Monday, December 30, 2013

Food doesn't have to be expensive

In my recent budget breakdown I didn't spend very much money on food. In fact I only spent $1600 in 9 months. I excluded the 3 months in New Zealand because I was too lazy to go through my holiday expenses even though I did record it all using a mobile phone App called Trail Wallet. I'll do a more detailed post on the NZ trip budget at some stage.

$1600 is a bit of an underestimate, as there are a few other hidden costs which I haven't included in that figure, which I'll explain later. I also didn't included cash purchases, like at the markets. Since I'm unable to differentiate my food purchases from them, I've added my total ATM withdrawals, which brings my total food budget to $2800 over 9 months. That works out at just over $10 a day.

How the hell did I do it? Am I living entirely on noodles? Of course not, though I am very partial to a good noodle soup!! I'm eating healthy home cooked meals with lots of vegetables, some fruit, and lots of grains and pulses. Huh? Doesn't eating healthy cost lots of money??

Nope, not if you bring your supermarket to your home and reduce your food miles radically.

WTF does that mean?

It means
  1. purchasing as much of your dry goods as possible on line, in bulk and having them home delivered for a price less than it would cost you to go to the supermarket.
  2. planning your shopping. Never make a special trip to the shops for one or two items, plan to do shopping as part of another trip, e.g. on your way home from work. If you haven't an ingredient, make do with something else, or change the recipe.
  3. cooking your own meals from scratch. No shortcuts, no bags of crisps. Home cooking the way grandma did it.
  4. not eating out all the time and taking your lunch to work
  5. growing your own food
  6. value adding
Food miles is not just an environmental term to indicate how much carbon dioxide is released getting your food to your table, it's also an economic idea. Popping down to the shops in the car uses fuel, which costs a lot of money. Getting food home delivered saves you heaps, especially if you buy in bulk. Planning your shopping expeditions, combining the trip with other chores, never running out of the basics and having a well stocked pantry, and not getting takeaway, all save you money, and food miles!

I purchase almost all my dry goods from 2Brothers, who provide home delivery for $3.50. Yep, from Perth to my door for less than it costs me to drive in to town. That's flour, grains, nuts, seeds, coffee, dried fruits, milk powder, spices, beans, pulses, canned tomatoes, the list goes on. I buy my few Asian ingredients that I don't grow myself from a small shop run by the local Cocos Island community. It's on my way home from town/work so isn't out of my way. 

I grow my own vegetables and fruit, and get fairly creative with what's seasonally available. I supplement my home grown veges with a trip to the Sunday Farmers Market every one to two weeks, where I can also buy locally grown produce like eggs, goats feta and haloumi, olive oil and organic seedlings for my garden. I don't have my own chooks since the last lot got annihilated by foxes.

I don't eat much meat, but do buy from a local butcher who is also on my way home. I will happily buy in bulk, portion into meal sizes, then freeze till needed. I no longer buy poultry as I am concerned about the use of chemicals and hormones in the industry, and the utter disparity between what I consider free range and what the chicken farmers do. It's an ethical choice that saves me money. My protein sources these days are occasional red meat, eggs (from a local farmer whose flock I have visited), seeds, nuts and a rather worrying addiction to chick peas. I gave up lentils due to an unacceptable wind problem...

I eat out at a local restaurant once a week with my friends Sally and Sheridan, although I wasn't doing this consistently earlier in the year. I usually eat meat or seafood. This costs me about $100 a month. Yes, you do the math, eating at home doesn't cost much at all does it?

I value add. This means I make milk from milk powder and yoghurt as well. If I want bread, chapatis, pizza, arepas... I bake them. I make my own natural muesli from grains and seeds bought in bulk. I make dips and sauces from scratch and have recently learnt how to make yummy polenta snacks. Many of these recipes not only are simple to make, they are so delicious you wonder what the hell is in that packaged food everyone's buying. As long as I have the basic ingredients on hand, I never run out of staples and don't need to pop down the shop for them either.

Home cooking makes such a difference to a food budget. Only purchasing the basic ingredients and cooking from scratch saves you 10% GST already! Have a look at your grocery bill next time you go shopping. I doubt the current government will keep this GST loophole, but whilst it's there, why not use it.

Growing your own veges saves even more money. A packet of seeds costs less than $2 and can potentially feed a family for a couple of years. Of course you need more than one packet but if you collect seed from your crop you may never need to buy seed again. Sure you need to water, feed, mulch, weed and nurture but if you enjoy gardening it isn't work. Spending time pottering in a vege patch is as good as a mental health session with a counsellor. And gives you your daily Vitamin D quota as well!

Which gets to those hidden costs I was talking about before. Establishing garden beds takes time, but doesn't need to take much money. A shovel and a few bags of manure and blood and bone can get you started. My entire garden is made from items I have repurposed, from cut down water tanks, to old pavers, to old irrigation hose. Compost can be made yourself from scratch, or purchased cheaply. Manure can be accessed from friends with livestock, or again quite cheaply from local suppliers. You can make your own seaweed tea if you live near the ocean and can forage for a bucketful of weed. Otherwise, it's pretty cheap to purchase as a concentrate.

