Archive | July 2017

Where should we go?

Planning for our upcoming overseas trip started last year.

Mr S has always had an interest in the western front of WWI. So I wanted to plan a trip where we could participate in a 100th anniversary memorial ceremony.

I've always wanted to visit Brittany. There is something romantic, "other" and remote about it for me. OK, I get that it might seem strange to someone from the UK who can catch a ferry over to think of Brittany as remote but there you have it.

So the first thing I did in planning for our trip was to look for a battlefields tour that would take us to a memorial ceremony and to other western front sites. I found an Australian company that would do the Paschendalle memorial service in October. Perfect. Mr S knows a lot about that battle and it fits in with a time we can both take LSL.

We've never been on an organised bus trip and I don't know how we'll go – with the morning bustle, stuck with other people, having to listen to tour guides. Mr S likes to argue about interpretations of history and he has an immense capacity for remember facts, and will no doubt find some errors by the tour guide's errors.

Anyway, with that locked in, I proceeded to plan the rest of the trip around the bus trip. I wanted to incorporate the end of term break with Long Service Leave, so we didn't have to use too much LSL.

I roughly planned how long we should be on the road before the bus trip, which leaves from and returns to Paris, and decided that we should stay in Paris for a few days after the trip.

With a rough guide I looked for flights. Mr S won't travel on budget airlines. We wanted to go with Qantas and get the extra leg room seats in the small economy section Qantas has on the upper deck. We got those two years ago when we travelled to London. More leg room than premium economy and such a small section of economy so no noisy crowds and close to premium economy that they don't place babies there.

I booked the flights. But bugger!

Qantas code shares with Emirates to Paris and Emirates doesn't put economy upstairs. Nor do they allow pre-purchase of extra leg room seats. Luckily we are on Qantas from Sydney to Dubai and got our seats.

With that done, I did no actual planning for months.

I borrowed books from the library: travel guides for France, coffee table books on the most beautiful villages in France, travel guides on Brittany. I read travel brochures. I asked friends who had recently been to France questions.

I daydreamed and thought and made rough notes.

And then I was ready to plot out my trip!

Paying for things overseas

Twenty-five years ago, when I first travelled overseas, there were really only two ways to take money overseas: traveller cheques and cash. 

Travellers cheques were a pain in the arse. You had to get them. Keep them safe. Find a place to exchange them. All the time checking the exchange rate and commission or fees. 

Cash was worse. If you're travelling for a length of time, and I initially went for 8 months, you need a lot of money. But it's just not safe to hold onto that amount of cash. When I travelled to Europe all those years ago, every country had different currencies. So you were always looking for places to exchange cash and travellers cheques and comparing rates. 

So now in the era of credit cards and electronic purchases, how am I paying for things? There's actually two parts – paying for things from Australia and paying for things actually in the country. 

I use AirBnB, like millions of others. What I love about AirBnB is you are given the price in your currency and the funds are taken out of your designated CC account at the time of booking. So no worries about fluctuating rates. No hidden bank fees. And all is paid before you travel. 

But what about those things I have to pay for in Europe? I am a CC Queen and use them for most purchases but nearly always pay them off in full each month before they accrue any interest.

I have two cards. One is really a debit card. It works as a Visa card but I have to have money in my savings account from where the card draws. The other is an American Express card. I use them both for ease and the Amex for rewards. I use payWave and eftpos, rarely carrying cash. 

Now I don't think that is going to be the way to go. Firstly AmEx charges heaps of steep fees for use overseas – at ATMs and point of sale. I know because I was hit in London, New Zealand and Japan. 

Our Visa cards (Mr S has the same card with the same mutual bank) were not as bad but at shops only worked on credit, not eftpos which caught us out a couple of times. There's that moment at the register when your card is declined that you worry. Then you remember you can only use one way. Which way is it? You fluster and get more uncertain. As fees go, the Visa wasn't too bad at vendors but we were slugged at ATMs. Of course you need to get access to cash too. 

So what's the best approach?

I like to have foreign cash before I leave Australia. Means I don't have to worry about it on arrival. I get some from Travelex before I leave. The exchange has always been good. And I pay by direct deposit so pay fewer fees. 

For getting cash while in the country, I usually just use ATMs. I'm not sure if they (the insitutition that operates the cards) give the best exchange rate. You are definitely charged fees by the ATM operator and often your own bank too. But I like the convenience of ATMs. 

