Getting rid of the Annoying Stuff

Isn’t it funny how we put up with things that annoy us for ages before doing something about it? It can be an object that you use everyday, a process with an aggravating glitch or just something that keeps getting in your way. Often these are just irritations but sometimes an inefficient item can even damage your health. Whatever the level of frustration anything that continually bugs you is energy sucker and rather that put up with it you’ll have less stress if you use your creativity to eliminate the problem.

Minor irritations usually just require a bit of creative thinking to make them disappear. Before we had our kitchen renovations, we had nowhere to put our trays. Many were too wide to fit in a cupboard so these were stuck against the wall at the end of a bench and would fall over all the time and send something else flying. Drove us crazy. When we bought some metal shelves to hold a small dishwasher and the microwave there was room for the trays but no way to stop them from falling over.

Ellie and I went looking for a solution and found an old wooden Bookmaker’s Stand in a vintage shop. Bookmakers would stand on this small wooden platform at country race meetings and the punters would place their bets. Fortunes must have been made and lost on this stand. There were spaces between the slats and when you put down one of the folding legs, it became an angled rack for our trays. Problem solved and it had a great story as well.

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A tool or a piece of equipment or a process that causes physical pain definitely needs to be changed. I have been cutting up lots of old clothes for rag paper-making, which is a great way to recycle and eliminate more clutter, but have found that I don’t have the right scissors for the job. I have sharpened and tried the various ones we have in the house but they all cause hand and wrist strain from repeated use. As I don’t want to get RSI in my right hand I have looked online for ergonomic scissors and there are several options, although some are quite expensive. I will probably go for the medium price range. Looks like it will be money well spent because RSI is worse.

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In the meantime changing the working method has helped. Ripping the fabric into long strips, rather that cutting reduces the use of scissors and I only have to cut the strips into small pieces. Rethinking a process is a good way to solve a problem.

Quick fixes are often all that is needed when something is bugging you. I always have duct tape, Blu-tack, wire, bulldog clips, pegs and metal hooks handy when a temporary solution is all that is required. These can be used in all kinds of situations to hold or hang items around the house and garden or for use in creative work. As well as the usual types of tools, jeweler’s pliers are invaluable for fixing fiddly things, like jewelry or bending fine wire. Of course there are times when you need to consult an expert. If a problem involves electrical or plumbing repairs DIY is probably not the safest way to go. A bad situation could escalate into an awful scene from a sitcom.

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When you don’t have a lot of space for your creative work anything that gets in the way becomes an annoyance. At the moment we have a folding clothes rack in the studio for drying towels and sheets inside during the winter as we don’t have room for a clothes dryer. This has been bugging me because it takes up a lot of space. As it is summer I have folded it up and it feels much more roomy. I don’t want to put it up again in this spot so I need to find a solution to this problem. I’m still mulling about it but I’m sure an idea will come to me. Some resolutions take longer than others.

The thing is there are always solutions to problems if you put your mind to it. Irritations can inspire original ideas and are a great incentive for all types of creativity and you’ll feel a lot better when you make them go away.

Kat

In the spirit of fixing stuff here’s the wonderful David Byrne with Broken Things.

 

 

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Fixing a hole and Lighting up the New Year

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This post began with a hole in the wall but more on that later.

New Year is rapidly approaching. At this time of year I love to light candles, which can symbolize, peace, hope and wishes for a new beginning, as well as remembrance of what has gone before. Candles also give a relaxing atmosphere to the home, especially if they are scented and can also repel mosquitos outside (citronella and lemon grass). Having candles on your table will make even the most basic meal feel special.

Candles are beautiful decorations for any celebrations. With the lighting of candles also comes the responsibility of avoiding any type of fire. Outside when it windy or there is a day of Total Fire ban, it is wise to put candles in an enclosed container, like a tulip shaped holder or a lantern. This is much safer than lighting fires outside in the summer.

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Inside you must be especially careful with naked flames. I like to put candles or incense in our fireplace for safety and any smoke will go up the chimney and not set off the smoke alarms. I can leave these without worrying that the house will burn down. If you have a fireplace candles look great in summer.

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In our front living room there used to be an old gas fire that became dangerous so we had it removed. There was now a shallow hole in the double brick wall. We wanted to fill this with a simulated log gas fire but could not find one small enough to fit the space. We were left with a wooden mantelpiece with marble surrounds and a hole in the wall. A decorative screen has been hiding this for several years.

