to rain, the water-soluble paint sloughed off and so the idea was shelved for another day, another season.

I slowly stripped it back, before repainting it with a dark green oil-based paint ready for its proper makeover, some day in the future.

                                                                 Looking better already 

Recently, when my talented visitor returned, she made good on her promise.

Watching the evolution of a work of art is inspiring, from first seeing it look like Banksy was indulging in some artistic graffiti using the pre-prepared templates …

… to the meticulous application of the paint…

…to the final masterpiece, and the knowledge that I now have the best bespoke-designed little garden shed in the village!

Five years in the making, but don’t all great things take time?

Thank you so much @province_

 

#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 with 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: