Category Archives: Try Something Different

#84 Hold a Sustainable Kris Kringle

Sometimes, in the face of a wilfully stupid government that leaves you feeling powerless, all you can do is quietly undermine them.

So with large tracts of the east coast of Australia now alight with unseasonal bushfires and a government still intent on promoting coal and coal mines, I’ve channelled my anger and frustration into a small act of defiance this Christmas.

No big buying spree to prop up the economy, thanks all the same, Mr Treasurer. This is the year my group of friends decided to

#84 Hold a Sustainable Kris Kringle

So much better than the usual exchange of bought-at-the-last-minute ‘stuff’.

The brief was simple:

                                       ◊ Make it
                                       ◊ Bake it
                                       ◊ Pick it
                                       ◊ Plant it
                                       ◊ Re-cycle it
                                       ◊ Re-gift it
                                       ◊ Re-use it
                                       ◊ Re-design it
                                       ◊ Re-purpose it

And here are the ideas we came up with:

  1. A re-purposed hand towel sewn into a clever shower mitt, together with a bar of perfumed soap:

2. A re-gifted book on ‘green’ drinking and eating 


3. A Garden Box full of goodies, including freshly laid eggs:


4. A jigsaw puzzle the original owner had completed more than enough times:


5. A Gift card promising a home cooked meal, with no expiry date!


6. A re-cycled novel by Ann Cleeves (who writes the Vera series) presented in a Christmas-card decorated bag:


7. Cards of assorted sizes printed on a home printer from photographs taken locally by the gift-giver:

Cards

 


8. Bonus cosmetics received after placing an order for regular cosmetics:


Every aspect of this Sustainable Kris Kringle was perfect: the pre-planning, the collating and especially the exchange of such personal gifts at our breakfast gathering.

The vote is that we’re definitely doing it again next year.

With apologies to the economy, of course.

Image of Christmas Trees (at top of post) is my lettuce, having bolted in the pre-summer heat. [sigh]

#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.

 

#82 Just DO it!

It’s a shame that procrastination is so much easier than action.

Imagine how much you could achieve in life if instead of thinking about itmeaning to do it one day, or planning to get around to it in the very near future, you actually … just … DID it?

With that in mind, my friends in Discovery group and I recently decided to complete some of those nagging little jobs we’d been putting off for ages and report back on our achievements.

I found it so empowering that I’ve decided to keep it going and set aside the first week of every month to …

#82 Just DO it!

— even if it’s no more than completing one small job each day.

Apparently this rewards us in several ways. According to psychologists, tasks we haven’t done distract us, but the mere act of making a plan to get them done frees us from this anxiety.

Completing them then gives us small bursts of dopamine, generating feelings of satisfaction and happiness.  Bigger tasks can be broken down into so called Micro-tasks and as each one is finalised, it spurs us on to continue.

During our Discovery experiment, one of our members finally compiled an album of photos using Snapfish that she’s been meaning to do—since her 2014 trip to Italy. Now, she’s enthused about doing all the other albums waiting.

Another friend has a neat-as-a-pin office at home which, from the pictures she showed us, looks nothing like it used to look, whilst a third friend weeded her husband’s overgrown vegetable bed AND planted tomatoes for him!

My first task was ludicrously easy. I was given a lovely cushion at Christmas, but its stuffing had started to bulge a little at the back the more I used it:

Ten months it’s taken me to sew two simple strips of velcro on the back to bring this together:

                                                               Ten months!!

Buoyed by this quick and easy success, I sorted through my earrings to locate the ones needing minor repairs:

All it took was one drop of Superglue© to the backs of each detached piece:

                                                                                   Two pairs of earrings as good as new.

Not everything works to plan. One of our members was determined to bake a light, fluffy sponge which she’d never managed to achieve before. Although we didn’t get to taste the result, the report she presented on the day, reminiscent of a Maggie Beer presentation, would easily score 10 in any cooking show. It was replete with photographs of the recipes she’d consulted, pictures of all the ingredients used, shots of each painstaking moment of adding, folding, beating. It even included  images of the sponge through the glass doors of the oven. Masterful!