The creative mind can work in funny ways. On Christmas Eve I suddenly had a bright idea about how to turn the hole into a feature. It is so simple I could kick myself and wondered why I had not thought of this a long time ago. I selected a couple of used bricks left over from our renovations, as well as a very old decorative cast iron vent that came from some relative and placed these in the bottom of the opening. With the addition of several pillar candles we now had a niche that creates the effect of a fireplace without the heat. This is great for summer and will also look welcoming in the winter. I put some old shells (collected by an ancestor in the 19th century ) onto the hearth as a reminder of the sea.

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There is a gap in the double brick wall at the top of the hole that acts like a chimney for the candle smoke so that this will not build up in the room. As the whole niche is made up of bricks with a marble surround, everything is flame proof. Pillar candles can build up a lot of heat so this is important. You should never put candles in an enclosed flammable space.

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It would be quite easy to make a faux fireplace from scratch. I’ve seen examples on Google image search that can be as simple as a brick ledge against a wall with a wooden beam placed high above to act as a mantle. Old reclaimed mantelpieces can also be placed against a wall with a fireproof ledge in the opening to hold candles. Just make sure that any wooden features are far enough away from the flames so that the mantelpiece won’t catch fire. To limit smoke use slow burning natural candles like soy or beeswax.

If you have nowhere inside to safely light candles, outdoors you could create a niche against a stone or brick wall, turn a large rectangular concrete planter on its side or end, or put candles inside a chiminea. There are so many creative ways to make safe candle holders.

Turning that useless hole into something fun has raised my spirits. It is good to solve an annoying problem before the New Year. Ellie and I will be lighting our candles in the niche, as well as in the fireplace, to farewell the old and welcome in the New Year. We wish everyone a bright and very happy 2018.

Kat and Ellie

Looking through a long list of songs about candles on Google, the number one song and probably one of the most uplifting is Melanie Safka’s Lay Down from Candles in the Rain, that she wrote about the Woodstock music festival in 1969. As it is the summer season of music festivals in Australia, here is a live version she performed on Dutch TV in 1970 with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, where she also tells the story of the song.

 

Memories Versus Minimalism

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Recently I read an article on a local paper that had suggestions about how to decorate your home for Christmas with minimal decorations. Although I like to reduce clutter, I think this is a step too far. Wiping out all the reminders of past celebrations, especially if it helps you to remember people who are not around anymore, is a little bit harsh.

While Ellie and I have some simple modern decorations in our family room, we still like to have a corner of the house devoted to tradition and to remember the good times and those who made them special. Many of the items that we use as decorations were gifts or  inherited from relatives or friends, such as the objects in the winter scene I created on an old china tray in our front living room. I had fun with dachshunds chasing a hare under an “ice” tree and happy Christmas geese who’d managed to dodge the pot.

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Hanging on a faux stag horn candlestick are some Santa balls that are reminders of a happy celebration with our mother. These were among the baubles on a large cut Christmas tree (a Monterey Pine) we decorated for a family party. I think we used every decoration we owned on that tree, plus some inexpensive papier maché ones we bought at a two-dollar shop. We dressed up in costumes from the 1890s that Ellie sewed or were put together from charity shop finds of blouses with mutton-chop sleeves. All our guests came in costume, including an uncle looking very dapper with a fake moustache, straw boater hat and striped blazer.

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Pillar candles and bowls of evergreen plants, like ivy, from our garden, decorated two tables, with an ivy swag running along the stair banisters. Ivy swags were also draped around the fireplace, with bowls of Cyprus pine on the mantelpiece. Below this hung colourful woolen Christmas stockings. As it was summer pillar candles filled the fireplace. We did not turn on the electric lights and used candles and old oil lamps as lighting. The only concession to modernity was a hidden stereo playing classic Christmas carols.

Ellie and I made the Christmas crackers (bonbons) from gold, silver and Florentine paper. Inside we included homemade crepe paper hats, small inexpensive gifts, like little wooden scoops, sets of dice or decorative bottle stoppers and some really terrible jokes. We had the traditional roast dinner followed by plum pudding and there was lots of merriment. It was one of the most enjoyable Christmas parties we have ever had.

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The candy cane also hanging on the candlestick is an old family decoration that came from our grandparents and brings to mind childhood celebrations with our father. I also made the large red heart from salt dough during a craft session with a friend. So many good times to remember.

Maybe I’m being sentimental but I don’t want to eliminate all of the past just to embrace the latest trend, which seems rather cold and the opposite of the festive spirit. Keeping some old decorations means you can still hang onto your special memories while you make new ones.