I have been told, and limited research suggests, that the Citibank card is great for travelling. It has no or limited charges. And quite good exchange rates, making it good for paying directly to vendors, either in person or before we travel. 

So I have applied for one of these accounts and cards. 

It will be the main card that I will use to get cash from ATMs and pay vendors. 

I will let you know after the trip what the fees are. 

I'm not very good with exchange rates. I don't stress about them and I can't be bothered doing exact calculations. You really get little choice or variations anyway and you need to buy things. But as we will also use the Visa and AmEx, I will be able to let you know the difference exchange rates applied after our trip. 

What do you use when travelling overseas? What have you found works best?

My minestrone 

This soup was divine. Mr S had two bowls straight up when I made it. He loved it too.

I combined two recipes: from my mate, Jamie, and the Australian Woman's Weekly and tweaked it myself.

Ingredients

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 leek
  • 2 carrots
  • Celery – a few bits
  • Fennel bulb. Try it. Adds great subtle flavour to the soup. I forgot to put it on the shopping list so didn't get it for this week's pot. Sad. ­čśŽ
  • stalks from a bunch of parsley  (I often have parsley for something else and don't want to waste the stalks.)
  • dried rosemary 
  • tin of chopped tomatoes 
  • tomato paste
  • tin of cannellini beans or whatever beans you like
  • 1 litre Campbell's real beef stock
  • fresh grated Parmesan
  • Some pasta – shell usually but sometimes whatever

Method

  1. Heat a big saucepan with olive oil. Chop garlic and leek. And put in pan. While this fries…..
  2. Chop carrots, celery, fennel bulb and parsley stalks. Put in pan and sprinkle with as much rosemary as you want. Stir and let fry for a bit. I put in a few celery leaves too. They disappeared but no doubt added depth of flavour.
  3. Pour in 400g tin chopped tomatoes and squeeze of tomato paste. Maybe just over 1 tablespoon or more. Mix up. I put some water in the tin and squish it around and pour in pan so I get all the dregs of tomato flavour.
  4. Pour in stock. I half filled the stock container with water, squished around and poured the water onto the saucepan so I got all the flavour out. (I can't abide waste!!!) Pour the tin of beans and the liquid from the tin as well. (I used to rinse beans but Jamie says to use the liquid. For some reason I thought it was bad for you. Don't know where I got that thought. Anyway I don't bother rinsing now and have suffered no ill effect.) Add some extra water as needed.
  5. Simmered for 45 min.
  6. Added some shell pasta and cooked for further 10 min.

When you serve the soup, sprinkled some grated Parmesan over the soup. It gives the soup piquancy. 

Yummo!!!!

Save on on of your most regular bill – food´╗┐

Subtitled: Saving for a whole year off – income cut, not lifestyle cut

The balances for our Year Off are growing nicely. It's safe to say we don't miss the 20%, though I would love to smash the mortgage. But I don't want the next four years to be one of self-denial and austerity.

Everything has an opportunity cost. You buy something; you can't buy something else. After all, you can only spend each dollar once. 

So why are we not missing that 20%? We're making cuts on things that we don't notice. The added bonus is the cuts help the environment too.

Tip 2: buy fewer groceries

Look I hate to harp, but for most households groceries is the area where not only a lot of money is spent, but where there can be cuts made. You can't do a lot with your mortgages or rent. 

Do you know that Australian (and British and American) households toss plenty of good food? Or food that should have been eaten but was left to rot. 

So stop buying things just because you always have. Stop buying things because you can't think what you want to cook. Stop buying extra of things because you want to feel like you are providing for your family. 

Do the menu plan!!! Even if you plan to cook something that isn't on special or is a little pricey, at least if you shop to the amounts needed and you cook it and you eat it, it's better than buying and tossing food. 

We're not perfect. Well, I am. But Mr S always buys too much. We argue over it. We toss too much when Mr S goes shopping. Mr S always buys and cooks for an army. So we end up with far too much. He forgets that often it is only the two of us at home for dinner now. 

OK, I'm not perfect in this area either. I often plan to cook pumpkin soup for work. And the pumpkin goes off. I plan to cook red cabbage the way my mother does. And the red cabbage goes off. 

I never get around to the red cabbage because it isn't really by recipe and it has to be cooked slowly. I never get around to the soup because the soup is not for the right now but for work the next day and after work who feels like cooking dinner and something else for later?

But I've made sure I'm nearly perfect in this area. 

The up-shot? We have cut our grocery bills without it making an impact on the variety and quality of dinners we eat. 

What's coming up for dinner in the next fortnight?

  • Potato, cauliflower and red lentil curry served with coriander and yoghurt.
  • Steak, chips and veggies.
  • Chicken pie.
  • Lamb Rohan josh with rice, yoghurt and coriander.
  • Curried vegetables and prawns. 2X
  • Bangers and mash.
  • Beef and Guinness stew. 2X
  • Fish and chips.
  • Beef and chickpea curry. 2X
  • A roast.
  • Minestrone soup.

Yes, lots of curries. We like them in winter. So warming. The ones with 2X after them are double meals. So we have extra nights without cooking. Leftovers won't be tossed out. They do lunch for me and breakfast and snacks for The Dreamer. (He prefers dinner-type foods for breakfast.)

Hobblin’ along

After my skiing injury, I couldn't walk for two days. On the third, I had to walk as I had to get to the bus to take us off the mountain.

That involved negotiating several sets of stairs and a snow covered set of gardens steps without a handrail, crossing a ski run, walking through a queue for lift tickets and down the road, slippery with water, ice and snow. I managed to hobble with my dead leg bent and a ski pole taking on the role of a walking stick.

Then there was a seven hour trip in the car.

Since then I've:

  • had an MRI. (Why didn't anyone warn me they are noisy? Very noisy. And they go for ages. I was lying there for 30 minutes, not knowing if I could move at all. If I moved my arm, would it wreck the whole thing? Cost: $320, no rebate, nothing, not from Medicare, not from private health insurance.)
  • had a CT scan. (Quick, not noisy, free as billed billed)
  • had massage with lymphatic drainage
  • been told off by the orthopaedic specialist's receptionist

R: (in sharp voice, made sharper by her South African accent) Have you been to a physiotherapist?

Me: No.

R: Why not? Hasn't your doctor told you to brace it?

Me: I don't know. No. Because she thought I should see a specialist.

R: Why are you going for a CT scan?

Me: Because my doctor said the specialist would probably want it.

R: But you've already had an MRI?

Me: Oh, isn't it normally done? I think my doctor wanted to rule out something that the MRI picked up. [Started reading from report.]

R: No point reading to me, I'm not a doctor.

  • seen a physiotherapist. (Thank heavens for private health insurance.)

And I've been turned into Robogirl.

Turns out the ligament I damaged with a high grade tear, they don't operate on. It has blood supply so it heals. High grade tear takes 8 to 12 weeks. I've given them 8. I have France to visit.

I won't get into the specialist for a while so I can't say what he will say.

Once a bustling, noisy place´╗┐

Mr S loves going to the same place for holidays. I don’t. So three years ago I agreed to go to the same ski resort only if we spent a couple of days exploring Kelly Country. That’s Ned Kelly. 

I had read a host of books on Ned – it was my Summer of Ned. I wanted to retrace Ned’s journey. 

Did I tell you an amazing coincidence? It will only make sense if you know the importance of Room 101 in 1984. The cell Ned was placed in Beechworth Prison was number 101!!! And a sign of the penal attitudes, while most people lived in dirt floor shacks, the prison is huge and imposing. I don’t think most visitors to the prison get it. Anyway that was the winter of 2015.

For the last three winters, I have explored different parts of Kelly country for a few days before we head off to Mr S’s favourite holiday.  This year, despite being bedridden with flu (in a lovely BnB) I managed to get out for a morning drive through Woolshed Valley. 

Fireplace in the lounge room of our lovely BnB


I wanted to go to the Woolshed Valley because it used to be a thriving place of gold diggings, Chinese market gardens, schools, pubs, small holdings. And because it was in this valley that Ned’s lieutenant lived and learnt Chinese from the Chinese gold miners, and apparently adopted their love of opium. 

You have gold diggings and deserted roads, you have bushrangers. You have a large rock, you have a place for a bushranger to hide behind, and jump out at passing coaches. “Bail up!!!”


It was also where Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly shot Aaron Sherritt with the police hiding under the bed in the two room shack. This precipitated the siege. 

It is hard to believe that there were two story hotels, restaurants, pubs and a public bath along this road. Now there are saplings, scrub and bush. There are signs along the road which describe was once was; some pointing out features left in the landscape. I couldn’t see them. 

