Saturday, 25 April 2015

ANZAC Day 2015

ANZAC Day, the commemoration of the landing of Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915, is the most important national day in Australia. In addition to recognising the service and sacrifice of all Australians who have served in war or on peacekeeping operations ANZAC Day has become core to the identity of Australia itself, a day on which Australians reflect on the ANZAC spirit and its place in Australia today.

Today, on the 25 April 2015, we mark the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli on the 25th April, 1915.
Each year on ANZAC Day, millions of Australians gather in the early hours of the morning for the Dawn Service. Today, I attended the Dawn Service on Barrow Island. The service started with a bagpiper, followed by a Commemorative Address of an Ex-Serviceman and our current Emergency Management Coordinator explaining the meaning of ANZAC Day to our international workforce. He explained that ANZAC Day is not a celebration as the mission at Gallipoli failed, ANZAC Day is not a celebration of victory but it is a commemoration of the fallen and the wounded in WW1, WW2 and any other war and peace keeping missions. A Lead Prayer followed, wreaths were laid and the Australian and New Zealand were raised.

Then The Ode was recited and a Bugle Player played 'The Last Post'.
The poem In Flanders Field was recited following by the Australian National Anthem. Standing in a crowd of 8000 people and singing the Australian Anthem gave me a feeling of proudness and a felling of togetherness. Something I have never felt when I lived in Germany.

Afterwards the New Zealand National Anthem was performed, followed by the 'Haka'. This I had never experience before. The video shows the 'Haka' performance on Barrow Island on Anzac Day 2013.
After the service we all got into the buses and started our work day. This Dawn Service was a memorable one and I'm proud to be a member of such an amazing community!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Earth Day

On 22 April 2015 was Earth Day. It's one of those days which makes me sad, wondering why do we need an Earth Day? Why do we need to be reminded of the source of our life?

Earth Day was established in 1970 - long before I was even born during a time where Hippies were all around. Read this if you want to know more about the Earth Day History.

I always loved nature despite living in a city when I grew up. Our kitchen looked out to large trees and there was green all around us. I remember sitting on the kitchen bench eating toast with honey and admiring those large trees. There was a botanical garden close by and in summer we went there to enjoy the water features and flowers and in winter we took our sledge and went sleighing. When I grew a bit older we moved into a more rural area and we had a house with a garden. In the garden we had a pear- and a plumtree and bordering our property was a large strawberry field. I remember eating fresh juicy plums straight from the tree - the tree which held my swing. I remember eating strawberries straight from the field and I remember all these walks we did as a family - walking through the forest, looking for mushrooms, collecting blackberries and eating wild strawberries if we were lucky enough to find some.

Have you ever eaten wild strawberries? Their fruit are very small, they're juicy and very sweet. I will never forget the taste of them. To this day, eating blackberries reminds me of walking around in the forest, the smell of moss and cold moist air. (Don't forget I grew up in Germany.) I had books to learn about the animals and tapes to learn to differentiate between different bird songs. I wanted to be outside all the time. I collected grasses and called them 'herbs'. We didn't have any pets back then, so I dug a hole in the yard and collected snails which were my pets.

This was my favourite time as a child, my favourite time to look back to. I lived with the seasons. In summer I adored the bulbs rising out of the dead and bald looking soil. 'Schneegloeckchen' (Snowdrops) were the first flowers emerging out of partially melted snow. I was always so exited when I saw them.
 
Over the months more and more beautiful looking flowers - all bulbs - would emerge and I was always a bit jealous that my sister's birthday was in April - in spring - and she was being celebrated with all these beautiful flowers and scents around her. Summer was full of sun and I remember going to lakes and play in the sand. The scent of sunscreen was all around and the evenings were long as it doesn't get dark until very late. I also remember the time around my birthday - August - being harvest season. I remember our neighbour sending us kids out to collect chamomile to make tea. In autumn, I loved playing with all of the falling leaves. I collected chestnuts and made little animals out of it, I used leaves to draw and make collages, I loved autumn and the change in colour. And the first snowflakes were always exciting. The time of the year where it sometimes doesn't get bright at all. The smell of cinnamon and oranges in the air and the oven going to make biscuits. I loved this part of my life. It was the best part of my childhood.
 
