Category Archives: Learn New Skills

#87 Plan for “The Year of Living Safely”

The longer I’ve lived, the more the years have merged into each other, especially since ceasing work.

So if you were to ask me what I got up to in, say, 2013, I really wouldn’t have a clue unless I checked my photos and bank statements.

Today, I’m taking the bold step of predicting that in the future, not one child or adult living on earth at this moment will ever forget what they were doing in 2020.


My generation has been lucky enough to miss a World War, and life has been mostly smooth sailing for us. That is, until a novel Coronavirus reared its ugly little genetic parcel of RNA and decided to inflict Covid-19 on the world.

Time to

#87 Plan for “The Year of Living Safely”

It’s going to be extremely tough for so many people, as jobs dry up, money disappears into the ether, and our lives are physically restricted. But maybe we should be relieved that no one is dropping bombs on us, there are unlikely to be food shortages, and no mastermind is trying to exterminate an entire race or entire religion. Even if we have to stay home for a year, if we help and support each other, we can probably muddle through somehow.

Remember,


Planning for the next however-many months of my life at home has made me realise that the past 7+ years of writing this blog has been the perfect preparation. Embarrassingly, I’ve discovered that my life in retirement has been almost entirely home-based. (I saw a meme once that suggested the trajectory of your life is determined by the song that was top of the hit parade in your country on your 14th birthday. Mine was Tom Jones’ Green, Green Grass of Home!)

So rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ve prepared a reminder of some of the fun and frivolous (and generally inexpensive) activities previously featured in this blog. As we’re urged to restrict our shopping, a few of them may need tweaking, but they’re all amenable to this.

A few other ideas spring to mind now, such as ‘Learn how to cut your own hair’ or ‘Move the furniture around to pretend you’ve renovated’. But I’ll leave other, more qualified, people to give tips on exercising-in-situ, virtual travel and the best books to read.

Meanwhile, stay safe and please, for the sake of our wonderful health professionals, as well as all our fellow travellers, stay home!

#86 Recondition old dolls

It began with an invitation. A school reunion — a BIG one — to be held this year in May.

After the momentary horror of acknowledging that so many years had passed since I left school, my thoughts turned fondly to the girls I knew back then and the fun times we had.

Recalling our school sports days, I idly wondered what had happened to the two dolls my sister and I had always taken to these events. They were dressed in the school’s summer uniform of the day — thanks to our mother who’d organised it from some magical doll outfitters she’d read about — and they became popular mascots for our sports team.

1960s love

Maybe I should dig them out from whatever forgotten box they’d been living in and donate them to the school? Wouldn’t that be a good thing to do?

But alas, over the years, the moths, silver fish and possibly even mice, hadn’t been kind to the dolls. It looked like I’d need to learn how to:

#86 Recondition old dolls.

One was missing part of her skull and all her hair. The other had only one eyelash, making her eyes appear rather lopsided when she blinked. They both looked unloved and rather tatty, but fortunately, nothing that couldn’t be repaired, so I began by machine washing Blinky’s uniform, while Baldy waited her turn. Shabby dolls

A Google search of dolls and their bits and bobs was an eyeopener. Unbeknown to me, there’s an entire world inhabited by dolls of all shapes and sizes, their never-ending wardrobes, and a vast selection of missing anatomy parts. Enter a local internet site called Gum Blossom Babies which proved perfect for all my needs.

The choice of wigs was amazing.

There was the ‘Annie’, with her ‘riot of ethereal curls’:

Annie

or ‘Betty’, sporting the ever fashionable sausage curls:

Betty

But mindful that such showiness was frowned upon by the nuns in our day, I settled on the ‘Doris’ a simpler, brown, no-nonsense wig that was a fair approximation of Baldy’s original tresses.

The skirt portion of both their uniforms were full of holes and unsalvageable,

Moth eaten skirts

but after washing them, then carefully unpicking the lower section of the uniform, they could be used as a template to measure new skirts using matching fabric. Thank goodness the bodice was in good nick, because I didn’t like my chances of re-creating those little sleeves and collar!

