Sunday, December 25, 2011

Homeless cats

We have seven cats on the farm so there is always an excess of cat biscuits and leftover cat food around. Due to availability of cat food, stray cats are often attracted to the house and are very difficult to chase off.

Many of the stray cats are very agressive and they bite our domestic cats leaving large gashes and gouges across their face. Because of this problem, whenever we see a stray cat, we have to chase them away. I usually don't feel sorry for them because they're so agressive but this past year has seen a new skittish arrival.

We've christened him as 'Tom Number 2" because he looks very similar to Tom with his white fur and ginger splotches of colour. We've tried to chase him away thinking that he bites our tame cats however after many failed attempts, he still remains on the peripherals. He waits until our cats are fully fed and then comes skulking to polish up the leftover food.

Now we don't chase him away anymore because he's not as agressive as the other strays. Infact, he is rather timid and always looking very pitiful. I've been feeling so sorry for him these past few months. He looks really scraggly, is always hungry and today, I noticed that he has one eye that looked infected or blinded and he had a huge gash on his left cheek. My heart melted and I felt so sorry for him.

My mum and I know that he skulks in the background waiting for leftovers and to discourage him from attacking our cats, we put out excess cat food so that he can have some leftovers to eat and doesn't attack our cats simply due to hunger. Today for the first time, I looked him in his eyes and he looked back at me very pitifully from his hiding place. Two eyes of different colours. I filled a bowl with some cat biscuits for him and for the first time, he got his own dish instead of eating leftovers.

Homeless cats and homeless humans. Being homeless is a sad state to be in. I see our cats being so well fed and loved and I see Tom Number 2 being unloved, a stray that had been left to fend for himself but it appears that he hasn't acquired the agression to survive as a homeless stray. We haven't chased him away for a few months now- instead, he's been partly adopted into the family because mum and I put out extra cat food on purpose knowing that he will come and polish up the leftovers.

I know that there's been a new, large black stray in our vicinity and he doesn't look timid or afraid. He's agressive and isn't afraid of me when I try to chase him away. Makes me wonder if the black stray has fought and gouged Tom Number 2's face since they both vie for the leftovers...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas: Filing cabinet, renovations and plants

In two more hours it will be Christmas Day. I was at the shops earlier this morning and it was insane. So many people buying so much food. That's awesome because I know retailers have been struggling for a while now and that a huge section of our domestic economy in terms of employment labour.

May everyone have a happy and safe Christmas. Don't drink and drive is all I've got to say about the 'BIG' day. Eat, drink and be merry. Personally, I'm certainly looking forward to a day of relaxation after all the hard work that I've been contributing across various facets of my life these recent six months. It's been emotionally and physically exhausting.

This past week alone, there have been two days where I've had only three hours sleep each night. Last night was five hours. I've got a major sleep deficit to catch up on. Does anyone else burn the candle on both ends like that? Late night and early mornings. Despite today being Christmas Eve, I was at my folk's IP(investment property) all day doing a lot of scrubbing, cleaning, vacuuming and carrying out a lot of broken plasterboard that the builder left in haphazard piles.

Here are a few photos across the last few months because I've been such a poor blogger - something for you to look at if you're spending Christmas catching up on your reading =)

I bought a proper dedicated filing cabinet to file my personal paperwork and it is the BEST thing that I've done for myself:

Starting my compost bins and converting foodscraps from landfill into nutrient rich compost. This diverted approximately 5 to 7 of these tubs worth from landfill every week:

Balcony garden- a large time sink for me but I really love plants =). I've identified the some of the plants that I'm currently growing for you:

Got the gardening and plant fever from my folks and what they do on their farm:

Unfortunately my laptop is giving me the **** right now because it keeps overheating and shutting down so I bid you adieu and a merry, merry Christmas =)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Speculating About The Sydney Housing Market

Another weekend flashing pass with more BBQs and dining out with friends. More conversation about everything and anything, however I'll make particular mention about the property speculation that some friends were discussing.

Friends who have bought property have nothing negative to say about property- only loads of positive comments and experience. One friend who bought her town house for $465k (ish) said that she was so glad that she bought because merely two years later, she would have been priced out of her suburb with town houses in the very same block recently sold at $600k (ish). She'd have to save $135k in two years if she had decided to delay her purchase.

 Friends who have not bought any property are saying that they believe property is overpriced and that they'll wait for it to go down before buying.

Since a house purchase is on the cards for the forthcoming 2012 year, I can't deny that those speculations have plagued my mind somewhat. I can't tell what the future holds and judging by the disastrous financial performance by plenty of traders, fund managers and economic forecasters - neither can they.

But you know - the waiting game has never really paid back. The action and execute methodology works significantly better. Property prices were appreciating around 2003 in Sydney and I was bummed that I missed that boom. I thought, well it's stable again and not going anywhere with the glut of rental properties(particularly city apartments) around. A two bedroom, one bathroom and one carpark apartment in Sydney city were selling for $360k in 2007. Around 2008 it reached another few years of price increases. Fortunately I had my finger in the pie by that stage.

2011 - that same two bedroom, one bathroom and one carpart apartment in Sydney city are selling for $600k. $240k price appreciation in four years.

During recessions and bust cycles - at the most, the prices have stabilised, dipped a few thousands and in a few short years later, continued their strataspheric climb.

Unless unemployment and redundancies make the rounds down under in Sydney, I can't see house prices crashing 30 to 40%. Not when I know that so many of our friends have so much money. All around me, I see friends spending lavishly, dining out frequently and heading overseas for month long trips. As long as people are employed, house prices will be rather stable - that's my chrystal ball. It's only overpriced or crashing if people can't afford to buy property and the glut builds up. But Sydneysiders are on relatively huge incomes compared to other countries and until a significant number of working professionals are made redundant, I don't see the impetus for a property price crash.

Check back with me in 5 years time to see what has happened with the property market. Will it be up or down or going sideways? Who knows?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Negotiating for credits on bills

Sometimes I have to call our vendors and ask for credits. It's such a tough gig since I know that we incurred the bill and yes, we are partly responsible but then again, the excess usage charges are ridiculously over inflated and astronomous and their email reminder system didn't work.

Today I phoned XYZ(telecommunication company) and asked them to kindly credit the $308.29 excess charge. The lady on the phone was tough. Usually if I ask nicely for credits from anyone, they usually roll over and give me my credits. This lady was holding out all the way.

This is what it took to get a $231.22 credit:

1. "I'm sorry, it's a valid charge- you used it so it's payable and I can't give you any credits" (insert rebuttals)
2. "I'm sorry, look the most I can give you is $100 credit off the total" (insert more rebuttals politely about the exorbitant charges and how their reminders didn't work and someone should of advised us etc etc)
3. "I can't help you any further, all I can credit the account is $100" (can you escalate this to a department that has more authority?)
4. "There's no other department that can do that. The maximum credit that I can give you is 75% of the $308.29 usage charge and that's it. I can't credit anything more than that. No-one here can credit more than that, I'm sorry" (this is good enough and I've spent enough time on the phone for the negotiations)

So that was it. From a $356.29 bill to $96.07. It took 15 minutes to negotiate for a credit of $231.22. If you view it from the company perspective, their system didn't function as expected and thus the excess data usage was incurred. On the other hand, yes the data was used so fair enough that we(company that I work for) pay something.

It's not easy negotiating. From experience, I know that there if there's any unfair or exorbitant charges that obviously has a lot of profits built in, then there's room for negotiations and credits. Even when you're at the shop buying things- the higher the markup, the more discounting potential.

Related posts:
* Ask and you shall receive
* Asking for higher interest rates on my funds
* Maximising interest on your savings

Monday, December 12, 2011

First They Killed My Father: Loung Ung Book

Cambodia's sad history and the genocide

'First They Killed My Father' is a historical autobiography about Loung Ung's war experience. Most people would consider the title overly dramatised but the sad fact is that it was a reality for many Cambodians. Loung Ung, the author writes about her horrific experience during the Khmer Rouge/Killing Field period and her journey to America as a refugee.

Despite sharing the same surname as Loung, I don't think I'm related to her -but how would I know since I lost three grandparents to the Khmer Rouge genocidal period and no one really knows our ancestral details in great depths since my Aunties and Uncles were also in their teens and early 20s when the genocide happened? All I know is from what my parents told me about their experience, their losses and the saddest and most miserable years of their life.

