Almost everyone has a special skill, although sadly, many of us don’t acknowledge it.
Praise someone who can sing in tune, and they’ll shrug and say ‘anyone can do that,’ but for those of us who are pitch imperfect, that’s just not true.
In a similar vein, people who can arrange flowers to look effortlessly gorgeous don’t understand how some of us struggle to coax a single rose to stand up in a narrow specimen vase.
So a recent opportunity to
#102 Learn to Arrange Flowers — in an Ikebana style
with a group of friends was too good to pass up.
Ikebana is the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging and is governed by 7 Principles: silence, minimalism, shape & line, form, humanity, aesthetics and structure.
As we were good friends teaching ourselves how to cut and measure and determine correct angles using videos and Youtube demonstrations, you’ll understand that the first Principle of Ikebana went out the window in no time.
But we embraced the concepts of minimalism, of using simple shapes and lines (based on a triangular pattern) and eschewed busy-looking, heavy, symmetrical Western designs with gusto.
Just as pleasing was discovering that the small metal, spiked flower base many of us found at the back of our vase cupboards—
is a specific device used in Ikebana called a kenzan.
While I know the designs we created are not true examples of Ikebana (hence I’m calling this blog post in an Ikebana style) we were thrilled with the results, marvelling how creating an elegant flower design doesn’t have to be a daunting task after all—even in the middle of winter with sparse pickings.
Another bonus of this activity was discovering a hidden flower growing among my narcissus in the back garden at home.
Called an Erlicheer jonquil (not an obscure Latin term, but named because it’s an early-flowering specimen guaranteed to cheer you up in winter!) it’s a new favourite.
I’m imagining a mass planting of this fragrant beauty in my front garden next year!
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!
This pandemic has challenged us on so many levels over the past—how many?—months, but there’ve been unexpected rewards along the way to compensate.
For example, the realisation that owning a dog means escaping lockdown whenever an excuse is needed to leave the house was a lightbulb moment for many. Similarly, it’s been a real eyeopener for many businesses to discover that all workers don’t have to battle peak-hour traffic twice a day when they can work effectively from home.
As the world contracts and international travel fades into memory, one way to extract the best out of life is to:
#100 Appreciate Small Discoveries
Parking in a side street a couple of weeks before Easter, I came across this cute rabbit painted on an inconspicuous wall.
It brightened my day no end:
Another unexpected offering appeared alongside the entry to a car park. This sunny butterfly frieze greets passers-by like a welcoming smile, so thanks, Kristina and Albury City:
Its personal significance was enhanced exponentially when a matching beauty landed in my garden a couple of days later:
The pandemic threw up another joy recently whenWarburtons,a UK company that bakes much loved crumpets, released their secret recipe to comfort suffering compatriots during the depths of winter.
With a rallying cry of
who could resist giving it a go?
My first batch, cooked in a pan on the stove top, resulted in terribly mismatched crumpets, until the idea of repurposing my pie maker into a crumpet maker seemed a worthy experiment.
Have a look at them cooking:
Here’s the adapted recipe if you want to give it a try:
An innocuous visit to my GP this week threw up another new and exciting discovery when the doc asked me if I’d like eScripts sent to my phone instead of handing me the usual paper ones. (She’d noticed I was using earpods in the waiting room, she said, so assumed I was tech savvy. 🤣)
Heart thumping, I agreed to the eScripts, not wanting her to know the truth about my dread of technology and its propensity to go bad. Of course, the minute I walked out of the surgery, I checked my messages, convinced it wouldn’t have worked, but to my surprise …
So now all I have to do is show the pharmacist the super trendy eScripts on my mobile to get them dispensed.
There are so many wonderful small discoveries to be found at our new Harris Farm Market that I don’t know where to start, but the little lime-green kale/silverbeet/herb stripper has to be up there with the best. It rips out the pesky central stalk in milliseconds.
Harris Farm sells assorted native finger limes, too …
And what this means is that I can now amass any and all ingredients needed for my latest craze: the home made poke bowl with added crispy kale and finger lime bubbles topped with sriracha mayo.
And a final discovery has been the talented Marsh family from Faversham in the UK, who’ve been coping during lockdown by repurposing songs and posting them on YouTube.
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?
One year, you produce crops so lush, so abundant, so profuse, that you’re convinced your gardening skills are unparalleled. Then the very next year, you can almost hear the whispering coming from the garden as the veggies declare, “It’s my right, as a living, growing seed, to deprive you of my bounty this year for no apparent reason.”
And so this summer, the zucchini plants refused to flourish (I know! Who can’t grow zucchini?), the eggplants lay down their drooping arms early, and the sugar snap peas refused to be either sugary or snappy. Only one garden bed flourished while my back was turned.
And this is why I find myself forced to:
#97 Explore ways to cook … Parsnips?
Months ago, I threw some newly purchased seeds into an empty garden bed which then appeared to stay dormant for so long that I forgot I’d ever planted anything. Imagine my surprise when these lush leaves appeared, seemingly by magic:
It was parsnips! Purportedly a winter vegetable, it had decided to grace my garden bed—no, take over my garden bed—with summer produce.
So what do you do with a glut of—parsnips?
It turns out you can make several delicious dishes, beyond the well known roasted parsnip.
The easiest dish to cook is from a recipe sent to me by a friend when I put out the call for parsnip help. Called Parsnip Puff, and featured in an early Beverley Sutherland Smith cook book, my friend had scribbled the word ‘great!’ by the side of it, which is always a good sign.