Water, at least in Australia, is expensive. I invested in rainwater tanks and so far have managed through the last 18 months with daily hand watering from harvested rain. I use an electric pump, so there is a small power usage, but otherwise my water is free. If I were to add up the costs of purchasing the tanks I'm not sure when my investment would pay off, but given how expensive water is here, it probably wouldn't be long. I remember I once got a rebate back from the WA government for one of the tanks, sadly an initiative no longer.

I add compost and manure to my garden once or twice a year. This costs about $80 annually. Otherwise I feed with seaweed tea. I am currently trying to add clay to my soil to improve its water retention. Cost so far: $4.00

The real key here is flexibility. Grow what you can and then work out how to eat it. Recipes can be found on the internet for just about any ingredient, it's then up to you to experiment and come up with yummy satisfying food.

In a future post I'll do a day by day breakdown of my meals to illustrate how I do it. Let's just say I eat a lot of greens!!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Grinch news

Here we are in the final few days of 2013. The silly season is in full swing, when we all spend far too much money on presents and food, then even more money at the post Christmas sales.

My 2 treats for myself this Christmas (well nobody else except my lovely neighbours gave me anything) are a new Kindle Paperwhite and a $500 Qantas voucher. I bought a voucher last year too, it's a nice little bonus that Qantas offers every year where you get 10 frequent flyer points for every dollar spent, plus the points you'll get for flying. Since I bought it with my Amex, I also get another 500 points, so that's 5,500 points before I've even flown anywhere. I now have 12 months to spend the voucher...

The new Kindle is nothing short of awesome. I got on the Kindle bandwagon fairly early on, seeing the huge potential in being able to carry a digital library with me when travelling, in such a compact form. I'm a great fan of the simplicity of it, just black ink on white paper, only the electronic form of it. But my older generation Kindle was larger, and just that little bit too bulky to feel comfortable reading in bed. Plus my old eyesight isn't what it used to be... The Paperwhite is not only smaller (the screen is the same size but the keyboard is on the touchscreen) it's also backlit. It is absolutely perfect for whiling away hours reading a good book, in fact it's so good at fooling me that I found myself trying to turn the pages like a traditional paperback!!

In further news, it is 12 months since I started tracking my finances to see how much I spend. Not only did I wish to stick to a budget (I failed miserably) but I wanted to see just exactly where I was spending my income. And how much of it I was saving.

Doing this exercise definitely affects your spending habits. You think twice about impulse buying. I am not in a situation where I have to budget out of necessity (thank goodness) but from a very conscious decision to save rather than spend. As a result I managed to save just less than 40% of my income. And all of that went into debt reduction.

So what did I learn?

Let's just say that not working for 3 months and going on a ski holiday to New Zealand makes a dent in the savings. But since this is exactly what I plan to do in just over a year (not work), tracking these sorts of expenses allows me to determine whether I have the financial flexibility to retire. Turns out a ski holiday doesn't really cost me that much more than living here at home...

I continued to donate to charity. I will continue to do this forever, and one of my plans for retirement is to set up a not-for-profit charity myself that I can use to help people I meet in my travels. And yes, I'll invite others to give too.

I spent very little on clothes, shoes, hair. I only bought new shoes because I had to cover my toes for work and my running shoes were giving me electric shocks from the static electricity they'd generate. I went to the hairdresser twice in the last 12 months - the advantage of growing my hair - but it would have been no visits and $400 saved if I was ready to give up the foils. The price of vanity... As for clothes, aside from some specific travel related items and some badly needed new bras, the only new clothes bought this year were on a Target voucher from my Visa Rewards program.

The car cost me $5000, including fuel, registration, insurance, a nasty little $700 speeding fine and a little electrical work done to connect the alternator up to a plug at the back that I can use to charge the camper trailer battery when on the road. It needs an oil change and service - that'll be next year!

I spent a lot ($3300) on computer stuff. This included upgrading my entire storage system after 3 hard drives crashed last Christmas and purchasing a thunderbolt dock to run all the hard drives off. Although I expect to have to continue to purchase a few hard drives over the years I think most of my big expenses were this year. I'm hoping I still have a few more years left with my current 2011 MBA. I'm waiting till the SSDs are 1TB!

I spent $400 on photography purchases. This includes books, Apps, video courses and some snazzy filters. I included my Creative Cloud subscription (currently $30 a month) in my computer expenses.

I spent $1500 on Hazel. I miss her...

I spent $1600 on food, not including that spent during my 3 months in New Zealand. I spent $11,000 on my house and garden. That's all costs, including insurance, maintenance, pest inspections, phone, electricity, water, rates and gas. No mortgage payments, just day to day living. It's a lot isn't it!

The job cost me $5200 in medical registration, college membership, and indemnity insurance. This was a lean year as I already had all my continuous education points for the triennium so I went to no conferences and paid for no courses, but next year a new triennium begins so I'll have to cough up for more training courses to get my education points.

I spent $1500 on travel specific purchases - like a tent, a new sleeping bag, a new pair of trousers, a solar travel pack - that I expect will be lasting me some time. Given the last tent/sleeping bag/stove I purchased was over 20 years ago I figure I might just be right! I bought good quality items that were lightweight, supporting the adage that you can only ever have 2 out of the triad: sturdy, light and cheap.

