Since I’ve rather cleverly managed to end up with several part-time jobs (all at the same time), pups that need vets, walking and endless cuddling, and in-laws to keep an (active) eye on, normal things like grocery shopping, visits to the GPO for stamps, going to the gym, cooking and socialising have all taken a back seat for the moment. Pretty lame excuses, I know, dear Pen Pal, but there it is. So, until I have a little more free time, a quick-fix postcard to keep you going. Enjoy. Perhaps I’ll make the next one a recipe card – that’s almost like cooking, right?




My first adventures into mosaic were under the guidance of the wonderfully talented and eccentric Evi Ferrier in 1998. She facilitated a workshop series in which a whole lot of volunteers helped to mosaic the front of the art shed at Glyde-in Community Centre in East Fremantle. That’s me in the purple tie-dyed shirt and hat, creating my very first gecko mosaic, with Evi sitting alongside me filling in some of the background and offering encouragement.

Some years later I attended another workshop with Evi, this one at her home in Mosman Park. She introduced us to a book called The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. It’s a rather cute children’s picture book and Evi read it to us to encourage us to be bold in our creations. The main character in the story is Mr. Plumbean, a man who paints his house to reflect his dreams rather than fitting in with the rest of the neat little box-houses in the street.

It was clear from Evi’s (very unusual) decor that she had taken Mr Plumbean’s example to heart. The house is mosaiced from top to bottom, inside and out, and it clearly does reflect her dreams. The bottom of the swimming pool, the garden walls, the sides of the house, internal walls – it’s a visual overload. That day, I came home and created my own orange splot house mosaic – both as an homage both to Evi and as a reminder to myself to remember be more like Mr Plumbean.

Having said that, I must confess that my own house is actually pretty mundane. It’s my garden that reflects my reluctance to be boring. It’s random and untidy and completely at odds with my oh-so-tidy neighbourhood – and I revel in it. This even extends to the verge outside our garden wall, where I grow sweet potatoes, loquats, strawberry guavas, rosemary, pigface (carpobrotus glaucescens) – and the grass I can’t quite seem to get rid of.

Every season brings something new in some part of my garden. Most days I go outside at least for a while, sometimes with a cup of tea and a book or (more often) to play with the hyper-active dogs. I inevitably see something I can tweak: a branch to prune, a plant to move or repot, some herbs that need picking, or a flower to photograph. The whole thing is an ever-evolving work-in-progress that makes me smile every single day. No exceptions.

Do you have dream – and does your house or garden reflect that vision?

It’s fairly commonplace these days for projects, events and endeavours to be crowd-funded. This involves raising a specific amount of money from (usually) a large number of people. It’s not a new idea, but has really taken off in the last 10 years or so. It’s allows artists, writers, developers, etc. to engage directly with their audience via fundraising platforms such as Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and CircleUp and so on.

In simple terms, the entrepreneur – let’s call her/him Sasha – comes up with an idea (otherwise known as a cunning plan) and selects a funding platform. Next s/he sets a time frame and a financial target, factoring in the 5 – 7% fee that many crowdfunding sites charge.

Next comes creating a succinct and persuasive sales pitch. For the best outcomes, Sasha needs to have a clear message – one that tells a good story and makes people care about the developer and the product. This really means s/he needs to know the target audience and is prepared to use social media to effectively promote the project, create awareness, generate a buzz-factor around the product/idea, and then sustain that by posting regular updates.

Ideally, lots and lots of people then rush forward to pledge an amount towards the goal 🙂

Sometimes the pledges are simply a set donation, but in many cases it’s in exchange for some sort of promised reward – the larger the pledge, the greater the reward. No funds (or rewards) actually change hands if the target goal isn’t achieved within the set time frame.