To analyse the entire book, I could write another book about it really. How Loung's family and her experience during the starvation, famine, disease and deaths paralleled my own parents journey of loss, death and fear during those same years. I love Australia. I love its freedom, friendliness and the democratic society here. Whenever I hear misguided people arguing in favour of communism and how they believe it's such a Utopic concept - it makes me angry and pity them for their ignorance. If only they had read about how communism failed the population of Russia, China, Cambodia and Korea. The misery that it inflicts.

Pol Pot - what an asshole, dickhead, prick, insane killer and murderer of two million people. I don't normally use profanities in my posts but his regime and horribly misguided ideas resulted in the death of many people including some of my own grandparents, aunties and uncles. And as I delve more deeply into my heritage about Cambodia and the horror that he and his regime inflicted, the more it makes me angry and realise how stupid and evil we can be as humans.

Cambodia and the classes of wealth

If you don't know much about Cambodia, it's a South East Asian country that was previously so rich in history, culture, mineral and agricultural wealth. With rivers, lakes and a coast line, it used to be abundant with wildlife, jungle, fish and food. The society was and is very much class based. It was previously a French colony so many Khmer people (the ones that survived) can speak, read and write fluent French. My parents were also educated in the French language alongside Khmer (the Cambodian language) and a minor Chinese dialect(Teo Chiu). Nowadays they speak English and can't understand why we can't be multilingual like they are.

The whole communism period was an uprising by the peasants and the outcast Khmer Rouge(direct translation is Red Cambodians/Red Cambodian Army). Due to the US bombing the crap out of the Cambodian countryside in their fervour to destroy the Vietnamese soldiers, they bombed Cambodia too. That was why it was so easy for the Khmer Rouge to evacuate the cities. They used the excuse that the US army were going to bomb the cities and they all needed to evacuate for three days. My mum to this day, still harbours deep regret about her immaturity during those years - how she was young and naive and took only some clothes and some books with her when she should have taken as much food as she could possibly carry.

How three days turned into five years of torture

The Khmer Rouge told the evacuating civilians that they could return to their homes in three days but it was all lies. The three day lies were only the beginning of the five years of torture, famine, hunger, starvation and overwork that was awaiting them in their future. Nowadays, noone could pull that type of lie anymore because we have mobile phones, internet, media and we are all much more informed due to technology. Imagine the mid 1970's when the only news were predominantly print media publications. If you had no media and all you knew was that your country was being bombed and were asked to evacuate by soldiers, what and how much would you pack if they said it would only be for three days? All those who refused to evacuate were eventually killed and shot by the Khmer Rouge.

The mass murder of the educated, teachers, doctors, wealthy affluent families, politicians, religious and or business owners

Do you fall into any of those categories? If you do, imagine if you and all you know who fit into those categories were persecuted, tortured and killed? That's what happened to my mother and father's family. They were killed and even the children were killed incase they grew up and took revenge for the deaths of their parents. They killed all the educated and anyone who could be intelligent or influential enough to create uprising and revolutions.

My parents said the only way to survive those years were to pretend to be only a poor farmer or servant and pray that no-one recognises you and your lies. They had to hide the fact that they could speak, read and write in a few languages, hide the fact that their parents owned properties, land and that they had servants. Hide the fact that they were educated and prayed that no-one would recognise them and report them for reward - a measly amount of food reward. If you were caught hiding your knowledge, they killed you and they killed your family. They pretended to know nothing, the less said the safer it was.

They split up families and used that as threats used to punish you if you misbehaved. If you misbehaved, the threat was that they would kill your siblings and family in the other 'camps'.

The starvation and deaths

My mum tells me about how they laboured in the rice farms for 12-15 hour days planting and growing rice which were mainly for exporting to China so that Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime could pay China for their guns, ammunitions and financial loans. She said that they laboured in the hot tropical heat every single day for five years and each day, they would get one small bowl of watery porridge.

Have you ever dined in a Chinese restaurant and they give you those tiny bowls to eat your rice and food from? My mum tells me that they were fed a small bowl with about 1 tablespoon of rice in that watery mix for each day of back breaking labour and that was all they were given to eat. That's why so many Cambodians eventually perished from starvation, disease and overwork. There were no more doctors, nurses nor medicine since they were anihilated and murdered already. And any doctors or nurses that were able to survive were hiding their knowledge and experience due to the fear of being found out, tortured for more information and then killed.

My parents tell me about about their escape into Thailand's refugee camps and the mass graves they passed along the way. The stench of death and the fear of landmines, being tortured and being shot if they were caught.

The present and the future

Only by being aware of our past and spreading the knowledge can we prevent this from happening again. This is my homage to the future. May we all live to remember the suffering of the past and remember to treat our future respectfully and not wage war on each other. There are wars, suffering and repression being waged in Iraq, Burma, parts of South Africa and elsewhere in the world. I wish it would all end. I wish the world could live in peace and harmony.

Loung Ung's book strikes deep chord within myself and reminds me of my own family's history and the challenges that they faced to be standing here. It reminds me to not be selfish and donate, lend a helping hand and to always remember that no matter what I believe my sufferings to be, I am fortunate and I have nothing to complain about. I do wonder if she is somehow a relative of mine or related to me somehow and whether some of her losses in her book are also some of my family's losses.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Arthur's Bavarian Bakehouse: Tasty But Poor Service

One of my colleagues was raving about the sourdough and pies that he bought from Arthur's Bavarian Bakehouse so I was very eager to visit the store to try their goodies for myself. The shop had artisan breads alongside the wall, pretzels dangling from the ceiling and an array of Northern European baked goods on tables.

I bought some pies, a pumpkin and fetta sourdough, vanilla kipferls, macarons (yea I know they're French and not Bavarian but they're in fashion right now in Sydney and most bakers are cashing in on the macaron wave).

As the greyish, blond haired lady tallied up my purchases, I was holding a $10 note in one hand and about to get the rest when she finalised the total. Instead she turns around and says in a cranky rude tone, "That's not going to pay for it!"

Well duh. I work with numbers all day for a living so I should know better than most folks how numbers work. The total was around $31 and I had $10 in my hand thus far. I was clutching $10 because originally I was going to buy only two pies and got slightly carried away. Her tone and manner was abrupt and rude. We had driven there specifically for the bakery and to be subjected to rude service made me want to put everything back on the shelf and leave.

Although this is the most challenging retail season because shoppers are predominantly tired, cranky and harrassed doesn't mean you should be rude to the ones who are polite just because you're in a foul mood. I've worked in retail before when I was a student and I have always tried to be polite, helpful and kind to all customers despite how challenging some of them are occasionally.

Christmas is drawing near and yes, I know the car parks at shopping centres are full, there's bad traffic jams and dazed fatigued shoppers stumbling around everywhere. Is this any excuse for poor service?

Rudeness isn't going to buy you any customers and ongoing sales. The pies had tasty fillings but the dough pastry was still slightly uncooked. I would rather spend my money at my local bakery where the staff are always friendly, kind, helpful.

This must be the silly season for poor service. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hypocritical Environmental Footprints

Hypocritical values, beliefs and environmental practices

[Note: This post is a bit of a soul searching type of post. I'm not criticising anyone or anybody or any corporations - it is merely a reflection post regarding hypocritical behaviour and my thoughts exploring the topic.]

Have you ever thought about your values and beliefs and compared them against the way you actually live your life? None of us are infallible and we are all flawed to some extent. After all, if you believe in the bible then Adam and Eve were perfect until Adam gave Eve a forbidden apple to eat. This led to their fall from grace into a world of sin and punishment. And here we are, in the modern world of sin and punishment according to the bible.

Some priests are a bunch of hypocrites. I won't elaborate much, only to say that priest molesters have been able to get away with their crimes for several centuries and have only recently been acknowledged by the church as being uncondoned behaviour.

My own hypocritical behaviour

Before I start commenting on hypocritical behaviour around me, I 'll be the first to confess that I'm also a hypocrite. In the past few years I've donated to many charities but predominantly animal welfare charities such as RSPCA, WSPA and Doggie Rescue. However I still eat animal products and I still eat meat. To combat the hypocritical feelings that I get, I try to minimise my meat intake and increase the amount of vegetables and fruit that I eat instead. Does it make sense to try and save a bear from bear baiting and homeless dogs only to eat plenty of pork or beef that are being slaughtered potentially inhumanely? Eating red meat leads to heart problems right? Health issues aside, I've been feeling sorry for the cows, sheeps, pigs and chicken that are being slaughtered for our consumption.