She was disappointed that the end result was more like a dense cake than the light and fluffy concoction she’d been aiming for, but the most teethgrinding moment for her was when her husband—who’d never baked a thing in his entire life—tasted it and suggested perhaps she should have separated the yolks and the whites.*


It’s true that each completed task encourages you to do more.

I came across a letter in an old storage box a few months ago that had been sent to me in 1985 by someone who was beginning to think at the time that I may have been the one for him.

He’d been hang-gliding for a week up Newcastle way, and the letter was full of the exhilaration of his exploits and a humorous tale of how he’d landed —unexpectedly—almost on top of a young women lying on the beach.

Well, Reader, he married her!

So I felt this letter belonged in his family archives, rather than mine, and after a Google search for his work address, (I’d not seen or heard from him in 34 years) I returned the keepsake, with slight trepidation.

He responded very quickly, saying he was thrilled to receive it, planned to show his children the story of the exact moment he met their mother, and finished the letter with an invitation to meet for coffee in a few weeks as he was returning to the district for a weekend … 

Now in the grip of reconnecting with times past, I decided it was time to dig out the 8mm films my grandfather had taken of the family back in 1962. Walking past the local camera store these past umpteen years, I’d seen their signs saying they could convert old 8mm film to a DVD, and had always thought, ‘One day, I must …’.

That day had arrived. In next to no time, I was watching, in all its flickering glory, my parents as gorgeous young thirty-somethings on the terrace at home with my older sister and me. 

With our mother

                                                                                 Misty-eyed viewing, if truth be told

There’s a lot to be said for Just doing it.

  • * Separating eggs won’t make a sponge lighter. It’s all about beating lots of air into the mixture and having sufficient raising agents!

#78 Rate the Justice System

It was my misfortune recently to be the victim of a crime. This means that I’ve had dealings with our justice system up close and personal, and let me tell you, it’s not a pretty sight.

It all began when the tax agent who’s looked after my Super Fund for the last ten years suddenly went rogue and stole my tax refund. He was able to do this by virtue of him being my tax agent in the first place, because the position gives him entry to my tax portal at the ATO.

This, I’ve now learned, is like giving him my front door key and mentioning that I’d be away for the long weekend and that a very valuable package was about to be delivered.

So several thousands of my hard-earned dollars — dollars that the ATO was supposed to refund to my account — were shifted into his account instead.

Getting justice has proven to be quite difficult, so I seem to have been left with only two options. Either go mad and turn into yet another old person yelling at clouds, or

I feel your pain, Grandpa Simpson

#78 Rate the Justice System

And thanks to the great example set by Miles Barlow, there’s a precedent for scoring life’s experiences as one would review a restaurant or film. So here are my star ratings for the whole sorry saga.

1. The Criminal (hereinafter known as X)

Despite my repeated phone calls and emails to X, he has proven resistant to repaying the stolen funds. In fact, he went so far as to suggest that he had been unable to look at my problem “due to health reasons” before adding that “the only thing I can think is that another client … [with a name identical to yours] … owed us money and had agreed to us receiving her refund.”

Really, X? That’s the only thing you can think?

Verdict: ***** No stars

2. The Lawyers

The lawyers sprang into action for me. They were outraged! The man was a criminal who had committed fraud and irrespective of his company’s ability to pay, he had stolen this money and was therefore personally liable. A very stiff letter, outlining sections and subsections of the Corporations Act was sent demanding return my money … or else. The lawyers even had the chutzpah to add “your assertion that these changes were intended to apply to another of your clients named …[exactly the same name as our client] … is, frankly, absurd.”

I was buoyed by this, even more so when X responded asking them how much he owed me now, including their fees. That was until a report came out in the local newspaper:

…it was pointed out to me that trusting anyone who’d
wear a lime green tie might have been my first mistake.