In my experience, the rewards that are offered as incentives have ranged from a signed letter of thanks to a range of products/services. Many people choose not to select a tangible reward at all, depending on the project and/or their relationship with the developer. In the best of circumstances the projects go ahead, rewards are received, most ‘investors’ are at least fairly happy with the outcome – and the crowd-funding ball keeps on rolling.

Over the years I’ve noticed that other sorts of funding have emerged. One of these is Patreon, which is really aimed at funding ongoing content creation via monthly subscription. This helps artists and creators to focus on content creation, rather than trying to fit their art in around day jobs. It’s simply a modern take on the notion of arts patronage, where artists receive encouragement and financial aid from supporters / philanthropists.

GoFundMe is a somewhat different sort of fundraising. It allows people to launch funding campaigns for medical procedures, emergency help, charities, educational opportunities and so forth. In many instances, people are more than willing to help out wherever they can without expectation of reward. It often depends on what the fundraising rationale is and whether it inspires us or simply gives us a feeling of obligation.

For example, a friend’s sister periodically raises money for her ongoing medical needs this way. Someone else I know is raising funds for a trip overseas. Another needed help to pay emergency vet bills when her dog was hurt. How would I choose who to fund?

Some of these feel like a hand-out, rather than a hand-up. But others, such help with the vet bills, no so much. That particular person felt very uncomfortable asking for money – it felt very much like begging to her. But she needed the help. So she offered to make beautiful handmade earrings (or something similar) for anyone who pledged their help. This made it easier for her to ask for help – and for her friends/family/others to provide it without an overt sense of obligation.

This works for me. It feels like I’d giving a hand up, as though something positive and useful is being done by all concerned. I’d definitely have helped this young lady out if I’d known in time – and not bothered to take up the incentive. The offer would have been enough. Although she does make great earrings….

My sister’s a great fan of all things quince. The first time she tasted it was when she was living in Angola many years ago. She was out shopping and bought a tin of what she thought was marmalade. The tin was labelled in Portuguese and, as she was still learning the language, she understandably thought that marmelo meant marmalade. As it turned out, it meant quince paste – also known as quince cheese.

She was an instant convert and went on to track down the raw fruit, finding the flavour astringent, rather tart and very much to her taste. I, however, had only ever tasted quince jelly (jam) until fairly recently and wasn’t overly impressed with it. But that was before I tried my hand at all things quince…

It all came about because friends of ours (Don and Ann) have nine mature quince trees on their property down in Collie, about 200km south east of Perth. A few weeks ago, when the bulk of their fruit was ripe, they decided to put a halt to trail of destruction that the local bird life was inflicting on the crop. To this end, they spent a couple of weekends stripping the fruit off all nine trees – and ended up with a LOT of surplus-to-requirement fruit.

So, one Sunday evening, the phone rang. It was Don, and the conversation went something like this: ‘Hello? Nik? Are you guys interested in some quinces? I have a few in my car and I’m half way back to Perth…’ ‘Sure, why not?’, said I, somewhat naively. ‘I’m sure I can do something with them…’

Don and his fruit-mobile arrived a couple of hours later. When I exclaimed at the quantity of fruit he presented us with, he just laughed – then told me I should see what was still in his car! Our share was four large carry bags of fruit, each bag containing about 45 quinces. This equated to approximately 9kg per bag (we weighed them!), which means we had in the region of 36kg of quinces in our fridge… and no idea what to do with them.

The fridge smelled terrific but I found that I don’t enjoy the fruit raw. Since I can’t bear to waste food, it became my mission to find out how to prepare it. I started by researching quinces and quince trees in general. I discovered that they’re related to roses, apples, pears, almonds, plums and apricots – that was a surprise. The trees are deciduous, hardy and drought-tolerant. They don’t require much maintenance (such as pruning, spraying, etc.), are self-pollinating and thrive in wide variety of climates – from temperate regions all the way through to the sub-tropics.