My love for nature made me decide on a career everybody laughed at. Environmental awareness existed in the late 80s and early 90s but it was normally associated with people not shaving and not cutting their hair, wearing funny clothes and smelling bad. I read books on making your own cleaning products and saving paper. Hoimar v. Ditfurth's book about nuclear war, destroying of the environment and population overgrowth and the inability of humans to react in order to save mankind was my favourite book.
 
I remember how deeply affected I was about Brent Spar. How dare these oil companies destroying our ocean and all of those fantastic species?! But I also deeply disagreed on how so called activists reacted - boycotting - yes, but physical attacks and arson - no way! I didn't want to be associated with people who cause issues and want to stop progress but don't provide any solutions.
 
When I decided I'm going to make saving the environment my professional future, many people - including people in my family - weren't happy with my choices. Originally I was planning to become a scientific journalist - writing columns like this post in my blog about environmental destruction. Later I wanted to save the ocean and concentrated on studying marine biology.
 
When I finished my degree in 2000, I had already learnt that job opportunities are extremely rare and there's no way to even pay off my student loan on the income of a typical greenie. I jobbed around and took whatever employment was offered to me just to make some money. And this is how I ended up in the oil and gas industry. At the beginning I felt ashamed because it seems to be against everything I stood for. Now I'm 38 years old. I have worked in the oil and gas industry for 15 years. And I'm proud of what I've achieved. I work in unique places, I deal with magnificent flora and fauna, I supervise a large team and undertake contractor management, so I mentor a LOT people. Our current site has a constant workforce of 8,500 people. Most of these people have B2b (back to backs), so I potentially have an impact on up to 16,000 people. They will hear me complain when they come to meetings and their paperwork isn't printed double sided. They know I will always make them turn their monitors off when they leave and our site wide waste management system has taught everyone how to recycle. Yes, we're building a gas plant. Let's face it, nobody will ever stop progress. But if we can progress with the least impact - then that's a win. When I open up my milk carton and cut the little plastic ring in half, people will always ask me why. I explain that this ends up in landfill and birds will scavenger and their beaks might get caught, so I cut it to stop that from happening. Now everybody cuts these plastic rings.  
Source
 
I'm not changing the world but I make a difference to the people who work here. They get 'conditioned' to do these things because it's more than just an expectation here at work - it's a requirement. And they might even take that home with them. I know how the company operates and I would know if they would do things right or wrong. I know when media or politicians again complain about how poorly some companies operate they only know the half truth.

I'm not saying it's perfect - it hardly ever is. But at least I feel like I'm following my passion and trying to making a difference - every day.

So to answer my own question, why do we need an Earth Day? I quote out of this article:
Because it works! Earth Day broadens the base of support for environmental programs, rekindles public commitment and builds community activism around the world through a broad range of events and activities. Earth Day is the largest civic event in the world, celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities. More than a billion people participate in our campaigns every year.
     
So let's remember, also there might be only one official Earth Day, Earth Day should be celebrated every day - along with Mother's Day.
 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Saving money

At the beginning of this year, I've started budgeting. Don't get me wrong, I've started budgeting many, many times before - but I never stuck to it or maintained it. This year I'm determined! And so far so good - at least with maintaining the budget.

Since this is the first time, I have given myself some leeway but I really wanted to document all of our expenses to see where we have to work on. We're lucky as we're in a financial stable situation with the mortgage being our only debt. Steve is retired, so he doesn't have any income, however as I'm working there's no need to touch his Super and so it can continue to grow. I work fulltime as a FIFO worker in the oil & gas industry. Also I earn good money, I only do project work and once a project is finished I move onto the next. However, at the moment there is a big resources downturn and it probably will not get better in the next 2 years. Therefore I don't know if I still have a job in 18 months time. And for that I need to learn how to budget well.

