Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Year of the Screwdriver

The Husband and I have been married for 15 years this year. When we first started our family, we filled the house as quickly as we could with inexpensive furniture, home wares, and appliances. Some things have changed over the years, usually replaced second hand or cheaply again, but not much of what we have is of long lasting quality.

This year we are finding that everything we own is breaking down, falling apart, reaching the end of its life. But with a very recent house purchase behind us, and lots of home improvements ahead of us, now is not the time for me to be trying to find money to replace so many things.

I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. When we moved into this house last October, the Husband and I agreed that we would take our time with our improvements and changes, choosing top quality that would either add value to the house or be intended to last a long time. Unfortunately it's not really working out that way with our disposable income not able to keep up with our wants and needs for the house.

Instead of buying new on credit we can't afford, or making do with second hand, we are repairing, patching, stretching, or stitching!

The dryer broke down in April, but the Husband is reasonably handy with a soldering iron and screwdriver, so he organised a replacement part and fixed it for $16. It won't last forever, but it buys us more time. We don't use it often, but we often can't get everything dry in winter so it's been hard work making do without it!

When everything started falling through the seams of my handbag and shuffling around in the lining, instead of throwing it out, I've stitched the lining back up to reinforce it. It's looking tired, and worn out, but it will do for a few more months.

My old work shoes had all the black scraped off the toes but also the sides, but instead of buying new, cheap shoes that will again get damaged too quickly, I've dug out a pair or old, good quality leather shoes that had a damaged heel from years ago and had them repaired for $28. They look like new again, and are better quality and more comfortable than anything I could buy right now.

We've repaired work clothing, small appliances, and I'm dragging out the life on an iPhone with a cracked screen. Anything to avoid spending money right now. I don't know how long we can keep up this cycle of repair instead of replace but it's doing the trick for now.

Whatever it takes.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Our Germany Visit

It might be a distant memory already, but before it becomes yesterdays news I wanted to share some pictures of our trip to Germany. Those of you following along on Facebook will have seen some of the photo's that I shared from my 24 hour visit to Paris, but here I'm going to tell you a secret that has most people flabbergasted.

I liked Munich better than Paris.

That seems to be blasphemy though. Anyone who has ever aspired to visiting Paris looks at me gobsmacked at my total underwhelmedness in describing Paris, whereas I rave on endlessly about Munich. Don't get me wrong, Paris was beautiful, and still absolutely worth a visit, and I definitely want to go back to do it more justice. But Germany was more than some pretty iconic photo's. Germany was history. In Germany I wandered in and out of palaces, castles and churches, down cobbled lanes and into museums. There was so much substance to Germany, and in Munich at least, English speaking tourists are well catered to.

One of my Germany highlights is Schloss Nyphenburg. This beautiful palace is easily accessible in Munich by catching a train to Laim, then a bus to the stop called Schloss Nyphenburg. We had no trouble with public transport in Munich, the buses, trains and trams all well display the upcoming stop so it wasn't difficult to know when to exit.

We paid 11.50 each for our entry tickets, but this included entry to the main Palace, Amalienburg (a smaller pleasure palace and hunting lodge), Badenburg (a bathing pavilion), and a couple of other buildings of interest in the Palace grounds. 

The architecture is truly something special, like nothing we have experienced in Australia. Luxurious, opulent, grand, I don't know how many words I can use to describe it, but it's everything the movies lead to believe is the norm for royalty. The Palace also offers complimentary wifi, and an app that provides a limited amount of information about each room.

I won't drown you in too many more pictures, but another favourite stop for me was Harburg Castle. We jumped on a bus tour one day to Harburg and Rothenburg and Harburg Castle is like being on the set of Game of Thrones. It's a medieval castle, mentioned in documents dating back to the 1100's, but possibly older. We were able to see many rooms (but not take photo's), walk along the passageways, peek through the battlements, and even take a look at a medieval toilet and prison pit. It was a fascinating glimpse into history.

I have a million more photo's I could share, but I'll stop with my favourites and just say that Germany has so much to offer travelers, especially those that are history buffs.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Lest We Forget....My Pop

Nan and Pop
I have photo's and posts half written to share about our Germany trip and homecoming, but while I don't normally get too into seasonal blog writing, this morning nags at me that I have something to share.

Today marks 100 years since Australia landed at Gallipoli. Like all Australian school children, I learnt about Australia's contribution to the wars, and I was taught to show respect on Anzac day. Celebrating in school ceremonies, coming together with family to watch the parade on TV, even watching it in person once or twice and getting caught up in the excitement of waving to the marching veterans, or waving my little Australian flag.

I'm an Aussie. Oi Oi Oi.

