Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Mini Schoolies

When I finished Grade 6, way back in the 1970s, there was no ceremony or celebration. As I recall, we packed up our stuff on the last day, said 'See ya!' and left.

My, how things have changed.

So Sass wrapped up grade six and there has been:

  • A graduation assembly
  • A final assembly (where she did win an award for intellectual curiosity - go Sass!)
  • The Lip Syncing competition (unrelated to graduating - but another event to attend)
  • The graduation party last night - at the Royal South Yarra Lawn Tennis Club no less - including a disco, photo booth, photographer and drinks and finger food for the 'rents in a separate room

Preparation for the party included finding the right outfit, new shoes, bag and accessories, a manicure, having toe nails painted, some gradual tan on the legs (thanks Elle!) and a trip to the hairdresser for some braiding and curling. It was like a mini formal!

And if all that wasn't excitement enough, we were up before 5am this morning for the airport pick up because a bunch of them headed off to Merimbula for what one teacher dubbed 'mini schoolies' - a beach retreat with friends but sans boys, alcohol, fake id and dubious behaviour. 

Yes, 3 nights and 3 days packed with excitement and activities - hosted by a very brave and generous mum and the equally brave grandparents.

Seriously, it's times like these that I wish I was eleven again!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

The season of goodwill... except at Chadstone Shopping Centre car park

What on earth was I thinking??

We're at liberty to go to Chadstone any day of the week, but Elle and I chose last Saturday afternoon, in the lead up to Christmas on a day of severe weather warnings and possible flooding to head to the self-promoted 'fashion capital'.

Naturally, the car park was hideous.

I told Elle that in these circumstances, the best strategy is to stop just inside one of the lanes and sit it out until you spot someone leaving. Driving around doesn't work as you continuously 'just miss' a spot.

So we sat.

An Audi 4WD pulled right up behind me so I popped my indicator on. I could see the driver huffing in my rear vision mirror as she pulled around me - but didn't expect the spray:

You can't stop there! She screamed at me. Wow.

So taken aback, my instant response was to yell back You can!

You can't! She yelled again,

You can! I screeched back.

So Grade 4 - it was actually pretty funny.

Meanwhile, some people had returned to their car just in front of me and we parked.

As we walked over the next lane way, the Audi was approaching in the  slow line of traffic - still looking for a spot. My gaze held steady but the driver was deliberately busying herself with something in the centre console while her young daughter was left to give us a filthy look.

I hope they have a very happy Christmas!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Brazilian

No - not that kind of Brazilian - I mean our rowing coach who hails from the South American country.

Yesterday he decided we should row in pairs, and oh my goodness, those boats are so skinny and narrow and consequently, feel very unstable.

I was rowing with Sal and made her stroke because I was terrified. I was debating if I should take my watch off in case we capsized. The school kids do all the time, sometimes several times a lesson, but we're middle aged women who are NOT interested in a dip in the river. Sal suggested I did remove the watch as that would assist the karma that would help us not to fall in. Turned out she was right - as I cheerfully admit, she usually is!

Our Brazilian coach was in the speedboat, espousing the golden rule - if you let go of your oars and grab the sides of the boat, you WILL capsize. Hmm, good to know.

For some crazy reason, being in the precarious boat made me forget everything I knew and Coach was giving me plenty of instructions. He talks a lot which is good, because I often have trouble understanding his accent and it takes me a while to cotton on to what he's telling me. However, I was surprised when he yelled out - several times - MWW! Why are you so dense??!

Now I've been asked some direct questions in my time, but this one takes the cake.

I could only respond with I don't know.

It was only when he followed up some time later with MWW! Relax your face!! that it occurred to me that he'd been saying 'tense' - not 'dense.' (Ironic I know - too dense to work that out!)

We didn't row particularly hard but I was shaking when we got out from having every muscle clenched for 90 minutes.

Apparently, he wants us to have a go at single skulls next. Maybe if I'm in my bathers I'll be able to focus on the rowing and not worry about the possibility of swimming!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Gym Junkie

Back before I had kids, and when g-string leotards and slouch socks were all the go, I was a bit of a gym junkie - but only aerobics.