I profess to love nature and the environment however I still fly for holiday destinations, I still drive and I still buy useless, pretty junk to fill up the house every now and then. One day-all those objects will be in landfill and yet I still occasionally engage in consumeristic behaviour.

To counteract that, I try to use public transport where possible, I try to compost my food scraps, I try to buy locally grown produce to reduce the food footprint of my meals and support local businesses. I try to grow a lot of plants on the balcony and indoors, I try to pick up rubbish that are polluting the ground and waterways even though  it's not directly polluting my own living space, I try to use glass storage containers and metal cutlery to reduce my plastic containers and plastic wrap usage. I try to buy in bulk and avoid food packaged into smaller servings using more plastic packaging. I recycle all that I can. When I'm running the shower or kitchen sink for hot water, I save the cold water from the taps which I use to water my plants.

When I buy a house, I'm going to install a rain water tank so that the water isn't wasted into storm water drains which eventually pollutes our ocean.

1kg of beef and the journey to get there

Sure there are millions of publications linking red meat to cancer and cardio problems but why are we still eating so much meat? Did you know that to slaughter 1kg of beef it has the following environmental footprint:

1kg beef = 100kg hay + 4kg grain = 100,000 litres of water

Environmental hypocrites

A few corporations have been very hypocritical. One firm that I know, prints out hundreds of photocopied environmental propaganda to pimp out the image that they're environmentally friendly by participating in Earth Hour. So by having the lights turned off for 1 hour out of 8760 hours in a year which is 0.0001% of the year, they're evironmentally friendly?

Contrast that against the policy of providing no recycling bins, no greywater/rainwater collection, no composting, no solar panels and for the sake of 1 Earth Hour, hundreds of photocopied brochures are handed out to create landfill rubbish. That's just one example. How many more are out there?

Reducing our hypocritical evironmental footprints

If you have ever tried to reduce your carbon footprint on the environment, here are a few ideas to contemplate:

* Not eating 1kg of beef means you help save 100,000 litres of water. That is, a piece of steak on your place is around 25,000 litres of water. Imagine how many vegetarian meals 25,000 litres of water can grow
* Eat smaller fish because larger fish are predators that feed on smaller fish. Eating larger fishes have a wider environmental footprint
* Using public transport where possible
* Eat less meat
* Grow plants =)
* Avoid food with excessive packaging
* Decline the plastic bag
* Bring a portable environmental shopping bag with you
* Reuse all your bags for as long as possible
* Compost
* Buy glass containers (not only are they BPA free but your plastic usage will diminish)
* Use silicone baking mats instead of baking paper
* Recycle as much as you can, reuse other people's dumped furniture and bits and pieces

Anyway, they're just some ideas. If some corporations tried a bit harder to be authentically environmentally friendly rather than just media friendly, then we might actually see a remarkable reduction in their carbon footprint and greenhouse gases.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Being Charged Overdrawn Account Fee

Christmas is fast approaching and with all the dramas/changes at work and crazy pre-Christmas social life along with huge plans in the making for next year, I had a mega brain freeze. Totally forgot about my fortnightly mortgage payment was due to be direct debited out of my account earlier this week and I had already rotated all my savings from my transaction account into my high interest savings account.

For that, I got penalised $10. Because I am very rarely overdrawn, I know that a friendly call to my bank will mean they'll reverse the charge and that's exactly what happened a few years ago and it happened again today =) The friendly lady who fielded my call said, "Because you haven't got a history of overdrawing your account, we can reverse the fee straight away for you." Awesome! Finally good behaviour gets recognised and rewarded ...or should that be instead, bad behaviour gets rewarded from a history of good behaviour ;p

My transaction account pays a dismal 0.01% interest so I always rotate the funds into my two other high interest saving accounts where one account pays 5.5% interest and the other 6%. Why aren't all my funds in the 6% interest account? There are withdrawal restrictions and if I breach my withdrawal restrictions then I get penalised by losing 50% of the interest and the rate drops down to only 3%. Whereas the 5.5% savings account has no restrictions on withdrawals and is flexible enough for me to use as a semi-transactional account. Most of the time, I use my fantastic-plastic anyway and pay that off at the end of the billing month so I'm infrequently transacting from any of my saving accounts.

Do you read the fine prints before you sign documents? I'm one of those (anal) people who reads the terms and conditions booklets all the time. I also never sign anything until I've read every single little fine print on documents that I'm given to sign. I read that wise advice somewhere several years ago and it has always stuck with me. It was something along the lines of, 'don't feel pressured to sign anything, if you need a few weeks to read a document, tell them that and don't put yourself under duress to sign the document on the spot without having read all the terms and conditions.'

As per the proverb: measure twice, cut once.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The excitement of buying a property

If you've never bought a property then you'll never know how exciting the process is. The rush of exhilaration when the paperwork reaches settlement and the keys are handed over to you.

A friend of mine is going through the process of buying a property. I haven't mentioned to her that I'll be blogging about it and she'll be too busy to read everything that I write so this post will slide right under the radar. Here are a few of her concerns and the concerns that I first experienced:

* Am I paying too much for the property? Is it the right price? How much should the property be worth? Am I overpaying?
* Am I buying in the right location?
* Am I buying at the wrong time of the property cycle? Will property prices take a dive after I've bought?
* What if I lose my income/job/revenue/income stream/get made redundant/get fired etc then how can I pay the mortgage?
* What if the place gets burnt/damaged/destroyed/untenanted?

Those are a few of the biggest concerns for many of us. There's always going to be risks involved. Life isn't risk free and we have to make choices in order to progress in life. The only thing we can do when those worries and concerns are troubling us is to ensure that you do your due diligence and research before buying one.

Are you paying too much for the property? You can check RP Data or Residex or for the last sale price on the property, the recent sale prices at that address if it's an apartment block and the recent sale prices along the street and in the suburb. All of that costs around $50-$100 and it could save you making a mistake by overpaying by thousands of dollars! If you're really in doubt, you can pay a professional valuation firm to value the property for you before you make your offer - sure that'll cost you around $500 but do whatever you need to do to allay your fears and perform your research.

Are you buying in the right location? What are your needs and goals? If it's for you to live in then does the property location meet your needs in terms of work and family? If it's an investment property then which category and type of tenants do you wish to attract and do those class of tenants rent in the area you wish to buy in? Eg: If you wish to rent to young professionals then does the location offer cafes/eateries/amenities/lifestyles that the young professionals are attracted to? If you wish to rent out to families then is the property close to schools, transport, sport fields etc?

What if you buy at the wrong time during the property cycle? Who can predict the future? All of us can only predict the near future based on the current state of our economy. If you're buying during a boom then you'll notice that there's an enormous crowd going to open houses and you're being outbid everytime you make an offer. The market is hot and there's probably less chance of discounting the price. If you're buying during a repressed period then you might be the only one to turn up to the open house, the property may have been listed on the market for several months - demand is low so go hard and bargain hard. None of us know what the far future holds and you can only base your behaviour on the near future and historical price behaviours.

What if you lose your job/income/become redundant or the place gets burnt/destroyed/untenanted blah blah blah? You can pay for insurance to mitigate those risks and/or you can have emergency funds to cover those periods of zero income. Income protection insurance, trauma insurance, death or TPD insurance, property insurance, landlord insurance, home and contents insurance and the list goes on and on. Whatever it is that worries you - there's insurance that covers those worries.

If you need a place to live in or you're sick of being shuffled from rented property to another or you're simply looking for an investment property to invest in - there are always going to be worries involved with buying a property. There's a huge sum of money involved and if you've done your numbers, due diligence, research, pounded the pavement to look at piles of open houses - you've mitigated your risks.

At the end of the day, the proponents of the renting argument versus the buying argument will always tell you renters trumps the day. At the end of the property investors argument - they will always need renters to pay their mortgage for them while they hold onto an asset that is earning income and the value of the property is more likely to increase with inflation. And when inflation increases? Property investors also hike up their rent. Which side of the fence do you wish to be on?

