Monday, 21 January 2019

Packing and layering

Quite a few people asked if we had enough clothes on our trip, with temperatures that got as low as minus 28. The answer is yes, (remember the bun fight that was the Aldi Ski Sale??) but it wasn't light travelling.

The hardest part was getting it all there and back because it was 32C when we left Melbourne and about the same when we returned. I actually wore my aprés boots and took my down parka on the plane (which I always like to do anyway as it's a wearable doona!) But I had to squeeze everything else into my bag.

I'm sure many of you are already all over it, but I cannot tell you how good packing cubes are, especially as the majority of my wardrobe is black. I typically have to dig every time to locate anything and often several times. Not any more!

See below. I'm a roller (not a folder) but you can sort all your stuff into different cubes - tops, bottoms, underwear, socks, hats, gloves, toiletries, etc. They also help squash things in.

For hand luggage, I just had a tote, but some travelling essentials for me are a reusable water bottle, a flask for coffee (fill up at the breakfast buffet!) and of course, decent headphones.

Footwear is a big space stealer so I kept mine to the bare minimum. In fact, I took my runners and active wear out at the last minute. There were some hotels with gyms, but really, who was I kidding?? I didn't miss them. I just had my aprés boots, thongs (for sauna, lagoon, etc) and hotel slippers.

I also popped in these brilliant possum skin booties I'd bought in New Zealand to line my ski boots. I got the idea in Japan where there was a pair of boots with rabbit fur lining. These went into my aprés boots and were amazing at keeping my sockless toes toasty. 

So, how cold? Well, when we went on the reindeer sleigh, I was wearing:
  • High tech thermal leggings
  • Fleece lined thermal leggings
  • Normal leggings
  • Thermal top
  • Wolf fur vest (that I bought in Mongolia)
  • A polar fleece hoodie
  • The North Face down jacket (700 loft)
  • Ski parker (also padded against the cold)
  • Merino wool glove inners
  • Insulated ski gloves
  • Merino balaclava
  • Thermal neck-warmer
  • Big furry hat with pull-down ears borrowed from the resort for the activity
And over all that, we were given thermal suits (onesies). When I managed to get it on over all that, I was so hot I thought I'd expire, but once out in the snow and just a few minutes on the sleigh, I was comfortable.  

I probably could have travelled a little lighter, but as my friend Jane says, it's always easy in hindsight!!

Sunday, 13 January 2019


That's Finnish for thank you.

It was described to us a 'mosquitoes' but without the 'mos'.

I was right in the swing of it when we had a transfer at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort - that's where those fancy glass igloos are. Perhaps you've you've seen this pic (below) on FaceBook? They've been popping up regularly for a couple of years, inspiring our visit. 

Here's our pics, so you can see that it actually looks like the promo shot! 

 In fact, here's a pic of me, checking my phone in ours. 

They are as amazing as we'd hoped and very cosy. The beds have remotes so you can angle yourself up or down, like in hospital - I assume to get a better view of the Northern Lights, which presented themselves as a pale, but very distinct green streak across the sky. However, the choice of zebra bedspreads and a shaggy red rug was somewhat at odds with the Nordic surrounds.

If you are interested in going, ( I'd recommend it - and I don't get paid to blog!) know that you'll need to go through a travel agent, otherwise you'll need to book about a year in advance - blame FaceBook!

They also have very spacious cabins with a glass igloo attached - still with two beds. We spent a night in one of these as well and saw another, much stronger 'hairpin' of green light that after a while, produced a pale shadow replica of itself - a bit like a double rainbow. All from the comfort of bed (and thanks to our friends for alerting us!)

Here's the cabin - yes, it has a sauna as so many places we stayed did - and you get a great visual of the bedspreads and red rug in the igloo!

It was at this resort that we went on a reindeer sleigh - just two of us in each,  pulled by a single reindeer. It was magical. Lying back on reindeer hides (you need to let that go!), we went through the silent forest and out to a clearing in the night, lit only by the stars and a large area of green. 

Amazing, eh? In truth, although we were there, we didn't take this photo - you need a really good camera, a tripod, knowledge of what the heck you're doing and slow shutter speed. Frankly, an iPhone5 doesn't cut it. Thankfully, one of our fellow reindeer sleighers was happy to email us the shot of what we could see, but couldn't capture.

Anyway, back to the transfer.

The resort has two 'campuses' that are 5kms apart. Our glass igloos were one side, cabins the other, smoke sauna one side, snowmobiling the other - you get the idea - so there are a few transfers. 

On this particular transfer, I was kiitos-ing our driver for getting us all in and asking if we'd enjoyed our activity when he abruptly asked why I kept thanking him when he wasn't finished??