I became so caught up in the trend, not only did I spend free time attending championship competitions (as a spectator!!!) but auditioned and was accepted to complete my Certificate in Exercise To Music at a local TAFE. And yes, that's not on my CV.

I got an HD in the written exam - which was mostly multiple choice and had such challenging and memorable questions

Which piece of equipment is essential when doing aerobics?
a.  Legwarmers
b.  Sweatbands
c.  A supportive pair of sport shoes
d.  All of the above

Anyway, I have recently rejoined a gym - the first time in many years and boy, has the business model changed! I think my annual membership now is cheaper than it was nearly 30 years ago. It was a significant expense on my budget in my 20s - now it's about $15 a week.

I've heard they have thousands of members and I suspect they don't care if they use it or not. They've discovered the sweet spot where even if some members only turn up occasionally, for fifteen bucks a week, they can't even be bothered cancelling it.

It is busy - they have about 70 scheduled classes a week, 60 bikes in the spin room, heaps resistance training equipment, over 20 treadmills and the classrooms are big.

I've had a shot at most things (but not yoga and pilates - they're not for me). I've stepped, cycled, boxed, body attacked, body gritted, CXWORX-ed, run, rowed, pumped weights, used kettlebells - it's endless!!

It's also a lot less pretentious that it was back in the day, with people of all ages, sizes and abilities and a really positive encouraging vibe from the instructors. And dare I say, it's actually pretty fun - even though the activewear is now less colourful.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Good timing?

So, just as you recover from one event, another pops up - so to speak!

I can't believe it was August last year when I had my inaugural colonoscopy! You may recall that post. If not, here's the link for your reading pleasure. Just make sure you're not eating....

Today was chicken and rice. I was kinda rationing the chicken but have just reread the instructions and tomorrow after white bread toast - there is nothing :(

You might recall my brush with breast cancer - I guess relatively this is more straightforward and doesn't involve 20 trips to the hospital for radiotherapy. I have recentlyread that they think there's a link between breast, bowel and skin cancer - best I have my moles checked!!

Anyway, always one to look on the bright side, I'm off the races on Saturday and contemplating this dress of Elle's. Ambitious, I know. But I figure after Wednesday's big clean out, I'll never have a flatter stomach and shot at giving it a go!!

Could be good timing? Or I could wear something else.....

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The sad, sorry saga of the telco and me

Oh, how I hate my telco provider!

Swap, I hear you say, but I've fired two before this one and can only conclude they're all as crap as each other.

I'm not going to name mine - they're not getting any oxygen on this far-reaching platform! - but let's just say they have a tagline along the lines of Thrive On. I don't even know what that means. And never mind thriving, how about you just work?? For any telcos looking for a line, you can have this one for free; We Just Work.

It all started back in January when Mands and I sold our business and I was charged with unraveling the contract. There are so many instances of incompetence I barely know where to begin, but let's start with the paperwork.

Having completed the ream with the help of a staffer at the shop who conceded no-one would be able to find all those numbers on their own and providing authorisation from Mands, I left it with them to be faxed (yeah -  progressive, right). Months later when nothing had happened, I went back to the shop to discover said paperwork had been popped in a drawer with a post-it note asking no-one in particular to fax it as that staffer had headed overseas for an extended break. Lucky them!

Once it finally went through, in about September, it triggered a visit from a technician who said he needed to change the modem. Fine, I said. (What would I know?) A few days later I popped back to the shop to say the old system had been disconnected - so what plan I was on? They didn't know. In fact, it was about then they revealed that the new modem was ADSL and should be coaxial. I was losing my veneer of politeness. The guy suggested that rather than pay for another technician, I could install it myself. WTF? They put the wrong one in and it's not as straightforward as he suggested as I had no idea where the port was and we now have so much stuff using the net - security, TVs, boosters - that would all need to be recalibrated. I signed up for the technician.

I was talking to Mands, who'd been hanging out to shut this account down for months. It'd been another couple of weeks so I said to go ahead the following Monday as it may expedite things. They cut me off.