I hope everyone has a wonderful festive season.

Kat

I love schmaltzy Christmas songs and here’s a medley that includes a great version of Brenda Lee’s Rocking Around the Christmas Tree performed by Michael Bublé and Carly Rae Jepsen.

A “New” Recycled Christmas Tree

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At this time of the year I always like to cheer up our home with some Christmas decorations and try to be a bit creative by reusing old ones in a new way. I wanted a change from the music stand tree we have had for the last few years but buying a new one was the last thing on my mind, as recently Ellie and I have had a lot of expenses after dealing with our mother’s funeral costs. So what to do for a change without spending any money, as well as sticking to a recycling ethic?

I remembered that several years ago a small potted camellia tree had died because the roots had become pot bound and we left it too late to replant. It was a lovely shape so I cut off the dead roots and leaves and put it in the studio for a while to display some bird nests that had fallen in the garden. When I became tired of the clutter I put it in the roof because I did not want to throw it out. After some careful maneuvering I managed to get it out of the roof in one piece. Once the spider webs were removed I could see that it would make an interesting Christmas tree. If you have any trees with dead branches that need pruning these would work as well.

All I needed was a container to stand it in and found that it looked good in a white indoor plant container that we already had. Anything reasonably large would do like a ceramic pot, a vintage milk can or a huge glass jar or vase. I decided that as the planter had a wide opening I would put a narrower container in this to hold the tree in place. What to use that was the right size? I came up with a unique solution using an old WWI brass mortar shell case. Not something that everyone has kicking around but a tall jar would also do the trick. I put marbles around the tree trunk to stop it from wobbling in the shell case (you could also use small pebbles or sand) and packed newsprint paper around the container to stop it from falling over in the planter. A layer of white polyester stuffing for toys etc., that came rom our craft supplies was used to cover the paper and hide the shell case. It simulates snow. Anything fluffy and white could be used, like cotton wool or you could use sand or pebbles, depending on your theme.

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Now it was time for the fun of decorating the tree. I used the same decorations that had been on the previous tree, but added a mass of aluminum butterflies that were in storage. All of these were bought on sale. Because I try to stick to a colour scheme of silver, white with a touch of gold, it is easy to add or make more matching decorations. We also have some large silver glass balls, but with dogs this is risky because they will go for any baubles of this shape. I don’t want to have these crashing to the floor and smashing into tiny smithereens so left them off the tree.

With stars, angels, tiny Santas and musical instruments, the silver fir trees and butterflies, a peace dove and a white horse, the tree looks really great. We don’t have any suitable Christmas lights, but at night the silver decorations really reflect any light in the room and the tree glows. These also reflect the bright sunshine of a summer’s day.

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In the front hall I did something similar by hanging a star and some embroidered butterflies on a single branch sitting in an ultramarine blue glass vase. Gold and white glass ornaments were placed on mum’s vintage aqua glass platter. The decorations look lovely with green and aqua vintage glass vases and a colourful Italian hand painted platter. These were found at op shops or were gifts. Again I just used what we had already.

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On the front door I hung a wreath made from a plaited straw circlet that had once been part of a Swedish Christmas mobile. I decorated this with some green and cream ribbon that came from a florist’s arrangement. It looks summery and cost nothing.

Reusing old stuff is a fun and inexpensive way to make the festive season brighter. Nature is also a great supplier of tree materials and decorations, from dead branches to evergreen leaves. If these can be found in your own garden so much the better. You can also put any vegetable matter back into your garden as compost or mulch.

Just because you don’t have a lot of money does not mean you can’t have a beautiful and fun celebration. Never forget that your creativity is beyond price.

Kat

One of the best Christmas songs is How to Make Gravy by Australia’s Paul Kelly. It is happy, sad and touching all at the same time. Here’s a live version.

A Hand-Made Halloween

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Over the past ten years in Melbourne the festival of Halloween has become more widely celebrated and seems to be getting more commercial with large public events in many shopping centres. The St Kilda Town Hall even has a hugely popular Haunted House experience. We are increasingly getting Halloween themed catalogues in our letterbox advertising elaborate and expensive decorations and costumes, as well as the usual treats. Before all this commercialization most local Halloween celebrations were limited to home parties where decorations and costumes were usually homemade and trick or treating was rare.

Magazines used to be the main source of ideas for making party decorations and costumes. We have that really old party magazine from the 1890s, mentioned in a previous post, which has a wonderful section on Halloween, as well as the more recent Australian Women’s Weekly Home Library publication, Perfect Parties. No one was expected to spend a fortune and it was so much more fun and creative to make things.

