Category Archives: Try Something Different

#69 Outsource Your Blog to a House Guest

“Greetings all,

I was lying contentedly at the Blogger’s feet the other day – I’ve been holidaying with her and the skinny dog while my humans are cycling around Europe – when I heard her muttering that it would be slim pickings on outsidethesquare101 this month because she hadn’t done anything exciting.

I lifted my head in surprise. Nothing exciting? Who was she kidding? She’d had my company for starters.

Why don’t you, I suggested,

#69 Outsource Your Blog to a House Guest

Like me!

She looked sceptical at first, until I reminded her that she’d introduced me to new, exciting smells and that I’d challenged her to exercise more (there’s a reason she’s known as the Blogger, rather than the Jogger).

I added some intense staring for good measure  …

and before long, she was putty in my hands.

So, by way of introduction, the name’s Otto.

I believe I was called after the famed 10th century German king, Otto the Great.

The more prosaic rumour – that it was because my humans love the Italian language and I’m the eighth dog the family has owned – is nothing short of mischievous scuttlebutt.

Legend has it that my fearless father was a Border Collie who was never meant to meet my mother, let alone … well, you know.

Fences and distance were no barrier to him though, for who could resist the allure of the gorgeous golden retriever-poodle cross, living on the adjacent farm? A little over two months after their accidental meeting, their tiny bundle of joy arrived.

                                                                                 …mini me

Which I believe makes me a Border Groodle, a hitherto little-known breed. And being a combination of the two most intelligent dogs in the world (as rated in every single dog survey ever published) AND the best family-friendly dog known to mankind, you can see how I lucked in from the very beginning.

Add to that my perfect deportment, and I’m pretty irresistible.

As I mentioned, I’m sharing digs with the skinny dog, too. He’s a strange little thing who seems to feel the cold. Very quiet most of the time, but when we’re lying outside and the sun moves, he gives this high pitched bark, and the Blogger rushes out to move his bean bag back into the sun. Talk about spoiled!

And now the silly boy thinks that if the sun goes behind a cloud, he can bring it back with his squeaky bark.

I’ve been having a bit of fun with him lately, ‘cos although we get on well, I can easily put him off his game. If I half-stretch across a doorway, it spooks him out, what with me being a properly proportioned dog and he needing to run around in the shower just to get wet. So he won’t walk past me.

The other night, when he was too sooky to go around me to get outside, he ended up piddling on the Blogger’s best Persian rug.  Did I laugh!

Of course, she just petted him as she mopped it up and told him it wasn’t his fault. Grr! 

So smug on his velvet cushion

And I have no idea how a dog that gets fed three times a day stays so skinny. I’m only allowed one meal at night – you couldn’t call the pitiful handful of kibble I get in the morning a meal – and yet I never lose weight. So unfair.

But I digress. We’ve all three been having some marvellous adventures because the Blogger takes us out twice a day for walks and ball chases and manages to find lots of new places to explore.

First, we went to a park she called by a funny Welsh-sounding name like ‘Adogoffleash’ park where even the skinny dog was let loose.  Apparently he’s never to be trusted off his lead out on the street. Unlike Yours Truly.

It was a foggy morning, not another dog was in sight and we had a ball (if you’ll pardon the pun).

                                                                                              Magical!

Then we went to another place with water and fish and humans on cycles (but not my humans [sigh]) called ‘horseshoelagoon’ and it was so exciting I forgot to let go of my ball and carried it the whole way!


There were cultural outings, of course, which were enjoyably interactive.  I managed to leave my mark at the base of every one of the gorgeous sculptures on this particular walk, so that other visitors with the correct olfactory skills would know that “OTTO WAS HERE”.


But best of all was when I introduced the Blogger and skinny dog to the sights of the city from on high. She did agree when we were at the top that the vista was superb.

I can’t believe they’d never been up to Nail Can Hill before. I’ve got to say she coped surprisingly well going up Hernia Hill, but it was a tad embarrassing for skinny dog and me as she was trying to come down.

