Category Archives: Learn New Skills

#67 Rediscover Jigsaw Puzzles

Following a recent posting on this site about investigating a mystery, a friend told me about Mystery Jigsaws.

As I’d recently set up a new jigsaw puzzle in the living room, this was interesting news. To think I’d reached retirement age without ever knowing that all jigsaws aren’t made to the same formula. The mystery ones, apparently, provide a murder scenario where completing the picture provides the solution – or at least gives you further clues needed to solve it. Sounds intriguing.

My friend has promised to loan me one of hers once I’ve completed the behemoth that is crowding out my home at the moment.

But this news got me thinking about whether there are different ways to enjoy doing jigsaws.

#67 Rediscover Jigsaw Puzzles

Because unless you live in a multi-roomed mansion, they really are quite unwieldy and space-hogging.

This view of what’s happening at the moment will show you what I mean (and I had to move it from the living room onto a bed and crowd it all together just to fit it into this panoramic shot).

First, there’s the large board – backed with non-slip material – needed to support the emerging puzzle, then the almost-as-large, also non-slip board to house the pieces that are still homeless, plus the inverted lid for further leftover or special pieces and of course the all important lid photograph to help with identification and placement.

It’s the stuff of nightmares if the living room has to be reclaimed when visitors arrive.

And don’t get me started on the risks of losing pieces and never being able to complete the final picture to your complete satisfaction. Or the discomfort of bending forward in an extremely uncomfortable position whenever you work on it. Or the horror possibility of the dog jumping on the boards and scattering pieces as he romps around. (Yes, he did.)

Not to mention that French puzzle I tried to complete during the Olympics. It not only had the last piece missing, but gave me a duplicate bit I didn’t need, instead!

Who’s ever seen this before?

But I may have found a solution to all these problems.

After a visit to the App Store, I downloaded this for iPad:

Does this mean there are ‘adult-friendly’ jigsaw puzzles? Ooh…

If 8.92K users score it 4.5 stars, it must be pretty good.

And it is.

Its maximum size is 550 pieces – but they can be rotated to increase the degree of difficulty – and you scroll up and down in the side panels with a flick of your fingers before dragging the required piece into place, beginning, as usual, with the borders.

AND you can change the background to suit your picture, choosing from an assortment of colours available. From this:

…to this …

to the boring, but easier-on–the-eyes:

AND, if you click on the round icon at the bottom of the screen, you can simultaneously view the whole picture while you’re solving the puzzle. The image can be dragged and positioned so it’s never in the way:

 

AND, by upgrading the app for a few dollars, you can use your own photos to create jigsaws, which also removes the advertisements. (That’s Oddies Creek, above, near home) .

NO missing pieces, NO extra pieces, COMPLETELY transportable, NO back strain, NO space restraints and NO dog incidents. And did I mention the satisfying ‘click’ you hear when a piece fits into place?

AND you get a gold star when you complete it!

Something rather unexpected has happened, though.

Waiting endlessly for doctors’ appointments, for late trains, or for fog-delayed planes is such a pleasure now.

 

#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!

 

 

 

 

 

#62 Take a 30-Day Challenge

Every time something like Feb Fast, Movember or a so called ‘fun-run’ comes around,  I’m itching to join in the party, but so far, I haven’t found any cause that’s grabbed me enough to want to commit to it. Being an extremely light drinker would make Feb Fast way too easy, Movember is out for obvious reasons and I refuse to be involved in anything whose name reads to me like an oxymoron.

While the idea of giving up chocolate for a month is too ridiculous to contemplate, an opportunity did present itself recently when I came across a small box in a trendy gift shop that suggested I

#62 Take a 30-Day Challenge,

pick up my phone, and shoot a photo a day, following their suggestions for the topic.

“Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like,” David Alan Harvey’s quote on the back of the box exhorted me. What a way to improve my skills, I thought:

It was only after I’d bought the little box that all was revealed. Hidden in the small print – once I’d ripped it open – was the awful truth. This was an Instagram challenge. Or should I say, #Instagram #challenge?

Now I made quite derogatory comments about this particular social media activity in an earlier blog #50 Find the App of Your Dreams and discovering that the first four days’ suggested shoots were

– all a bit self absorbed, trivial or pointless –  didn’t help my frame of mind. That’s it, I thought. This is not the right challenge, thanks very much and even though I’ve spent money for the box.

But then I realised that maybe a challenge should be a bit uncomfortable. So with that in mind, plus the encouragement of a younger friend who promised to ‘follow’ my Instagram posts and who’s the bee’s knees with social media (she makes top class podcasts for a Sydney Arts Organisation, do you mind!) I plunged in.

I’m up to Day 15 already, dutifully following the daily instructions my little box of surprises throws up, and what began as a task akin to making a silk purse from a sow’s ear has morphed into a most enjoyable, although not always easy, challenge.

