Sunday, October 30, 2011

Don't sell yourself short

Yes, I am away on an exotic overseas holiday. Witness my amazing technical skills: I can schedule posts to publish automatically at a future time. Abracadabra!

Last weekend I had the pain pleasure of participating in two of Liz's classes. On Saturday morning, I bravely fronted up for a freestyle cycle class, never having done one before - and as expected, got my arse well and truly kicked. In a good way, of course. I don't recommend doing a spin class in a dehydrated state though, just quietly.

On Monday morning, I once again tagged along with Mistress Liz, the Smiling Assassin, to take part in her RPM class. I should have had an inkling of what I was in for when I discovered that the gym was located in the Tower of Mordor:

I was thinking "RPM? Pfft. I do it twice a week; I can do this." *ahem* Liz did warn me that her Monday class was a great group. Dedicated, fit, keen....

As usual, during Track 2, self-doubt began to creep in. Track 2 is always a killer.  I gritted my teeth and persevered through Track 3. But towards the end of Track 4, I was sure I wasn't going to make it. The negative voices in my head had started their nasty work: You can't do this. You're not fit enough. Ooh, you're having hot flushes; you'd better stop and have a rest. You won't make it through to the end of the class...

I recognised that particular foe and laughed at it: straightened my shoulders, gathered my strength and pushed through Tracks 5 and 6. It was hard, but nothing I couldn't handle. I greeted Track 7 with relief - Only this one to get through and we're onto the cool down and stretch. Hurrah! 

Then, the evil Lizilla uttered the horrifying words: Who wants an extra track? ARE YOU SERIOUS??! People actually put their hands up... were they nuts? I was dripping with sweat, my lungs were threatening to jump out of my throat, and I was seeing stars. Liz pointed out that folks could either use the bonus track as a cool down, or give it all they had - and I immediately thought: Phew. I'm spent; I have nothing left. I'll be just cooling down, thanks.

But once the music started, a funny thing happened. I found myself thinking: Well, I could cool down... or I could give this final 5-6 minutes everything I have and see what happens. So I belted out the best effort I could muster - it may not have been an Olympic effort, but at least I knew that I hadn't held anything back.

Afterwards, I found myself reflecting on how we often underestimate what we're capable of. Many times, I've found myself listening to an inner voice that tells me I can't do something... and yet if I ignore it and give that something a go anyway, then nine times out of ten I find myself achieving a hell of a lot more than I ever imagined I could.

If I listened to those voices most of the time, and believed what they were telling me, I doubt I'd achieve much at all.

Of course, it helps when your coach is up there leading the class, not two metres away from you, and spurring you on to bigger and better things. Perhaps I ought to hire Liz to come and live with me to inspire, encourage and whip me into shape.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

The end of a long journey

It may have taken us 36 hours to actually get here, but this was a welcome sight when we finally checked into our hotel in Pattaya:

We made this booking the day before we were due to fly out, after deciding that Bangkok wasn't an ideal destination after all. Thanks to the floods, Pattaya, Hua Hin and all beachside areas within a reasonable drive of Bankgok are full to bursting, unless you want to pay $300+ a night for a room. We don't.

So Bike Boy did some quick research and picked the Tim Boutique Hotel for our Pattaya stay. We had no idea what we'd get...and the drive up a grotty little soi off the main road wasn't reassuring. But we were pleasantly surprised.

A quick walk around, some fresh prawns and a couple of drinks, and we were ready to crawl into that bed...

"Walking Street" 

Best mango daiquiri I've ever had.

We're just off in search of some breakfast. Don't know what we're going to get, but it'll be interesting.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

FAIL, Jetstar!

Although this plane is plastered with Jetstar's name, and is owned, serviced and maintained by Jetstar, IT'S NOT THEIR FAULT THAT IT DOESN'T FREAKING WORK!!!

Dear Jetstar,

We had a contract. We agreed to pay you money, in exchange for which you agreed to fly us to Bangkok on a specified date at a specified time. We have upheld our part of the deal - we paid you, and we arrived at the airport on time for our flight. You have failed to complete your part of the contract, and you somehow believe that $55 is adequate compensation for the following:

- Two extra taxi fares (to and from the airport): $116
- One night's accommodation paid for and unused: $79
- Assorted food and drinks required during the six hours you kept us waiting with no information on what was happening and no option to go home earlier - $14.50

Therefore your offer is $154.50 short, by my calculations.