As all these fit young runners in their activewear skipped down the steep inclines, looking supremely sure-footed, the Blogger – let’s just say she crouched down and went for a very low centre-of-gravity method of descent, pretending she was inspecting the wild flowers if someone passed. Mortifying!

No doubt about it,  we knew we had the world at our feet.

And my rating of this holiday resort? Definitely five stars.

Hope I can come back again.

Cheerio for now,

Otto”

#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.

 

#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!

 

 

 

 

 

#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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#57 Enjoy the Royal Melbourne Show

Despite a childhood growing up in regional Victoria, followed by several years living in Melbourne, I’ve never been to the Show.

This year, unexpectedly, my time finally arrived:

#57 Enjoy the Royal Melbourne Show 

In the ’50s and ’60s, it seemed the only ones who snared such an exotic outing as the Show were the kids with fabulously wealthy parents or indulgent grandparents who could afford the trip to Melbourne, the entrance fee AND the cost of the enviable Showbags. Or the kids who, lucky little sods, had a carnie for a relative. How I envied them.

They’d all return after the September holidays full of exciting tales of terror-laden big dipper rides or crazy dodgem cars and they’d be sporting the coolest toys that the rest of us could never have because they were only available in select Showbags once a year and only at the Show.

Toys like yoyos with red and white curly logos reading CocaCola on the side while the rest of us had to make do with plain, ugly ones that didn’t advertise anything, or hula hoops with glittery colours, so much more sophisticated than the plain-jane ones we had to suffer.

Show 1

                                                            …aah, the carnies

Of course, by the time I moved to Melbourne to study at eighteen, no self respecting, cool ’70’s chick would be seen dead at the Show. Not that I could afford it then either, but how naff would it have been to admit I wanted to go?

A few weeks ago, my sister and I were reminiscing about Bertie Beetles, those little insect-shaped treats of our childhood made up of the crumbs of Violet Crumbles coated in chocolate. We discovered, via the internet, that they can no longer be purchased in shops, but here’s the rub: you can buy Bertie Beetles once a year if you purchase a Bertie Beetle Showbag at the Royal Melbourne Show!

Foiled again, damn it!

But there’s a joy in growing older. Now that there’s no-one to impress and nothing much embarrasses me any more, I could jump at the chance to attend the Show when friends invited me to stay an extra day recently while I was visiting them in the city.

As I was telling my friend the Bertie Beetle story on the train, having just accepted her invitation to attend the Show the following day, she mentioned that the Showbag pavilion could be bumper-to-bumper with people sometimes (there’s a whole pavilion dedicated to Showbags? Really? Amazing!) and it might be difficult to get the Showbag of my choice. So I said it didn’t really matter if I didn’t get a Bertie Beetle show bag.

A stranger sitting opposite, a woman about my age who evidently overheard our conversation, leaned forward, looked me in the eye and said.

‘Yes, it does matter. You must get a Bertie Beetle Showbag.’

Aah, I thought. A woman who understands what a 50 year history of Showbag envy feels like.

As well as the Showbag pavilion, there were other things I didn’t know about the Show. Something called Pie in the Sky

Pie in the sky

which is apparently as well known a meeting place at the Show as Under the Clocks at Flinders Street station is in the city.

But then I saw the plaque about it, and it seems it’s a pretty recent addition…

Pie explanation

…it only went up in 1977

The joy of the Show is that there’s something for everyone.

The baby animal petting arena was a delight – though the animals wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to capture a good image – and the dog shows were … well, different, unusual, nice.

There was the sublime…

Show 3

the humorous …

Show cake

and the ridiculously wacky…

Show 2

But best of all, there was this:

Berties

So thank you, my lovely stranger on the train, for your understanding and encouragement.

#51 Construct…something

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

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

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

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

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

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

…hence the blurry photo

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

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

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

Anyway, BB recommended using Corflute:

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

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

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

But eventually, stage one was successfully completed:

Then stage two:

And finally stage three: painted and secured:

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

Dad would be proud!