Pleats, I’ve discovered, are a bit of a nightmare, both to create and to press into perfectly crisp formation —

Pinning and pleating

until a friend introduced me to

Ironing with a Rajah cloth

the Rajah pressing cloth, a chemically impregnated cloth (gulp) that works like magic on pleats.

Once these new skirts were reattached to the bodices, Baldy’s missing pate and fresh ‘Doris’ wig were reattached, and Blinky was given a new eyelash.

The straw school hats, to which my mother had meticulously stitched the school’s hat band replete with the school crest, only needed the elastic replaced, and the blazers came up beautifully in the wash.

Once dressed, they were propped up on their new doll stands for all to admire:

Oh, the memories!

It would be such a good thing if I donated them to my school when I return there for the reunion, wouldn’t it?

Unless, maybe, just maybe, I hang onto them a wee bit longer?

I mean, I can always bequeath them in my will …

 

 

 

#85 Take a Book Blog Tour

For someone who wrote a novel about the risks of embracing social media when you’re not sure what you’re doing, I initially wondered why I chose this latest activity.

As an extension to my somewhat shaky adventure, #77 Learn the Art of Successful Marketing, my sister and I decided we needed the help of a real marketer to work on promoting our novel, Secrets of the IN-group. Which is how we came to:

#85 Take a Book Blog Tour

To explain what a book blog tour is (and I’m only fully understanding it now it’s over), it’s a method of introducing your book to potential readers right around the world without leaving home. Most appealing.

It works like this: the marketing expert we employed hires a ‘middleman’ (or in this case, ‘middlewoman’) called Goddess Fish,

an on-line promoter with a stable full of social-media-savvy book-bloggers who each have hundreds, if not thousands, of followers.

Any one of these book-bloggers will agree to showcase a new novel on a chosen date. When Goddess Fish Promotions can lock in 10 or more separate book-bloggers for 10 consecutive dates, we, as the authors, provide them with all the material they’ll need to showcase the book over the ten day “virtual tour”. Photos, excerpts, deleted scenes, anything that may be of interest to a prospective reader and tell them more about us and our writing.

The material we provide has to be different for each book-blogger, so that visitors to the sites can take in the whole tour if they want and learn about different aspects of the book each day. As an incentive, they can also enter a raffle at each stop along the way.

To our surprise and delight, in next to no time we were told a 10-day tour spot was available, and were presented with several book-blog sites, all with intriguing-sounding names:

Rogue’s Angels
It’s Raining Books
Mythical Books
Fabulous and Brunette
Viviana MacKade
All the Ups and Downs
Locks, Hooks and Books
Musings from an Addicted Reader
Andi’s Book Reviews
Harlie’s Books
Long and Short Reviews

lt was only when an email from our marketing expert arrived on Christmas Eve that we discovered the “tour” would commence on January 13th and we’d need to prepare all the information for the eleven different posts we’d been given by January 6th.

I suspect we were the only people who’d spend the entire period from Christmas Eve to January 6th preparing their material.


As the sites we were offered on this tour are located in the USA, we rushed to the first listed website late on January 13th AEST, with the anticipation of children on Christmas morning.

To our surprise, our not-particularly-romantic novel was sited next to an array of advertisements for … um, slightly different types of books:

Only then did we wonder if our novel would have any appeal whatsoever to the readers following this particular book-blogger.

At least the post drew an immediate response from one of our friends:

She was joshing of course. She knew exactly where to look.

Over the next few days, though, the other sites gave us the opportunity to showcase different aspects of the book, such as which covers we considered before the final one was chosen: 


The giveaways associated with the websites involved completing a ‘Rafflecopter’ entry form for a chance to win, and as everyone knows, a Rafflecopter is nothing more than a widget that enables websites to embed entry forms in their pages.

By this stage, we wondered if, like the women in Secrets of the IN-group, we were in way over our heads.

It was as if we were being given a brief glimpse of another universe, one running parallel to the one we inhabit, but understood and appreciated only by people under forty.

But as the tour, and our knowledge, evolved, it got better and better. We were able to answer questions from readers and engage with them immediately. When one book-blogger gave the book a great review, and mentioned how excited she was that a central character in our novel— Andrea—shared her name, we relaxed and realised that a virtual tour was easily as good as a real one.