Back to the shop I went. I asked if they all try and look busy when they see me coming - and was told I'm just one of many but yes, sometimes they do a quick paper, scissors, rock. I was so furious they gave me a dongle to access wi-fi until it was sorted. I got home and it didn't work. I made Elle take it back to the shop the next morning - they'd put the wrong code in. (Actually, she pretended she was my EA and said she was scared to come back without it being fixed... I don't know why.)

Eventually, a new technician arrived and installed the correct modem. The same day another arrived via express post. It's all or nothing with these guys. I was instructed to return the ADSL and second coaxial modem to the shop - which I did.

I also had to get our data guys in to reconfigure everything as the technician said he didn't do that sort of thing - of course not.

So I've now spent about 120 hours trying to get the billing resolved as I was charged - for everything!! I managed to get a few chunks credited back,  it should be more but they've worn me down. Business and Personal departments don't speak, I've used the complaints service, I've waited on the phone for hours, not received promised calls back and yet, they keep sending me emails with subject line "How did we do?". I'm yet to fill one in because I've wasted enough time - but in the right mood, I could be tempted!!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Karma and a life hack

When I was having radiation therapy, I had to drive to the hospital every morning for four weeks. No biggy, except for the traffic and a particularly snarly bit involving two roundabouts and a bridge in between.

To keep this simple, coming in from the east, you need to change lanes in the first roundabout (on the bottom of this image) to get onto the bridge and, my god, some people will do anything NOT to let you in!

On the morning in question, a young girl in a hatchback coming in from the west refused to let me in, leaving me stranded midway around the 'bout'. Next to pull in, was a tradie, who also barred my way before the next car finally let me in.

Approaching the second roundabout, right ahead of me, the tradie rear ended the young girl's hatch back. As there's no where to stop on a bridge, she hesitated for a bit, then popped her hazard lights on, proceed directly through the next roundabout and pulled over. The tradie hung and left and drove off. No chance she'll ever see him again.

That's the karma bit.

So it got me thinking what would you do in that situation - being rear ended in traffic with nowhere to go? I figured if you have a reversing camera, you throw your car into R and take a photo of their licence plate with your phone.

There's the hack!

Photo of reversing camera screen

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Vote

Is it just me or do you also have some level of discomfort voting on what other people are allowed to (peacefully) do with their lives?

As some of you know, Geoff and I have been together for over 30 years and chose not to get married - but can you spot the key word? - chose.  I'm not crazy for the institution for me personally (although I do love a wedding!), but I have the choice. My gay friends don't.

Some people have wrongly assumed that being in a same sex de facto relationship affords all the legal benefits of being married anyway. My understanding is it doesn't. If a woman is on life support, it is possible that her family - perhaps because of prejudice and a lack of acceptance -  can bar her lesbian partner from access.

As one of my gay friends points out, the issue is far bigger than marriage. The question, he says, is  just subtext for 'Are gays okay?' - Yes or No.

Worse, some are using the platform to voice anti-gay sentiment. A (gay) FB friend posted a screen grab from a No page that said 'Bring back gay bashing' - bad enough, but made worse by the 5 Likes it had. Seriously - that's frightening. If you're the parent of a young gay person, that'll send a cold bolt down your spine.

It also strikes me that the people publicly campaigning for the No vote are those who stand to lose the most - power, standing, authority - and that's older and middle aged white males. First of all it was those uppity women who wanted equality (still trying...) and now, god dam it, it's the LGBTIQs!! And let's not even touch on race or disability.

Here's an idea; let's assume people are equal. Wow, eh? That's right - no boxes, no labels, just people. Because at the end of the day, we all have a mother, friends, enemies, feelings, varying talents, beliefs, weaknesses and faults. We all need shelter, food, water, to have purpose and be loved. It's pretty basic.

I do also believe in religious freedom - just don't inflict it on everyone else. If your beliefs prevent you marrying someone of the same sex, then don't.

Elle and I had a conversation about the issue of florists (for example) refusing to do flowers for SSMs because they don't support it. Initially I though that was probably okay - until you substitute black people for gay people - then realise how not okay that is.