I spent $2200 on a new windsurfing board. I'm very happy with it. My other one broke...

There was the weekend trip to Canberra to attend mum's 80th birthday celebrations, and a few once off purchases. There was a carefully budgeted, but not cheap, ski trip to New Zealand.

All up, my personal expenses for the last 12 months were $46,000. This was a lot more than I was expecting but actually around about what my superannuation website says would be the expected required income for a single person to live comfortably in retirement. If we remove the work related expenses we're spot on!

So, we've done the expenses, what about the income? I won't have that sort of income coming in after 2014. Once I sell property to pay off my debt I can only hope to bring in a half of that, and that includes if I rent out my current residence. I will have some positive cash flow though - a debt free existence will be quite a novelty!

My plans for my first 10 years of retirement are to mostly travel. At this point in time Australia is probably the most expensive place to live on the planet, so living almost anywhere else is likely to be cheaper. If I choose to travel in less developed countries most of the time I can reduce my expenses hugely. I can likely live within my means!!

But at some point in the grand plan I will be back in Australia, and I will need money to live on. And that's what I need to plan for. Sure I can access my Super once I get to 60, but I'd like to see whether I can live on a lot less right now.

After this first year of tracking my spending, next year I start grinching. How much can I really live on over the next 12 months? I've made almost all of my major purchases for the foreseeable future and I have a cheap holiday in Indonesia planned for 2014 rather than a ski trip. Can I reduce my spending by one third? By a half?

There is one rather large expense still to pay. Next year my house is getting a new roof. This blows my entire budget out of the water, but is a house maintenance necessity. Aside from this one off blowout, I'm going to give it a try.

Let's try for $30K. Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December garden notes

OMG we are half way through December already. I cannot believe how quickly the last few months have flown past and am somewhat amazed at how productive I have been. Perhaps committing to a retirement date was the motivation I needed to finish off lots of small projects. Not that I'm finished mind you.

Let's start with the north side garden. This is my attempt at a tropical theme and I think it's fairly successful. After removing the bougainvillea stump I paved the area and installed an outside shower so I can wash off when I get back from the beach. Just need to paint the wall and I'm done.

I've also removed another feature on the northern side of the house: a water fountain. This was a DIY job I put in a few years ago, involving burying a black garbage bin in the garden, filling it with water, installing a pump and then covering with stones. Since I wasn't turning the pump on much, and the water was just being a mosquito breeding ground I decided to pull it out, fill it in, replace the stones and place a few pot plants there. I'm liking the look.

The tropical bed is looking lush. The shade cloth I installed last year when I removed the bougainvillea had come loose in various places, but with Papayas and Palms starting to get some height I'm having to be a little more selective where I replace it. Instead I've just installed a small shade sail over the ornamental ginger plant and am hoping the rest of the plants cope with the hot summer sun. I'm doing a little more watering and am working on improving the soil (more on that in another post).

This weekend I replaced my laundry tub and removed the old plumbing, replacing it with new pipes that I will rejig into a grey water recycling system. Likely I will use the old laundry tub as the first step in the filtration system. This is a good job for summer because most of the construction work can be done inside out of the heat. There's a little painting still to be done here too.

Now let's take a quick squizz in the back yard, where the tyre wall construction is in hiatus now that the weather has hit the red hot dial. I still have a small part of the second tier to finish building, but have started covering the tyres with chicken wire and filling gaps with stones, bottles and cans and have even managed to do some rendering. Most importantly, I have mortared up all the loose stones at the end of the stone wall and connected them to the newly rendered section so I now have a fully functioning retaining wall even if the cosmetics aren't finished yet. I'll do a more detailed post next year when I've done a little more work on the wall, but now that the temperatures are well over 30 degrees it's too hot to continue. Good news though, I've found a friend with a concrete mixer I can borrow. Yay!!

On to the southern side, where I've replumbed the pump for the second water tank, meaning less frequent disconnections and water wastage. The kangkung is going crazy and I'm contemplating growing more in a second tub. Likely I'll resite to the north garden and use treated grey water.

Which brings us to the main food garden out front. Where do I start? How about with strawberries?

So much for thinking the eggplant was finished. A bit of pruning and I've got lots of little fruits coming on. I love picking them when they are small and just the right size for one meal - this is when home gardening really pays off.

The lettuce plants have all gone to seed but there's new plants coming on so hopefully I'll not have a harvesting gap. The Asian greens haven't done well and the okra seedlings are slow too.

Over in the "super cucurbit tub", the heat of the last few weeks has wreaked havoc. Even with daily watering and shade sails. Time for further soil improvement...

A couple of months ago I cut off a frangipani branch from the tree, dried it out for a week or so and then planted it in the spot where I'd had a fig plant. I pulled the fig out because it had done sweet FA for the entire 2 or 3 years it had been in that spot, and popped it in a pot. I am absolutely gobsmacked because in 2 months it has grown 3 times more than it grew in the last 2 years!!

The frangipani, by the way, is already putting out new growth in the fig's old spot.

The dragon fruit plant has gone bananas! I am so going to get lots of fruit next year, hooray!