Time moves on and the mortgage payments becomes habitual and if you make extra repayments frequently, before you know it, you've paid off your mortgage! All these worries and concerns would plague me too but after a few weeks into the mortgage - it dissipated.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hiding assets from defactos and butter cakes

This is what happens when I haven't blogged for a while - there's an influx of traffic from people googling passionfruit butter cake recipes, how to hide money from their spouse, a-hole ponzi dudes (roger munro/james lovell/bernie madoff), how to repot aloe vera plants, problems associated with having too many savings accounts, having to work multiple jobs 7 days a week and how can they handle their busy work life, Coca Cola breakeven points, sugar cane plants, what can they do with $60k deposits, grape dresses, best money management books, making lump sum payments on student loans and the topic of the month with a huge surge in traffic: how to hide assets when marriages and defacto relationship fails.

Usually traffic tapers off somewhat if I haven't written anything however lately, it's steady and even increases despite my lack of new blog posts. It's great that the almighty google search engine comes up with this blog in plenty of its first page search results.

Anyhoo - I'm back and I haven't got fantastic news to report. Life is super frenetic and I haven't had time to sit and mope or even daydream. Just can't wait until this year and next year is over. Whoa right?! All the huge events and decisions have happened this year and next year will be the next final wave of mega life changing decisions not to mention trips of a lifetime.

Money wise? It will be financially draining ;_; I'm going to have to become a semi tightwad/tight ass to some extent because of the huge lumpy spending to come. The H word, the M word, the H word and the two holidays yet to be planned. That's excluding a snow trip of course. If a ski trip is squeezed in then that'll be three huge holidays on the list of things to come. My portion of expenses are probably around $550k max? I hope that's the max or else I'll be blogging about eating cheap $2 chinese cabbages 7 nights a week and vegemite on toasts for lunches or even dumpster diving - the horror! ;) Only kidding - if I fell into a dumpster I'm too small to climb out unassisted and would perish in a rubbish truck when the dump gets collected.

Anyway - seasonal vegies and fruits are cheap, plentiful and nutricious. Dinners and lunches can be easily under $2-$3 per day. Especially since I've reduced my meat intake and steer away from huge lumps of steaks and huge fillets of fish. Afterall - wouldn't I be a huge hypocrite if I donate to animal welfare charities yet scoffed down meat like the world is ending tomorrow?! Seeing a huge rib eye steak on my plate is like visualising a dead cow on my plate lately anyway. Bok choys(a chinese vegie sold in oz) are 3 bunches for $2 and that's 6 servings. So a stir fry vegetarian dinner with rice is 50cents and if I'm feeling particularly hungry, then $1. Not that I eat like that everyday - see above - I have been meeting up with friends for dinners a lot recently.

Socialising is such a money pit - I've been spending several weeknights and weekends going out, socialising and hanging out with friends and it's really a case of spend, spend and spend because that's what happens when we hang out. Sunday night was my last wedding to attend for this year- another cash gift because that's what friends getting married desire these days - no one wants 20 useless toasters nor having to open up a gift registry. They prefer to spend the money gift on their honeymoon, use it to pay the restaurant for the reception venue or use it to build their marital house deposit.

The behaviour of a few groups of friends have changed somewhat because they've taken on huge monster sized mortgages and are only keen to entertain at home. Well - that's the summation of what's been happening on SMG's end down under and hopefully I can squeeze in plenty more blog posts before Christmas comes along =)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Container Gardening: Pests, Fruit, Herbs and Flowers

That Guilty Feeling Pleasure
On the weekend, I went nuts shopping at Bunnings Warehouse and Eden Gardens. I bought so much that I'm feeling slightly guilty. As usual, the dilemma was: flowers vs fruits vs herbs.

Why am I feeling guilty? I'm *supposed* to be saving up a deposit/down payment. Maybe it was the stress of rushing to eight open houses on Saturday that brought on the need to unwind by shopping for pots and plants. One thing leads to another...if you buy plants, you'll need to buy pots and if you buy pots first, then you want to buy plants to fill up the pot ^.^

I spent roughly $400 on gardening plants and items on the weekend and if I had saved up that $400 to use as a deposit/downpayment on my future mortgage, it would have saved me paying $5,400 in interest. Insane isn't it!! Although the pleasure of living in the here and now would have dissipated somewhat if I applied that theory to everything.

For what I spent on the snowboarding trip to NZ recently, used as a deposit/down payment, that would have saved my poor future-self from paying $54,000 in mortgage interest. But since it can't be guaranteed that I'll live to a ripe old age, I think I should enjoy myself along the way :)

Making That Humble Dollar Work

How did I arrive at that scenario? I'll illustrate using a simple example.

Scenario One: IF I borrowed $300k @ 9% for 30 years (Interest rates were at 9.8% in 2008 so it's not farfetched to think that rates may increase to those levels in the future):

a) If I deposited $1 against the mortgage in the first month, total interest paid is $568,975.67
b) If I didn't deposit $1 in the first month, total interest paid is $568,989.51
So that single dollar paid into the mortgage in the first month would have saved me from paying a total of $1 principle + $13.84 interest, a total saving of $14.84

Scenario Two: IF I borrowed $400k @ 9% for 30 years:

a) If I deposited $1 against the mortgage in the first month, total interest paid is $758,643.63
b) If I didn't deposit $1 in the first month, total interest paid is $758, 656.77
So that single dollar paid into the mortgage in the first month would have saved me from paying a total of $1 principle + $13.14 interest, a total saving of $14.14

Who cares huh? Look at what I bought :)

* $25 Yates Blood & Bone Fertiliser: Will be using this alternately with Dynamic Lifter. The horticulturalist advised me to apply Dynamic Lifter which is a slow release fertiliser. In two or three months, sprinkle with Blood & Bone. Two to three months later, Dynamic Lifter again and repeat cycle. We also have Thrive which is supposed to be good when plants are fruiting or flowering. Thrive is supposed to treat the plant while Dynamic Lifter + Blood and Bone are soil conditioners and treat the soil.

* $16 Nootka Raspberry Plants: Two small plants. It will be my first time planting Raspberries and I'll be potting them up. I read that Raspberry plants have canes (the branch/leafy bits) that grow vigorously with vigorous roots that spread. So the horticulturalist advised that for container gardens, you must use a ceramic glazed pot or else the roots will eventually be strong enough to break your pots or grow through the cracks in your terracotta pots. The roots also need to be kept cool so the pot needs to be deeper rather than wider. The plants don't fruit in the first year but will fruit in the second year. After the second year fruit, you're supposed to cut the canes down to the soil level while pruning the one year old canes. Advice on the internet is consistent and advises that one year old canes are a lighter green whereas the two year old ones are a darker colour. Alternate with the fertiliser method above when they start growing again. It's going to be exciting because I don't know anyone else who grows their own raspberries.

* $24 Dahlia bulbs: I bought three Dahlia bulbs/rhizomes. Suddenly I've been madly buying bulbs. Normally bulbs scare me because I'm not the type to dig them out when they die down and then I can't bear the thought of them rotting in the ground if I don't. Some will hibernate very well without being dug out. Anyway, I'm hoping my Dahlias will spread and I can eventually share some bulbs with family and friends. I've been growing the following that should eventually multiply: Tulips, Dahlias, Daffodils, Dutch Irises, Lillies

* $2.50 Sunflower Dwarf Sensation seeds: As long as I stay away from extreme hybrids, the flowers and herbs should go to seed and enable me to plant next year from seed harvested. To grow anything from seed, you really need the fruit or flower to ripen and shrivel on the plant until it looks dry or browned and then you collect the seeds and store them in a jar in a dry place. Soak overnight before planting or sowing them in the following year.

* $15.79 Yates Insecticide/Natrasoap: My poor plants have been suffering from a batch of Aphid attacks and trying more natural homemade/organic insecticide recipes didn't work so I bought a bottle of insecticide to try and banish the pesky aphids from destroying the plants. Clean, dry eggshells that I've crushed are helping to keep snails at bay. Crushed eggshells are an awesome, natural snail and slug repellant and they also provide calcium to the plants.

* $23 Wild Irises: These grow in clumps and the leaves don't die down leaving you with a bare looking pot. Wild Irises do require transplanting/splitting when the clumps are too large for pots or garden areas.