"Oh!" I said. "Is that a cultural thing? Do we wait until the end to say thank you?" 

Then I heard the rest of the gang, failing to contain their laughter.

'He said he's not Finnish - not finished!"

Easy mistake 😁

And finally, let me share this incredible shot, again taken by a fellow sleigher on the same night, who's just made contact and passed on his Insta account - jaw-dropping!

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Getting into Russia

Have you been to Russia? Have you ever had to wrangle the visa application?

When Proof Reader Penny and I decided to whack Russia on to the end of our Northern Lights trip, the travel wholesaler was dubious - but, true to form, we were determined - so we're going.

The wholesaler suggested the hassle of a visa wasn't worth it for just a few days. As it turned out, we're now there for a bit over a week, so well worth it - surely. As seasoned travellers, we couldn't imagine it'd be that bad.

Turns out it was.

Required information included the name and date of entry of every country you've ever been to in the last 10 years, (tricky now they don't always stamp your passport), your last two employees, including contact details (Geoff did his apprenticeship in 1978, and the company no longer exists), the name address and phone number of your university, the address and phone number of your travel wholesaler and hotels while there - I had a few errors so have now filled that one out so many times,  my computer is automatically entering the St Petersburg hotel details for my address and phone number when I make a website purchase! We then had to follow strict printing instructions of the forms and include a letter of introduction, booking numbers, passports and passport photos with shoulders visible.

PR Penny and I had an hour-long workshop to kick us off and then went it alone. I spent the majority of the AFL Grand Final (about a 3-hour event) doing mine.

We were both relieved when PR Penny drove several suburbs to hand-deliver all paperwork to the travel agent.

Then the email arrived. Three of PR Penny's four applications were rejected because they were each missing a phone number, and although the travel agent assured her it was as simple as logging back on and updating the forms, it wasn't. She had to do them all again -  from scratch.

Here's what she had to say about that:


Friday, 26 October 2018

The renovation

Look, I appreciate it's a first world problem, but I am so over our renovation!

For those who know me in real life, you may recall it took two years to renovate the shed (which turned out very nicely and is now where I work), the backyard (mostly deck) and new fences on both sides of our property.

We had a small break and now we're onto the house.

It's just not moving fast enough. The term 'glacial rate' has been tossed about with abandon - by me.

The dust and dirt have worn me down. So much so that I actually washed my car the other day (yes, by myself with a bucket!) just so something was clean. Two days later it rained. It needs to be cleaned again.

I cleaned the rooms that were intact, including the bathroom and a day later they were filthy.

I've been sleeping with the builder - it hasn't helped. Some suggested sleeping with him isn't enough - I actually need to put out!

We've been held up by all kinds of crazy things. Some of the material for the kitchen has been delayed because of a strike. The taps were stuck on the docks due to an outbreak of stink bug - I couldn't make that up - here's the government's announcement. The guy who's putting the underfloor heating in has had a breakdown - and I swear I'm next!

Here's a snapshot of where it's at:

This project kicked off at the start of July and it's nearly November. The builder said it'd be done by Christmas - but it didn't escape my attention that he failed to commit to which Christmas.

I'm sure it'll be fabulous when it's done - I'm just having a whinge as I've not had an oven for four months. Beer can chicken on the BBQ for dinner tonight!

Friday, 19 October 2018

The Conference

I went to Brisbane for a three-day conference last week - on the topic of cemeteries and crematoria. Yes, it's Latin - singular is crematorium and plural, I figure, is crematoria. See! I learnt something before I even got there!

There was some really interesting stuff! I had no idea that there were so many vessels you can keep ashes in, even jewellery. I once looked at having some of Jaz converted into a diamond, but then panicked that I might lose it. Irrational, I know, but it did stop me. As you may know, our family ritual is taking some of George and Jaz's ashes with us when we travel and sprinkling a bit at picturesque or significant places. However, the majority of them rests in beautiful, antique boxes on a bookshelf in Elle's bedroom.

I also learnt that these days, cremation is far more popular than burial. However, if you are considering burial, how's this iPhone tombstone? It's made of granite and looks amazing. Apparently, it was made and installed as a bit of a stunt but has attracted many genuine enquiries.

Yep - an iPhone headstone!
The session on exploding batteries contained within tiny defibrillators was also fascinating. These things are so small they actually place them in your ventricle - which is why they're hard to spot 'after the event' so to speak. I've since learnt that most people know what 'cadaver' means - but as I didn't, and it had been used several times regarding testing of said battery explosions, I did a discreet Google - which also brought up some images.... eek!!!!

We also learnt that if you hear a high-pitched noise in the mortuary, it may be the defibrillator alarm, indicating that the "patient could be in trouble'.... the presenter recalled she was at a cemeteries convention, not a medical one and hastily added, "Actually, probably not really in any trouble."

