Thursday, December 31, 2015

The year that was

2015 was a bit of a mixed bag, as most years are. I was horribly sick, Bike Boy was horribly sick, the youngest kid broke two bones in quick succession, there was upheaval on the work front. But we muddled through, as we always do - and here we are, on the eve of yet another new year.

Many of the highlights of the past year were (as usual) travel-related. There was no seven-week jaunt around Europe this time though. Instead, it was the year of short trips, squeezed in wherever we could fit them.

There was Easter in Central Victoria...

Those gorgeous misty mountains. *sigh*

A lovely, lazy ten days in Phuket in May...

Amazing sunsets, every day.

A girls-only retreat - a June weekend in Daylesford...

Spa treatments, open fire, wine. The perfect winter retreat.

A brief jaunt to Airlie Beach in September...

The highlight of our visit: Whitehaven Beach & snorkelling off Hook Island.

And a fleeting visit to Jordan in November...

Bucket list: Petra. TICK!

Not too bad, considering the May trip was the only one we planned, to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

So onto 2016. No resolutions and no concrete plans, but there will definitely be more travel. Where to? I don't know yet, but I'm keeping all my options open.

Happy New Year to you all!


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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The real cost of food wankery



I love trying new foods, I really do. And there are very few things I dislike. Offal, dried meat (beef jerky - what is that even about?), durian... that's about the extent of my no-go list. But I'm seriously annoyed by foods promoted by the burgeoning "wellness" industry as super-foods.

Quinoa, acai berries, kale...or whatever rare organic Himalayan herb is trendy this week. SUPER FOODS, Y'ALL! Whilst I don't mind any of those things, they're no more super than a whole lot of other fruits and veggies. And the bad thing about them is: they're very expensive.

Wellness blogs and newspaper lifestyle pages are shouting the message that if you're not feeding these foods to your family, you're not looking after them properly. You obviously don't care enough. YOU ARE A BAD PARENT/PARTNER/PERSON. Right. Would you like a side of guilt with your white potatoes, supermarket tomatoes and iceberg lettuce?

For a family on a low to moderate income, this stuff is just unaffordable. Personally, I could buy only organic superfoods, but I prefer to spend my hard-earned dollars on living my life, not fretting about whether these (non-organic) apples will give me cancer.

The last straw for me is that these bullshit wanky foods are pushing good old ordinary, AFFORDABLE foods off the shelf. I don't always have time to make coleslaw from scratch, so a bag of shredded cabbage and carrot from the supermarket, dumped into a bowl with a dollop of bought dressing is fine by me. Yesterday, I flew down to our local Coles to grab some. I was confronted by this monstrosity, with a hefty price tag ($15 per kg, as opposed to $8 for the plain old cabbage variety):

WTF, Coles?!!
I scoured the shelves for normal coleslaw, but there was none. There was beetroot coleslaw, which I don't mind, but can't eat because: FODMAPs. And there was something called "coleslaw supreme", which had celery (again FODMAPs) and corn and what-not in it. I bought the supreme in the end, because I refused to buy bloody kale coleslaw just on principle.

I've struck the same problem before at the Coles deli - they now only stock ready-made tabbouleh made from fricken QUINOA. Again, I don't mind quinoa, but I refuse to pay the inflated price.

If products made from kale, quinoa, etc were adding to the choices available to consumers, I'd say "Fine. Let those who have money to burn buy that shit". But the issue is that they are REPLACING affordable alternatives. Boo, supermarkets!

Looks like it's back to making my own coleslaw from now on.


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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Psst! Wanna buy a unicorn?



As the New Year approaches, my news feeds are filling up with desperate attempts to part people from their money by promising them the body of their dreams (and the life to match).