Nor am I buying the argument of 'tradition'. Marriage is a relatively new concept, designed to control women and broker power and property. It's also evolved dramatically since its inception so I'm not sure which 'tradition' we're talking about. If we were that committed to 'tradition' perhaps while we're at it, we should get women back in the kitchen and financial dependent on men. That sounds like fun - not.

And frankly, I'm appalled at the argument that sexuality has some baring on the ability to parent. There are some pretty shit and often 'accidental' heterosexual parents out there and when you compare that to how much commitment and effort it takes for LGBTI peeps to become parents, well, you'd have to think they've given the subject quite a lot of thought. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but my point is simply that sexuality doesn't, in its own right, make you a better or worse parent.

I agree that some behaviour on both sides hasn't helped the case. I blogged some time back that slagging people off and name calling doesn't elevate anyone's argument - about anything - so I despair when I hear people who were voting yes are now not voting because they feel bullied by the Yes campaigners. It's not cool.

But, if like me, you feel #awkward about having a say in others' lives, don't let it stop you voting. The big fear at the moment is that a lack of participation by the yes camp could be the undoing of the vote. So tick and post people, tick and post.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Wise Bhutan

Yes, where the heck have I been?? I wish I had an exciting and fascinating answer for that - but I don't. Just been busy with other things I've afraid.

Anyway, I'm sure you're pretty much done with my travelogue, so I shall endeavour to make this the last instalment.

Bhutan, as you probably know, is focused on Gross Domestic Happiness rather than economic development. They have a point. They value the environment over mining and logging and have constituted that a minimum 60% of their landmass needs to remain in its natural state. It's currently 80% - and most of it is spectacularly green and mountainous.

Their poverty rate is around 13%. Against a different scale I'm sure, but it's the same as Australia. Their solution is to address the cause, which is to build roads and fund powered ploughs that can also be attached to carts so impoverished farming families can get their produce to market in a more timely manner and get a better price. So simple.

Strings of Yak milk curd
It's like dairy rock candy
Fresh produce market

Close up in case you
can't see it in the shot below!

Travel to Bhutan is expensive. They whack tourists with a tariff, executed as a minimum daily spend that needs to be verified by the travel agent before a visa will be issued. Again, as a concept, it's hard to refute. They don't want backpackers there for the wild marijuana or people who are disrespectful in their temples. They want to leverage tourism for the benefit of all their population -  a meagre 700,000. On arrival, our guide gave us a message from their king; that our money is not wasted, it's directed to education and health.

Banks of marijuana - all through the towns.
You can smell it as you walk past
Our guide - in traditional dress
which most people still wear everyday

TV and the internet weren't introduced until 1990. (In fact, I'm still not convinced they do have the internet...)

They also have stray dogs everywhere. Mostly well fed from kitchen scraps, the government has a program to vaccinate them to ensure rabies doesn't get into the country. They even vaccinate the dogs that hang around the Indian side of the Bhutan border in case they should stroll over. We noticed some dogs had had their ear clipped, which our guide explained was part of the sterilisation program aimed to reduce numbers. Again, just so sensible.
Some of the many stray dogs

Our guide insisted that Buddhism can be viewed solely as a philosophy - and not necessarily as a religion. The tenets of tolerance and being kind are hard to dispute. In fact, when I asked about the Bhutanese attitude towards homosexuality and homosexuals, our guide quipped that if god hadn't meant us to all live harmoniously together, he would have made a seperate world for the LGBTIQ community!

In truth, I did feel our guide had drunk the Kool-Aid. For someone who'd only travelled to India for further study, he had some very firmly held ideas on how the world views their King. I didn't let on that many people haven't heard of Bhutan, let alone formed an opinion of its monarch. However, he was quite the intellect and philosopher and I certainly enjoyed the conversation. Not sure the kids were so dazzled.

An oddity was the devotion to air fresheners. I'm not sure if it's because of damp and mould, which I didn't particularly notice, but when we arrived at our first hotel, the lobby had been given such a big spray of something vile,  I was relieved when we were invited to go upstairs for coffee -  so my eyes could stop watering.

