Category Archives: Try Something Different

#71 Research Weather Vanes

Browsing through the back pages of a gardening magazine recently, I came across a dazzling and tempting advertisement for weather vanes.

Now over my lifetime, these roof/garden accessories have never really occupied my thoughts. They’re nowhere near as vital as, say, a capacious water tank, nor as obsessively absorbing as a rain gauge.

But due to the power of advertising, I looked longingly at these beautiful fripperies and began to hanker after a weather vane for my own little pitched roof.

And so began the journey to

#71 Research Weather Vanes

This activity has thrown up so many questions.

  • How long have weather vanes been around?
  • Who purchases them?
  • Are they in any way useful?
  • Now I’m wandering the streets around home looking for them, how many have I missed over the years? (In short, every one of them)
  • Why are there so many roosters on weather vanes?

This little cutie’s just a block away from home, and yet I’d NEVER spotted it!

Also known as wind vanes (which is a more logical title, bearing in mind the point of the arrow can only tell you where the wind’s coming from) it’s claImed they were invented over 2000 years ago by the Chinese and the Greeks, who independently arrived at the idea.

The Greeks love to say that their design was first, but I’d give bragging rights to the Chinese, as theirs was documented in 139 BC, a full 89 years ahead of the bronze Triton built atop the Tower of the Winds in Athens.

And despite it being the wealthy Greeks and Romans who adorned their homes with wind vanes in the shape of ancient gods, the term ‘vane’ is not a variant of ‘vain’ at all, but comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘fane’ meaning wind.

It does seem that they have little functional purpose for most domestic homes, but now I’m on the hunt for them, they’re the prettiest, most eye catching little adornments on a roof you’ll ever see. If you actually notice them.

Another one I’ve blindly walked past numerous times over 27 years

This brings me to the rooster question. I’m beginning to spot so many of these birds that I’ve lost my child-like excitement at finding another vane and feel disappointed if it’s a boring old rooster cut from the same template.

There are two theories for the prevalence of roosters. The first is that in the 9th century, Pope Nicholas 1 ordered their image be placed on every church steeple to remind the congregation of Peter’s thrice betrayal of Jesus (before the cock crowed). The second theory is that the tail is the perfect shape to catch the wind.

I have a third theory. If you’ve ever owned a rooster, you’ll know that they think their rightful place is on top.

It was pleasing to come across another vane nearby that didn’t bother with the rooster theme, though…

Yes. Another one close by that I’ve never noticed before [sigh].


Then I spotted a weather vane on our city’s railway station tower as I was hurtling along the Sydney to Melbourne freeway.  It’s a big one, befitting such a building and I wish I had a camera with a telephoto lens to better see the design.

Almost the cause of a multi-car pile up on the M31

This led to a friend telling me that our Post Office tower also has one. As I first moved to Albury in 1978, this would make it, oh, 40 years during which I’ve managed to not notice it. D’oh.

The ball on top is simple, but the N-S-E-W takes the prize for artistry


One of the problems with weather vanes is that because they’re on the roof, they aren’t convenient to watch. It’d be just as easy to step outside and rotate your face through 360º to feel which way the wind is blowing.

Enter my Bunnings buddy, a peerless innovator and inventor, who’s designed the cleverest system to see the direction of the wind while the family sits in the living room.

With a wire and lever rig that’s way beyond my intellect to understand, let alone explain, he’s connected his roof’s weather vane down through the wall cavity into the living room so that a lever moves every time the vane does:

Here are three positions photographed to show how the lever moves. 

But there’s more genius to this device. The lever has been cleverly attached to the back of a 3-D bird on a water colour painting of his property (done by the very talented estate cartographer, @catherineo’neilldesign) hanging on the wall, such that as the lever moves with the wind on the rooftop weather vane, so does the bird in the painting. 

Can you believe this …?

It’s breathtaking in its beauty and cleverness. But quite scary the first time you visit my Bunnings buddy’s home.  Seeing the bird move out the corner of your eye is akin to being in a haunted house where the eyes of an Old Master’s portrait flick about … watching, watching.

And the weather vane to which this marvellous device and painting is attached?

A bespoke masterpiece he designed, of course:


Now that I’ve returned to the gardening magazine ads that set me on this adventure, I’ve realised that vanes featuring icons like a cockerel, a ball or a bird are way too prosaic.

I’m going to have to design a vane that befits my home and my life.

Perhaps something like this one I mocked up on the computer …?

 

 

#70 Commission a Bespoke Design for the Garden Shed

About five years ago, I snapped up a small garden shed at Aldi’s during the two-and-a-half day window they allow you to grab any must-have-item-you-didn’t-know-you-needed before they move on to their next set of specials and you’ve lost your chance.

(Aldi’s specials are so reminiscent of the rotating magical land at the top of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. You never know if you’ll find the Land of Goodies, replete with tins of biscuits and chocolates, or Dame Slap’s School where bins spill over with lycra, gym equipment and barbells.)

Anyway, when this particular Land of Desirable Garden Equipment arrived, I was seduced by the kit shed and phrases written on the box like ‘easily assembled’ and ‘few tools required’, so I brought it home to put together over an afternoon.

Three gruelling days over Easter later, and after calling in a friend who’d once built the ‘Taj Mahal’ for his chickens, four of us actually followed the instruction sheets …

(… a stunning achievement on its own)

… and completed the task. Most satisfying.

                                                                    A sturdy little fellow

But despite loving it for the last few years for being so useful, I wasn’t able to get rid of the feeling that it was a little … plain?

So last year, when an artistic friend came to visit for a few days, we made a deal.

I’d

#70 Commission a Bespoke Design for the Garden Shed 

which she’d plan and execute, and in return I’d cook all her favourite meals for the duration.

                                                                      Preparing the templates

I messed up badly, though. Against her advice (artists must DESPAIR of some of their clients), I chose bright blue, water soluble paint for the background, thinking it would look like the sky on a hot summer’s day. But after cleaning and prepping and masking the shed, then applying the first coat, it was obvious this particular blue was more reminiscent of the eye-watering gaudiness of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Luckily, before we progressed any further, it began to rain, the water-soluble paint sloughed off and so the idea was shelved for another day, another season.

I slowly stripped it back, before repainting it with a dark green oil-based paint ready for its proper makeover, some day in the future.

                                                                 Looking better already 

Recently, when my talented visitor returned, she made good on her promise.

Watching the evolution of a work of art is inspiring, from first seeing it look like Banksy was indulging in some artistic graffiti using the pre-prepared templates …

… to the meticulous application of the paint…

…to the final masterpiece, and the knowledge that I now have the best bespoke-designed little garden shed in the village!

Five years in the making, but don’t all great things take time?

Thank you so much @province_

 

#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.