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As children Ellie and I had a Halloween Party. As there was little available in the way of decorations, except for plastic spiders and orange and black balloons, we invited some friends for a sleepover before the party and had a great time making decorations for the family room and garden. Out of black card we cut black cats, owls, bats, broomsticks and the like and hung these from sticks of bamboo to create mobiles.

In one corner of the garden we built a witch’s house against the side fence with a sheet of corrugated iron for the roof and bamboo poles (cut from the garden) tied together with twine to form the walls and a window. We painted a sign that said “Witches Hollow”. In front of this structure dad made a tripod from wooden poles and hung a cast iron camp oven for a cauldron over some unlit wood. These days you can have a fire in a metal fire pit. Probably one with a wire safety grill is best to protect from dangerous sparks.

A decorated table is a wonderful centrepiece for a Halloween party. You don’t need to buy special tableware. Our grandmother gave us a vintage tablecloth with embroidered black cats, but you could make a tablecloth from orange fabric or just use orange crepe paper decorated with cutout black cats, bats, owls etc. She also made us a beautiful cake decorated with black cats. It is easy to make cupcakes and decorate these with black cat sweets, jelly babies and snakes, together with orange or chocolate sprinkles on plain white icing. There are so many creative ideas around for making Halloween food these days, especially online. Fresh fruits and vegetables, like pumpkins, turnips and tomatoes make great table decorations and are a reminder of the autumnal origins of Halloween, even if it is spring here. And you can use them to make a soup or put them on the barbeque after the party.

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Black Cat Cupcakes

Only recently in Australia has it been possible to get large orange pumpkins to carve at Halloween. Supermarkets now have these to buy for the occasion. We had to make do with the green kind. Our grandfather carved a jack-o-lantern out of a pumpkin and fitted it with an electric light bulb to put on the front veranda. He also had a very old papier-mache mask of a skull and put a bulb in this as well. They looked wonderfully spooky to welcome the guests. Now front porch decorations seem to be becoming more elaborate and more common here, but you don’t need to buy frightening manikins that cost a heap. A homemade scarecrow could look just as creepy especially if you give it a scary clown face.

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Most people who came to our party had homemade costumes. I created one from a long white satin bridesmaid dress that I had worn the previous year. Over this I wore a filmy pale blue robe of my mothers and made a cone-shaped hat from white cardboard, stuck on some gold stars, attached a filmy white scarf from the peak and stapled some hat elastic to keep it on. With a wand made from a piece of silver painted dowel I was a Sorceress. Mum made Ellie a skeleton costume by sticking white electrical tape to a black polo neck top and tights.

Guest’s costumes ranged from the usual witches or ghosts, to someone dressed as a pea pod with green balloons for the peas. There were some very creative costumes, such as a hand painted skull and crossbones outfit and a witch doctor, who had lots of small handmade mojo bags attached to a belt. I remember we all had a great time dancing to pop music and playing Murder in the Dark, which still seems to be a popular party game. Of course there were prizes for the best costumes and little bags of treats for everyone to take home.

With a bit of creativity you can avoid a lot of the cost and over commercialization of Halloween and still have a great party. And if it is for just for adults, substitute more appropriate food, drink and entertainment. Be as crazy as you like. Why should kids have all the fun?

Kat

Probably one of the best songs ever written about a ghost is Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. The famous “red dress” video of this song has had many millions of hits on You Tube so here is the “white dress” version.

Inspiration is Closer Than You Think

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Sometimes you imagine that you need to find inspiration in exciting far away places. You know, that “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” It is wonderful to travel but it is not always possible and inspiration can be closer than you think. Your local area can be full of inspirational locations if you take the time to look. Often when you visit the same location over and over it can be a great source of creativity.

We don’t live far from Port Phillip Bay and one beach in particular has been a source of inspiration. At various times over several years Ellie recorded this beach on a simple phone camera. This series of images show the changes of season, light and mood, often from the same angle. Such a location never stays the same and can keep giving you new ideas. There are pictures of the scene with a sandbar, still water, and the exposed rocky shore and at different times of day. Sort of reminds me of Monet’s obsession with Rouen Cathedral that he repeatedly painted under various light conditions.

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In each of these photos you can see the City of Melbourne’s skyline, which is ever-changing. A couple of the images are from 10 years ago and there are now more tall buildings that can be seen from the beach. The beach itself has undergone development with new board walks and is less peaceful than it once was so it is great to have it frozen in time in these photos.

