If you’re ever watched the UK programme Fake or Fortune, you’ll know it involves experts investigating the provenance of little known works of art submitted by the owners in the hope that their find is a long lost piece by a Great Master.
Am I the only one who, by the episode’s end, is thinking ‘if it’s so hard to tell the difference between the real thing and this newly discovered offering, does it really matter?’ Although this admission might suggest I know nothing about art.
But the show gave me the idea for a topic to interest my Discovery friends at one of our recent afternoon get-togethers. Why not—
#109 Play around with Works of Art
—to see if we can reproduce them, for better or worse?
The brief was broad. Take any work of art you like and using materials of your choice, recreate it. Then show us a photograph of the original art work and your copy.
To allay any anxiety about the need to create something wondrous, I provided a couple of examples of what could be achieved with simple tools:
Everyone was given a couple of weeks to prepare their masterpiece, and they rose to the occasion with fabulous offerings. I challenge you to pick the original!
Despite the less than perfect results, our intentions were pure, so surely our imitations can be seen as flattery?
It’s not like a certain famous Swedish furniture company that recreated Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party and van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters so they could build the sets to advertise flat pack furniture no less!
The featured image is from a still life by painter Abraham Mignon (1640-1679). The bouquet to its right was gifted to one of our participants.
With the Omicron peak waning, most of us happily vaccinated and lockdowns and restrictions a thing of the past, adventures far from home beckoned. So this month’s blog should have been about fresh fields, exotic travel, excitement, restaurants and glamour.
And yet here I am, explaining how to
#108 Make Soap (yes, really!)
Constructing new cakes of soap out of neglected, leftover shards of old soaps is reminiscent of the sad, lonely, lockdown-type activities of 2020 or 2021, but due to a recent spontaneous fracture in my leg (insultingly called an ‘insufficiency fracture’ as though I neglected to care for my bones sufficiently) I’m on ‘minimal-weight-bearing-until-it-heals’ orders from the orthopaedic surgeon.
And so it’s back to finding new activities that can be done without venturing from home. Or walking really.
So I scoured the internet to find instructions on how to convert all the bits and pieces of old soaps I’d found in the bathroom cabinet into brand new hearty bars of soap.
Place them in a saucepan, cover with cold water and leave overnight till the mixture becomes a slushy mess.
Add a tablespoon of olive or vegetable oil and a few drops of a fragrant essence or lemon zest and stir over medium heat until all the soap has melted. It can take a while —up to 30 minutes.
It ends up looking like the smooth custard you’d prepare for a Portuguese tart, but sadly cannot taste.
Add a few drops of food colouring and pour into silicon moulds to set:
Leave for 24 hours, then remove from the moulds and dry on a wire rack for a few more days before using.
The websites I found speak of packaging these small soaps in pretty shapes adorned with ribbons and giving them away as gifts,
but although they’ve been sterilised by boiling for ages, I’m a bit uncomfortable about forcing them onto unsuspecting friends. And they’d not win any beauty contests.
However, to my surprise, the fully dried cakes of soap work extremely well and I’m excited to see if I can collect all the shards from this lot to create even more batches in the future.
It will, of course, follow the laws of diminishing returns, but I’m hopeful it may be some time before I ever have to buy soap again.
It was during one of our lockdowns, while looking for an entertaining gift to send to a friend in Sydney, that I came across a couple of Calligraphy practice kits on the shelves of the local post office.
They looked intriguing. Why not purchase one for my artistic friend who seemed at risk of going stir-crazy during her enforced imprisonment?
The chap behind the counter gave a suppressed snort as he scanned the box.
‘They still selling these?’ he said. (Bearing in mind he was literally selling the item to me at that moment, it was an interesting use of the word ‘they’, but no matter). ‘Twenty-odd years ago my dad ran the Post Office in [Tinyville] and I’d help him out sometimes. They stocked them back in those days.’
This suggested that the kits are either wildly popular and timeless, or the type of horribly out-dated stock a post office would hold. But it was his next words that clinched the deal.
‘You’re in luck.’ He sounded surprised. ‘They’re on sale. Half price.’
‘Wait a sec.’ I held up my hand. ‘Let me go and get the other one as well!’
And that’s how I came to:
#106 Try Calligraphy
After a friend mentioned that she and her sons had experimented with calligraphy many years earlier and the ink stains still hadn’t come out of their fingers, it took me a few weeks to even open the kit, and I wisely began to practice with pencil.