Quinces can be stored for up to three months in the fridge. They’re strange-looking fruit – a little like a cross between an apple and a pear in shape. But they’re slightly knobbly and their skin is both waxy and slightly furry to the touch. As the fruit ripens it goes from a light green to a lovely golden yellow and becomes surprisingly strongly and sweetly perfumed. It’s a very solid/dense fruit, but I’ve found that it bruises surprisingly easily – so some care is required when handling and preparing it.

I managed to offload about dozen or so fruit to DaughterDearest and saved a few for my sister, but have managed to process almost all the rest (we have about ten left). I discovered that the flesh, which starts off butter-coloured, turns pink and then a deep red when cooked – that was a surprise. My first adventure was quince paste – this was an epic endeavour that took thirteen hours all up. The slicing, dicing, cooking, stirring, pureeing and reducing took about seven hours. After this the mixture it went into a low oven for a further six hours to finish setting. Wow. The upside is that quince paste makes a great addition to cheese platters and keeps really well – which is lucky, since we now have a freezer full of it!

Next I tried two varieties of fruit leather – one spiced with cardamom, cinnamon and so forth, and the other with honey and lemon. Both turned out really well and we have a whole heap of that in the fridge.

We’ve also been eating slow-poached spiced quince on our muesli & yoghurt every morning for the past couple of weeks and I even made a quince (and almond) cake at the weekend. That was super-tasty too and well worth repeating. A big stride forward was to find that the fruit can be pressure cooked to save time, although I only found that out towards the end of the production line. I’ll know better next time.

All in all, I feel I’ve conquered quinces and done justice to Don and Ann’s gift of (36kg!) of quinces – but it’s definitely time to move on to other culinary adventures 🙂

Several months ago I decided to join a writing group. I’d been feeling an increasing need to get together with other writers, to get some feedback on my stalled-out writing and to re-establish some of the peer networks I’ve allowed to slide. So I bought an A5 spiral-bound notebook, sharpened my pencil, girded my loins and joined up.

That first session turned out to be quite anxious-making. It was a brand new group and none of us knew each other. We had no clear idea of what to expect or any real feel for how things would be organised either. This resulted in a fair bit of discussion before we settled down but, once that was underway, things got moving. We agreed to meet once a month and each time we get together we continue to build on the initial ideas.

We’ve tried various approaches so far, including catch-up chats about our writing, short exercises during the session and a take-home topic to write about for the following meeting. The exercises are random, but have tended to focus on an agreed topic/word. For those done during the sessions, we’ve all scribbled away madly for 10 (or so) minutes, then shared what we’ve written. The sharing is always optional, although most people have chosen to do so, and the feedback has been constructive.

The homework exercises have been a bit more of a challenge but have resulted some very amusing anecdotes and a number of very touching personal stories. I came away from the last session thinking about family, friends and the very short time we have together on this earth, partly due to this piece by group-member Rosemary Ague.

It’s only two days until we meet up again and the take-home exercise has been preying on my mind for weeks. We all agreed to write a short piece revolving around a colour of our choice, with the subject matter left up to the individual. The catch is that we’re to name the colour in the first sentence and then only allude to it after that, actually mentioning only once in any paragraph.

Right. After considering various colours and even more topics, my head had started to feel like it had a rainbow of ideas hovering around in it – but nothing much made it to the page. Then, yesterday morning, I listened to Joanne Fedler talking about her upcoming 7-day writing challenge.

“Some days we’re going to sit down and we’re just going to write rubbish… If you write one or two sentences that make you go ‘Oh, WOW!’  – well, then that’s been a really good writing day… But writing rubbish is better than writing amazing things in your head. Amazing stories in your head don’t count… The only thing that counts is words on the page. So put some words on the page! Let them be rubbish – that’s part of the process… just do it!”

Thank you, Joanne. I already knew this, but I managed to lose sight of it in amongst all the colour and noise. I’ve chosen yellow – because it makes me happy – and I’m almost-nearly satisfied with at least one of the paragraphs that have emerged 🙂