It is also inspiring if you can collect interesting items for your creations at a favorite place without damaging the environment. The same beach has provided me with interesting material for some of my found objects that I have in the studio. Over several years Ellie and I would pick up sea glass of various colours from this beach. A vintage milk bottle was filled with white glass to give it a milky appearance and I arranged a lot of the coloured glass in layers in a large old spaghetti storage jar to form an interesting sculpture. It sits on my work table and the light from the windows makes the glass glow.

Other bits of archeology are washed up on the shore. Fragments of old patterned china and earthenware look wonderful in interesting old glass jars. Did these shards wash into the bay from storm water drains or were they tossed from ships? It seems that eventually all rubbish will end up on a beach somewhere and some of it not good. At least these items do not affect the eco-system and can once again become something to enjoy. You never know what you will find.

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Whether you live near the sea or a lake, a park or nature reserve, hills or mountains or a desert, there is sure to be some special place that will keep attracting you. Don’t ignore your local environment. Familiarity does not have to mean contempt. It’s all about paying attention to details and changes, which are in themselves inspiring.

Kat

I have included my favourite 80s beach song (I love that era for music). It is one of the few girl beach songs, as most of them are by boys. Echo beach by Martha and the Muffins is full of nostalgia and is about enjoying the beach on your own as a place to escape the rat race.

Getting Around Life’s Obstacles

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Creativity isn’t just about making art. It is also about solving problems. Sometimes you come up against an obstacle in your life, whether physical or mental, that seems impossible to remove so you must find a way around it. This may involve a bit of rethinking of the situation to find a satisfactory solution.

In some ways we create our own obstacles with thoughts like “I must wait until this or that happens before I can do such and such.” I know I am guilty of this type of thinking at times. Dishwashing is my least favorite housework activity. It never stops and I would rather use the time for creative activities.  Before we had our renovations several years ago we could not fit a large dishwasher in our kitchen. We previously had a bench-top dishwasher that had given up the ghost and the brand was not longer available. We thought that we could not get a new dishwasher until we had renovations, which still required a few more years of savings.

A friend who was renting a house said that this was stupid and we were putting up unnecessary barriers. She had bought a second hand mobile dishwasher that could be attached to a tap without it needing to be permanently installed. We did not have the space for this so looked around and eventually found one made for caravans and put it on a shelf near the sink. This worked well and when we finally had our renovations we sold it to someone who needed a small bench dishwasher for their workplace. So our problem was solved and we got around an obstacle that was driving us crazy.

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Lack of money is often an obstacle to doing things but you can usually work your way around this problem. Still on the subject of renovations, our finances did not extend to putting in a new bench and a linen cupboard in the laundry. It previously lacked a bench and had some large old wooden shelves, which took up too much space. We reused an Ikea stainless steel bench and some industrial metal shelves that were in the old kitchen, together with an Ikea drawer unit on wheels that had been in the laundry. With a new marmoleum (linoleum) floor and freshly painted walls the room looked more spacious. Reusing existing items gave us what we needed. Just because you don’t have the money does not always make a situation impossible. A compromise can work well.

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When in the middle of any kind of project you can run into problems and these should never be an obstacle to getting it finished. Just think of Michelangelo. When he was carving his figures he sometimes came across flaws in the marble and would have to adjust the composition accordingly. We might not all be Michelangelo’s but we can take a leaf out of his book and think on our feet if some difficulty pops up in the progress of our work.

Seeing beyond an obstacle is sometimes what is required to solve a problem. After playing my ukulele and singing before an audience for a while, I suddenly developed stage fright and became extremely nervous. Performing was now more stressful because of anxiety. I knew this was ridiculous as I really enjoy singing so looked up ways to cope on the Internet. As with most skills in order to build confidence you must practice and practice so that you know your material thoroughly. If I imagine the audience as friendly and ready to be entertained, I can look beyond my anxiety and have fun. I will never be able to get rid of my nerves completely but they can be used to increase the energy necessary for a good performance. Now I can control them rather than the other way around and I look forward to performing.

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Even if you cannot remove an obstacle it need not become a huge barrier in your life. Try to work around the problem, be flexible and use creative thinking.

Kat

As a child one of my favorite performers was Jerry Lewis. I loved watching his films on TV. He was a comic genius and always seemed to be confronted with some kind of obstacle that led to hilarious situations. I like this scene from The Bellboy (1960), which uses visual comedy to great effect.