One of many air fresheners along the way
The food was fresh, tasty and good, if somewhat repetitious. Lunch and dinner consisted of a mini buffet of rice, noodles, cheesy potatoes, mixed veg and chicken. I think because we were outside the peak tourist season (it was meant to be rainy - but it wasn't) they downsized the buffet for a table of four. (In fact, we only saw four other Europeans in the week we were there.) I did request the local favourite of cheesy chili - it was hot, but delicious.

A mini buffet for four

We had pizza for lunch -twice - to
break up the buffets

They do some great local beers as well. Red Panda is their most acclaimed - but to us, it tasted a bit like the temples smell - of incense. Much more to our taste was a new red rice beer that had just launched - now that was good!

At our request, our guide also arranged for us to sample yak butter tea. Not as salty as the Mongolian tea and no sign of a lump of fried mutton fat, this one tasted a lot like soy and the roasted rice adds a nutty aspect. It was actually pretty good!

Yak butter tea

We rafted and hiked up to various temples - all beautiful - but the highlight is the iconic Tiger's Nest. It's a 5 hour round hike but not difficult and well worth it.

So there you go; Bhutan in a nutshell. Pop it on your bucket list!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Troubled travelling bowels

As a traveller, I'm always been amused that if you are off the beaten track, the consistency of one’s poo is a perfectly acceptable topic of conversation - even among complete strangers.
For this last kind of trip, we packed both laxatives and Imodium – both got a good run (excuse the pun).  The family WhatsApp has been abuzz with commentary as has the lunchtime conversation.

Like me, Sass also had a ‘slow’ start to the trip. I was a little concerned when she suggested it’d been a week – but then I got this message on the family WhatsApp:

Elle, as usual, took out first prize.

Her first effort, after some delay, was at a tourist site where there were only two women’s toilets and a queue. I got this distressed message:

She says she was traumatised. I suspect the woman who went in after her was even more traumatised!
Further into the journey, we pulled into a village in Mongolia for lunch and she was desperate for the loo. Our guide showed her were it was – behind the restaurant – and then she was back, nearly crying, saying I needed to go with her. We had to call past the local shop to buy some toilet paper – a delay that left Elle pale and sweating. Sass came with us as we ventured past discarded building material, old cans, rusting sheets of iron and other junk, arriving at the wooden shed with a drop between the floor planks – the toilet. The smell was strong (or to quote the film Kenny - "There's a smell in here that will out last religion.") In Elle went and I held the piece of wire that functioned as the door closure, already committed to hanging on if this was my only option. ‘Gee she’s having a very big, long wee…’ commented Sass, based on the noise emanating from the dark, stinking space behind the door. Eventually she emerged ‘That.... was a poo’ she whispered, so as not to distress the Asian tourists waiting their turn. Oh dear.
This isn't the loo - this one was much fancier! In Mongolia, all toilet paper goes in a bin. Be grateful photos aren't embedded with scent!

I’ll spare you her thrush story, but will say that when we finally found a lovely English-speaking pharmacist when we first arrived in UB from Hong Kong (where no-one could understand the issue, despite our best charades), she quietly muttered ‘suppository?’ Amazingly, for once in my life, I didn’t see fit to correct her and tell her it was actually a pessary. Anyway, we got that sorted.
Geoff has forbidden me to share his stories - shame.
And while everyone has had the runs, I was backed up to billy-oh! Go figure.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Mongolia's Naadam Festival

After nearly 2 weeks in the desert and steppes, we got back to UB (Ulaanbaatar) for the Naadam Festival – the Mongolian equivalent to the Olympic Games, featuring wrestling, horse racing and archery.

Day one was the opening ceremony which had all the pomp and ceremony you’d expect from such an occasion including a bit of a welcome by the country’s president who’d been elected the week prior. 

It was far more dazzling that we’d expected, with floats and the story of Mongolia’s history, from the beginning of man, (sprung from the union of a deer and wolf,) Chengis Khan (that’s not a typo – they call him Chengis) who conquered half the known world including Europe as far as Germany, through to their period of Soviet influence that only concluded in 1990, to present day. There were traditional performers, rock stars, the lighting of the flame, horses, warriors, doves, balloons- it had it all.

I asked our guide if he was impressed, to which he rightly quipped ‘not as impressed as you!’