It turned out X owed over a million dollars and had assets of about $15,000. So my lawyers reluctantly, but kindly, suggested that any further action on my part might be throwing good money after bad. I had to agree with them.

Verdict:   *****  Four stars. (At least they tried)

3. The Police

If you can avoid living on the border between two states, I’d urge you to take that option. I live in New South Wales. X ran his business across the Murray River in Victoria. My experience with the police has thus far entailed both me and my statement bouncing from one side of the river to the other for several weeks as they decide which jurisdiction should handle it and whether to call it fraud (NSW) or theft (Vic).

My statement’s currently down a rabbit hole somewhere in Victoria, but they’ve assured me they’ll ring me back the minute they find it. Very, very soon, or possibly even earlier.

Verdict: ***** Two stars.
(They are trying. In more ways than one)

4. The Liquidator

So then I rang the liquidator and spoke to his offsider, a youthful sounding lawyer by the name of Will. Such a perfect name for someone who comes in at the death of a business.

Will didn’t say it in so many words, but after he’d explained that I was at the back of a long line of creditors, with the Tax Office at the front of the queue, I gathered that the likelihood of ever seeing my stolen money was even more remote than my chance of visiting Antarctica soon.

Verdict: ***** Three stars. (It’s not his fault
that the cupboard is bare).

5. The ATO

It seemed a reasonable idea to lodge a complaint to the tax ombudsman. After all, the ATO knew X’s  business was heavily in debt to them as they were the ones who wound it up, so why would they meekly pay my tax return to him without checking with me first?

Nope. Not our fault, they said. It was ASIC who had the strike-off action against his business, not us. We just entered the game at the end. So move along, please, nothing to see here.

Verdict : ***** One star. (I bet it’d be my fault
if the roles were reversed)

6. The Regulator

Make sure you report X to the Tax Practitioner’s Board (TPB), everyone from the lawyers to the police, the ATO to the liquidator, exhorted me. The TPB won’t stand for this behaviour. They’ll come down on this miscreant like a ton of bricks.

So I lodged a complaint with the TPB, was heartened when the case officer took a keen interest in my complaint, elated that she understood all the points I made, relieved when she said the Board took these issues very seriously.

Then I received this letter from the Board:

No further action after one of their own stole money from his client? Ton of bricks indeed! More like a piddling pile of Lego.

Verdict: ****** Minus one star. (The extra deduction’s for using
the term ‘incorrectly’ instead of ‘feloniously’)


Quite frankly, I’m a bit disappointed. For years I’ve watched the opening credits of the TV show Law and Order tell me that in the criminal justice system the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the police, who investigate crime;  and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. And their stories are always resolved in an hour.

Sadly, this awful episode, which just drags on and on, has been my story.

Verdict: ***** One star

#76 Write a Novel

Way back in December 2014, in blog #24, I discussed the fun of attending the Albury launch of my sister’s middle-grade book Stand Up and Cheer. It’s a novel about the daring rescue of the Dutch plane, the Uiver, by the citizens of Albury during the Great Centenary Air Race of 1934 told through the eyes of an intrepid ten year old.

By the time the book’s second launch occurred in Sydney in early 2015, I’d decided that this book-writing caper seemed like a jolly lark, and I wouldn’t mind having a go at it myself. Sensibly, I asked my sister if she’d like to join me and write together.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was a crazy undertaking. Had I known it would take four years from beginning to end, and that retired ladies in a regional city, writing about other similarly-aged ladies in a regional city, would have as much appeal to young publishers as we do to powerful, wealthy men, I may have hesitated.

But I did not know this, and so I innocently decided to

#76 Write a Novel  

To be truthful, the writing only took us two years and 9 months. It took another 12 months of submitting the manuscript far and wide to realise that it was never going to move beyond a publisher’s slush pile.

The name’s a giveaway, really.

Does this look like something you’d enjoy wading through?