Should this occur, the manufacturer was giving away branded magnets shaped like flat doughnuts that you can run over the deceased chest to turn it off. Bet you didn't know that!!

Before going to the conference, I had thought QR codes on headstones was a brilliant idea. People wandering through a cemetery could scan the code and get a potted version of the occupant's story. I was more than a little sad to discover not only had this been thought of, it's now used quite widely.

Some of the supplier 'gifts' were gold. An attractive mug from the peeps who recycle all the metal collected after the cremation - you know, hips, fillings, that plate in the leg from that motorcycle accident in your 20s, that kind of thing. It's big business and returns money to cemeteries for various charitable services. The metal is sold to manufacturers. Seriously, I was looking at my gold ring and wondering if, in a previous lifetime, it was someone's fillings.... and I'm not game to think about what the mug may once have been.

It's an industry ripe for puns. A water bottle in my gift bag says 'Have a drink on us, you urned it' See what they did there?

Anyway, but now you may be wondering what the heck I was doing there. I've actually been appointed to a cemetery trust and figured this was a fast-track to immersing myself in the industry. It worked!

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Black Bean and Black Rice Salad

I've been lacking the inspiration to blog lately - as you may have noticed!

To get me back on track, my friend Deb suggested a recipe. Excellent idea - thanks, Deb!

This salad has loads of ingredients but is healthy, dead simple (although you need time to cook the beans) and you can add any protein you fancy - chicken, salmon, even a poached egg.

  1. Dried black beans take 55 minutes to cook at a simmer. You can substitute canned ones if you'd prefer. I cooked dried ones and threw the black rice in at the 20-minute mark as it takes 35 minutes to cook. They're happy co-cooking in the pot together!
  2. I dry roasted pine nuts, hazelnuts, almonds and pepitas in a cast iron fry pan (that means no oil - if you ever toast nuts and seeds, know they produce enough of their own oil not to require any additional). You could use any nuts and seeds.
  3. I drained a can each of green lentils and chickpeas (you could cook them from dried if you want to)
  4. In a large, flat bowl, I threw in cherry tomatoes, torn up baby bok choy from the garden, diced red capsicum and celery - just because that's what I had to hand. You could add spinach, rocket, snow peas - anything really - then I added the drained lentils and chickpeas
  5. Once the rice and beans were cooked, I drained them and put the colander under the cold tap to cool off - then popped that in the bowl too
  6. I dressed it with pumpkin seed oil (this is so good! I hadn't used it in ages and stumbled on it in Aldi last week!), fig syrup (you could use pomegranate molasses or a vincotto), salt and pepper and some strips of fried chicken.
It'll last a few days in the fridge, will travel well for a work lunch and is filling and high in protein (so keeps you feeling fuller longer).


Tuesday, 11 September 2018

The Cocktail Party

Writing about the cocktail party we went to at Elle's college in Canberra reminded me that these days, a cocktail party rarely involves cocktails. It's usually some champagne, lovely wines, beers and sparkling water. 

Amazingly, (you'll get the irony shortly) I actually recall a real cocktail party when I was at college. How anyone thought an event offering more than a dozen different cocktails for 17 - 22 year-olds to work their way through was a good idea, is beyond me - even if it was the 1980s.

The common room was set up with different stations, each offering a different, extremely alcoholic concoction. These included but were not limited to; Grasshoppers, B-52s, Harvey Wall Bangers, Martinis, Long Island Iced Teas, Blue Lagoons, Fluffy Ducks and few with 'hilarious' names like Sex On The Beach and A Comfortable Screw.

Hydration wasn't such a big thing in the 80s. Why drink water when you could just keep drinking cocktails? Especially, if you were starting to feel a little dizzy, there was a very tasty light option - kahlua and milk. 

For most of us, we'd only indulged in these exotic mixtures on occasion and certainly not all at once. We were even issued with a check list - just to be sure we didn't miss any.

These days, a sense of responsibility usually means serving food at such events, often something like chicken sandwiches, mini burgers and other substantial finger food to slow the uptake of alcohol among an excitable crowd.  Back in the 80s, it was a couple of bowls of Burger Rings and some Twisties.

We had loads of drunken, raucous parties at college, but this would have to have been the fastest. It started at 8pm and was done and dusted by 10.30pm. There wasn't a conscious soul left as everyone had either passed out, vomited, become disorientated and lost in the gardens or successfully crawled off to bed.

Based on this, my only experience of a cocktail party with both scope and scale, perhaps it's just as well that most are beer and wine.

Packing and layering

Quite a few people asked if we had enough clothes on our trip, with temperatures that got as low as minus 28. The answer is yes, (remember t...