I remember having a fascination with my Pops contribution to WWII. He was one of those romantic people the songs were sung about, just like those stately gentleman that marched past each year with their heads held high, occasionally with a little grandchild capering at their feet. I couldn't imagine anything more exciting, a moment to be so proud of, to watch my Pop march past on Anzac Day.

My Pop never marched. Not once that I know of anyway, although who knows what happened before I was born. 

With my mind inflamed with stories of heroism and sacrifice, the next time we visited Nan and Pop in school holidays I promptey asked to see his medals and hear stories from him. With a suddenness that came as a shock, I was hustled away quickly to a different room, and told I couldn't ask Pop about the war. There were to be no questions. It was explained that Pop didn't like to talk about the war, it wasn't something exciting for him as it was for me. It was a life changing experience that never left him, and was a big part of who he was. 

Donkey Races in leisure time

Pop never marched in the parades. We didn't watch the march with him on TV either. I was told he watched the march by himself each year, and locked himself away in privacy to relive his memories with no one but himself. But every year at Anzac day I would think of my Pop, the stories of heroism and sacrifice no longer seemed exciting. Instead they seemed dark and intimidating. I'm sure the older generation of my family that grew up with Pop have their own memories. Maybe there was a time when he could talk about it. Maybe he was OK to talk about it with his wife and children. But certainly for me it became the elephant in the room, a period of Australian history I was fascinated in but could never ask about.

"Someday no-one will march there at all".

My pop died back in 2002. He made it long enough to come to my wedding, and cuddle my little baby. It means so much to me that he was at my wedding, the only one of my Grandparents that was. 

I didn't expect anything from my Pops (and Nan's residual) will. They had 5 kids, so many grand kids, and modest assets. It would never occur to me that there would be something for me. But my Pop left me a set of his miniatures. I've gotten them out and told my stories of Pop many times over the years. I've let Miss 14 take them to school (under strict security instructions) at this time of year for show and tell when she was younger. 

Somehow it's so very special to me that my Pop remembered my fascination, and while he couldn't indulge it in his lifetime, he wanted to indulge it in his death.

Lest We Forget Pop.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Our Whirlwind Stopover in Dubai

Bhurj Kalifa - Tallest Building in the world

 Last night was our first night on our whirlwind adventure. It's 4am here in Dubai as I write, but I woke up at 2am after falling into bed almost delirious at 8pm and couldn't get back to sleep again. (Edit finished putting pictures on this post a day and a half later, so there's a bit of a time lag!)

We flew with Emirates, and although my experience for comparison is slim, I thought they were fantastic. The food was good, the in flight entertainment free with plenty of movies,games and TV shows, and my seat width and leg room not too bad for Economy! We did have a bit of a problem with my lunch when the flight hostess promised to return with a beef main then promptly deleted me from her memory. Eventually when they returned with drinks I was able to query my meal and she more than made up for it by offering a business class salmon (which I don't eat but the husband was devastated he didn't have the foresight to trade meals with me).

Dubai has been long on my wish list of places to visit, I've heard so many wonderful things and as an Australian/Lebonese household Dubai seems like a good place to be given there are so many Aussie expats here. Curiously, I found myself being ignored by the airport workers in favour of other men. Other than the hosts, the workers were all men, and even though Husband thinks I am being paranoid I found myself being ignored completely until the steady trickle of male travelers with enquiries ran out, although there was initially only one person ahead of me five others turned up and were assisted ahead of me.

Here in Dubai women wearing Burqas and Niqabs are far more common than in Australia, as was a more traditional style of male Arab dress. I asked the Husband why it was that most traditionally dressed women wore black and the traditionally dressed men wore white but he couldn't answer that - definitely a question for my mother in law when I get back. 

We would have loved to have taken some tours and seen the desert here in Dubai but with only one jet lagged night to enjoy here we just weren't able to do justice to what Dubai has to offer. Instead we stayed at the Sofitel Dubai Downtown, as it is so close to the Dubai Mall we were able to walk there in a loooooong covered glass walkway with moving travellators. Thursday-Sunday the Dubai Mall shuts at Midnight, and I was shocked to see how PACKED it was. Think the weekend before Christmas in Australia. That kind of packed.

The Dubai Mall is all kinds of amazing. There was an ice skating rink, an aquarium, movie theatre, and hundreds of high end stores. From that perspective the Dubai Mall was definitely out of our league. I wouldn't spend that kind of money on shoes, handbags or clothes for myself at home so I won't spend it on holidays. But we didn't find the food particularly expensive. We loved a kids toystore we came across, there were staff and kids everywhere, playing with ball games, remote control toys, flying hovercraft through the air, it was incredible.It would take forever to drag the kids out of there, I think mine would be happy to spend a few hours just playing and exploring.