As the word calligraphy means ‘beautiful writing’ I went looking for a non finger-staining writing tool that might achieve this, reasoning that if I jumped into using the pen and ink provided in the kit, beautiful writing might never happen.
Enter pens created especially for the occasion. Brilliant!
The salesman in the small, old-fashioned stationery store seemed as surprised as I was that they stocked something called a “Calligraphy pen”, let alone with a choice of colours.
Time to test its ability to write in calligraphy style.
After practising for a while,
the ink in my brand new calligraphy pen began to fade, which I put down to its age, imagining it had probably been sitting in the stationer’s fusty store for years.
But on re-reading the instructions in the kit booklet, I came across this admonition:
So it was time to give the real pen and ink a whirl:
Then it hit me. While doing calligraphy is a relaxing, meditative hobby, I wasn’t going to live long enough to become adept at it, and anyway, wasn’t that what fonts were for?
Medieval monks had to spend their lives writing laborious decorative epistles because they didn’t have access to Word programmes on their computers, but we do.
So I went looking for fonts that matched the concept of ‘Beautiful Writing’ and came up with a fabulous assortment.
I can see where this is heading. I might just become a contestant on Mastermind whose special subject is—Calligraphy Fonts.
Whoever claimed ‘It’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey’ clearly never suffered from motion sickness. I have vivid memories of every childhood holiday (and fortunately they weren’t too frequent) spent in the back seat of a hot car with my head over a bucket wondering if I’d die before we made it to our destination.
And don’t remind me of the horrendous boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef in the ’80s where I became that pariah below deck, throwing up her insides; nor that New Year’s Eve yachting party on Sydney Harbour in the ’90s where a water-taxi had to be called to ferry such an embarrassing guest away. Oh no, journeys have rarely held much pleasure for me.
So imagine my surprise to discover, on finally reaching my destination of completing 101 Fun and Frivolous Activities in Retirement—after almost 9 years—that I’ve actually loved this particular journey. Not a hint of travel sickness.
But where to from here?
#101 Finish a Blog
So for something a little different to celebrate this 101st and final blog post, I’ve created an interactive one for a change.
If you like quizzes, this one’s for you; if you love crosswords, it will fill in a few minutes of your day; and if you’re of a literary bent, you’ll enjoy recalling past reads because this one’s a literary-themed crossword.
And in a final twist, there’s a mystery message to be deciphered at the end.
Once you’ve found the answers, you can go on to solve the mystery message:
And if you think I have too much time on my hands, you may be right, but it sure beats travel sickness!
Strange things happen as you age, and they’re not all as good as gaining wisdom and caring less about what people think.
For example, you become invisible while waiting in line for service; then one day, unexpectedly, the background noise in restaurants becomes intolerable; and there’s the moment when the thought of replacing your recently deceased, beloved pet raises questions like ‘do I have the energy for a puppy?’ and ‘who’ll look after it when I’m gone?’; and finally, you’re shocked out of every vestige of comfort you’ve ever known, when a news report speaks of someone who dies in their sixties as ‘elderly’.
Becoming invisible after 60 can be partially overcome, I think, by wearing very bright colours, every single day.
In the first, hilarious episode of Fisk on the ABC last week, the main character, played by Kitty Flanagan, arrived for work in a gaudy shade of yellow. She was pilloried for looking like a ‘walking banana’,
but surely that’s got to be better than being mistaken for the office furniture and sat upon, which is what happened when she wore brown and beige?
At least when she looked like a banana, she became somebody, so bring out the colours and ignore any comments, I say.
The problem with background noise in restaurants is a tough one, because not only is it impossible to hear, it’s also so difficult to speak above the din that pretty soon, you end up with a husky voice and an inability to contribute to the conversation.
So if this means turning into your parents and dining at 6.30pm before the crowds, then so be it. Or do all your socialising early in the day. There is no shame after 60.
A solution to the replacement pet has turned out to be easier than I thought. I’m finding that no one rejects an offer to care for their dog when they’re away. This gives you wonderful bonding time with a much loved pet (one that quite possibly has been better trained than your own ever was), takes the worry away from your friends and, as a bonus, doesn’t stymie you if you want to go on a spontaneous holiday yourself.
And if the time between dog-sitting become too long and you’re missing that tactile interaction with a pet, I can thoroughly recommend finding a realistic model that looks just like the dog you’re missing, and patting him every time you walk past.
Advancing years bring out another fabulous age-appropriate trait to take your mind off the accelerating years, and that’s obsessively tracing your own family history after watching endless repeats of the SBS program Who Do You Think You Are?