Some simple things which have decreased our budget significantly are:

1. Buying in bulk/Stockpiling
Once a year, Steve and I go for a mid-week overnight trip to Bargara, where we enjoy some time on the beach and on the way back, we stop at Aldi and do one big shop - normally about 3 trolley loads. Aldi is significantly cheaper than any other supermarket, so we stock up on dry goods such as can food, rice, pasta and household items (toilet paper, toothpaste and -brushes, dishwashing detergent ect).
We buy our meat from the Farm Butcher, so we normally buy half a cow, a pig, some lambs and chicken - all of this will lasts us well over a year with me working away for 6 months of the year.
I also have discovered some places where I can buy other items in bulk such as washing and bicarb soda for making cleaning products as well as grain for baking bread.

2. Installing Solar Power
Our power bill has reduced by over 50% and now where we have the new shed installed, we will install more solar panels and reduce the bill even more. But we're also trying to reduce consumption. A new fridge is on the card as we currently have 2 old fridges which are unlikely to have a high star rating in terms of electricity consumption. The water system also consumes a lot of power since a pump has to turn as soon as water flows out of the tap and another pump goes to discharge the water. Then we have third pump for irrigation. In the next few year we will install a new wastewater system and later this year we're looking at better irrigation, so we don't have to have the pump running that much.

This year I have spend a fair bit of money on craft. I bought a sewing/embroidery machine in January and therefore had to get some stock such as yarn, fabric and tools (scissors, cutting mats and the likes). All of this is pricey but I hope in the long run I will be able to save some money as I can make items such as decorations and presents myself rather than buying them.

My inspiration to write about this topic today came from a look on my credit card statement which charged me a credit card fee while I actually have a package which comes with a free credit card. So I called the bank and enquired and they apologised and refunded me the money. If I would have not noticed or called, this would have cost me $395! While I was speaking to the consultant, he said I would be eligible for a Diamond Award Card instead of the Platinum Award Card I'm using currently. There will be no card fee as this will be covered by the current package. Interest rates ect remain the same but the award system is better and the travel insurance is higher. Since I travel to and from work by plane and having to stay in hotels on the way in ect, a credit card which offered higher protection sounds better. You see I use my credit card for everything and then each month when I get paid, the credit card gets paid off and the balance is back to zero. My credit card limit is lower than my monthly income and I make sure I never owe anything on it.

So I agreed to the card update. The consultant than went through the typical questions and I asked what will happen to my point accumulation. He said they should roll over. That didn't convince me, so I thought off I go and get some money back. I wasn't interested in buying anything. I was either interested in cash or giftcards. I put a few giftcards in my cart and then wanted to transfer the rest of the point balance into cashback. However, when I checked my shopping cart I noticed that I used much more points for $100 cashback than I did for a $100 giftcard. Therefore I deleted the cashback and 'bought' 2 more giftcards instead. I ended up with $600 worth in giftcards! My giftcards were for supermarkets and service stations, so useful indeed!
So I am very happy with today's achievements: I got my $395 back and got $600 worth of gift cards to buy food and petrol. It does pay to be mindful with your money and to check your statements! What have you saved money on lately?


Saturday, 11 April 2015

March

I have to admit, I have been thinking of closing down this blog as I don't think most people are interested but this morning I received an email from my sister saying that she reads it and she's reading up on older posts too and she likes it and is proud of me. Well, how can I stop now?! 
So I'm doing a recap of a busy month and as I have promised many times before, I will try and update my blog more regularly.

