Monday, August 24, 2009

What a Saturday!

Sure it's Monday now but I needed a day to recuperate. Was the best day!

Saturday's plan was to leave at 10 and drive out to Phillip Island. As we were getting ready to go, we found the car seat was snapped in two. It's one of those polystyrene ones, and it seems Shorty had been playing with it and somehow broke it. We still had the receipt as we'd only bought it a couple weeks prior in expectation of us getting the new car. We figured we'd bring it in and see what happened. Luckily ToysRUs just exchanged it with no questions asked - probably a bit dodgy of us but we went there on the slim hope they would exchange it and were prepared to buy another one if we were asked to. But still, there's a taint of guilt.

Phillip Island is just over an hour away and the weather was autumnal with a warm sunlight and light, cool breeze. We first stopped at Panny's Chocolate Factory because I'd read you could tour the factory and with memories of Hershey Pennsylvania in my head, my expectations were a tad disappointed as the high price for entrance only offered up a short 10 minute tour. Although we did see a statue of Michalangelo's David in chocolate, a full scale miniature town and railroad in chocolates and sweets and finally a full sized wall mural of Dame Edna made from individual chocs.

We went over the bridge to the island, looking out the skylight in our new car (Mazda 6 MPS vroomvroom) at flocks of birds I don't know what they were. Seeing fields of cattle we later realized featured in our Big Macs. and we arrived at Phillip Island Wildlife Park. We read that we would be able to feed lots of animals, but I hadn't expected so many of the animals to be free roaming. We saw wallabies, kangaroos, koalas, wombats all sorts of birds and finally dingoes. The extra bonus was that so many of the animals had mated early and there were babies everywhere! We saw kangaroo and wallaby joeys in pouches, and the black swans and Cape Barren Geese had goslings. It was strange to go to some of the aviaries and see cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets in cages when wild birds were flying free and taking advantage of the free meals. The caged cockatoos would talk back. We spent a lot longer there than we'd anticipated and I maxed out my camera card taking pictures. the light was just perfect and my camera had fresh batteries and all the pictures look good, the animals were awesome posers. The girls were a tad wary of the kangaroos after one snatched the whole bag of food from Shorty's hand and tore into it. I didn't get pictures of the dingo puppies which I'm really annoyed about because they were adorable. Photo list is here.

After the wildlife park, it was getting late and we wanted to head to the beach for the penguin parade at sunset. They say sunset, but the penguins wait for full dark. Phillip Island has Little Penguins, which are under a foot tall with navy blue backs and pearly white bellies. They gather in groups in the surf and once they feel they have a large enough group; because there's safety in numbers and these guys have a few natural predators on land, they make their way across the beach up into the grassy dunes where they keep their burrows. These animals are completely wild and not tame in any way, just doing what they've done for centuries and we get to sit on beachside bleachers and watch them. Although if you ever get to see them I hope you won't have a group of obnoxious tourists shouting and walking in front of you with toddlers on their hips the whole time like we did. It was really incredible. and then the dunes have a network of boardwalks so we could see them going in to nest, fight for territory and mate as 'tis the season for such penguin shenanigans. Photography and filming of any kind was strictly forbidden as it would freak out the birds and disturb their natural activity (As if the network of boardwalks and humans stomping about wasn't disruptive enough?) I think we should go again in a month or so and see if there are babies.

The best thing was the location on the beachside is pretty remote from the cities and there was hardly any light pollution and I got to see the Milky Way for the first time. I'd never seen the dust clouds before. It was a stunning sight, and I'm so happy the skies were clear for us.

The kids had an amazing day, they were overwhelmed and excited. On a high from start to finish. I can't wait for family and friends to come visit so we can take them there too.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Weird day and I'm hormonal...

I'm a bit touchy today and I have no real reason to be touchy so I can only assume it's one of two things; dehydration or hormone flux. Possibly both but I've started taking these new vitamins - obviously having caved into the nonstop TV onslaught of vitamin peddlers telling me they could make me perky and sprightly and popular - my urine is luminous yellow. Scary shade for anyone to discover in the pan. Not recommended for women who leak a little when they sneeze*, or at least - don't wear white underwear. These vitamins are the kind of thing people should be force fed in order to know exactly who peed in the pool, with that telltale fanning of Mountain Dewness (The soda) they can't swim fast enough away from.