I particularly enjoy seeing the participants of this show declare their ancestors to be quite blameless, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, or tear up over the death in childbirth of a great-great-grandmother, a woman unknown to them only a few minutes earlier.
My DNA analysis threw up Southern European ancestors as well as a side serve of Irish and Scottish ones, none of which came as a surprise.
But when I discovered that my grand-mother’s 9 year-old sister, Marie-Louise, died of ‘Rheumatic Endocarditis and Exhaustion’ in 1915, what should happen but my eyes began to glisten for a little girl I never knew existed!
Although nothing prepared me for the shock of my great-grandfather’s death certificate, where the cause of his demise was claimed to be ‘senility’. He was only 69!
My mother NEVER mentioned that her beloved Pop was senile. They must have that one wrong.
My great-grandfather would never have died with such a condition.
Once you reach a certain age, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to fall in love.
That excited fluttering in the stomach when thinking about the object of your affections, the anticipation of sharing time together, the sheer joy of knowing you’ve met your perfect match at last.
I thought it was too late for this to happen again, but now realise there’s no age limit to infatuation:
#98 Allow yourself to be seduced
Harris Farm Markets has decided to favour our town with its presence and I’m smitten.
I’d heard about this market for years from family and friends in Sydney. They’d regale me with stories of the freshest of local fruit and vegetables, the most exotic groceries imaginable, displays to make your head spin, anything and everything a foodie ever dreamed of, and all coming together under one roof. A magical land akin to a Willie Wonka factory but designed for adults.
AND NOW IT’S IN MY TOWN ANDIT’S WALKING DISTANCE FROM HOME!
As I think about it, all the adjectives, adverbs, similes and metaphors in my repertoire don’t do it justice. Instead, sit back, relax, and enjoy photographs that display the long lost art of effortless seduction.
From fruit and vegetables …
To deli items …
…to coffee and desserts
… not forgetting a seafood stall and a butchery, a smokehouse and a florist, a juice bar and an on-site baker’s mill—among too many other delights to mention.
I realise I’m in the early days of my infatuation and that the shine will inevitably fade. I’ll emerge from these crazy, heady days of unbridled pleasure with an overstocked pantry, feeling a tad guilty about neglecting the lovely Swedish baker and the excellent bulk food store to the south of the town, the well stocked essential ingredient shop in the town centre and the European deli to the north.
But until that happens, I’m basking in this flood of oxytocin.
And did I mention it’s walking distance from home?
The image above, of the dog contemplating his happiness in the moment while his master dreams of unattainable goals, is a well-known meme for mindfulness and savouring life as it happens.
Having immersed myself over the past 5 weeks in an on-line course run by Yale University through Coursera, it neatly sums up the essence of what I’m learning:
#94 Practise ‘The Science of Wellbeing’
Contrary to what I’ve always thought, studying at Yale isn’t stressful at all. The course is free, I’m doing it from home, and as the professor taking it is a young woman who looks a little like the daughter of a friend, she’s nowhere near as scary as the professors who taught me aeons ago.
She sits in a comfy chair with the students around her, peppers her tutorials with phrases like ‘this is so cool’ or ‘you’re gonna love this’, and sets multiple choice exams at the end of each week that mirror her tutorials word for word.
As the course had the word ‘Science’ in its title, I believed in it immediately, and although there’s an element of rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens, if the science says it works, who am I to roll my eyes and wonder if it may be a bit too Pollyanna-esque?
So what does the science tell us?
Let me summarise to save you the trouble of going to Yale.
The things we think we want are not the things that make us happy. In fact, just about everything our brain tells us that we need to be happier is wrong. This is known as mis-wanting. Analysis of studies (demonstrated by impressive graphs), has shown time and again that beyond a certain income, more money and possessions do not make us any happier.
Hedonic adaptation then means we get blasé about the good things we have in life and stop appreciating them. This puts us on the treadmill of striving for something more, even though that, too, will be subject to hedonic adaptation in time.
So how do we overcome the fault in our brains?
It takes practice, and that seems to be the overarching message of this course.
Determine your top signature strengths (as assessed by a questionnaire, or you could ask your friends) and focus on them, as they will lead to the most satisfaction in your life:
Have experiences, rather than buying ‘stuff’. Experiences have been shown to create greater satisfaction in life.
Take a moment each day to savour something special, no matter how small. (Spotted a blue tongue lizard in your garden? That will do it, so make a note of it or take a photo.)
Keep a gratitude journal by the bed to write down at least 3 things you’re grateful for. Every. Single. Day. Because even a bad day will have some little kernel of goodness;
Make and maintain social connections. While this may not work so well face-to-face during a pandemic, at least we have any number of electronic ways to help us (which is something to be grateful for…)
Find a good mindfulness tape and practise regularly, even if only for ten minutes a day. (More clever graphs show that this works wonders!)
Prioritise sleep (now you’re talking … )
Exercise regularly (or perhaps not … )
Smile or chat—even briefly—to a stranger, because it makes both you and them feel better;
Express gratitude to other people;
Make the time to do the things you enjoy. In other words, work at becoming ‘time affluent’;
Repeat all of the above.
It makes sense that practising positive, life affirming habits will improve wellbeing. I have a neighbour whose raison d’être is to assail me with tales of what’s gone wrong in his life, through no fault of his own, interspersed with stories of who in the vicinity of our street has died, who’s had a fall, and who’s been moved into a nursing home. It’s exhausting spending time with him but thanks to this course, I now realise why he does it. He’s trained himself so well, practised being like this for so long, that he’s become an absolute expert in misery and discontent. So practise does make perfect.
The course has reminded me of something else, too. To find answers, I could’ve just re-watched the closing credits of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
BB, my Bunnings buddy, asked me if I knew how to film and edit a video to post on YouTube.
Now I’d read about actors who, when quizzed as to whether they could ride a horse bareback, had brazenly told the director ‘of course I can’. Even though they’d never quite mastered their childhood rocking horse. So I immediately said to BB, ‘Of course I can!’.
It didn’t hurt that he’d also hinted it might make an interesting topic for a blog post.
And so … here we are:
#93 Try your Hand at Amateur Cinematography
Another reason the idea appealed was because BB had built a clever rotating soil sifter based on Costa Georgiadis’ instructions in a Gardening Australia episode,
a neat little contraption that sieves soil as it’s shovelled into a turning mesh barrel, before spitting weeds or big bits out the other end.
But BB had taken it a step further and come up with an ingenious method of automatically rotating the sieve without the need of an expensive motor (or an expensive helper for that matter).
This deserved a wider audience.
This had Oscar nominee written all over it.
After a morning’s filming using my trusty iPad, and a few hours editing the rushes (as we cinematographers call the unedited footage), I finalised the grand opus, ready for BB to post on YouTube.
There are a few important lessons I’ve been able to take away from the experience:
It’s probably not a bad idea to rehearse a script before shooting. Maybe even several times.
Keep each scene nice and short … so you can
Reshoot when you’re not happy with it (without driving everyone nuts).
When the Talent says “I’m not sure if you can see this,” make sure you move in for a close-up.
When the Talent proudly points to another part of his design, swing the camera in that direction as soon as you’re aware that’s what he wants. (So it’s important to PAY ATTENTION while filming)
Always make sure there’s a cute dog somewhere in the shoot.
While Homo sapiens might think he’s the cleverest species on earth, I wonder sometimes if we still have a thing or two to learn from animals.
Think about it. No meerkat would dream of frolicking in the open knowing predators were lurking, and yet we’ve reached the stage in our evolution where we’re heard to boast—boast, no less—about not wearing a mask during a pandemic.
So this winter, I decided to take a leaf out of the playbook of our feathered friends and
#91 Migrate North for Winter
It was serendipity, really. There was an excellent reason to travel north to Sydney for a few weeks during the worsening pandemic down south, and I figured that migratory birds wouldn’t do this if it were dangerous, so why not give it a go?
Years ago, when I was young (not free, just young), retired people I met would mention they wouldn’t see me for three months because they were wintering in Queensland. When I was a child growing up in western Victoria, the older people in my life didn’t travel to exotic places like that. If they left bitterly cold Ballarat during winter, it was to go to their bitterly cold holiday home in Torquay or Lorne. The glamour of an ocean view was enough back then.
But time moves on, so now I’m free (not young, just free) and it’s my turn to experience the heady excitement of sun in winter. And let me tell you, being able to wander the streets of a city with the warm sun caressing your back in July is quite wonderful.
So I indulged in some psychogeography on my walks,marvelled at the clever logo on the tool box of a decorator that effortlessly demonstrated his skills—
and sipped ginger and liquorice tea on the deck—all the time noticing, with awe, that every single photograph includes sunshine and shadows!
I’m back home now, where even the tiniest sliver of sun couldn’t emerge through this morning’s fog—
leaving me with no more than a memory and a photograph of recent outings—
These migratory birds are really onto something.
And to think we use the term ‘bird-brain’ pejoratively!
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!