What’s a novel way to present a #selfie? Is there a new interpretation of the ubiquitous #coffee photo? And how is it possible to depict #texture in a two-dimensional picture?

#Instagram cleverly allows you to apply filters to your photos, which makes them look almost professional. A website titled Your Instagram Filter Cheat Sheet by Lucille Zimmerman has been a marvellous help for artistically-challenged folk like me.

So here are a few of my posts to date:

#architecture

Albury’s own LibraryMuseum


#books

They can change your life


#happy

a sing-a-long to the Vegemite song is mandatory


#greenlife

Just practising Instagram techniques, now!


#art

Glorious little parrot painted by my friend Heather one afternoon recently


I’ve managed to garner a few ‘likes’ and even a few ‘followers’ over the two weeks I’ve been posting to date, but everyone using Instagram seems so young and gorgeous and uber successful.

But that’s its beauty, I guess. As long as I never post a shot of myself, I can pretend that I’m twenty or thirty-something, beautiful and just like them!

 

 

 

 

 

#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.

#59 Become a Citizen Scientist

Australia’s in the middle of the great 2017 Australian Bird of the Year vote.

Apparently, the Ibis is leading the polls, which is annoying many people who deride them as ‘Bin Chickens’ due to their scavenging habits. But it’s not their fault they’ve been squeezed out of the Sydney wetlands market.

As I tell everyone who complains about the cost of living in the big cities: ‘Move to the country. Life’s so much better here. Just take a look at the accommodation we provide for our ibis…’

So realising what an abundance of bird life we have here, I took the opportunity in late October to

#59 Become a Citizen Scientist 

when the Aussie Backyard Bird Count was held. This allows anyone the chance to play at being a great naturalist for a week: 

It’s as easy as downloading the free Aussie Bird Count app from the App store and noting all the birds you see in your location over a 20 minute period at any time of the day for one week. And thanks to GPS, it knows where you’re looking. Simple, I thought.

Oh dear. The arrogance of ignorance.

I quickly realised that having superb eyesight is the first requirement for all budding twitchers.

Strike One.

I was known as Mr Magoo at primary school, even when wearing my brand new, dorky spectacles.

…this is an easy mistake for the near-sighted 

As I spent the first seven years of my life seeing the world as one blurry blob, I missed out on essential early visual training that most people with normal vision take for granted. At least, that’s my excuse.

Using binoculars during the 20-minute spotting sessions helped but it didn’t fully solve the problem. Because there’s another difficulty: the subjects being studied.

Sloth spotting I could manage, but birds move really fast and flit around, darting here and there before you’ve had time to take a good look at them and then they fly away and they’re gone.

Strike Two.

There’s also the matter of bird identification.

The brightly coloured ones, like fairy wrens and rainbow lorikeets aren’t a problem,

…easy peasy (and in the next street)

but what about all the neutral-looking brownish-greyish nothing-to-see-here types? Who can spot in an instant whether their tails are up or down, what the shape of their beak is, what are the exact colourings on their undersurface or details of their neck markings to aid identification?

So, even if you’re lucky, and the bird stays still long enough to get a good look, you need to know the actual name of what you’re seeing. You need Knowledge.

Strike Three.

Sure, the app tries to help, but it only works for the cognoscenti. So I entered descriptive phrases like  ‘medium-sized bird, near water, looks a bit kookaburra-ish with a flat sort of head, and a greenish cap and a lovely cinnamon colour when it flew away,’ but Google was silent on the matter.

(A couple of weeks after the count had closed, I happened to show the photo to a friend who, unbeknown to me, is quite the bird identifier, and she immediately said ‘Oh, that’s a Nankeen Night Heron’. AND SHE WAS SPOT ON!

She wants me to call on her any time I have difficulty identifying birds. This is going to be invaluable next year.)

You can imagine what my earliest list looked like:

Embarrassing

The app presupposes way too much in-depth knowledge, too.

Like any talented pre-schooler, I know a duck when I see one, but that wasn’t good enough for this app. It wanted to know if it was a Wood Duck, a Grebe, a Shoveler, a Shelduck, a Mallard, a freckled duck… oh the list was endless. And when I chose one that looked a bit similar to the ‘duck’ I was seeing, it would flash up the message, ‘unlikely based on survey location,’ so I was back to square one.

By day 6, I knew I was in desperate need of professional help during spotting sessions, so I called on friends who live on the outskirts of town, in the hope that I’d see more interesting birds than house sparrows and spotted doves. I struck gold.

Not only were they brilliant at seeing them, but they knew their birds, had several bird books, and by the end, we had a list that helped bolster my reputation no end:

Elephant stamp for this lot. 

I’m now wondering if I should go on to join a citizen science group for frog listeners using an app that identifies the frog you’re hearing. At least poor vision wouldn’t be a handicap, just the leech-ridden, mosquito infested swamps I’d have to frequent.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to participate in the 2017 Australian Bird of the Year vote, polls are open until December 9th and you can vote here.