Not only does it taste richer, creamier and more flavoursome than plain old mashed potato, it even looks yummier:
Buoyed by this success, I moved on to the ever reliable, ever moreish parsnip chips.
Just peel a parsnip with a vegetable peeler until it’s been reduced to a pile of shavings, then drop these into a pan of sizzling peanut oil until they turn golden. Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt and try to stop yourself devouring them in one go. So delicious.
It has a 5 star rating from 194 reviews, which is very impressive, but more importantly, it charmed my friends over the festive season:
But there’s no point keeping parsnip all to itself.
This zucchini slice from Taste (4.9 stars from 822 reviews!) can be raised to a 5 star rating with the addition of a grated parsnip (and carrot) in the mix. If you have fresh golden eggs directly from a friend’s chickens, it will end up looking like this and keep you going in snacks for… ooh, at least a day:
I’m now sold on parsnips, and plan to grow them again next year.
Although I fear they’re already out there muttering, “If she thinks she’ll get an abundant crop like last year … tell ‘er she’s dreamin’.”
Some years ago, I volunteered to clean archeological remnants that had been uncovered during the extensions to our local art gallery, MAMA. Every broken pottery piece or metal item that was unearthed had to be carefully cleaned and catalogued because it represented a glimpse into our history.
Discovering that one generation’s discarded items are a later generation’s history lesson made me wonder what secrets my own back yard might yield.
#96 Uncover Historic Secrets in your Own Back Yard
In this venture, I was helped immeasurably by the chickens who scratched around and inspected every square inch of soil, every waking hour, with forensic detail. Pretty soon, I was picking up small archeological scraps daily, wondering how I could have lived there for twenty-five years and not noticed the veritable treasure trove at my feet.
So I washed and dried every small discovery and carefully stored them all in a pottery dish protected with glass.
When the archeologist involved in the MAMA dig returned recently to our LibraryMuseum to tell us about her work and share the fascinating history the items revealed, I asked her about my own small finds.
She shook her head.
Of very little interest, she suggested gently. To anyone.
I might have guessed.
… sigh …
But it was still fun to sort through the detritus of a past age in my little quarter-acre block and see what it revealed.
One of my favourites was the old metal soldier with no head and badly damaged legs:
I imagined some little boy playing with him for hours and being heartbroken when he was lost.
Then there were a few loose marbles found separately over several months. Did these roll away from my imaginary friend as well?
A glass stopper was eventually reunited with its bottle neck:
and there was the usual assortment of patterned crockery chips:
But the most exciting find was a 1910 ha’penny with King Edward VII’s profile on it:
I wonder what a 1910 ha’penny would be worth now, taking into account inflation?
But all these trivial bits and bobs from the past were trumped during a recent visit to my sister’s back yard in Sydney’s inner west.
For there, in all their prehistoric beauty, were what could only be described as dinosaurs.
I give you:
TWO brush turkeys.
Just hanging around an inner suburban back yard as though they belonged.
There was barely a whisper about the history of our First Nations people while growing up in Australia in the 50s and 60s.
Occasionally a momentary regret at my ignorance would surface—like the year a young Irish girl, who spoke Gaelic*, attended our school for a while. As we crowded around this transparently-skinned lass with nary a freckle on her pale face, listening to the glorious lilting description of the lush green hills of her homeland, we assured her that we, too, knew and spoke an indigenous language.
We managed to string a few words together— ‘yoothamurra’ (the name of the property where one of us lived) , ‘burrumbeet’ (a tiny town nearby, where we occasionally picnicked) and ‘bet-bet’ (we were reading The Little Black Princess that year)—but even our new Irish friend Noírín, saw through the pretence.
Later, any historical education I may have gained—white or indigenous—was waylaid by taking predominantly scientific and mathematical subjects. But on the basis that it’s never too late to be educated, the time has come to:
#95 Learn more about our First Nations People
It’s clear why Australia Day is thought of by so many as Invasion Day, because that’s exactly what it was. Changing the date to a more inclusive one seems a no brainer. Back in my childhood, in the land of the long weekend, it was always celebrated on the Monday closest to January 26th, so it would fall on any day between the 23rd and the 31st of January.
By way of proof, my 1968 diary entry:
Note that entry for January 29: ‘… It’s a public holiday for Australia Day.’
So—hardly a date set in stone.
Then there’s our national anthem. We stood for God Save the Queen until about 1984. Then we switched to Advance Australia Fair which exhorted Australia’s sons to rejoice. Australia’s daughters made a fuss, so that became Australian’s all rejoice. But if the daughters were cross, imagine how the oldest known civilisation on earth must feel having to claim to be ‘young and free’. So that needs to change.
I’ve just finished reading Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe’s breathtaking book,
outlining the evidence that land cultivation, sustainable farming practices, housing, water and fire management were all practised for aeons before the arrival of the white settlers. The victors always get to rewrite or whitewash history, I guess, but reading it gave me one of those rare moments when the worrying way we’ve managed this continent hit home. By introducing cloven-hoofed animals to clomp around the place, destroying the soil and eating what little arable grasses exist right down to stubble, we’ve done a great disservice to the land.
As the judges of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards said: ‘Dark Emu is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what Australia once was, or what it might yet be if we heed the lessons of long and sophisticated human occupation.’
So then I turned to the Uluru Statement from the Heart to better understand how we can become a more inclusive nation. It’s a beautifully worded rallying cry for us all to come together.
Surely a voice in Parliament must be the first step?
Meanwhile, my journey continues …
*I have it on good authority that ‘Gaelic’ is a term no longer used. The language is known as ‘Irish’ now.
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.