If we had turned up even five minutes after the cut-off time for check-in, you would have refused to fly us and kept our entire fare. You're now running nineteen hours late, and yet you don't feel responsible in any way. You believe that aircraft mechanical problems are "outside your control". Seriously?

The aircraft is part of your fleet, run and maintained by you or your contractors - so whose responsibility is it?

And just quietly, you need to train your staff better. Frequent updates, apologies and a whole lot of common courtesy are not extras - they are what your customers deserve.

No wonder someone has gone to so much trouble to create DontFlyJetstar.


Honestly, we're really pissed off that we've lost a day of our holiday. But we're more pissed off at the poor service we've experienced. How hard is it to keep your customers informed?

I really feel for the poor folks who spent half the day in the departure area, especially those with little kids, or who needed to catch a connecting flight. At least we were lucky enough to be able to make use of Bike Boy's Qantas Club membership, so we waited in comfort with food, drinks, cushioned seating, wifi and power for our gadgets.

Let's hope tomorrow doesn't bring any more debacles.


In holiday mode

We're at Melbourne airport, our flight's delayed at least two hours, the flood situation in Bangkok is getting worse by the minute, but I have my happy face firmly in place anyway. Whoever said: There's no such thing as a free lunch obviously wasn't a member of the Qantas Club. Free lunch, free coffee and tea, free cakes, free cheese and crackers, free fruit, free booze, free wifi....

Our flight is delayed due to bad weather in Bangkok, but do we care? Nup. Our holiday started the moment we got through passport control. Whatever happens now is just part of the adventure. So because I have plenty of time to spare, I give you my Tracy Kerrigan-style holiday pictorial (Beef Wellington? What's that, love?):

Yes, I know it's out of focus. Phones + bad eyesight are not a good combination, OK?
Cheers, Big Ears!
A little after-lunch snack
You know you're somewhere posh when the toilet paper's folded all pointy.

Fancy hand wash and lotion
Even the paper hand towels are fancy. I'm a bit disappointed there's no lackey to hand them to you though.
Specially for Liz: All kinds of tea!

If we ever actually get to Thailand, I may have some slightly more interesting things to show you. Bike Boy is making noises about doing the Funky Gibbon in Pattaya. Me and heights don't mix so well, but we'll see...

Right. Back to the bar for me! Or maybe a nap on that nice leather couch over there...


Anyone got a snorkel?

We're leaving for the airport in a few hours, heading off on our big holiday to Thailand, which we planned way back in May. Two lovely weeks of heat, Thai food, exotic sights and lounging by pools... WITH NO KIDS.

The last holiday that we had, other than the odd long weekend, was back in 2002 - that was the first time we visited Thailand, with three rug rats in tow. (FYI: I don't recommend 9 hour flights or hot, smelly foreign cities with a tribe of young 'uns.) So we've been hanging out for October to arrive. Excited, much?

Of course, Mother Nature chose this year to send down the worst monsoons Thailand has seen in fifty years, causing major flooding in Bangkok, which is peaking RIGHT NOW.

Source - Sydney Morning Herald
We were booked into a lovely hotel in Bangkok, right on the river. Uh...maybe not such a great idea, under the circumstances. The major international airport is still operating, but Qantas is now advising Australian travellers to avoid Bangkok. So yesterday we did a quick search on the internet and made a snap decision to head straight from the airport to Pattaya instead.

The Chiang Mai and Krabi legs of our trip are still on - those areas are unaffected, luckily.

We're disappointed about missing some of the sights we'd planned in and around Bangkok, but at least we won't be eaten by a crocodile. That would seriously spoil my holiday.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Puffed up

You know, I'm struggling to write anything that makes sense today. I want to talk about how seemingly small differences in your nutrition can make a huge difference to how you look. I'm specifically thinking of some fun and games I had a few days ago when I let my sodium/water balance get all out of whack and ended up dehydrated, but all I can think about is Puffer Fish:


Hehe. Remember that Simpsons episode where Homer eats everything on the menu at a Japanese restaurant, even the deadly puffer fish.... which the trainee chef buggers up and accidentally serves him the poisonous bit?