Enter indie publishing, a way to bypass established publishers who actually pay you to take on your book, who do all the work, and might, if you’re lucky and/or famous, and/or have an agent, give you an advance. In cold, hard cash. They’ll distribute your books all around the country, too, and even overseas. And they’ll help promote you.

Indie publishing, on the other hand, enables you to hire someone who knows the ropes and who’ll help you—for a fee—publish eBooks and paperback books that will be available on line. Going indie has the bonus of giving you complete control over the finished product: the look, the size, the cost, the cover, the print run, and of course, the quantum of financial loss you can bear. And it also gives you the chance to become a marketer, a distributor, a self promoter and all those things that anyone who writes, and is therefore most likely to be an introvert, truly dislikes.

But on the plus side, it can all be done in under three months.

So that’s what we did.

And after four long years, we’ve ended up with a real book with a cover that looks like this:

                                                              Superb design by Christa Moffitt 

and a story that can be summarised thus:

Twitter? … WhatsApp? … Tumblr?

Six women in the riverside city of Albury  realise that, without social media skills, they’re staring irrelevancy in the face. Their book club won’t cut it any more. Time to go virtual.
But their decision to plunge into the on-line world brings horrifying revelations and unexpected outcomes. Friendships, new and old, are tested and their lives teeter on the edge of collapse. They must navigate a path through the chaos, but who exactly can they trust?

A small town
A world wide web
Is the net really a friend?


So if you’ve enjoyed reading this blog over the past six and a half years and would be interested in moving on to Contemporary Women’s Fiction written by the same author, but one whose writing has been markedly improved by having a second, better author join her, Secrets of the IN-group is now available.

It’s published by Resisters and will be officially released on May 2:

(Resisters. That’s us!)

You can order an eBook or print copy at Amazon or Booktopia or find other eBook retailers on books2read.

If you live locally, Dymocks in Albury is stocking it, as well as Beechworth Books and Collins Booksellers in WaggaWagga.  Perfectly timed for Mother’s Day.

Should you enjoy it, please do tell your friends …

and we’ll cherish you for life if you post a positive review on Goodreads.

Featured image from Gladys Peto’s Told in the Gloaming published by John F Shaw & Co Ltd London, circa 1920
Resisters Logo designed by Laura Pike

#74 Admire Public Art

Imagine being in a job where you’re rarely praised, often the target of harsh complaints and dismissively known as the Rates, Roads and Rubbish people.

Such is the lot of local councils, but in reality, they’re so much more than that. The council can help make it a real pleasure to live in your town or city.

At our most recent Discovery Group meeting, a local artist, Ken Raff was invited to speak to our members about the public art works he’s been commissioned to create for the Albury-Wodonga area. Since hearing him speak, it’s caused me to stop, look around and …

# Admire Public Art

Ken spoke about the evolution of a public sculpture, and it was the first time I’d realised that our council has people assigned to this very process. Impressive!

Extensive work is involved in the development of such pieces, involving the tender process, the artist chosen, site evaluations, various council departments as well as engineering and fabrication experts and businesses. And through all of this, the artist has to hope that the vision of his work will be maintained.

Here’s one of Ken’s wonderful creations, where it all came together so well.

Called Porta, this installation is sited at the entrance to Victoria from NSW

The choice of colours and even the tilt of the spheres have been meticulously considered by the creator.

And a panoramic shot may give you a better sense of its imposing height and perfect positioning …

This also shows the importance of ‘place’ in public art. In the wrong spot, it might have been lost, but here – simply magnificent!


My public art crawl has now ranged from the stainless steel facade sculpture by renowned artist Matthew Harding, sited at the back of our Art Gallery, MAMA,

Degrees of Separation  (Crossing Paths)

to another of Ken Raff‘s works in the main street …

                                                                      The River 

and on to the imposing galvanised steel artwork called Grow by Warren Langley, representing the crimson spider orchid, an endangered flower found in Albury, but few other locations …


Then there’s the latest sculpture in the Botanical gardens …

The Fern by Michael Laubli

… so perfectly suited to this position.