There's lots of small passionfruits ripening, and the grape vine is up and over the top now. I popped a hammock up under the arbour so it's now a nice relaxing spot to sit and contemplate the garden.

I have a ridiculously huge chilli harvest again - time to make some chilli sauce methinks.
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Blues

Lately I have been feeling very unmotivated. I don't much feel like going windsurfing, and the job is drudgery. I am wondering whether my depression is rearing its ugly head again.

The thing is, I have been sick of my job for much longer than this mood has been upon me, so I don't believe my cynical views about the value of my work to be a symptom of depression. I don't just prescribe pills, I spend my days capacity building and problem solving these barriers patients have, yet it makes little dent in people's ability to self manage their chronic diseases. Objectively questioning whether the traditional doctor patient relationship is an effective antidote to the barrage of fast food advertising and temptations out there in the real world is a pretty valid argument I think, particularly when our outcome statistics aren't improving. Feeling good about yourself because you are doing something, well that's just self gratification if the clinical outcomes aren't there to prove what you are doing makes a difference.

I am not saying what I and my colleagues do doesn't make a difference. I believe it is valuable work, but I do question how much my medical school knowledge and the traditional doctor-patient consultation can have an impact. I think that model is totally broken when it comes to chronic disease, when it comes to teaching people what being healthy feels like, why sugar addiction is the most pervasive and dangerous addiction in our world today, and how the hell they can change that all around. Writing a script for a pill, an exercise program, or a dietitian review is not the answer when the stores tempt people with rubbish food or when parents push the sugar drug on their kids by pouring soft drink in their bottles. We need environmental change, we need fast food advertising to be banned from children's television time slots and we need high taxes on fast food. I and my colleagues can't compete with the golden arches!!

I know that the new crop of young doctors coming through training are completely unprepared or skilled to manage these issues. There remains a continuing view from the ivory towers of tertiary hospitals and medical specialists that doctors actually have control over whether patients take their medication, or go for a walk, or binge eat on lollies and cakes. Of course hospitalised patients are totally at the mercy of their doctors in an artificially controlled environment. No wonder their diabetes is well controlled when they have no access to junk food. Do these specialists have any idea how many patients stop smoking in hospital and then immediately restart at discharge? And that's my fault???

As you can see, I am very passionate about my work, but there comes a point where continually doing what I am doing becomes soul destroying. I'd like to do even more capacity building with patients, sort of life coaching, but the fee structure doesn't allow this, so I can't. And there's limited alternative options due to only five allied health visits a year being covered by medicare. Certainly not enough to turn a person's life around. Without support from society, I see it as a losing battle. Does that mean I'm depressed??

So back to the mood. I am a little blue, but I'm pretty comfortable with blaming most of that on Hazel's recent passing. It marks a big change in my life, from obligation and commitment to free agent. What was keeping me grounded is no longer present, and that is causing me some anguish. I want to just get the fuck outta here, but I can't.

I can't because I'm still working towards my financial goals. I can't because I commited to working next year mainly for succession planning. I need to pass on my corporate knowledge of the last 13 years to my colleagues. I may be tired of being the go to girl, but I don't want to destroy the great gains we've achieved. I believe in working towards self redundancy. That's my job for 2014.

I'm not getting the anxiety attacks I got last time. I don't not want to go to work any more now than a few months ago, even a year ago. I do know that something changed when I returned to work in October, that I understood that I needed to plan my exit because long breaks were no longer cutting it. When I got back in October I looked younger and happier and people commented on it. I now look older and grumpier...

I'm a bit inclined to think that some of my mood is also part of letting go. That if I enjoyed my job I'd be inclined to continue a bit longer, save a bit more money.... I kind of like that this mood motivates me to plan my future.

Which is why this isn't depression. All I can think about is my future. I am planning, researching, purchasing, researching, organising, decluttering, budgetting.......all for my future non doctor life. It's what I get up in the morning for, it's why I look at a 35knot wind day and go "meh". It's why I no longer veg out in front of the TV but read books and research on line. Yet on the weekend I went down to Coros anyway, just because I wanted to catch up with windsurfing friends I hadn't seen since last year. I didn't care to sail, but I enjoyed chatting with my friends.

I think that this excessive planning may be screwing with me a bit though, so I have begun meditating again, and have restarted a running program. Minor mishap though when my heart rate monitor battery died... easily sorted.

I have been quite busy in the garden, having started on the rendering of the second tyre wall, as well as tending the vege patch with great love and care. I have some great updates on those projects coming soon.

So I'm a little blue, I'm a lot cynical, and I'm ready to move on. Just I've friggin' gotta be patient.... AArrgh!!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

2 beers and a bottle of meths

In just over a year I'll be giving up the day job and heading off on an indefinite travel itinerary. In the meantime I'm preparing.

One of the things I'm really interested in doing is some long distant hiking. Over the years I have accumulated quite a number of books detailing almost all the famous long distance hikes to be had in both Australia and New Zealand. And that's before I think about ones in Europe or North America!