It’s also resulted in a multitude of readers posting to Goodreads that the book is now on their “to read” list.

You can’t ask for more than that.

#83 Encrypt a Message

It was a short note in a breakout box advising readers how to send tips to newspapers—in this instance, about underpayments in the restaurant industry— that first caught my eye:


Ooh. This is cloak and dagger stuff. I had no idea you should send a ‘confidential and encrypted’ message when contacting journalists. Immediately, I felt the need to investigate how to

#83 Encrypt a message

on the off-chance I ever want to become a whistle-blower.

Back in primary school, it was so simple to send coded messages.

For example, if you wanted to let a friend know, without others finding out, where you’d buried your treasure, you could send a seemingly unhelpful map—

knowing they’d been in the same science class as you, understood the magic of lemon juice and would put the map in their home oven to reveal the location:

But then we graduated to word processors and the level of sophistication increased. Lemon juice was out.

Instead, you could send a friend a seemingly innocent computer message that wouldn’t cause any problems if her mother found it:

Sally, of course, knows there’s a secret message encrypted in this innocuous double-spaced word document, and all she has to do is highlight every blank line and change the white print Alison has used into red print to reveal the true plan:

I’m not suggesting I would ever have done this

In a similar vein, I’ve read work references that on the surface, read positively:

but when decoded—by reading every alternate line instead—reveal an entirely different message


A friend once sent me an email that opened on my iPad looking like this intriguing, encrypted message:

Sadly, when I forwarded it onto my computer at home, it turned out to be totally innocuous:

So I turned to trusty Google to ask  ‘How do I encrypt an email?’

Suffice to say that if becoming a whistleblower isn’t frightening enough, try understanding advice given by a computer geek.

But the fabulous news is that, without knowing it, I’m already encrypting my messages:

I knew there was a reason I’ve always been an Apple girl.

Of course, this automatic encryption doesn’t take into account the times when I’m juggling the messaging app between two friends and inadvertently send the message to the wrong person:

I’m beginning to suspect that this world of espionage is not for the fainthearted—or the feebleminded.

 

#80 Practise baking a Sourdough Loaf … again … and again … and again …

It all began when a friend suggested we attend a one-day sourdough baking course run by the Bicycle Baker, local artisan bakers who sell delicious sourdough loaves around the Albury district.

The idea of learning how to make them at home was very appealing. Who doesn’t love the smell of freshly baked bread in the morning, the crunch of biting into a perfect sourdough crust and the unique taste and texture of hand-baked bread?

It was at this point, I should have shrugged and said, “Nah. Why bark when you have a dog?” After all, it was no trouble to nip down to the shops and buy a loaf. Takes me ten minutes, tops.

But no, because I’d done a bit of yeast bread-making years ago I thought it would be a quick refresher and I’d have the aroma of freshly baking bread wafting around my kitchen in next to no time. I expected this blog post to be titled #80 Bake a Sourdough Loaf.

Ha!

Here I am, weeks later, agonising over every step of the procedure as this activity morphs into:

#80 Practise baking a Sourdough Loaf … again … and again … and again…


The class was great fun and we all went home with a fresh, delicious loaf of sourdough bread.

What I hadn’t appreciated was the effort that Nicky and Tim, aka the Bicycle Bakers, must have put in over the preceding weeks to help us all produce these perfect loaves on the day. Baking a sourdough loaf is nothing short of a protracted labour of love.

The sourdough starter is the secret, that magic ingredient used as a leavener in lieu of commercial yeast. Sourdough starter is needy. Very needy. In fact, we were advised to give a name to the little blob of sourdough starter we were handed at the end of the course. That’s because it has to be fed regularly, nurtured with care and even taken on holidays, lest it die of neglect. Like I said. Needy.

I thought of calling it Bear, so the phrase ‘Feed the Bear’ could become my daily mantra, but before long, I changed its name to Bambi.

Because I didn’t want to be the one to kill Bambi

The magic of sourdough starter is that it begins life as nothing more than a mixture of baker’s flour and water. But after daily feedings—you discard 80% of the previous day’s mix before adding fresh flour and water—you eventually have a little jar of bubbling, wild-yeasty-smelling starter that gets better and stronger the more times you feed it.