* $27 Americana Geraniums: Beautiful fuschia blooms in clumps on taller stems. I'm going to try and do some geranium cuttings when the plant matures somewhat.

* $13 Seasol Concentrate: 1 capful to 9 litres of water. Seasol is made from seaweed and is considered a 'tonic' to help stressed plants. Stressed plants? Yep you read it right - plants get stressed when they're transplanted, split, re-potted, suffer from heat waves or haven't been watered for several weeks because you've been away on holiday. The Eden Garden horticulturalist advised to mix, apply and wait two weeks prior to using any other fertiliser.

* $189 for two 47cmx53cm Primo Glazed Ceramic Pots: For the raspberries I bought - see above

* $64.95 for one 45cmx34cm Forest Green Primo Glazed Ceramic Pot: For the Wild Irises I bought - see above

Ceramic glazed pots just ain't cheap in Australia. Sigh.

Spring Time: Plant Fruit Trees, Herbs and Seedlings

It's five days into Spring if you live in the Southern Hemisphere. Now is the best time to start planting all those herbs and flowers. To start applying fertiliser. The Eden Garden horticulturalist told me that my plants may have yellowed somewhat due to our cold winter but Spring should see them starting to absorb more nutrients now that the soil will warm up and certain plants break out of their dormancy.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Container Gardening Pests: How To Get Rid Of Aphids, Spidermites, Leaf Miners

Although this is a PF blog, most personal finance bloggers grow plants, herbs and vegetables for the most obvious reason. I grow mine for pleasure. Visual and edible pleasure : ) Lately, the wide range of plants, herbs and flowers on my balcony has attracted so many pests and it has been a struggle to deal with them so far until the last few days. I have found a new gardening weapon. It's called the humble sticky tape.

The Failure of Commercial Pesticide

Yates aphid and bug spray didn't achieve anything. The aphids still made out like crazy and flourished. It may have killed beneficial insects instead and left me with a swarm of spidermites that were out of control. I had to uproot my mint plants and dump them. My purple miniature rose were cut back to the stems and I'm not sure if they'll ever recover from the shock. The poor hibiscus cuttings are now under attack and the last thing I wanted to do was chuck another plant out.

Using Sticky Tape to Remove Aphids and Spidermites

Suddenly I had a brainstorm. If the humble sticky tape can remove dust and lint off every surface - then why couldn't I use it to remove bugs from my plants? With my 1.5 inch wide tape, I cut off a bit and stuck the tape to the aphids and the results were amazing - it picked up all the aphids in the vicinity of the tape! The bugs couldn't escape and I didn't have to squish them one by one which can take hours. I used a skewer and rolled it along the surface of the tape and suddenly the 5-10 aphids stuck on the tape were vanquished. Just keep reusing the tape until it's covered with dead bugs. It's gross but highly effective.

Day one= 150 aphids squished. Day two=20 aphids, Day three=40 aphids and Day four= 5 aphids only. The numbers are dwindling rapidly and at this rate, by day 7 there will be none left. You'll need good eyesite to spot your aphids. Check in between the flower buds, under the flower buds, on new shoots, on top of the leaf and particularly the underside of leaves are where they love to congregate and on the underside of the leaves near the soil.

Using sticky tape to remove the pests is non toxic(can someone prove otherwise?), easy, cheap and very effective. I've been sticking the tape to the underside of the hibiscus plant leaves, gently pressed the leaves against the tape to squish the microscopic red spidermites and crush the eggs, gently unpeeling the tape from the leaves. Hundreds of squished red spider mites, eggs and webbing were on the tape. If I had done that one by one by hand it would have taken hours, I would have missed heaps and you can barely see the mites anyway so it would have failed. The sticky tape picks up so much due to its sticky residue. It was gross but the option was to either spray a lot of pesticides frequently or use a tiny bit of sticky tape over and over again on the infected leaves.

Using Water Spray and Natural Methods to Remove Aphids and Spidermites

Advice on the internet is to use pesticide or spray your plant hard with water and water jets. They will simply just fly or climb back onto your plants. Spraying with water just doesn't work and I've tried all those techniques. Even using a soapy spray mix doesn't work. I've tried the garlic + chilli soap spray method and it doesnt work for me. Admittedly I haven't tried mixing soap+oil+water which is another 'natural' option. Some people buy ladybugs/lady beetles to eat the aphids. I also haven't tried filling a bright yellow dish with water- yellow is supposedly attractive to the aphids.

Using Plants to Ward Off Aphids and Other Bugs

Some recommend planting dill, geraniums, chives, corriander, garlic, onions, petunias and radishes etc to attract beneficial predatory bugs but that doesn't seem to work with my container plants. Sure the aphids doesn't eat my geranium and chives yet they aren't scared off either. They love to munch on my corriander so that advice isn't effective.

There are so many plant bugs around that love to dine on my tasty plants. The sticky tape solution will work on aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites and soft scale. It's still early days yet to see whether it will fully solve my problem however there are significantly less and less bugs! This should help the plant to recover somewhat and eventually all the pest eggs will have hatched and will be removed via the humble sticky tape.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The expert email 'forwarder'

Before you click that "Forward" button on your email, stop and think, 'I can do this, but am I just being lazy?'

The 'Forward' function in Outlook and email clients exist so that we can share information but it's not there simply for people who want to shirk their work duties. Lately, I've been getting annoyed because a staff member at one of our vendors prefers not to do any work but forward my requests and give me phone numbers to call and follow up for myself. It's understandable if his sole function is to divert emails but his role is to assist me in work related matters and action my requests.

At work it's been a rant of mine ever since one of the staff at a vendor of ours got promoted and she was totally awesome. Her promotion is awesome but she's left us in a bottomless pit with her new, crappy replacement. If I sent her any request to action or investigate, she would be onto my request immediately and she chased, she pursued, she followed up, she diarised and she got results for me. It was a like working relationship dream come true. Even if it was a request that was not her immediate duty, she would forward the request to her colleagues but she would follow up with them first and then get back to me with her results. I email her my requests, she emails me her results = working relationship dream come true.

Her replacement however is a total fail. He likes to forward emails. Not once has he actioned any of my requests without me having to repeatedly hassle him for results. I'm not his mother and I'm not his girlfriend nor his secretary. It's not my role to chase him for answers, replies and results and I've got deadlines to work to. He doesn't understand the concept of using diaries and calendars to schedule in tasks. Everyone has one of those in the office. The expert forwarder. The expert forwarder is extremely experienced in pressing the forward button and passing the work and responsibility to others. Sometimes they don't even read their emails because they know that once it has been forwarded, it's not their responsibility anymore unless it comes back.

It would be a dream come true if the expert forwarder that I have to deal with right now gets promoted because he fails on all my requests. Unfortunately the possibility of him being promoted are slim simply because if his manager asked clients to rate his service, we'd all give him a zero. How does one handle expert forwarders? How can you compel one to actually do some work instead of passing the buck around? How can you manage an expert forwarder to actually perform the work instead of trying to flick you off to other departments when their role is to field all enquiries from you and act on your requests internally?

Monday, October 24, 2011

"You should buy more clothes"

Recently I was gently told by my mum and G's mum to buy more clothes. Whoa right?! I'm not exactly poorly dressed, just casually dressed and you can tell that fashion isn't something that I'm obsessed with. I do have favourite gorgeous dresses that I wear again and again. That was probably the issue at the heart of the comments.

They were telling me that while I'm young, I should go out shopping more and buy loads of pretty clothes and dresses so that I can enjoy them all while I'm young. They said that when I'm older, I'll regret it if I didn't doll myself up to the nines frequently in heaps of super trendy clothing. Isn't that ironic. I thought mothers generally despair at their kids' lack of financial acumen and how spendthrift they are!

My mum even gives me shopping allowances(infrequently mind you-not every week) to encourage me to go out and spend more on clothes, outfits and accessories. Denial doesn't work because she just hides the money in my bag, inbetween my books, in random clothing pockets of mine. I'll just discover the money randomly when I pull certain things out to use. That probably sounds like a dream come true for many females but it's not my dream come true and exerts a subtle pressure. I'd prefer that she saves the money for her own retirement and I want her to travel the world and live luxuriously in her retirement. I just know that she wants me to be dressed to the nines every single day because she's much more glamourous than I am and way dressier whereas I'm not as fashion conscious.