Public art can also encompass improving some of the plainer aspects of modern living, like applying mural art to otherwise dull areas such as drains and NBN boxes –

Birdwatcher painted by Kade SarteBanana Joe by Kristina GreenwoodThe cover-up!

It’s exciting to come across the art in your local neighbourhood.  I know there are several more pieces for me to discover.

During this adventure, I stumbled across a copy of Banksy’s Rage  – local artist unknown – stencilled under a bridge on the New South Wales side of the Murray River.

It’s positioned to look like the person is about to lob a hand grenade – into Victoria!

Fortunately, the missile is a bunch of brightly coloured flowers.

Cute.

 

 

Photo of the Tai Chi Bunnies taken at Circular Quay, Sydney in January at the Chinese New Year celebrations. I’m told they glow at night!  

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#73 Master the Art of Holiday Packing

It was while my sister was trying to fit all her clothes, plus new Christmas presents and purchases, into a suitcase for her return to Sydney recently that I was reminded of a technique for packing that can reduce stress on suitcases and lower backs.

So today’s activity is a tip on how to:

#73 Master the Art of Holiday Packing

I did feel somewhat guilty watching how difficult it was to close the suitcase. Because back in Sydney resides a marvellous plastic, three-panelled board that allows my sister to fold clothes perfectly flat, and all ending in a uniform size, ready to be neatly stacked into a case.

Unfortunately, I’d completely forgotten that I’d promised to make one just like it for use at my place.

This strange looking contraption is, in fact, a genius!

To tell you the truth, when I was staying at her place in Sydney, I’d initially looked at it with surprise, before laughing at the idea of using a complicated-looking board like this merely to fold clothes.

But then I tried it – wow! I became a complete convert. It’s magic! Where on earth could I get one?

Careful examination revealed that all the fancy cut out holes and shapes don’t seem to have a vital function, even though a YouTube video by the manufacturer suggests they’re needed for ventilation and to reduce static. Hmm…

Unless I’m missing something, it seems you can get away without them.

So I took detailed measurements…

and once back home, realised that with a simple piece of corflute, it would be a doddle to make.

So here’s how to create your own masterful folding implement:

Step one: Cut the corflute into a rectangle measuring 70cm W by 60cm L. Then cut two thin vertical wedges (or slits) out of the lower half, 23 cm from each side edge like so:

Step two: Flip the board over and make three shallow incisions only half-way through the corflute, so they remain attached but can bend; the first cut is made across the middle third in the centre, and the other two cuts are made vertically to extend the slits thus…

and you end up with a plain, but perfectly functional folding board, admittedly without ventilation …

                                                               too easy


Now it’s time to have some fun. Lay your jumper/shirt/blouse/t-shirt/pants etc face down on the board and arrange it so the item fits into the confines of the template like so:

then quickly ‘flip’ in the right panel first to fold in the material on that side, before flipping the panel out again, then repeat these actions with the left panel, before finally ‘flipping’ up the lower panel and flipping it back down again.

Then turn the item over to showcase a perfectly folded piece of clothing …

I know, I know, this may seem like a lot of trouble to perform something so simple, but when you have a heap of clothes you want to fit into a small bag, trust me, it only takes seconds doing it this way, they all end up exactly the same dimensions and you feel like a magician.

If you then stack these perfectly folded items and slide them into clear zipped vacuum packing bags that allows you to squeeze all the air out, you’ll be amazed what you can fit into a small case …

Not only that, when you arrive at your holiday destination and unpack, the items come out looking reasonably well pressed! I’m convinced now that every hotel and household needs one.

But failing this, there’s another sure fire tip to minimise the horror that is packing.

Store duplicate toiletries, PJs, dressing gown, spare shoes, a pillow and anything else you may need at your destination in a specially purchased, large cedar chest provided by your host.

Preferably one that can double as a coffee table in their living room the rest of the time.

Thanks for this, sis.