I've done 3-5 day hikes in the past (ones where you carry all your gear and food, not guided trekking like I did in Asia) so I'm not a novice to the sport. I've also spent months cycle touring around the UK and Europe, camping and cooking along the way. But since the late 90's I've mostly car camped, where little regard for space saving or weight is required.

Last time I bought a camping cookset was in the 1980s. I bought a trusty Trangia cookset in Scotland and took it cycle touring through the Western Isles and over to the European Continent. It came on a few bushwalking trips back in Australia, as well as a cycle tour of the Atherton Tablelands but it hasn't seen much use since.

The Trangia uses a small alcohol, or meths, stove which is unpressurised and not particularly efficient. It's not a bad system, but there's now lighter and more compact cooksets available and I don't really need a kettle and 2 pots. I'm pretty good at one pot cooking, but I also like having a frypan. Finding something that fits my needs may not be so easy.

My research found me the GSI Pinnacle Soloist, which is a perfect setup for a single backpacker, and allows you to store a gas canister and burner inside it. Or even an alcohol stove. It has a single pot, a spork, a cup, a lid/strainer, and a wash sink. No frypan though....

For some reason I can't locate my alcohol stove that came with the Trangia, perhaps I lent it to someone who never returned it, so I looked for some other ideas. Which is when I discovered the penny stove.

This stove is an ingenious modification of the double walled tin can stoves that anyone can make with a couple of aluminium drink cans and some gentle persuasion. The addition of the penny - in my case a no longer current Australian 2cent coin - allows for a pressurised effect which increases the fuel efficiency markedly. It really does take less than 5 minutes to boil.

A wire coat hanger cut and bent into shape makes a sturdy trivet, and a few layers of aluminium foil makes a lightweight wind guard. The stove won't blow out in a big wind (I tried that) but without the guard it uses up the fuel far too quickly and becomes very inefficient. All up, minus fuel, the set up weighs 383g.

I'm yet to do any proper cooking with my new stove and cookset, but I certainly plan to do that before my trip next year. Yes, this will be part of the 7kg challenge. In the meantime, I may just make a few more stoves and really perfect my finished product.

And find a frypan...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dear Thorn Tree

Sometimes I lurk over on the Lonely Planet travel forum known as Thorn Tree. It's not quite the same as it used to be since they shut down the site a year or so ago and then banned links for a while and they still haven't reinstated PMs. But it is fun to see what sort of questions people pose to the worldwide community of travellers, and even more amusing to read the replies.

On your average TT forum themed around a particular country or geographic region there'll be a question about visas at least every couple of days. Almost all the visa questions are identical, and doing a google search would almost always supply the answer. So the worldwide travellers' replies aren't always very polite!! Wry smile and snigger from the lurker here..

Then there's the "where should I stay, which hotel is better, etc" type of question, something that is totally personal and really, Trip Advisor is probably a better forum for this. Especially as most people asking this question are looking to do an internet booking of their accommodation, and a fair few of our world weary travellers seem to be great supporters of the cheap homestay that hasn't got itself an online presence yet. As I happen to be in the wander around town looking for cheap digs with character group of travellers, I usually roll my eyes at this one too.

I particularly like the "Warning I got scammed" posts, because they are often the same scam, just different person being scammed. Message to original poster: If you had bothered to read Thorn Tree before you left, you would have read about the chap who got scammed identical to you the week before. But since the first and only time you write a post is to warn us not to get scammed, then.... well does anyone else see the problem here???

There are the "where can I meet up with other people travelling" type posts, because, let's be honest, we don't go travelling the world to meet the locals do we? You do occasionally see somebody ask the latter question, but not nearly often enough. There could be some awesome answers to that question. There aren't any to the former, aside from direct yourself to the nearest backpacker ghetto...

Single female travellers post asking whether it's safe to travel alone. Ummm, good question, but darling, it's been answered 300 times before in the last fortnight!! The answer, by the way is yes, unless you are wandering around drunk late at night, in which case it isn't, but nor is it safe in your home town either....

The most amusing post I've seen for a while was regarding a chap wanting to know where he could change Travellers Cheques in deepest darkest Sumatra. Apparently he doesn't like using ATMs because they charge fees, and was furious when we all said that we used ATMs. It's a bit like getting angry that you can't find typewriter ribbon for your antiquated Olivetti because everybody uses computers now. And just because one country still has ribbons, expecting another country will too. And that the majority's choice to go over to using computers is some sort of sellout. I think our chap is a wee bit unbalanced myself.

For me, the most depressing part of lurking on the forum is to discover that the same old questions, about the same old routes, get asked on such a frequent basis that people stop being helpful. Do people not bother to do at least some rudimentary research before blabbing out the self same question that got asked last week? So one time travellers answer them with less accurate information and the old hands fail to even bother to reply, seeing as they've already answered that question fifty zillion times already, maybe even written a website about that region...

As an inveterate researcher of destinations I find it incredibly easy to find the same information about a handful of destinations, yet almost impossible to find information about places not on the well travelled route. And when someone does ask about an off beat destination, the pool of replies is very limited, and sometimes non existent.

So are community forums useful if you want to travel further afield than the usual tourist destinations? I'd say yes, but only if you can post your questions in more detail, and be able to PM certain forum members that you know have the knowledge. So Thorn Tree, get the hurry on for reinstating PMs please!