Sebastopol Flat, a thriving town in the late 1850s


The cold, wet day made it all the more possible to imagine the miserable lives they led in Kelly’s time. Wet. Cold. Without an insulated, centrally heated house. With little furniture and limited clothing.  Just hard work all round. 

While we in the comfort of a heated car with heated seats, Ned and his gang traversed the area by foot and on horse back. 

The ford across the creek. It would flood after rains.


Totally unrelated to Ned’s time, the world’s biggest dredge, or some similar claim to fame, anyway it was damn big is in Eldorado, the village at the start of the road to Beechworth through the Woolshed Valley. It was eerie walking in this industrial relic. Again, it harked to an harder era. 

Seats from an old roller coaster? No, scopes from the dredge.

Not a shed. This is a massive floating dredge. Yes, it floats on the creek.

Saving for a whole year off – income cut, not lifestyle cut


We are one semester in on our first year on 80% of our income. Seven semesters to go. 

We have saved for 6 weeks’ pay – at 80% of our current income. 

Someone pointed out we miss out on pay rises. Well yes. But if we kept working we’d miss out on the year off. 

And given inflation and current increases in pay, this is probably a financially good time to do the Deferred Salary Scheme. 

One of our goals was that we would not have a lifestyle cut for the next four years. 

Not that we’re greedy and want it all. Just that we don’t want to feel pain or live a cold and gloomy life for four years just to have a year off. 

So that means we still want to eat out occasionally. We still want to catch up with friends. We still want to eat yummy dinners  most nights – not forgoing nice steaks for cheap snags and mince. We still want to travel in term breaks and go on overseas holidays. We still want to pay off our mortgage. We still want to buy clothes and nice stuff. Mr S still wants (and bought) the last Australian made Holden Commodore. I want work done on the house and garden. I want to go to French lessons. We still want to help our offspring out here and there. Mr S needs expensive dental implants. 

Oh dear! It does sound greedy, as if we aren’t prepared to make sacrifices. 

But we are. 

OK, I’ll be the first to admit that the biggest cut has been to overpaying our mortgage. We are still paying more than the minimum, but not smashing it. 

However, we are making other cuts. Things that make a difference to the bottom line but don’t make much of an impact on our life. 

Over the next four years I will share some of our money saving tips that don’t cut into lifestyle. 

Tip one: menu plan and shop fortnightly. We write our menu plan for a fortnight and shop for the fortnight. (With an ocassional top-up of fruit and veg in between.)

This stops dropping into the supermarket for something and picking up one or two or more things you just have to have but never planned to buy. 

Menu planning also stops you buying food items you don’t need. (OK, this doesn’t always work, especially if I send Mr S. So if you are like him and put too many veggies in the trolley or grab things that catch your eye, you will end up with waste. So stick to the list and buy just enough.)

Our menu plan also includes “catch and kill your own” nights, ie left-over nights. There’s always a curry that feeds more or a night when not everyone is home. We don’t toss left-overs. They become another dinner. Anyway, curries and stews are always nicer if left for a few days. 

When you menu plan, make sure you can use up ingredients in different meals. For example if a recipe calls for a sprinkling of fresh coriander, which you can only buy by the bunch, pick another meal that uses fresh coriander. 

If we did t plan, every night would be more stressful. What are we going to cook? Do we need to pick something up from the supermarket? Could we be bothered? Should we just eat out?

So by menu planning we save money and stress. 

I could share a menu plan, but sometimes the shorthand we use for the dinner means little to others. For example, Mr S makes a much-loved korma based curry called Hurry Curry. He made it up. There’s no written recipe. But we know it has chicken, corn, carrots and peas. Trust me, it is delicious.

Or my dish, called Mum’s pasta dish, (as in son: “What’s for tea?” Dad: “Mum’s making her pasta dish.”) is different veggies, depending on what we have to hand and a tomatoey sauce with pasta and grated cheese. 

We like variety so try to have different meat and different types of meals. We do have regular favourites. And different ones for winter and summer. Wraps with BBQ chicken kebabs are a summer fav. But who wants a wrap in winter? No, warming stews and curries are winter fare. 

Whatever you like eating, planning for a fortnight means you only have the stress of deciding what to cook once a fortnight. Not every night. And you save money. 

What a lifestyle and wallet win!!!