I have managed to keep my grumpiness to myself for which everyone should be grateful, however I would like to use my blog to point out something in particular to one woman I eavesdropped on: There she was, slightly tired and possibly hungover woman with her friend who was dressed almost identically in outfits I know I wore in the early 90's (black leggings, extra long white tee-shirt with a baggy sweatshirt on top and plimsoles). She was moaning on to her friend about how old she was looking. Crows feet and those little lines that creep around the mouth and you know, the only reason she keeps her fringe is because she doesn't want to show the road map that's developing on her forehead. Her friend told her not to be silly, she was gorgeous, and I nodded silent agreement as the woman for all that she was rather silly was in fact very attractive. Then the moany woman announced that she was almost thirty and looked like she was almost forty! Again, I nodded my head, because she did in fact look much closer to forty and I was wide-eyed, looking out the window of the tram for someone to peer at and send silent messages of "Holy fuck! She's in her twenties?! Damn."

To this young woman I want to offer some advice; perhaps if you hadn't spent most of your life applying a thick layer of foundation and powder from forehead to cleavage, you may have tried using some sunscreen and moisturizer once in a while. I mean, the make-up doesn't even match your natural skin colour, you've wiped on many shades too dark and it's vividly apparent when you wear short sleeves that your face and neck don't match your arms. With all of that slap on, there's no way you'd wipe it all off to re-apply the sunscreen after lunch and then put your make-up back on. Your face is the victim of your vanity - how fucking ironic is that?! I feel sorry for the friend who was tasked with bolstering your ego because I'm sure she was thinking the same as me if she had any sense but sadly she just petted your esteem and told you well intentioned lies. Dear woman, stop with all the make-up, and start using some Olay and factor 30. Your 60 year old self will appreciate the efforts.

Also, I'm the Slummy Mummy of the day because I fed my kids pot noodles and hot dogs for dinner because the pests were annoying me with their whining for dinner - at 4:30!! So they got dinner at 5 and all I did was boil water. Though, that confession aside, the hot dogs were damned nice.

Now if you excuse me, I'm going to see how many gallons of water it takes to get my pee clear again.

*...and if you do then for fuck sake will you do your Kegels! Do you want to be the stinky pee lady when you're old?? No. So do those clenches and stop being a knicker dribbler. This goes for men too because you think we don't notice the wet spot on the front of your trousers and you can tell us it's splashback from the sink but we know. We all know.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Too much so let's Bullet:

I've been busy getting things going here and it's none of the exciting fun stuff that comes with emigration. This stuff has been the boring bureaucratic malarkey that is necessary but tedious. Apologies. I'll just bullet point a few things:

1.) I'm currently horrified by this recent news report of an Australian quadriplegic who has won the right to end his life by refusing to take food and water until he expires. The short BBC article says:

A court in Australia has ruled that a quadriplegic man who wants to die can tell his carers to stop feeding him.

The judge in the western city of Perth said the nursing home would not be held criminally responsible.

In a statement, Christian Rossiter said he could not perform any basic human functions and wanted to die.

The ruling sets a legal precedent in Australia, where assisting someone to take their own life can be punishable by life in prison.

Western Australia's highest judge, Wayne Martin, said the Brightwater Care Group would not be criminally responsible if it stopped feeding and hydrating Mr Rossiter.

Judge Martin said Mr Rossiter was not terminally ill or dying and was capable of making an informed decision about his treatment.

'Living hell'

"I am unable to blow my nose," Mr Rossiter said.

"I am unable to wipe the tears from my eyes," said the former stockbroker and outdoor adventurer.

He made a public plea last week to be allowed to end his life which he described as a "living hell".

"I have no fear of death - just pain. I only fear pain," he said.

Mr Rossiter is severely paralysed after separate accidents in which he fell from a building and was hit by a car while riding his bicycle.

All of that is fair enough. The guy wants to end his life, I'm not bothered by that. His life, his choice and he has support from his loved ones. What I am horrified by is that in order to end his life, he must endure the very painful and distressing passing of self starvation and dehydration and that is where I think the cruelty lies. If he's been granted the right to end his life, why not just give him a lethal injection of morphine and let him die peacefully? The psychological war he's going to endure as his body cries out in thirst will be torture. I feel deeply sorry for this man and what he's about to put himself through just to end his pain.

2.) We've bought a new car, we pick it up later this week. It's not a real new car, it's a used car, but it's a wee cracker. It's a Mazda 6 MPS. (I don't remember what year, but it's the last model they made) I'll get pictures of it when it's here. It's as good as new, low miles and is the same colour as the beloved and much missed Alfa Romeo. Husband is very excited. Best part? We were able to buy it outright. We've treated our nest egg as a bank and have "loaned" ourselves the money for it, and will make regular payments back to replenish it. It's a strange feeling, kind of scary and fully liberating, this being debt free stuff.

3.) I have a bread machine! I love the bread machine. I have made many loaves of savoury and sweet varieties and it's a big hit. Stunning, wonderful and loved. A fascinating kitchen gadget. Everyone is pleased. I wish I had more friends I could gift bread to, then again, it may be a nice way to meet the neighbors; *knock knock* Hello? Here I'm new in the neighborhood, nice to meet you - have some bread. Thank you, you wonderful kind American lady.