When I came home last month, Steve had already cleaned up all of the damage around our house which was a big relief. During the cyclone the locked sliding tour to the Patio got taken out of its hinges and luckily wasn't damaged or caused any damage.
Two large terracotta pots with trees were lifted up and smashed against the retaining wall.
But compared to the damaged the poor people in the following pictures experienced, we got away with only minor damage to the yard and no damage to the house which was a big relief.
Can you imagine how hard the wind must have been howling to bend the metal poles like that?
This house is ocean frontage - every second house looked similar to this. Just glad that no one got hurt.
We booked a few days on Keppel Island late last year - well before we knew about any cyclone. First we thought we couldn't go but we were assured our cottage was in good condition. This is our little cabin we lived in for a few days of pure relaxation. It was so nice!
We walked every day and went swimming every day - the water was cool but not cold and the marine life around the island is beautiful.
This is one of the staff cabins which the cyclone destroyed. You could clearly see the impact Marcia had on the island but it was still beautiful.

We indulged in daily cocktails - a tradition I want to continue when I get home. Maybe not daily but have a weekly cocktail, that would be nice. Sometimes, it's just the simple pleasures - it doesn't take much to mix up some juice with some alcohol but you just feel special, so why not feel like on holiday more often?
This was the view from the Pub/Bistro. We had a great deal which included breakfast and dinner with our accommodation. I loved having breakfast with this view!
Yes, I tried ALL cocktails. The first one was called 'The Hideaway' and was my favourite. This one is a Pina Colada which is one of Steve's favourites (and the one we had at home and at our friends place when we visited).
What a romantic dinner setting - no wonder we were so relaxt.
This is George. He came every morning to pick up his breakfast.
We went on wonderful walks and I'm looking forward to show this island to my Mum and my Sister when they're coming over for our wedding.
A Curlew - one of my favourite birds. I love their sound.
Endless peopleless beaches - how wonderful!
There were thousands of butterflies everywhere we went. I tried to film them and also I thought I moved my camera slowly, I obviously didn't. If you get dizzy quickly, don't watch this!
video
But every holiday comes to an end and we went back home. As Keppel Island is on our door steps, we will go there again in the future.
 
In our case, when one holiday is over, another one begins and we went to Brisbane to visit our friends. My friend and I went to a Craft fair for me to get some basic supplies of my new hobby. After spending the morning shopping, we enjoyed the view to the Brisbane River ...
... and a yummy lunch. What a great day it was!
On the weekend, we tested out the new boat our friends bought.  

The men are fishing...
... and the women are drinking. Perfect!
But if we don't catch anything, we need to go and get something, so this is our lunch/dinner. It was very tasty!
Of course once we eaten, we caught something but we let that one go again.
It was overcast and a bit rainy but a nice change to the previous hot and humid days.
See the smile on our faces?!