It used to be enough to promise weight loss, but these days it seems your sales spiel is not complete without some new-age garbage buzz-words. One of my pet hates is "wellness". Every time I see it, I just know whatever follows is going to be total bullshit. Like this:


Airley Freshface*, wellness blogger, overcame a totally made-up disease she never had by overhauling her diet. She eliminated all carbs, protein and fat, and now eats only a diet of pure, organic unicorn tears, gathered by virgins in the Himalayas at midnight under a full moon and strained through a monk's undies, before being bottled in crystal, blessed by a blind oracle and carefully shipped here. 

You too can clear your chakras and have six-pack abs, just like Airley, but only if you buy her nutrition program at the low, low price of $39.99 a month. She'll even throw in a 5ml vial of unicorn tears for free. 

Don't worry, she's totally qualified. She has a Bachelor of Health Science, specialising in Nutritional Medicine**, from a not-university that you've never heard of.


My advice to you: If the word "wellness" features in the sales pitch, run like hell. Hold onto your money, eat what you like (perhaps in slightly smaller amounts) and do something active. Brain surgery it ain't.



*Name changed to protect the guilty. And also because I don't want to be sued for defamation.

**This is apparently a real thing. Although, not...because if it was real, actual universities would be teaching it, right?


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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Jordan report card

It might seem slightly crazy to fly 13,500km for just a few days, but the chance to see Jordan was an opportunity too good to pass up. Bike Boy was there on business, so my grabbing a sale fare and joining him when he finished up his work was really a no-brainer. He needed to be back home by a certain date, so that limited our holiday time to one week, which we figured was better than nothing.

There's no passenger train network in Jordan, so the best way to get around is by car. We didn't fancy doing the driving ourselves and we loathe organised group tours, so the logical solution was to arrange a private tour, which turned out to be surprisingly inexpensive. A few emails back and forth, and we had our itinerary sorted and everything was booked for us by Jordan Select Tours. We literally did not have to worry about a single detail, apart from deciding whether or not to go for a swim in the hotel pool and where to have dinner each night.

Our tour took in some of the highlights of Jordan, including a place we'd been dying to see for the past twenty-five years: Petra. Here's a quick photo summary of the trip...

Wadi Rum. Amazing desert landscape, like nothing else on earth. Which is why it was chosen as the location for numerous space movies, including The Martian. The colours are quite incredible.





Petra. Our expectations were extremely high, and we were not disappointed. Those Nabataeans built stuff to last. Everyone knows "The Treasury" from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but there's much, much more to Petra. Mind you, that first glimpse of The Treasury, as you emerge from the long, narrow canyon known as The Siq, is pretty special.




If you ever go to Petra, be prepared for a lot of walking, and some very steep climbing if you want to see the main sights. You'll never see it all, by the way - the place covers over 50km. Also, consider using a guide. Their knowledge is immense and they can entertain you with the history of Petra on the long and mostly boring walk through The Siq.

The Dead Sea. It's the weirdest sensation, floating in water with 34% salinity. You cannot sink. In fact, once you're floating on your back, getting your feet back on the pebbly sea floor is quite a challenge. At 429m below sea level, it's the lowest land point on the planet, which gives it a whole different climate to the mountains surrounding it. Temperatures are generally 10º warmer than on higher ground, so it's a popular winter getaway for Jordanians.

It was overcast and very hazy while we were there, so unfortunately I don't have any amazing shots of the Israeli coast opposite. I was hoping for some good views of Mount Jerusalem, but it was not to be.



Amman. The capital has quite a lot to offer, not the least of which is some pretty spectacular Roman sites.



This isn't the prettiest statue I've ever seen, but I took a photo of it because archeologists have dated it somewhere between 8,000-6,000 B.C. We've seen some pretty old stuff on our travels around the world, but Jordan's museums are like "Oh, nothing, just a bunch of Neolithic stuff we found lying around".  Pfft, Europe, nobody's impressed by your 2,000 year old Roman stuff. 