                                                                   Modern day Bambi

If I may be allowed to mix my mythologies, Bambi can only be used for bread making when he reaches the Goldilocks point: not too bubbly, not too flat, not too whiffy, not too bland. I’ve learned through trial and error that this Goldilocks point is rarely reached at a convenient time for baking bread.

But once that moment arrives, you mix Bambi with your bread flour, water and salt, do a little kneading, then leave it to ‘prove’.

For THREE to TEN HOURS!

By now, it’s about four in the morning, but you’re so invested in your loaf that you get up to work it into its final shape, let it rise once more, slash designs on the top as best you can to let out steam,

then place it in a preheated oven that will never be as hot or as reliable as a commercial oven.

If you’re lucky, you may end up with a loaf that rises tolerably well and browns nicely.

When cut, it even has the look you’re after.

And the taste … ?

Hmm. It’s ok…ay.

But maybe I’ll nip down to the Bicycle Baker’s and buy a loaf to tide me over before my next marathon session.

Or I could just list Bambi on GumTree. Free to a Good Home, of course.

 

#79 Découpage a Table

Such an evocative word, découpage.

It conjures images of hidden Parisian streets harbouring tiny shops containing all manner of long forgotten artisanal works, like hand painted marionettes lying on a dusty bench, or glimmering, lacquered trays adorned with olde world photographs.

So now I have the time, why not give découpage a try?

#79 Découpage a Table

Put simply, découpage involves cutting out pictures, gluing them to an object and then coating the pictures, and the object, with layers of varnish.

But exploring this activity has led me to the realisation that there are two distinct forms: the Art of découpage and the Craft of découpage.

The Art form involves exquisite design and a dedication to perfection. Beautiful pictures are chosen, meticulously cut out and then pasted onto a surface in ever increasing and overlapping patterns. Layer upon layer of varnish is applied, with careful sanding between coats. I’ve been told up to 70 applications might be in order. This results in a finished design that shines with a glorious lustre and depicts a three dimensional scene with depth and colour the envy of any Renaissance painter.

The Craft form, however, involves cutting out a pretty design, pasting it onto a surface, then coating with—oh, maybe five or six applications of varnish. This form of découpage has any number of YouTube and Pinterest and Instagram examples. I quickly realised that this was my level of découpage.


Step one: Select your surface

I had an old Queen Anne dressing-table stool of my mother’s which no longer had its dressing-table and so cried out for conversion to a small side table.  After removing the cushion insert, my talented Bunnings Buddy was able to make a solid table top for it. All it took was a coat of paint to make it ready to be découpaged:


Step 2: Chose your pictures

This is where the artistic skill comes in. Choosing a montage of photos I’d taken over the years, my original plan was to stick these on before varnishing:But it was pointed out to me, by someone with more artistic skill than I, that this was looking like a table littered with old weekend magazines. Not quite the image I was after.

Then I thought of using a photograph of a bunch of gorgeous flowers a dear friend had sent me recently, after she stayed for a weekend: So lovely, but could this be enhanced even further to incorporate the idea that a découpaged piece should have hidden depths behind the picture?


Step 3: Increase the level of complexity

It was then I hit upon the idea of turning this photo into a photomosaic, using dozens of smaller pictures from my photo album.

So I turned to a clever website that allows you to instantly turn your photos into photomosaics. Simple to use, and free—or, if you’re after a higher definition, relatively inexpensive—the image it produces can then be copied across to a USB for printing at a photo shop.


Step 4: Glue and varnish and sand, glue and varnish and sand …

After a few days of glueing and varnishing and sanding the photomosaic, the final result wasn’t half bad:And if you look very closely at the picture …No, go in closer…you’ll see the entire picture is made up of hundreds of tiny snapshots of a life.

Now this is going straight to the pool room!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#77 Learn the Art of Successful Marketing

How good is Marketing?

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

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

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

#77 Learn the Art of Successful Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Build a network of relationships

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


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

It’s not as easy as I thought …