Er...where was I?

Anyway, if I actually could string words together that made sense, it would go something like: Blah, blah, get busy and only drink about a third of your usual quota of water, blah, blah...salty airport food, blah, blah, blah...result: OMG!! Puffy face, bloated midriff, swollen fingers. Plus headache, sluggishness and general bleurgh-ness.

Our bodies are smart. If it appears that there's a drought (i.e. you don't drink enough), they will store extra fluid. Same goes if you consume more salt than usual - retaining some extra water will help to rebalance things. Once you realise what's going on and up your water consumption, the old bod will happily release the excess fluid and things return to normal pretty quickly.

It's kind of a biological Bizarro World: whatever you do to your body, it reacts in an opposite way. Strange, but clever.

I wonder what "opposite" action I can take to make my brain come back to life?


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Giving your Ugly Sister photos the Cinderella treatment

You don't have to be a rocket surgeon to figure out that a blog post with an image is universally more appealing to readers than one that's just text. Photos, cartoons or funky graphics catch the eye and (hopefully) make people want to read the fascinating words that go along with them. But what do you do when your photos just aren't that good? 

I'm often amazed by the talent other bloggers display in their photography. Some have studied the subject and have obviously spent years developing technical expertise. Others always, ALWAYS have their camera with them, so they never miss that perfect blog photo opportunity - and even if the quality isn't brilliant, sometimes an outstanding subject can compensate. Some just seem to have an eye for the perfect composition. All of which has tended to generate feelings of inadequacy when it comes to my own pretty ordinary photographic skills. 

But I'm not allowing that to be an excuse any more. There are heaps of free tools available that can make even a novice look pretty good. Picnik is one such tool, and it's brilliant for giving an ordinary photo a bit of pizazz. Of course, you want the original to be in focus and preferably not horribly under- or over-exposed, but most other defects can be fixed and/or some fun effects added to enhance your run-of-the-mill pics.

So, for instance, you can take a crappy shot like this (badly composed and pretty uninteresting):

Quickly upload it to Piknik, crop out all the unwanted background clutter, then resize if you like. So you end up with a shot like this:

Still not a great photo, but way better than the original, and it might be fine for the purposes of your post. If you want a little more Wow factor, you can apply an effect with a single mouse click. Like these:

And this simple collage was banged out in about 30 seconds flat, using Photovisi. I just selected photos from my hard drive and dropped them into place in the ready-made template of my choice:

I've used four different Piknik effects on these, too. There are heaps of other effects; those are just a small sample.

The best thing about Piknik and a lot of other sites is that you don't have to sign up, create an account, log in or anything else tedious. Just click "upload a photo", make whatever changes you like, and then save it back to your hard drive. I know I'm grateful for one less login and password to remember...

If you think you're a lousy photographer, this is definitely worth a go.


Monday, October 24, 2011


I have broad tastes when it comes to food; there are few things I won't eat. Apart from offall, I can't think of anything that I'd flat-out refuse. There are a few things I would prefer not to eat, but if they were served up to me, I'd eat them anyway. (Maca brownies, anyone?)

Today I met my match though. Liz and I had lunch at a Japanese restaurant, Edamame, in St Lucia. I ordered the spicy squid salad, and it arrived looking and smelling delish. Which it was. Only.... it contained a small amount of calamari rings, and a lot of baby octopus. Whole baby octopus. With their freaking heads on.

Oy! Stop staring at me!

I tried, I really did. It wasn't the taste, or even the slightly rubbery texture. I just could not come at eating a tentacled critter with its head on.

Yes, I was a pussy about eating octopus(y).


Around the block

Ever since I was a kid, Block Arcade has been one of my favourite spots in Melbourne. So since we were right next door at the Novotel on Friday for the Problogger event, AND I had my camera with me, I grabbed the chance to go for a wander through at lunchtime and take some quick shots.

So while I'm in Brisbane, I give you: a little bit of Melbourne....

Collins St entrance:

Note the folks queued behind the velvet ropes for lunch at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms:

The original ornate mosaic floors:

The incredibly unimpressive Little Collins St entrance....

...but there are treasures beyond if you venture in: