I recently had a text conversation with my sister that has led to this month’s Outsidethesquare activity:
#92 Write a short story—in Messages
And so it came to pass that the great School Reunion Luncheon of 2020, the very one for which I’d lovingly reconditioned my old school dolls (blog post #86) fell victim to Covid-19.
There’s to be no 50-year school reunion this year, and based on our ages, it may be some time before it’s safe for us to travel, or mingle, again.
Perhaps we should
#90 Hold a Reunion Entrée prior to a Reunion Luncheon
to stave off reunion hunger.
When it became clear in March that the May celebration wouldn’t be happening, a member of our class of 1970 emailed us all:Alas, the conversation went nowhere. It appeared that no-one was “tech savvy” nor were they keen, nor able, which was probably just as well. Can you imagine the horror of a Zoom meeting, wrangling forty old school chums who hadn’t seen each other for fifty years?
As an alternative, I threw out the idea of creating an electronic “Reunion Book”, where everyone who’s interested provides information about their life in the intervening fifty years, replete with photos, old and new for compilation and dissemination.
Which is how the production of the great School Reunion Book of 2020 fell to me. Questionnaires were sent out and duly returned. Dozens of old school photos arrived and the great task began.
It was then I discovered that emailing a book that has loads of photographs is … well … impossible. Way too many megabytes. Sharing the document via Dropbox was recommended as a way around this, but my experience with that particular program was still painful after it lost a couple of chapters of my novel. To my relief, it turned out that the class of 1970 is a cohort of women who don’t engage comfortably with computers. Not Dropbox then.
By then dividing this into three volumes, and saving each of these volumes as a PDF (for export), it was possible to reduce over 150 megabytes of data down to a mere seven, which could be emailed back to everyone. The things you can learn late in life!
where did all the boys go?!
Volume Two held all our life stories and current photos, outlining in more—or less— detail what we’d been up to since leaving school. Hearing so many tales about the boarders’ homesickness made me realise that it hadn’t been the jolly hockey sticks and midnight feasts that we day-scholars assumed.
One of my classmates wrote a particularly poignant remembrance of being left by her parents at boarding school for the first time:
Standing inside the front door there’s just the dark silhouette, the two of them walking out and away from the front door. It was a large sturdy heavy wooden door that easily glided open and glided shut, with a click. It was a ‘characterful’ door, stained glass in the top half of it and/or either side of it. As the two of them walk away there’s the dull realisation that you are staying …
Another story recalled those mortifying moments of adolescence:
I’ll never forget that school concert when our Latin Class had to sing My Darling Clementine in Latin—“Oh Divina Clementina”—dressed in togas and holding scrolls, (you couldn’t make this up, could you?) and my toga fell off in mid song. There’s no coming back from that.
Volume Three contained all the unofficial photographs people managed to dig out of storage—long forgotten school picnic days, a class trip to Tasmania in 1969, and several ‘formals’ held with the boys from our brother school.
I only recall these dances as a vaseline blur. We all knew that ‘men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses’ so I’d refuse to wear my much needed spectacles on these occasions, which meant I had no idea if the aforementioned ‘men’ had me in their sights or not. The events were terrifying.
Well over half the class contributed to the Reunion Book, and we realise that when we do meet up IRL, we’ll be able to hit the ground running. No awkward, ‘And where are you living, now?’ or ‘Do you have grandchildren?’
Nothing of the sort. Now we know each other well enough to cut straight to the chase. I can’t wait to find out from Sarah* what it was like to run a chalet in Austria, or ask Marilyn* to give me some tips from the head of the Sogetsu school for Flower Arrangement after her years spent translating in Osaka, or quiz Barbara* about the archeological digs she enjoyed with her husband.
*Not their real names, but definitely their real lives
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.
#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.
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!
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.
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.
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’:
or ‘Betty’, sporting the ever fashionable sausage curls:
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,
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 —
until a friend introduced me to
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.
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 …
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:
It’s Raining Books
Fabulous and Brunette
All the Ups and Downs
Locks, Hooks and Books
Musings from an Addicted Reader
Andi’s Book Reviews
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
How good is Marketing?
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-group—to 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 …
It’s a sad fact of life that there are always massive gaps in one’s eduction, and the most glaring one for me is in the field of art.
Thinking back to my school days, I have no recollection of any enjoyable art classes and no instances where I learned any techniques or tips about either art execution or art appreciation.
So it’s only recently, thanks to hearing about the Escher exhibition in Melbourne, that I gained a minuscule understanding of design principles, which has now made me to want to:
#75 Learn to Tessellate
Although I didn’t make it to the exhibition myself, several friends raved about it, so we had an Escher afternoon where photographs were shared and we discussed various aspects of his life and work.
Being more scientifically inclined, I chose ‘Escher and Mathematics’ as my topic. Talk about naive. Escher is mathematics! Why was this information never explained to me in those rudimentary art sessions I had in primary school? Or in the more complex maths classes I enjoyed at secondary level where they didn’t bother to mention there might be a functional aspect to recurring decimals? Like I said—massive gaps in my education.
It turns out that “Mathematics as it applies to Escher’s work” is a topic way too complicated for a ten minute dissertation over afternoon tea.
How on earth did he conceptualise something as glorious as Sky and Water I ?
So the best I could come up with for my contribution to the afternoon was a short demonstration on how to do a very basic tessellation, also known as how to cover a surface by repeated use of a single shape, without gaps or overlapping. The technique can result in an endless array of mosaic designs and gives one a certain modicum of personal satisfaction.
There are some excellent YouTube tutorials on making a tessellation here and here so I followed one of these and managed to produce something that might scrape a pass in an art exam in grade two or three. Quite an achievement!
I began by cutting out a small square 10cm x 10cm and drawing a curvy design along one side like this,
before cutting the shape out precisely, sliding it across to the opposite side of the square and aligning it perfectly before taping it down like so:
Then I drew another design on the adjacent side of the square, cut it out, slid it across and taped it too:
This little brown template was then used to trace a design onto a larger sheet of paper repeatedly, and
All that’s needed is a peaceful 30 minutes to colour it in and to add a few markings.
This is possibly the most artistic thing I’ve ever managed to create.
I love you M.C.Escher!