How am I going to know what I'll regret when I'm older until I'm older?! They were right to some extent - I hadn't really been shopping for a while and I have re-worn the same items for a few months and some items for over a decade. I don't even find it embarrasssing since I try to buy good quality fabric and timeless designs.

With the recent onslaught of weddings these past three years, it was reasonable to expect me to go shopping for something different so I went on Saturday. It felt like I was on a mission. To stock up my wardrobe in a utilitarian manner - must buy dresses and must buy shoes. Shopping is pleasurable when I'm overseas travelling but back at home, there's so much to do every weekend that shopping feels like a duty and not as enjoyable.

What's the damage? I spent about $760 these past two weeks on three pairs of dressy shoes, two beautiful dresses. I bought two dresses for $438 and usually two dresses costs more than $500 so that was a positive surprise. My friend said I could have bought an ipad or upgraded my iphone to the latest one but our priorities aren't the same and I don't care for new gadgets.

The two dresses I bought were from Event and they have an online shop which is pretty awesome for browsing.  Here are pics of the dresses that I bought (pictures are from Event's website and it's not me posing lol). The black and white dress is super elegant, stylish and has an amazing slimming appearance. The second dress is like a sheath and drapes over curves in all the right places:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Failed relationships: Hiding your money

Have you ever thought about what happens when defacto relationships and marriages fail? There was a sneaky search query from a Melbournian who stumbled onto my money and relationship post, 'What's mine is mine, what's yours is yours.'


Best advice for the googler is - seek advice from your solicitor/lawyer/accountant immediately.

Usually it's a bit too late to be looking at salvaging your assets from a defacto breakup when you've already split up. I won't be covering how to hide assets from your spouse in the event of divorces because that's rather devious particularly when there are kids involved. Obviously there are several means of hiding assets from married spouses but that's not for me to tell you.

It's different when it concerns defacto relationships. Just because you've lived together for six months shouldn't mean that you or your partner are entitled to one another's assets. Unfortunately the law behaves otherwise. If you're in a defacto relationship and you've got all the assets and your defacto didn't sign any 'binding financial agreement' then you're probably up to your neck in trouble if your defacto decides to take you to court to clean you out.

The unethical side of hiding your assets

In some cases, it's fair that your defacto should be entitled because they helped pay for half the furniture, half the mortgage despite their names not being on the title document, half the bills for maintaining the property when something breaks down (if they were renting, they wouldn't have paid for maintenance) - so the law does look at several points in arriving at their decision about what to split and how much to split. They look at the dependency of the two parties, the financial contribution from each party to the household bills and expenses, the housework, how intertwined your finances are, joint accounts and several other aspects of the relationship such as whether or not there are kids involved.

How can you hide your assets?

You can hide your cash money by transferring it out of your account. You can hide your assets by 'selling' them to your family and friends and buying them back again later. You can hide portable assets by simply relocating them elsewhere. The law doesn't like to tamper with any assets that have been transferred and or sold to third parties. Or if you want to really put various assets out of reach, you can open up some family/discretionary trusts and transfer your funds into them. You'll probably get some whopping bill from your accountant and solicitor but how much is at stake? Work out the pros and cons. The hardest part to hide is your property and your superannuation.

Your property and your superannuation can be split upon dissolution of a marriage and a defacto relationship. As assets, they're very difficult to hide, sell and in the case of superannuation - impossible to hide or transfer.

Before couples move in together, they should take a long hard look at each other's financial state. If you've got plenty of assets and the other party has nothing then you should take steps at ensuring that your assets are protected by having them sign a 'binding financial agreement' (commonly referred to as prenup). It's not the most romantic idea but so many relationships fail and aren't everlasting. Everyone wants to find 'the one' to love and grow old with but this notion is outdated with the divorce statistics.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mortgage Brokers Rebating Commission

Next time I get myself a new mortgage, I'm leaning towards applying for my mortgage through a commission rebate broker. We've got to be careful with mortgage brokers. They're not always independent due to the commissions that they receive from the loan provider.

It's only natural for mortgage brokers and financial planners to recommend products that they receive the most commission and trailing fee from - if you were running a business, that's the course of action you would have taken too, so it's understandable. So as long as you are aware of the pitfalls, you can work to minimise this problem and also maximise benefits for yourself.

Research the various mortgage loans on offer out there. Once you find a loan that you want, check to see if there are commission rebate mortgage brokers that can broker the loan for you.Some of the commission rebate mortgage brokers are,, and

How does it work? If you went into a bank for a standard variable home loan with a variable rate of 7% then your interest rate will be 7%. If you instead obtained that exact same standard variable home loan via (the mortgage brokers) then they will broker that exact same 7% loan for you however because your bank (and most financial institutions) pays a trailing commission of a few percentage points out of that 7%, they rebate a portion of their commission to you - essentially the mortgage rate that you end up paying is less than 7% if you go through the broker as opposed to going to the bank directly.

That sounds awesome right? Getting a mortgage rate that is under the standard variable rate. You can even get that standard variable rate reduced even further by asking your financial provider for mortage home loan interest discount packages. All of them have some type of home loan interest discount packages available. You will end up saving tens of thousands and possibly even hundreds of thousands of dollars just by utilising those options (the bigger your mortgage the more you're saving).

The steps that I plan to take this time around for my new mortgage loan:

1. Research the property mortgage loan provider that I want to use and decide on the mortgage package that I want to go for. I already know that I want this mortgage to have the following features: variable, 30 year term, redraw facilities, offset account, ability to make unlimited extra repayments, no penalties for early loan repayment.

Eg: I aim for a CBA standard variable home loan which is 7.81% currently

2. Check for the professional discount package. All the larger banks have these mortgage discount packages. You pay anything from $200 to $400 for a package each year and you can get up to 1% off your mortgage depending on their "specials" and their discount package. This annual fee is cheap because the percentage discounts will save your thousands annually. I won't crunch the numbers here but you can do it yourself using the mortgage calculators freely available online. There are always branch specials happening so will remember to negotiate all the way throughout the whole process.

Eg: CBA has a 'Wealth Package' which costs $350 annually but its interest rate discount depends on how much I borrow. So if I borrow anything from $250,000 to $500,000 then I can get 0.75% off the 7.81% standard variable rate

3. Check out the commission rebate brokers to obtain my loan through them. They could rebate anything from 0.2% and greater depending who I go through.

Eg: I go through and they rebate 0.2% of my loan interest back to me offmy 7.81% standard variable rate.

The results?

1. Instead of paying the advertised standard variable interest rate of 7.81%, the mortgage loan rate has been reduced to 6.86% and it could be even lower depending on how hardball the negotiation process is and how prudent I am in checking on special rates and special discounts that some branches offer

Eg: Carrying on from my example above, if I borrow $400,000:
a) At 7.81% interest rate, total interest over the life of the loan (assuming no extra repayments have been made) is $637,612
b) At 6.86% interest rate, total interest over the life of the loan (assuming no extra repayments have been made) is $544,532.42
c) Total mortgage interest savings from going through the discounting process above saves me $93,000

If I have to pay the $350 annual fee for the 30 year term then that will cost me a total of $10,500. That's cheap compared to the savings of $93,000

How can you pay even less mortage interest?

I've already covered that topic extensively in '15 tips on paying your mortgage off faster' and 'Paying off your mortage faster- the scenarios'

I'm aiming to pay off the $400k mortgage in 10 to 15 years. It may take longer than that if I decide to buy additional investment properties along the way. 10-15 years sounds like forever but it'll come around faster than you think. Look how fast high school flew by. And the uni years went by just as quickly.

[Edit 12/02/2012: Other commission rebate providers are Commission Refunders and - they don't cover home loans but covers managed funds, insurances, managed funds. Commissions will be banned from 1/07/12 but that will only apply to new products and it doesn't cover insurances held outside super or to mortgages]

Chalet Girl: Kim and her financial struggle

Chalet Girl is a romantic, snowboarding chick flick. I found myself watching a chick flick mid-week because when times are tough- we all need to de-stress ourselves somehow and snowboarding videos or random movies are some of my favourite past times next to reading and raiding the fridge for food.

If you want to watch a movie about how not to handle your dough, Chalet Girl is the movie to watch. It's about a girl, Kim Matthews who used to be a competitive skateboarder until her mother died. Since then, she and her father have been unable to recover from the trauma emotionally nor financially. A few years have passed and we find Kim working in a dead end job, living in an untidy house with a slob of a father. I can understand if her father became a slob due to the death of her mother however as the movie plays out, that's not the case.