It could happen like that.

4.)Last week's school assembly, Sassy was given an award for doing so well at settling in to her school, but she froze and refused to go up in front of everyone to accept the award. A few months ago she was in front of classmates, teachers and parents reading Scottish poems and being so proud of herself, and now we seem to have fallen back to square one. *sigh* Tomorrow she's supposed to be on a trip to have a sports day, but I know she'll panioc and be miserable and refuse to participate. she'll dread the whole thing. I'll bet money she starts telling me she doesn't fell well tonight - Bet You! I'm rather temopted to just let her stay home and skip this sports day. She already had one at her old school a couple months ago, but then I hate to set a precedent of letting her slack off things she find scary and intimidating. Conundrum!!

5.) We took a drive (In a rental) up into the Dandenongs last weekend. Dandenong Ranges are mountainous cold rain forest regions. I've never seen such huge trees and never knew eucalyptus could get so high. It was a stunning sight. Eucalypts are interesting trees because they shed their bark in long papery straps which hang from lower branches and litter everywhere. "On warm days vapourised Eucalyptus oil rises above the bush to create the characteristic distant blue haze of the Australian landscape. Eucalyptus oil is highly flammable (trees have been known to explode[6][9]) and bush fires can travel easily through the oil-rich air of the tree crowns. The dead bark and fallen branches are also flammable. Eucalypts are well adapted for periodic fires via lignotubers and epicormic buds under the bark."* . We came across a cafe that was full of parrots that were tame enough to be hand fed and we spent a good while there, buying bags of seed and tempting them to fly on us. No one was pooped on which made it even better. You can see pictures here and Husband's ones here.

6.) I mentioned that a TV commercial was being filmed on our street a couple weeks ago in the driveway of a rental house five houses over (which I may consider taking the lease on once this lease is up because it looks nicer than this one). Well the commercial aired this weekend. I can't find the ad online just yet, but if you're curious, it's the one for the Ford Territory where the kid drawn pictures and sticks them all over the family car so it looks like a Territory. Speaking of commercials, Husband's favourite lately has been the one where he heard "Be sure to keep your pits warm this winter with our selection of bedding." The company was selling pet supplies, asking us to keep our pets warm. The Aussies may think it's only the Kiwis who slip into swapping all vowels for an "i" but they do it too.

7.) Had a haircut and colour at a nice salon in the shopping district. It was a higher end salon than I'm used to (having curly hair has it's benefits that no one notices a cheap cut) where you have three different people finish your look; one for colour, one for cut and another who washes and gives the lovely scalp massage (I get dreamy tingles down my neck thinking of the scalp massage) tons of compliments and buttering/sucking up and then you get a huge bill at the end. Well as much as I loved the three people who took care of my hair; Lauren the beautiful charming girl who did my colour, Darren the too thin Londoner who inspired me to be more ProGay active (He was lovely, just a sweetheart) and the very chatty girl who washed and *tingle* massaged my head.

All of this pampering was ruined by the injection of hard sell on hair products. I was told by Lauren that to keep my reds I really should have the red tint shampoo and conditioner, Darren tried to push the styling gel for my curl retention and the shampooer and another random stylist would wander over occasionally and ask "So how are we getting on here?" and the current head attendant would update them and point out the product which prompted had other person to say how, yes it was a great product, essential. Sadly, they weren't very good actors and it all came across so fake and forced and wondering where the teleprompter was that I was biting my lip through it all. So confident are they in their hard sell that when I was totaled up at the end they overcharged me by $50 and then had to readjust by removing the products.

Shame really as I love the results I got - nice cut, great colour, but don't know if I could endure the bad acting and hard sell again. I go for a relax and a gussying up, not product parades. I also felt guilty not tipping but I've been told sternly from a few sources that Aussies don't tip. It's not a tipping culture. Now the UK is a lesser tipping culture than the USA where tipping is actually paying part of your server's wages and is essential. Vital! The UK has minimum wage laws protecting waitstaff where businesses can't offer half wages, so tips are a genuine thank-you for great service. In Australia, I've been lead to believe that tipping is just not necessary, although I don't know the ins-and-outs of how staff are paid. Either way, I feel guilty and stingy and mean for not leaving a tip and wonder if I should bake them some sweetbuns and give them a tenner anyways, after the fact, as an apology. I won't buy the products though. Sticking to my guns on that.

Been a while now writing this and I need a coffee and a wee and I'm tired and taking a break. I'm sure I'll remember a ton more to talk about. Everything's going well, ticking along. Sorry I've been negligent. Xoxo


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Oh shit...

We walk to school each morning and every morning there are seed pods all over the pavements. I can't tell which tree they come from, but the pods are only under trees. The older ones are dried and scatter their seeds while the more recent ones look brown and soggy. We didn't pay them much attention.