The first question most people ask about our trip is "Jordan? Is it safe?" Duh, yes it's safe. I wouldn't have gone there if it wasn't. Jordan has some pretty noisy neighbours, but Jordanians are quick to distance themselves from the Saudis or Syrians or Iraqis. They maintain very tight border control, and you can expect metal detectors and bag scanners at the entrances to big hotels. You might also be pulled over on the highways by police for an identity check. We were stopped several times, but didn't have to produce our passports. Our driver had a brief exchange in Arabic with the officer and they just waved us on.

The second question I get asked is "Do you have to cover your hair?" Nope. Jordan is a progressive, quite modern nation and normal western clothing is worn by most women. Some wear a hijab, some don't, just like Muslim women here.

The only downside to Jordan is that it's very expensive. Restaurant meals, drinks and souvenirs were horrendously overpriced. If you don't mind buying your dinner at a little takeaway crowded with locals, you'll get good value, but there's only so much shawarma and falafel you can eat. As for the price of alcoholic beverages ...it might be a good time to give your liver a rest. A bottle of wine I can buy here for under $10 costs the equivalent of $50 in Amman, and the local wine is not much cheaper.

Oh, and the flies in the south are shocking. It's the only place we've been where the flies are as bad as at home. Pack some Aeroguard.

The verdict: It was brilliant. Would we go back? Probably not. We've seen the things we most wanted to see, and there are plenty more places on our bucket list waiting to be explored.


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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Escaping

This year hasn't quite gone as I'd planned. I feel as though I've been blocked at every turn whenever I've tried to make any positive changes. It's been full of illness, inconvenience, stress and general blah-ness. Frankly, I'd have preferred sunshine, kittens and piles of cash, but apparently life had other plans. Meh.

Things are looking up though, in spite of my having been as sick as the proverbial dog (again!) for the past two weeks. In a few hours, I'll be boarding a flight to Jordan for a brief jaunt around the capital Amman, the stunning desert of Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea and the amazing ancient sights of Petra. 

A 19 hour flight each way for a six-night stay may seem a bit nuts, but sometimes you just have to grab an opportunity when it falls from the sky and conks you on the head, right?  





Travel: it's what I live for. I spend a large proportion of my time researching destinations, implementing savings plans and dreaming about the next big adventure. So many places to go, so little time to squeeze them into.


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Saturday, July 18, 2015

On the home stretch

This week marked the halfway point of winter. THANK GOODNESS. We've had over a week of constant rain here in my little pocket of Melbourne and I'm completely over it.

Yes, I know it's winter. Yes, I know it comes every year. Yes, I know it's not that cold in comparison to other parts of the world. But the next person who tells me to stop whinging gets a punch in the face, because:

Fact 1: I have an ongoing Vitamin D deficiency. This is not fun. It contributes to depression and can affect bone density. Even if I do manage to get outdoors, I'm so rugged up against the cold that only my face is exposed and that simply doesn't cut it for absorbing sufficient Vitamin D. Boo!

Fact 2: S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a real thing and I probably have it. Lack of sunlight seems to make my brain a bit unbalanced. By mid-winter, I don't want to leave the house, or even get out of my pyjamas. I don't even want to answer the phone. I'm sad and I'd like to build a blanket fort and just stay there till Spring.

Fact 3: Numb fingers and toes are not my favourite things. Cold extremities are very difficult to warm up, no matter how many layers of clothing or blankets I pile on.

Anyhoo, today the sun has been shining, so I ventured outdoors for a short walk. Even the swans, herons and cormorants were sheltering somewhere out of sight, along with the kangaroos - except for this one girl with joey onboard:


I'm counting down to September, when we'll be off for a short break in the Whitsundays. Perhaps I can just hibernate until then.



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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

My fifteen minutes of fame

In the online world, it's probably more like fifteen SECONDS of fame, but somehow I ended up on this list of 15 bloggers over 50 making their mark.

I'm highly amused, since I've barely blogged at all the past couple of years, but hey - I'll take compliments (and potential new readers) where I can get them.