When Kim leaves to work for three months at a private chalet, there are scenes of her father not knowing how to reheat food, wash up nor clean up after himself. He eats frozen food, directly from the freezer because he doesn't know how to defrost nor reheat. It's pretty gross. By implications of this, he's a 50 to 60 year old, long term unemployed father who doesn't even know the basics of domestic life. His wife and his daughter has really done him a disservice by mothering and babying him. He's like a grown up who needs his nappies changed. As I mentioned previously, simply gross. Fortunately there is redemption in his character once his daughter ditches him for a temporary job on the ski slopes.

The movie is set in the Alps and every scenery shot simply makes me drool. The mountains are beautiful, the slopes look amazing and the terrain parks are awesome looking. There's a huge bouncing air mattress at the end of one jumping ramp and I soooo want to try that out. Our friend TJ injured himself on one of those bouncing mattresses because the strap on his snowboard broke when he landed. Ouch.

For those who are keen on skiing or snowboarding, it's a movie that will bring back memories of when you first started to learn. I was commiserating with Ed Westwick's character Jonny when he learnt how to snowboard because we've all been there and done that. Face plant, head plant and whiplashes when the edges of the snowboard catches.

Even the injuries in the movie were unfortunately all too familiar. Various friends of mine have been carted off on medical snowcats with hospital trips made. We all keep doing it despite our various injuries. We keep pushing ourselves to try bigger jumps and steeper runs. Through trees and rocks and God knows what. Some of us have broken an arm, fractured shoulders, cartileges, torn our ligaments, broken wrist, fractured knee, sprained ankles, injured backs, slight concussions and so forth. Several of them are popping neurofens, panadols, panadene forts and pain killers every single morning before heading out to the mountains. It's like a pharmacy in their suitcases.

So Kim finds herself working as a caterer in a swanky chalet which is ski in, ski out. Her employers are a wealthy American family with two sons. One of them is sleazy and gives me the creeps. The other one, Jonny, is not too bad although almost just as sleazy as his brother. How could he just ditch his fiance on the very night of their engagement party? And that's after he slept with Kim for several days. His character isn't convincing enough. It's the case of 'rich boy falling for a poor girl' but from what we see, they don't really have much in common except for their joy of the snow.

It's unrealistic for the movie to finish up the way it did. Any keen snowboarder would know that it takes years and years to even do the tricks that Kim learnt with just three months on the snow. Even if she had a skateboarding background. Being able to do all those boxes and rails not to mention 1020s and 360s etc all take years and years of practice. And to beable to compete competitively after only three months? Okay okay, it's a movie and I know I should 'suspend my disbelief' and let movies stretch the truth every now and then.

Now onto the topic of Kim and her personal finance skills or lack thereof. She's been working in a dead end job and she needed more roster hours however her boss couldn't give her more work hours so she applied
for a temporary 3 month role to get her out of her rut. Her father hasn't been working so she's been supporting the pair of them. She should have asked him to help find work so that he could contribute to the household finances instead of soldiering on alone and stressed. Being emotionally depressed and distraught due to trauma is understandable but life goes on and he can't expect her to support him indefinitely. He is still her father but he was heavily lacking in that fatherly role. She shouldn't have carried the burden for so long. That was an erroneous judgement on her behalf.

While she was working at the chalet, she received tip money but then was cajoled into blowing the lot on a night in the pub/club. We see her buying rounds and rounds of alchohol. Viewers know that she's got bills to pay at home because we see her father asking her when she'll be depositing the funds. I don't blame her. She's been looking after his sorry ass for a long time and finally decides to live in the moment and screw responsibility. She does take her devil may care attitude a bit further as she splashes out on snow gear, clothing and a hot new snowboard. Sure the prize money is $25k but then again, this movie does make a lot of assumptions in terms of her snowboarding skills.

Working in a chalet and being introduced into the high life, her horizons are constantly expanding. She has the opportunity to go heli skiing twice. Five friends of mine went heli skiing two months ago in New Zealand and it was about $750-$900 for the day which involves about 7 runs down the mountain in almost untracked terrain. They said it was an awesome experience.

Anyhoo, the movie had the typical ending of an American film. Kim triumphs. She even embraces Jonny when she sees him for the first time since she realised he cheated, Jonny's father is smiling at Jonny and Kim's embrace and even Kim's father finds romance. It's all so unrealistic that it comes together like that because real life just doesn't flow that way. Movie critics label those type of endings derogatively as the 'big finish'. It was an enjoyable movie simple because of all the snowboarding and skiing scenes. It's not going to be like the Art of Flight or specialty snowboarding films because it's a chick flick and it was a decent enough romance movie.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bill Granger's Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry

We are entertaining tonight. So after cooking last night's dinner, I prepped and cooked part of tonight's dinner. At 11pm I finally called it quits in the kitchen.

The curry is now in the fridge, ready to heat up after work. It has all the south east Asian flavours with ingredients like lemongrass, fish sauce, ginger and sweet potatoes. Those are ingredients that I grew up with. It was surprisingly easy and quick to make. I had all the ingredients and loads of lemongrass in the freezer from my parents' farm.

I've yet to make the dough for the corriander and onion flatbread, the cucumber relish and roll the gyoza's(little Japanese pork dumplings). So tonight will find me frantically working in the kitchen again.

The Age and SMH published the recipe and you can find it online but if you want to try it, I'll provide a copy of it here:

Bill Granger's Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry

I've split the recipe up into four sections because it's prepped and cooked in four distinct steps.

8 skinless chicken thigh fillets, cut into quarters
2 tbsp curry powder
sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, crushed with the back of a knife and split
5cm piece ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp caster sugar
500g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
400ml chicken stock
250ml coconut milk
fresh lemon juice
small handful fresh coriander leaves
steamed rice

Place chicken and curry powder in a bowl and toss to coat well. Season with sea salt.
Heat oil in a large heavy-based pan with a lid over medium heat. Add onion and chilli and fry for 2 minutes.
Add chicken and cook until sealed and browned all over.
Add lemongrass, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, caster sugar, sweet potatoes and stock to the pan. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until sweet potato is tender but still holds its shape.
Stir in coconut milk, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes. Season with lemon juice to taste. Scatter with coriander leaves and serve with steamed rice.

Coriander and onion flatbreads

150g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
150g yoghurt
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
2 green (spring) onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
olive oil

Place flour, baking powder, yoghurt, coriander, green onions and salt in a bowl and mix well. Knead for a couple of minutes until dough is smooth. Place in a bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and set aside to rest for 1 hour.
Divide dough into 4 equal pieces and roll out each piece into a rough circle about 20cm wide and 2mm thick.
Place a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Brush with a little olive oil. Fry each bread 1-2 minutes on each side until lightly coloured and cooked. Serve warm.

Cucumber relish

Granger's cucumber relish really looks like my mum's Khmer (Cambodian) cucumber pickle/salad. Even the ingredients and method of cooking are very similar. I can't wait to try this recipe to see whether is more Thai or more Khmer.
125ml rice or white vinegar
115g caster sugar
1 Lebanese cucumber, quartered lengthways and finely sliced
2 red Asian shallots or 1/2 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
2 red chillies, seeded (if desired) and julienned

Place vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over a medium heat and stir until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour into a bowl, add cucumber, shallots and chilli and stir to combine.

Makes 1 Cup.

(Photo credits: Marina Oliphant)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Uncertainty over courses and work choices

My friend's cousin A was tossing over whether to pursue a career in IT or in science. He mentioned that IT came naturally to him and it was easy and cruisy. Science was harder and it wasn't as natural for him but it was more interesting. It's a common dilemma for most of us. Choose the path that's easiest or the path that may be more challinging but is more interesting to us?

I've included a few useful pointers from an article written by Judy Barnsley. By completing the following sentences, you may find out what your interests are:
* I can ...
* I find it easy to ...
* I have a flair for ...
* People have told me I am good at ...
* I have done well in ...
Which area of life do you ...
* Get the most satisfaction and personal enjoyment from?
* Spend the most time on?
* Put the most energy and effort into?
* Feel the most positive and excited about?
* Gain a positive or confident self image from?
* Experience peace and harmony from?
* Wish to invest more time or effort on?