Like hot cross buns at Easter, they have ‘meat pies’ for the festival period and they’re delicious! They cost about $1 each and have ground meat contained within a light pastry-like bread, fried and served with soy sauce.
Okay - it doesn't look great -  but it was!!
Day 2 was an early start to get out of town to the horse race. We saw the 5 year old horses that trot out and then race back – 25kms!! They’re ridden by kids – some the same age as the horses, some bare back. It was as crowded as a music festival with people who were camped out there for days, pop up markets, food stalls and games like shooting basketballs to win a cuddly toy. Kind of like Moomba, Falls and the Royal Melbourne Show rolled into one.

Note all the camps in the background. It was insane!

The Police went on for at least a kilometre

We found spot ‘On the Rails’ quite a way from the finish because it’s so crowded as locals vie to get to the winning horse to wipe its sweat on them to bring good luck for the next year. Ew. The police presence was enormous, with a cop positioned every couple of metres to make sure the crowd stayed behind the barrier. They seemed pretty friendly.
On The Rails - sans Veuve Clicquot!
The winners race through.

Once the horses shot by, we headed back to the main stadium to catch the wrestling. (That sounds so straight forward but there were thousands of people leaving and the traffic was grid-locked – exactly like trying to get away from A Day on The Green music concert…) We’d seen the archery at a stop out of town so we'd already ticked that box. The wrestling is actually pretty good spectator sport! In fact, I also learnt some of the best Sumo wrestlers are, in fact, Mongolian. Who'd have thought?

Wrestlers - they do an eagle dance before every battle - it's pretty cool

So all in all, I’d recommend Mongolia. It was really fun and very different.

Next stop; Bhutan.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Mongolia - Part 3

Before we get on to the festival, I need to tell you about the gers. We stayed in about 12 different camps, all with shared bathrooms, immaculately clean, meals included and generally very comfortable.
Some had electricity, none have wi-fi, most have beer.
Most beds are really hard but have great blankets
Even the restaurants at the camp were sometimes a ger - check out those gold chairs!
You need to duck to get through the door.
The lady in traditional dress came out to greet us with sugared curd (then whipped out of her costume, popped on rubber gloves and started cleaning!). She also 'blessed' the wheels of our vehicle with milk on departure - for a safe journey. They used to bless horses' hoofs.

On our last night we stayed at a camp that had hot springs so we booked a massage after a soak in the pools. What we didn’t expect from the mostly pleasant event was a full-on boob massage and some vigorous head rubbing that wasn’t actually nice L Being in higher, mountainous country, it was quite a bit cooler so our guide offered to light our ger stoves. These are used to warm nomad families in temperatures that get as low as -40C. Seemed like a good idea but I swear our ger went from a coolish 17C to a sauna-esque 47C in about 15 minutes!! We had to leave the door open and stay low to the floor to remain in there. I don’t know how they cope with such extremes.
The frighteningly effective stove.
We also saw a few inappropriate T-shirt, like a 12 year old girl in a village with ‘Shameless’ emblazoned across her chest. At one of the camps, a shy, bespectacled teenager working there was wearing an oversized black T-shirt that had large white letters that said: CUROSITD [sic] KILLED YOUR VIRGINITY. Say what?? It was just so wrong. She was wearing it again the next day and we hoped to get a photo so our guide approached and explained her T-shirt was kind of funny and could we take a photo? She crossed her arms and said she’d bought it at a market and didn’t know what it said. Wisely, our guide decided not to tell her and nor did we take a photo – but you get the visual.
We didn’t meet many other travellers – most were in their 60s or 70s and from Europe, some were from Asia – most kept to themselves. We did meet a lovely family from Scotland who were taking a break from the trans-Siberian rail trip and we encountered the same posse of bikers from Vietnam at a couple of camps.

The driving can be as long as 8 hours a day, on tracks that can be extremely rough and frankly, the ‘sealed’ roads that can be rougher – but the scenery was spectacular, the sites varied and I don’t get car sick so can read – even if it is a tad bumpy!

Next up; The Naadam Festival

The Moroccan Bath

The girls and I have come up to Dubai for a few days to escape the Melbourne winter. It's in the 40s so we've thawed out - quickly. ...