My new best friend is Google, and Google Translate. It isn't perfect, but it's a very effective way of translating local tourist and government information into your own language. We all know there's a lot more to see in your own village than ends up in a guidebook. Bypass the guidebook and go straight to the local source. Now in my language too!

Can't do that on an Olivetti!!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Seven Kilo Challenge Part 1

2 month trip. No checked in baggage, just a 7kg carryon luggage limit

LogoYou are allowed one piece of cabin baggage of up to 7kg and/or 1 laptop bag or 1 handbag onboard, each of which should not exceed the size dimensions.
Size Dimensions: Cabin baggage should not exceed dimensions of 56cm X 36cm X 23cm.
Weight: Cabin baggage must not weigh more than 7kg

Stuff I want to take with me:

DSLR camera and 2 lenses, some filters, battery charger, card reader, tripod

Laptop computer, charger, cables, external hard drives

Kindle, iPhone, cables

Clothes, raincoat, footwear, toiletries

Sleeping bag, sleeping mat, mosquito net, hammock, stove, cook set - yes I'm going camping!!

Can I do it??

You bet I can!!

Stay tuned to find out how....

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I really appreciate it...

A blog draft Hazel wrote a few weeks ago that I hadn't got around to editing. Hazel passed away this week.....

Hi! Hazel here. Been a while...

Yes, I'm still around, even if I'm a little slower, a lot deafer, and mum says a helluva lot smellier than I used to be. I quite like my new perfume thank you!!

As you know mum's been away in New Zealand sliding around on some cold white stuff ( I prefer sliding down sand dunes myself), but she left me here in the care of a very nice lady called Mel. Hi Mel, hope you're enjoying life. And it got me thinking that I've got a lot to be grateful for.

I really appreciate how much mum cares about me. How she's never put me in a kennel but found wonderful humans to love and nurture me when mum can't be there herself. How she always takes me with her if she can, in fact she's even knocked back jobs when they told her I wasn't welcome.

It's meant I've seen some pretty amazing places and taken some pretty wacky transport. Planes, automobiles, boats, kayaks, windsurfers..... I've barked at kites and howled when mum's gone diving underwater, but she's always come back for me. I appreciate she forgives me my little neuroses...

I appreciate that she lets me sleep on the bed. Mum says the dog books reckon that sleeping on the bed is all about dominance, which is why she makes me jump off before she goes to bed. Or at least get out of her way. I like to think we treat each other as equals...

I appreciate that she doesn't make me wear a collar all the time - man those things make me itchy - and doesn't poison me routinely every month with Frontline. Yeah I know we have to use it some of the time, but do you have any idea how disgusting that stuff makes everything taste? It's not just the fleas that get to feel miserable with that shit...

I appreciate that we moved to WA. I may have been born in the Territory but my background is definitely salt water people. I lurve the ocean and the beach and being able to wander down there any time I please.

I appreciate that mum loves me so much that she won't let me suffer when I get too old to do normal doggie things. I've had arthritis for a few years now, and I'm slowing down a lot, but I trust that she'll know when I'm hurting too much and let me go.

You really are the best mum a dog could have.

Thanks mum xx

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The time may have come to say goodbye

For the last week Hazel has been limping badly. She can hardly weight bear on her left front leg, however she can still get up and down the stairs and even sometimes up onto my bed for a snooze. She is eating fine but mostly just soft food as her teeth are wearing down fast.

She is pacing a lot. Though she is limping, she still paces, with a lot of panting. I'm pretty sure this is a sign of distress.

She is unable to go for walks anymore because she is in obvious pain.

She doesn't always make it outside to go to the toilet. She sometimes falls down the stairs in her haste to go. I leave the light on at night so she can see where she is going. Her sight is failing. I clean up her accidents...

When she is lying down, or sleeping, she is fine.

Is that a life??

I have added Tramadol to her analgesia mix. I have recently upped the dose and am hoping it will help. I am running out of options.

I have a vet appointment on Friday with a vet I've known for years. I'm having to change vet practices in order to see her because I believe her to be compassionate with what is going to be a very frank discussion. I don't have that rapport with the revolving door of vets at my old practice.

I see no point prolonging Hazel's distress. If she can no longer run and play is there a point in continuing her life? My feelings are irrelevant - sure I don't want to let her go - but it is her welfare which is paramount.

I hope there are still options, but I am prepared to make the hard decision if there aren't. Of course I will be devastated, but it's something all pet owners know will happen some day.

Wish me luck

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Planning for Java 2014

My next trip to Indonesia, in April next year, will be to Java. Now that I've made my decision it's full steam ahead. And since I've travelled in Java before I sort of know what to expect.

The next step in my personal travel preparation is destination research. I'd done some pretty extensive research on Java back in 2010, but I need to do a little updating. My scummy old LP Indonesia (2007 edition) has already been downsized by separating the Java section from the main book and there's even handy little post-its from last trip indicating points of interest. There's little point purchasing a new guidebook, if anything the more recent LPs have less destinations in them, and I've never had trouble finding somewhere to stay or eat. Of course I already own a map of Java.