Many people start studying courses that their parents have pressured them into studying or they followed their friends into courses. The problem with not quite knowing what you want to do isn't a huge problem - it may result in you pursuing a few career changes across your life but that's not a big deal unless you're going to end up with a huge student loan once you've finished your degree. In that scenario, it's best to stop and think first before plunging into your degree.

One of our friend is studying his third degree, from accounting to phsysiotherapy to medicine. And he's young so that does raise questions about whether he'll have any more career changes in the next 35 years before he reaches retirement age.

We all change as we get older and what may interest us in our youths doesn't necessarily mean it will interest us as adults. I read the interview of a certain DJ who flew all over the world to DJ at various events however as he got older, he no longer desired the late night hours and he longed for more normality in his life. Music and being a DJ was still his passion but the joy that it gave him no longer outweighed the negatives that came with the hours.

Anyway, when trying to decide what line of work you want to do, consider a few of the following points:
 * Ability to progress and advance, creativeness, job security, team work and how important that is to you, autonomy and ability to work without supervision, financial rewards/remuneration, the contribution to society from the line of work, professional status, challenges on the job, the complexity of the work and whether the work is dynamic or static and never changing, co-workers and their attitudes

That said, our interests are always changing and evolving and it's not uncommon for most of us to have a few career changes in our lifetime.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another Wedding: Opera House Marquee

Opera House Marquee Wedding Reception Venue

I've been to plenty of weddings but it was my first time at the Opera House Marquee. It was absolutely stunning and beautiful. From the decor to the views and the sumptuous fare. The venue was located right on the harbour front, right on the Opera House forecourt. I think it goes down as the best wedding reception location so far in terms of position and views. It's like having a wedding reception on top of the Empire State Building.

I feel sorry for the poor harried staff whose job was to refold the napkins. Everytime we left the table(which was frequently) to go chat with friends or use the photobooth for candid photos, the poor staff had to roll up our napkins. Not just one napkin but around 200 napkins, again and again and again. They probably have napkin folding nightmares when they dream at night.

I've got weddings lined up left right and center. My feet aren't thanking me. They've reacted indignantly to being squished into stilettos by turning red and looking banged up. Why do we torture ourselves like that? I can see the huge relief on other women's faces when the night is over and they can unshackle their feet from their shoes and walk around barefoot or change into ballet flats.

I was seated next to a friend's cousin. Let's call him MA. MA works in the insolvency and bankruptcy business. He specialises in personal insolvency. If you're unsure what personal insolvency work relates to - it involves working with individuals who are indebted up to their eyeballs and can't pay their bills. Eventually they become bankrupt unless some hotshot can get their finances sorted out for them and that's the rare exception.

Usually an insolvent individual only starts reaching out for help when it's far too late. When they've got piles of late payment reminders and bills streaked with red ink. MA tells me that it's pretty much game over when he reviews their list of assets and liabilities and the individual has paid their debts by creating more debts. It was pretty heavy conversation for a wedding bash but it was interesting.

Some happy snaps of The Opera House Marquee:
The flowers are now gracing our dining table. Three tiered pink wedding cake with flowers and the bridal table lined with a resplendant display of roses:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

HECS/HELP Student debt is now paid off

My tax return is due to be lodged very shortly so I bit the bullet and made my final lump sum payment on my HECS/HELP  student debt. Four years at uni and my total HECS debt was almost at $30k inclusive of inflation indexation. I finally got sick of my student debt and paid it off.

Oh yeah, maths wise it could of been considered foolish since my loan was indexed to inflation of 3% last year(only 1.7% the prior year) and if I get a new mortgage, then my mortgage rate will be around 7% to 8% depending on the amount that I end up borrowing. I just paid off my super cheap student loan but I don't regret it one single bit. I don't want to be one of those older folks with a student debt dangling over my head from my younger days.

Here's to a debt free existence for the time being. I am currently debt free woo hoo! (Gotta ignore my credit card balance because that gets paid in full every single month). Next year I could be looking at a mortgage of up to a few hundred thousands of dollars so I may as well enjoy my debt free status as much as possible.

It's been a mixed year so far. Lots of sad events mixed with with happy events. 2011 is now going down as the year of four weddings and four funerals. Lots of sadness against lots of happiness. Lots of grief yet lots of joy. I particularly grieve for the aunties that we have lost and have been contemplating the subject of death a lot recently. When I find myself wiping away tears again and again, my heart feeling heavy- I can't help but think of death.

The fear of death when we first know that we're going to die, the acceptance of death as the time comes near, the welcome of death when the pain becomes unbearable and then what happens? Do we die and thats it? Or do we die and our spirits roam the Earth or our favourite hang outs? Or do spirit worlds really exist and our spirit goes somewhere in the afterlife? For me, I like to think of death as finality. That there isn't any afterlife and there isn't any reincarnation. That's what I'd like for myself whenever I die. The thought of death as the end and nothing more is much more soothing than to imagine that the spirit could be out there, hungry and lost and stuck on some inescapable spiritual plane.

I don't want to end this post on a sad note so let me say that each and every event has taught me to appreciate family and friends every single day. I'm being thankful and appreciative of my wonderful family and friends and try to live each day as it comes in gratitude. I don't want to ever become a selfish, lazy nor nasty person. I want to live my life generously and kindly towards others. Lastly, on the main subject of this post, I'm so glad to have finally paid off my HECS debt - it's like a shadow in the background that I've finally banished. Well, it's getting late now so good night folks and hope you remember to tell your loved ones how much you love them every day. Our lifetimes are much too fleeting.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

House hunting

Seeing as I can't sleep, I may as well do something useful and write a few posts that should have been written ages ago. Here's a few happy snaps of the eight open houses that I attended a few weeks back. When you go property hunting, it's best to take photos and jot down notes about the pros and cons of each property, what the price should be given comparable sales and ultimately what the property actually sold for.

You may think your mind is great and that you won't forget, but if you've done your research properly then that would mean you've attended heaps of open houses to gauge property prices- then you will start forgetting the finer details of the properties you've viewed. It may become a blurry mess in your mind and that means that your open house visits have become useless for future referencing and making well informed offers.

Without further ado:

Notes on this Denistone house: Single garage was way too narrow, kitchen could have been a one bedroom sized kitchen and not in proportion to a 3 bedroom house, fridge space is too narrow, backyard recently landscaped no doubt to maximise resale price, laundry has a 1920s style looking trough for the sink and I didn't include the bathroom but man, the shower was TINY.

Notes on the Eastwood house above: Beautifully landscaped, long driveway (perfect for entertaining so friends can park), skylights in bathroom, heated tiles, chandeliers overpowering the main bedroom, large open airy rooms that are well lit excluding the main bedroom, on a semi-main road so noise may be an issue, kitchen is beautiful except bench space is reduced due to the cupboard being built onto the bench (better design would have been building the cupboards higher to the ceiling and leaving the bench free) and the sink is only a single sink with no drying rack space.

Notes on Epping house above: This house sold for an unbelievable price of around $980k ish!!!! Everything must be renovated. It's so dingy that it's possibly a knock down and rebuild. The position isn't even that fantastic with a good 30 minute walk uphill to the station. From the mould on the far wall, cockroach baits on the kitchen benchtop, curtained windows to the 70s carpeting, 1920s trough in the laundry, cracked windows and fleuro pink vanity sinks to the old retro curtained shower and old tiling throughout the place. It was certainly memorable for the wrong reasons.
Notes on Beecroft house above: It was pretty much a dream house. Discounted from over $1.1 million or so to around $980k. It was huge, renovated, airy, plenty of good natural light, huge master bedroom with huge walk in robe, huge laundry with extra toilet, two sitting areas, large balcony/deck. The drawbacks were the lack of neighbouring fences and the bush that backs onto the property which could lead to snakes being in the backyard... overall, it was one of my favourites but was really on the higher end of the price range. After you add in transaction costs of approximately 5% it would cost $1,029,000.00 and all those zeroes are shocking @_@

And after that...sorry camera battery ran out! I should also make a note to charge my camera prior to attending a long day of open houses...

Anyhoo, with all the recent events lately, house hunting is truly on the back burner while I work through all the other issues first. Sunrise now... the sky has such a beautiful tinge!