Source

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In other news, I dragged my tired and complaining arse out of bed on four mornings last week and did some exercise. Cue fanfare, streamers and confetti...

I would have done some on the weekend as well, but I was struck by a weird head-spinning, dizzy thing on Saturday and then spent most of Sunday at the hospital, waiting while my youngest had a couple of screws inserted in a broken finger. (He's fine, and milking it for all it's worth.)

The exercise part is OK - it's the early starts that kill me at this time of year. I just want to hibernate when it's 3º and pitch black outside. Apparently though, my body clock is resetting itself super-fast because I've been awake before the alarm the past two mornings. Old habits seem to be pretty easy to rebuild.

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I was amused yesterday to receive an email from a PR company, inviting me to a breakfast launch of a new product. The amusing part? It's a "paleo sausage" and the featured speaker is none other than Paleo Pete Evans. I'd rather stick a fork in my eye. I did think about going and heckling, but a) My mother brought me up to behave better than that; and b) it's in Sydney, so nah.


Happy Hump Day, lovely readers!


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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The comeback

Current state of my fitness: abysmal

Current attitude: shitty

Current energy level: about equivalent to a snail on tranquillisers *yawn*


In spite of all the above and in spite of it being mid-winter, I have embarked on a new fitness program this week. I won't be breaking any records, but I will be hitting the gym or my spin bike most days.

The 5:30am alarms are brutal, but I'm doing it.

Yep, the pink sparkly training gloves are coming out again.

There. I've declared my intention. Now I have to do it.


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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Genius approach to mammography

Brought to you by Nuffnang and Genius 3D Mammography.

Being proactive about your health means paying attention to so many things. There’s the food you eat, maintaining a healthy weight, being active, getting enough sleep and minimising stress. But no matter how many veggies you eat or how many kilometres you can run without breaking a sweat, you still need to make sure you have regular medical screening tests. And for we women in the 40-55 age bracket, mammograms are right there at the top of the list of important tests.


Most of us have been affected in some way by breast cancer; if not personally, we have a friend, a sister, a mother, a grandmother or an aunt who’s been diagnosed. I’ve participated in a number of Mother’s Day Classics to raise funds for breast cancer research because it’s a cause I feel strongly about, having lost a close friend to the disease ten years ago. I also feel strongly about nagging every woman I know to get regular mammograms.


It’s well known that early detection is important, because finding invasive breast cancers early increases the chance of surviving the disease. If found before spreading to the lymph nodes, the 5 year survival rate is close to 100% (96%).

Early detection is where Genius 3D mammography comes in. Around 8 million women around the world have benefited from Genius 3D mammography. Unlike 2D mammography, which produces a flat image, this technology takes a series of images – thin “slices” – which are used to build a 3D image, giving a much clearer view of the breast tissue. It allows the radiologist to examine your breasts layer by layer, making it easier to detect abnormalities. It really is genius.
It’s no more uncomfortable than a regular 2D mammogram; in fact the process from the patient’s point of view is very similar.

Genius 3D mammography is proven to detect 41% more invasive breast cancers than traditional 2D mammography alone. That’s a pretty huge number. It’s also proven to reduce false positives by 15-40%. This means earlier detection than ever before and less anxiety about unnecessary further testing, including often uncomfortable biopsies. Nobody needs an anxious wait for further test results, which turn out to be nothing at all.
All women can benefit from 3D mammography, but certain high-risk women may derive particular benefit, such as:

  • Women with dense breasts (women in their 40s who are not actively targeted by BreastScreen);
  • Women who have noticed changes, i.e. a lump;
  • Women with a strong family history;
  • Women with a previous diagnosis of breast disease;
  • Or those with a suspicious finding from a previous 2D mammogram.

You do need a referral from your GP to a Genius 3D Mammography clinic, so if you think you would benefit from this technology, have a chat with your doctor.