I love maps. I haven't really got into Google Earth/Maps for trip preparation as yet, but I love poring over large format paper maps contemplating heading off up some small minor road and seeing where it ends. Or sketching out a route to take...

In 2010 I skipped the entire West Java, so after about 15 minutes of contemplation I decided to book a flight to Jakarta and start there. Those 15 minutes were taken up with deciding between 2 scenarios:

  1. grab a flight from Bali to Jakarta on arrival from Perth. Arrive in Jakarta at lunchtime, take a cab to the western bus station and head west outta there. Note the airport is to the west of Jakarta so I'm in the right general direction to start with. Start Java holiday in West Java and slowly head east. Jump on a through bus or flight to Denpasar when my time is up.
  2. head east overland from Bali. Risk spending too much time in East and Central Java and not give myself enough time for the west. The thought of making my way in to Jakarta from I don't know what direction, to get to the airport, seems worse than getting out. 
I'm now really excited, because I love planning my own itinerary. This isn't a day by day trip plan with accommodation and transport pre booked, but more a schedule of potential destinations to visit within a 58 day time frame. It's a what's out there, what's possible kind of plan. It's flexible and open to change. Except the end date - I still have to get back to work when my time is up.  :(

It may still be over 5 months till I leave but I'm starting early for a number of reasons. I really like to research extensively. This means poring over maps, doing multiple google searches and then using Google translate for the Indonesian language sites. Indonesians are keen travellers, and frequently blog about their experiences. Finding these sites and information opens up so many more possibilities than what's available from Western language guidebooks. Of course this sort of research takes time.

I'm keen to use this trip as a trial run for my extended overseas travel once I retire in 2015, so I want to pack and travel with gear I intend to take with me permanently. Doing the research, selecting the equipment, and then giving it a test run is an awesome opportunity. I mean how often do you hear "I wish I'd had ....." or more often "I wish I hadn't brought ....." from travellers on their return? Certainly my lurking on travel blogs reveals gear talk to be a common point for discussion.

I have some issues with gear because not only do I want to travel light, I want to camp, trek and climb mountains. I was limited last Java trip by not having gear for sleeping outdoors, yet I had a number of opportunities to do so. I didn't fancy dying from exposure however. Don't be fooled into thinking tropical places don't get cold. Once you climb into the mountains the temperature plummets. Kerinci in Sumatra is 3800m ASL, it was freezing up there, as was Bromo, and the day I wanted to climb Lawu it was raining and cold.

Once I've got my gear together I'll write about it. That will be in a few months though. The challenge is to carry lightweight camping gear plus electronics/camera gear and keep it to 7kg max.

The reason for this imposition is I have a 7kg carryon luggage limit and I'm not checking in luggage on my flight out of Perth.

I'm loving the challenge!!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Where shall I go Indonesia?

My next holiday will be in April and May next year. I'm treating myself to a backpacking trip to one of my favourite countries: Indonesia. I'm also planning to avoid any hoohah surrounding a certain pivotal anniversary....

Next year's trip will be my sixth time visiting my neighbours to the north. Part of the attraction is it's just so damn close to home, but more than that, it's such a fascinating place. The spectacular scenery, the friendly people and so much cultural diversity it's staggering. Plus it's cheap.

I have a return flight Perth to Bali (purchased on the fly whilst in Tekapo Backpackers back in September) and am now in the process of deciding where I will spend my time and what I will take with me.

At present I am trying to choose between either heading east to Nusa Tenggara, in particular Sumba, Flores and Alor islands, then making my way west back to Bali, or heading west over to Java and exploring further than I had time back in 2010. I am yet to see a Bromo sunrise, there's a lot more of Central and West Java for me to see and there's some volcanos I want to climb.

my Bromo sunrise April 2010

this sucker has my name on it.

My main concern is the weather, as it is only the start of the dry season, and my experience in Java in April 2010 was there was still a lot of rain, which closed access to climbing some of the mountains. Dying in a landslide isn't my idea of a birthday treat!

East Nusa Tenggara, OTH, has a dryer climate and should have finished raining earlier than further west. But in the tropics, surrounded by sea and volcanic mounts, local ecosystems cause their own weather, so who really knows? I could just leave it to the last minute, hoping I can swing a flight east on the day I arrive in Bali, and if not head west instead.

I'm swinging towards Java for a bunch of reasons:

  • I know I can't do East Nusa Tenggara justice in 2 months. Transport is slow and laborious and the way I travel I'm concerned that I'll be frustrated at having to miss out on some places just to make it back to Bali in time. I suspect I can do Sumba, Alor and Flores quite thoroughly in my 58 days, but that still leaves West Timor, Sumbawa and Lombok. Places I could do on another trip, but more practical to do with a visa extension and/or a visa run to East Timor. There is an impending retirement coming up after all...
  •  Although I made some sacrifices on my Java trip in 2010 to get to Bali in time for my birthday and return flight, I mostly took my time to explore places and was able to experience some fantastic hospitality from strangers I met along the way. Some of those people are now friends I'd like to see again.
  • Java has a lot more infrastructure, like access to internet, and I want to trial my gear and system for blogging on the road whilst still travelling light. It will be the first time I backpack with a laptop, and I want to see whether my set up works. Sort of a trial run for the big trip. East NT, however, is still an internet backwater (not such a bad thing really).
  • There's a lot of Java still for me to explore, in fact more than 2 months' worth. And when my 2 months is up it'll be no trouble to jump on a cheap flight back to Bali to connect with my homeward flight. Flights back from Nusa Tenggara, sadly, are renowned for their unreliability and frequent cancellations. The upshot of that would be a very long and arduous bus and ferry trip to get back in time for my flight, cutting into my actual "tourist time" by probably a couple of days. 

