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.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Quite possibly the worst event I have ever attended

I'm old and been to an awful lot of events - but this one may have taken the cake for the most ill-conceived one of all time. It'll be hard to top (or bottom?)

It was the parent event at Elle's college.

Last year, it was a black-tie dinner at a hotel. That was a perfectly fine event, but they realised there was limited opportunity to mingle and, perhaps more importantly, a black-tie event could be a bit intimidating for some parents - and fair enough.

So this year, they aimed to address those issues with a cocktail party. I paid just north of $450 for Geoff, Elle and I to attend - plus airfares and accommodation. But as the details emerged, I was increasingly apprehensive.  
It was being held on the college grounds, in a marquee. Now for those of you unfamiliar with our nation's capital, Canberra is renowned for being hot in summer and cold in winter. Here's a snapshot of what we were dealing with on the night in question - yes, outdoors in sub-10 degree conditions. What the picture fails to capture is that there was also rain.

Someone said the walls of the marquee would be insulated - and they may well have been - but as they were all drawn back, who'd know. We were also assured there would be 'loads of heaters'. There may have been more, but I only saw five small free standing ones outside the marquee - hardly adequate for a crowd of over 400.

The dress was cocktail, but I'd settled on a pant and block heeled boot, as we'd also been warned there were areas of grass. In fact, the whole thing was on bare ground save for some scattered hay from the bales that had been placed about for seating. I felt sorry for the few women who didn't get the memo and were wearing stiletto sandals.

Just prior, Elle had confirmed that dress code was more 'rustic cocktail' - what the heck does that mean??

On arrival, we located the single caravan serving drinks. Cute - but totally impractical to get drinks into the hands of hundreds of people who all arrived within 30 minutes. Having queued, we discovered the beers were not dispensed here, but from a separate station at the other end of the 'paddock'.

They ran out of sparkling wine at 8pm. Someone must have done a runner to the bottle shop because more appeared around 10pm.

We knew the catering was via food trucks and, yes, they're very 'on trend' but 3 food trucks was optimistic. Elle introduced me to one of the guys who works in the college kitchen - who, I hastily add, had nothing to do with the organisation. 
I looked at that girl standing in the pancake truck and just thought, yeah, that's not going to work, he observed. 
He was right. The hamburger truck ran out of hamburgers. The pizza people were putting whole pizzas on a table just away from their venue, which were being set upon like seagulls on dropped chips. 

I could go on - it was dark, the sound system was dreadful, I was hungry and the cold had seeped up from the ground, through my boots and I was numb from the knees down.

But, and it's a big but, on the upside, we met amazing, fabulous, interesting and diverse people; students, parents and staff. We had a great time, proving the adage that a great night really is all about the company.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Market

You may recall I posted recently about how easy it is to acquire, and how difficult it is to dispose of 'stuff'.

Which is why, some six weeks in advance, we booked a stall at the Camberwell Market. For those of you who aren't local, this is a Sunday morning institution of trash and treasure (although in truth, it's pretty heavy on the trash and rather light on the treasure.)

We'd been gathering and sorting for weeks, so I was a tad annoyed when mid-afternoon the day before said booking, the Captain of Logistics (Geoff) announced that it wasn't all going to fit in his truck - he needed a trailer. Can I tell you how difficult it is to secure a trailer at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon? Very.

After the Captain had been driving around aimlessly for about an hour, my irritation reached fever pitch - which means I got cross and took over - calling places to locate a trailer. I hit the jackpot at Bunnings - for a mere $40, we could have a small trailer for 24 hours. Yay.

Sass had some friends staying over to join the 'fun' of a 5am start in the middle of a Melbourne winter to flog junk, so we recruited them to pack the trailer and truck. We got it all in!

At 5am we head on over - Geoff and I in the truck with the trailer and Elle driving the kidlettes. As always, the start was a bit stressful as we tried to unload and set up among other cars and sellers, and dealers harassed us for any anything of value. I did assure them there was nothing!

Sales were brisk until sunrise, when the traders eased off and the punters arrived.

At 12.30pm, we had only half an hour of selling left and I'd be buggered if I was taking all this crap home! I made an executive decision - everything was $1 or $2 - priced to clear. I was out the front spruiking like a pro!!

Priced to clear, all items, one or two dollars!!

One woman looked at my boring white mugs.
How much are the mugs? 
A dollar each.
Her interest waned.
You know what? You can have all 7 - for $1!!

One of the kids sold a lamp for $2. I gave them a small lecture - there was a matching pair - surely that was a BOGOF as we call it in the marketing game?? (Buy One Get One Free) In fact a short time later, a passing man looked at the now single lamp with vague interest and I gave it to him.
Yes, free. Please - take it!

We sold kitchen wares, plants in pots, prints, shoes, clothes, knick knacks, stationery, books, DVDs, CDs, shoes, hats, skipping ropes, snow domes, an electric guitar - we even sold a kitchen sink!!

At 1.10pm, one of the organisers came over and told us we had to stop our frenzied 'all stock must go' sale as technically, we weren't allowed to trade after 1pm.

Here's what we had left - yep - just 3 boxes and a few other random items - all destined for the opp shop. So excited.

Let me hastily add that you don't really do this for the money. For all the work, and after expenses, we netted a couple of hundred bucks - but our stuff had all gone to happy homes and avoided the environmental disaster of becoming landfill - for the time being.

When we got home, I asked Geoff about some items that I was sure we'd put aside for the market but hadn't seen.
Oh yeah, he causally said, I found a whole pile of things that we forgot to pack. They'll have to wait for the next market.


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 t...