The Aquarium IN the Dubai Mall
 There was also a great Kidzania area, filled with children's boutiques, a theme park (Sega World), and an area where kids could dress up in the uniform of the career of their choice and role play. We didn't spend heaps of money in Dubai (breakdown below) mostly because for us there wasn't much to spend it on. We would have loved to see the desert and do a few tours but there just wasn't time.

Terminal 3 Metro Station in Dubai
 Instead of catching a taxi or organising transfers between the airport and the hotel (which we were quoted 70 AED for a taxi, or $28au), we ended up catching the Metro (train system). Our tickets cost 8AED each way per person. (or $3.20au) The signage was very similar to Sydney,and we had no problem reading anything. We had our first awkward moment fairly quickly, as we moved through the busy carriages looking for seats. At the end of the train we lots  of seats available and we st to relax for the 30 minute train journey. As I looked around, wondering why none of the men standing only a metre away wanted to sit down, I noticed there were only women sitting. This was curious as in previous carriages (and the train is actually just made up of several long open carriages, you don't have to open doors like in Australia) the seats were packed and the rare women I noticed was standing. I realised then from all the pink signage that in all our fluster of using a strange train system that we'd sat in the women's carriage, and that the Husband would be fined 100AED if he was seen! He quickly moved half a metre away to stand next to me just over the line in the unisex section, but it was a surprise to both of us. I couldn't decide if I thought it was sexist/discriminatory or respectful that women had their own carriage, but since they had plenty of seats and the unisex section was packed I'm going to run with respectful. 

The only thing that took us a while to figure out with the Metro system in Dubai was how to work out which platform we needed to be on. As it turns out, instead of numbering their platforms as we do in Australia, they actually name them according to the last station on the train line for that line. So you just need to look at the map, work out which direction you are travelling, and go to the platform with the name of the last station.

Our so tall Hotel - Sofitel Downtown Dubai
Our next awkward moment was at the hotel, when we tried to tip the young man that took our bag to our room. We aren't seasoned tippers, but our 2010 holiday in America taught us to tip the bag boy,so it was a little embarrassing to be offering the note and having him ignoring it.

In general we found Dubai to be super clean, and ultra modern, all white and silver. It was beautiful, and some of the buildings, the airport,the mall, the Metro stations, we thought were a little space stationy.

Bhurj Kalifa/Dubai Mall Metro Station

All up in Dubai, we spent just under $100au which converted to 250AED. I didn't find it as expensive as I'd thought, but admittedly we didn't buy much by way of souvenirs.

In Dubai money, here is our breakdown:

32 Metro Tickets to and from the airport
20 for the worlds most expensive lip gloss,but I was desperate. I was super annoyed to see one for 8 at the airport later
5 for a postcard and stamp to send to the kidlets
15 for a spoon to add to my mothers collection
161 for dinner for 2 with soft drinks
13.5 for snacks at the airport to take on the plane

 So our whirlwind stay in Dubai is over, except for a small stopover on the way home (3 hours), and today we find ourselves in Munich, day tripping off to Rothenberg,  the town known for being the most German of German towns. 

Hoping the Sydney Autumn is not quite as crisp as the Munich Spring!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Auf Weidersehn!

Time flies but we are finally packing our bags for our trip to Germany! The Husband is lucky enough to work for a German company, and every year members from all over the world congregate in an industrial type area called Schwabisch Gmund for their annual sales conference. Husband is not in sales, but he is a technician and on the merits of this he has been invited to attend and to take the opportunity to learn from the German onsite techs while he is there. It's his second trip, but as I was pregnant with Sebastian, and had tiny 7 month old Lorelei that I couldn't bear to abandon, he went solo for his last visit. 
When the news came he was invited again, I jumped on that Soul Train and invited myself along. He has the 3 day conference, but we have stretched out to 10 days and will be whirlwinding our way through Dubai, Munich, Stuttgart, and just as a little treat for me while he is at work, Paris.


I'm not sure which part I'm most excited about, but I think Paris might be it. I'm terrified about navigating my way around a strange country with a foreign language on my own, I can't even navigate in Sydney, but I can't let this opportuinity pass me by. We probably couldn't have afforded to trip if we tried to do it as a family or even as a couple, but since the Husbands airfares are paid by work and I've picked up some extra paid work (hello Easter Show!) to help pay for mine, we've been able to make it happen.

Wish me luck, and if I manage to find free wifi I'll be sharing lots of jealousy inducing photos as we travel.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Raise the Roof: The End Result

This post has been too long in the writing, I can't seem to rustle up the right enthusiasm for writing at the moment, even though I know future Elise will thank past Elise for making the effort.