Hmm, it looks like I've decided to go to Java.

Nothing like writing things down to get some perspective...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Vegetable transients

It always amazes me how much my garden changes from year to year, season to season, month to month, even day to day. I love watching new seedlings pop their first little green heads up through the soil and then, BLINK!, there's suddenly a plant in front of me.

new watermelon seedlings

Some of my tubs perform better than others, but it remains unpredictable. Water repellant sandy crap can suddenly transform into moisture laden soil with the addition of loads of compost and manure. But some years even lots of compost doesn't seem to work and a particular tub under performs whilst another brims with vege goodness. I've never really got the hang of proper crop rotation, or writing down what when and where I plant things, but I'm not overly bothered, because I kind of work on another philosophy.

I love the higgledy piggledy nature of my vege tubs. I like planting a mixture of different plants in each tub, and try to steer clear of monocultures whilst embracing chaos instead. Since I never write down what I plant I am continually surprised to discover new plants when the seeds germinate. And this confuses unwanted guests too: something might eat one plant but not know its sister is hiding over in another tub.

So there is logic behind the chaos. Confusion has its merits.

cucurbit tub
This week I'm watching pumpkin and zucchini plants thriving in the bed that was growing broccoli this winter. I've also got cucumber and carrots beginning. The carrots will no doubt have multiple legs due to the extra compost I put down, but I'm OK with that, they still taste the same. There's a grape vine in this bed too, but it's been sorely tested over the last 12 months and has put on very little growth. However, now that this tub has become a super tub, the grape is looking up too.

lonely little asparagus spear
The asparagus has been rather disappointing this spring. I put a lot of effort into regular watering and feeding and haven't been rewarded with thick stalks yet. They are getting there, but it may be yet another season till I'm producing a reliable crop. Patience...

Geraldton tomato plant
I have been purchasing heirloom tomato plants off Freddie at the Farmers Market, including Black Russian and Romas, and last week acquired a "Geraldton tomato" plant. This is the original hardy plant that market gardeners grew here from the 1940s until the Vietnamese immigrants introduced newer hybrids in the 1970s. Apparently it crops for a good 3 years!! Hopefully I can collect seed from it to propagate some more plants.

The eggplants don't look happy, in fact they look a little bug infested, so I'm pretty close to pulling them out despite them only being in less than one season. They should produce for at least 2 seasons, but the hot weather here seems to stress them too much causing them to succumb to disease quickly. I guess I need to learn this lesson and just rip them out after their first fruiting.
tiny capsicum

lettuce everywhere
Lettuce is growing everywhere - the product of lots of seeding from last year's crop. I've many plants that have bolted already so I'll be spreading around a new lot of seed pretty soon. Same with parsley, though the wind seems to self seed without any assistance from me.
onions I think

I've noticed some healthy looking stalks in one of my tubs. I know I've sown onion and garlic in various places but without notes to tell me where, I'm not sure exactly what this is. I'm hoping it's not more chives - just got to wait for the green shoots to start browning off and then I can lift and see. How exciting!!

One little okra plant germinated. I've planted a few more seeds so here's hoping for a better crop than last time. I'm still not sure what time of year I should sow them, because no plant climate zones exist that accurately account for our weather. Geraldton does not share a climate with Perth, yet all the planting guides lump us in with them. Maybe there is a reason to write notes after all....

okra seedling

I bought some oranges last weekend, because it's time to harvest rhubarb. Cooked in orange juice it's delish!! So glad one corm has survived for me to enjoy the fruits of my labour.

rhubarb prior to harvest

In the water tub the kangkung was hibernating over winter, and slowly being squeezed by algal weed. That's now scooped out and a watercress plant is shading most of the surface. A few more weeks and I should be harvesting my first kangkung for the season. The watercress makes a lovely filling for an omelette. Can't wait till I have a proper water garden when I can try growing even more edible plants.

mini water garden

It was 41 degrees last Sunday! The first serious plant burn off day. Up went the shade cloth and the rest of the week has been much milder. But there'll be many more hot days to come, and the less heat stress my little veges have to deal with the better.

Meanwhile there's a tyre wall to finish.....

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hey Ho The Witch is Dead

I walk past it and it smirks at me: "You can't get rid of me that easily."

I'd chopped its limbs off with a chainsaw, I'd sawed cuts in it and poured poison down its throat.

But still, little shoots would appear. "I'm still alive!!"

So this afternoon, I dug down into the underworld. Sawed off all links to the soil, disentangled it from a mystery pipe.

And dragged it out of the ground

Then took it away in a wheelbarrow.

The evil bougainvillea is no more.

The wicked witch is dead!