Then I thought to myself yesterday...are these things poops? Can't be. Not like a bird poop, too small and plentiful for cats. Nah, can't be a poop.

Well, it seems that yes, they are. Possum poop to be exact. About the size and shape of a giants rat's poop. So we've been treading through shit every morning.

So, it gets better. I didn't know we had possums in the area (which is dumb in hindsight as I live right next to a huge park) but suddenly thought about how the oranges we'd picked from the tree in the garden (and left on the ground) had been eaten. I thought it was the birds but after a bit of reading, it seems we've been feeding the possums. Oddly enough, they don't go for the fruits on the tree (and there are tons of oranges on the tree just now but all a bit past edible for us) but if we pick and drop them, those are quickly scarffed up. In fact this morning I noticed a littering of peels under the eucalyptus tree.

I may have accidentally made myself an unpopular neighbor by feeding the vermin, as it seems possums are a notorious house pest. One thing I read that's used as a possum deterrent is garlic. Possums have a very sensitive sense of smell and they don't like garlic. Well wouldn't you know, the other day I was hanging laundry and did notice a strong smell of garlic and thought someone was making a potent dinner. I'm now thinking, one of my neighbors may not be too pleased about a possum in our midst.

We'll just keep that between us.

No more treading in the possum poop, either.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Beware of Banks Banning Fees

Just a quick thing. One of Australia's banks, National Australia Bank (NAB*), recently announced it was going to scrap its overdraft fees. Isn't that wonderful! Isn't that just so darned kind of them to go and take away all those annoying charges?!

The National Australia Bank has announced it will axe its overdraft fees, which cost customers almost $1 billion a year. From October, the NAB will scrap the $30 fee imposed every time a customer overdraws their personal transaction or savings account.

What a bunch of kind hearted Robin Hoods. To go and do without that billion dollars in pure profit like that. What do the folks at consumer group Choice have to say on this?

Christopher Zinn from consumer group Choice says the NAB can now claim a competitive advantage if other banks do not follow suit. "The NAB is really showing leadership to the rest of the banking community, showing 'we can afford to live without these fees, they have given us a bad name, it's an unsustainable model'," he said. "The figure's out of the bag as to this massive take of $971 million.We believe that it would be really unlikely that the [other] banks would be able to carry on with these fees."

It's all rainbows and paradise for Mr. Zinn, isn't it? Can anyone else hear a bank; any bank, saying it can do without those profits because it makes them look bad? Anyone? Zinn is just so positive about the banks, like he knows the banks are really on our side. I just have to wonder, with the interest rates being so low just now, and the economic crisis slowing and things starting to turn around and climb back into some kind of stability (where was the repeal of fees when everyone was losing their jobs?), just where will the banks try and get their profits from? From the increase in new customers coming to their bank with the lure of no overdraft fees or, maybe with increasing interest rates once they've increased their debt pool? Maybe increasing fees for its business customers? Those Australian businesses everyone is proud of and is encouraged to buy from? They could cover the shortfall, right?

What do you think? I personally think it's the bank trying to butter up the public before it sinks its stinger in. This is a bank we're talking about after all. Profits are everything. This is big business, one has to be highly suspicious when a big business suddenly announces it's going to cut a billion dollars of profit from its books and we must speculate where that profit is going to come from. The quick answer is from interest rates.

We all know the banks are nostalgic for the 80's and it's not for the fashion. It's for the glory days of milking the public dry with it's out of control interest rates. Just look at the history. Although this is the Australian chart, trust me that the American and UK ones are pretty similar.

So let me consider, a Happy Couple taking out a mortgage just now, and fixing the loan to the current low rate for five years. What is the projected interest rate in five years? Will the couple be able to make those payments in five years if the interest rates shoot up? Will they have to sell up and downsize? There's a bit of a property boom on just now, house prices (at least here in Australia) are up, it's turning into a sellers market again. What about the person who buys now, mortgages to a fixed rate and then finds themselves in negative equity five years down the line?

It's just not the right time to buy , there are too many unknowns out there just now. Top it off with a bank being friendly and cutting its fees and I'm backing away looking for the exit. Fast!

We are renting for the first time, and it looks like we may be renting for quite some time - and that's ok. Sure it's annoying not having the right to paint the walls the way we want, or to build a deck out back or anything else. We save instead. Squirrel away, ride out the uncertainty and let the mortgage owners sweat this one out. For the first time in 14 years we are completely 100% debt free. We owe nothing to no one. It's rather wonderful. We're going to let that feeling last a good while longer and see where it takes us.

*(National Australia Bank does bring up thoughts of bank robberies with NAB doesn't it??)

**They're all chiming in now Zinn must be a psychic. Or, the banks have it all figured out now how to fleece everyone.