The process for repairing and restoring our roof took three days. The first was occupied by the roof cleaner, the second was the painting and repairs. The final day the key tradesman involved returned at our invitation to clean up the property and give us the paperwork required for our long term warranty. The house isn't as clean as I would have liked, it's also not as dirty as I was afraid I was stuck with. We've had to put some effort into scrubbing the window frames to get the last of the black residue off them and we think we might be stuck with the coating on the timber cubby house. 

The roof however, looks amazing. I am so happy we had it done. Besides wanting repairs and the comfort of knowing that another strong rainy season wouldn't be doing serious damage to the house, I had cosmetic reasons for getting the roof done. I wasn't a fan of the original maroon trim on the roof, and we've now had the whole roof painted charcoal.

 We started this change back when we painted the house, as originally we had blue and maroon wooden trim along with maroon tiling and gutters. Even though most people commented on how lovely the original door and trim colour was, I just wasn't taking a liking to it. All of the blue trim is gone, removed completely instead of painted as it was rotting in places. Most houses in my street have a simpler look, and I decided I didn't want to keep it.

This most recent step of engaging Modern to complete the roof repairs and paint brings our roof work to a finish. We're really happy with how it turned out, it looks really fresh and new again, and we're hopeful it will have a positive affect on our energy bills.

Once again we are now back to saving for our next piece of work on updating the house. We probably need to get a plumber in next to overhaul our pipes and taps in a number of places, but then we can get to work on something more fun, like maybe an outdoor eating area or a fancy pants new Laundry. It feels really good to have scratched a big item off the list, everyone in the house starts to get demotivated when we scrimp and save for a long time. It's easy to lose sight of why we are behaving frugally and feel depressed that we can't "afford" to do or buy things that we want. Getting something big like the roof done reminds us (well, the Husband and I at least, not so much the kids) of why we make those sacrifices.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Raise the Roof: Step Two The Preparation

See that? That was a full clothes line when I left for work that morning. Anybody else might assume that their very capable teenager decided to bring in a basket of laundry when she raided the line for school clothes but I know there is more chance of my neighbour thoughtfully deciding to bring the washing in than my teen.

I had a few moments of panic when Madeleine rang me after school to stress out that all her clothes that she had seen on the line that morning were now missing. She knew they were there this morning because she collected a school shirt, but now the dance uniform she was seeking was missing...along with everything else.

We found the answer soon enough. Our roof cleaner had been out to the house to start work that day, something I knew, but given the short notice had not put much thought into how I should prepare. Thankfully, he very kindly took all our washing off the line and into a basket we had left outside as a hint for Madeleine. He'd put it aside where it wouldn't be affected, which was a very thoughtful touch.

At the point of sale, we had been promised that the cleaning process would consist of two people, one on the roof, and one on the ground cleaning up as they went along. We were asked to let our neighbours know that the workman might be on their side of the fence to clean up any mess to ensure the neighbouring properties wouldn't be affected. Not being home to supervise the process, we can't honestly say whether this happened, however it didn't seem so. From both the mess left behind and later conversations with the tradie that restored the roof, it would seem that there were was not two people doing the roof clean, and nor do they clean the mess left behind unless the owner specifically requests them to. They also do not enter the neighbours property without the neighbours express permission. 

Our roof might have been clean, but our property was filthy. There was a black film on everything that had apparently come from the roof. When I say everything, I mean everything. The cubby, outdoor table setting, swing set, clothes line, walkways, gutters, window frames, everything. And because I didn't get home with the little ones till the light had started to fade, we followed our usual routine of playing on some outdoor equipment while I sat on the grass watching. By the time I realised how dirty it all was, the kids and I were covered in it. Fortunately, thanks to the roof cleaner, my laundry is about the only thing that wasn't covered in it.

At the conclusion of our roof restoration (more on that in my next post), we gave the tradesman a call and gently asked when he would be taking care of the cleaning. He seemed surprised, as he indicated he didn't notice anything dirty, but promised to come the very next day and take care of anything I wanted at the same time as giving us our warranty. So as it turned out I need to work from home that day in order to ensure everything was cleaned.

My Tips for Preparing for a Roof Restoration (do as I say, not as I do)

1. Remove all laundry from the clothes line!
2. Move all outdoor furniture to a sheltered location, either in the house or garage
3. Cover any delicate plants or flowers if at all possible
4. Clear the yard of any toys
5. Cover any permanent outdoor structures with a tarp

Be prepared for anything you leave exposed to be covered in the nasty black film that comes from the roof. Even after cleaning we can still see traces of it everywhere.

More to follow on the results of our roof restoration.