To find more information, or your nearest Genius 3D Mammography clinic, visit www.genius3D.com.au





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Friday, June 05, 2015

Ten things I like about winter

Anyone who knows me, or who has read this blog for any length of time (a big hello! to my three dedicated readers), knows that I'm a committed winter-hater.

It's especially difficult for me this year because:

a) We just got back from the tropics. Boarding a plane in 32º and disembarking into 4º is not amusing, let me tell you; and

b) Melbourne has been afflicted with a record-breaking cold snap, the coldest start to winter in 65 years. Brrr! I expected to be eased into the season with gradually descending temperatures, but nope.

Instead of following my usual M.O. and whinging constantly about it, I decided this morning that I'd try to see the good side. I set myself a task on Twitter, to find ten good things about winter. The first few were pretty easy, then I ran out of ideas. Except for food. There's hot soup, hot tea, hot toddies, hot casseroles, hot pies, hot chocolate... but ten food-related "good things" would be cheating. *sigh*

It took me more than six hours, but here's my list:










Of course, that last one is a bit of a stretch, because I usually put my pyjamas on the minute I get home from work, whether it's daylight or not.

What do you like about winter? If you're a winter-lover, you're not invited to answer, by the way. This lady said it best:


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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Back in Oz

Sawadee ka! I'm back from my Thai holiday. 

Don't worry, you didn't miss a thing. It was really quite unbearable.* We planned a lazy, relaxing holiday to mark our thirtieth wedding anniversary, and here's what we got:

Day after day, we had to eat this food....

Pork something or others, wrapped in noodles and deep fried. Blech.

Sunday brunch included Raclette. Disgusting. I mean, who likes melted cheese on anything?

Soft-shell crab in a green papaya salad. By the pool. Dreadful.

Pad Thai, presented in an egg "bowl". This place was so bad, we
went back again just to be sure it was no good.

Complimentary fruit every arvo. Free stuff? Nah, nobody likes that.

Sunday brunch seafood. Lousy selection... nothing but prawns, oysters, mussels, bugs,
crabs, salmon, fresh sushi made to order right in front of you.

Desserts. You know I hate desserts.

And in the afternoons, there were naps that needed to be taken. Or maybe just a quiet read, whilst looking out at the awful view.


We had to drink horrid concoctions like these....

Cosmpolitan. With beach view. Yuk.

Bubbles, every damn day. 

Unlimited Bloody Marys at Sunday brunch. Not even close to acceptable. 

Mmm, I don't know... mojito? Can't recall but I'm sure it was awful.

Another G&T forced down.
 And the hotel was dreadful. Just look at this place. Pfft. I don't know how they can call it a five-star resort...


We kept finding tropical flowers in our room. Ugh.

The resort is built around pools and ponds, with lush tropical gardens. The scent of frangipanis was just horrid.

The pool had to be swum in, numerous times every single day... 

With only 15 rooms accessing the lagoon pool, we had it all to ourselves most of the time.
Where are the crowds? The dive-bombing children? I ask you...

Our patio, shutters closed for privacy, with our own pool entrance.  Unbearable.

Perfect pool, perfect weather. Aargh!

The pools were open 24/7. No 10pm curfew? Unacceptable.

There were storms on two of our ten days. Nothing to do but sleep, read, eat and relax. Sooo boring.

I had to suffer through foot massages and mani/pedis....

It cost me less than half of what I pay at home. I should complain.

And there was sunset after tedious sunset...

Yawn

*snore*

See? Horrible!

*sigh*
Is that the best they can do? Really?

Even when it stormed, there were sunsets to endure.

Nope, you wouldn't have liked it at all.



*Actually, it was bloody marvellous. If you like doing a whole lot of nothing in perfect surroundings, book yourself into the TwinPalms Phuket Resort. It's the duck's guts. 

If you prefer to be sightseeing and doing stuff, there are tours and trips to suit anyone. We'd done it all before though and preferred to just chill out this time. Which we did. 


I wrote a review for Trip Advisor if you're interested to know more...


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