But we also had to attend some business for our wedding. We met with the celebrant and arranged for the ceremony. I was looking forward to strolling around Montville but the weather made it cold and rainy, so we just went for a drive.
We stopped at the Maleny Pub for a couple of drinks and the dragon and the roster were fighting about crumbs on the ground. Too funny!
On our way back, we picked Hera up from the kennel and she and I were happy to spend the rest of my R'n'R together. 
Our yard is full of Magpies and I do like them as they sing so beautifully. The Magpies eat the food our birds chuck out so it's a win-win situation: I don't have to clean up and the Magpies get fed.
Everything is nice and green from the rain and I love standing on the veranda of the chook pen with my morning coffee and just look around.
As I come from Germany, I never thought I would say this but I love autumn! The air is cool and crisp and it's not hot and humid anymore. The sky looks beautiful and it's time to plant the winter crop.
Steve created me a gardenbed around the chookpen, so that I can get the chooks in after harvest to prepare the soil for the next crop.
The Lorikeets love the 'Golden Penda' Tree and eat all the sweet nectar. It's flowering early this year, they normally flower in winter.
I have never seen this bush not flowering but still - every time I look at it, I have to think how beautiful these flowers are.
I need to plant more succulents into our desert garden. Maybe next R'n'R.
The plants in front of our entertainment area have grown and now I can start taking some cuttings and establish new garden beds.
The hedge in front of the house is slowly forming.
Sunny & Stormy are happy and chirpy as usual.
"Are you talking to me?"
And this is how Stormy looks like when he complains.
And my potplants look magnificent as well
I'm not just feeding the Magpies, the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos also like to come and pick up their food. They're pretty demanding and often eat the entire week's food ration in a day. Also I love having them around, this has become too costly and I have on of those Grandfather feeders on order.
I have also ordered some fabric to make colourful cushions for our entertainment area.
Our alfresco dining area with the beautiful table runner my sister gave me for my birthday. The birds look like Stormy.
When I come back from work I normally have a sleep here as I've been on the go for a long time. And in the afternoon I sit in my rocking chair and read. I call this my serenity corner.
Steve's Bar which we will upgrade sometime this year.
I love this entry. It's a shame, we never ever spend any time in there as it's such a beautiful room. Makes me even more happy every time I come home.
Our colour scheme: blue/green with splashes of gold/yellow/brown and red. Works so well for us.
Our kitchen extension we got in November last year comes in handy for my new hobby. Now I not only create food there but I also use it for cutting of fabrics. Perfect!
Our kitchen is now nice and spacious.
The total opposite of what it used to be. It's got heaps of storage and I still have lots of empty shelves - mainly the top ones as I'm way too short to reach them.
Our dining table decorated for Easter. I always say "Let's go to Cologne for dinner" which means he have dinner on this table.
We only use our living room to watch TV. I guess it's so beautiful outside, we try (and we do) to spend most of our time out there. Plus it's QLD - the weather is always perfect!
I've re-decorated my bedroom table and every morning I look at this pic, I look forward to wake up in my bed again.
The soft green and blue hues are calming and just pretty to look at.
There's some work going on at home as well. Steve decided to get another shed for our caravan. So a gigantic structure was built.

A few days after we came back from Brisbane, I fed our birds and discovered 2 brown eggs underneath a bush. Easter came early for us! One of the French Marans got out while we were away and she must have eaten the bird food and created herself a little nest there. How funny!
And this is our new 12x8x5 m shed. We will use it to store items we hardly ever use as well as the caravan and trailer - both which we need to purchase first... I know this is not very frugal but I guess, we will always be able to use it for something. We will put solar panels on there and get watertanks installed. Even if later down the track we don't travel anymore, we might be able to use it for my horse.
Steve is looking forward to his new projects: building a retaining wall, a path, a garden, getting 2 x 25,000 L water tanks installed and get solar panels on the roof. Well, I better keep working...
I have to say that the shed has a nice view! Future visitors might like to stay in the caravan which gives them a bit more independence - and that view.
Steve's new garden around the pool suffered a bit from the cyclone but I hope the plants will recover and keep growing. It's such a lovely gardenbed.
The chooks love their run and reward me with beautiful eggs - either white from the Leghorns or dark brown from the French Marans.
I planted another Mulberry Tree in the new chook pen. I have to also plant another lemon tree as I heard that they're the best trees for inside chook pens and you can never have enough shade for the poor chooks who suffered badly from the heat this summer.
Everything just looks so pretty after the recent rain.

My Mum and I planted this Hibiscus when she was here in November 2013. She'll be surprised to see how much it has grown when she comes back this year.
Quentin's memorial tree is also growing nicely. He guards the property just like Quentin did.
The apple tree also looks good.
I have changed this gardenbed to a herbgarden for now. The conditions are perfect for herbs and they're easy to pick.
And look at the Nectarine tree! It looks great and I hope for some nectarines soon.
The new shed looking up from our garage.
Early 2014, I got this laundry installed in the garage. First I was unsure if it was the right decision to install it here as it's away from the house. But it's between house and clothesline, so it's easy enough. I'm so glad I did it! I just love this space! I only have cold water connection but I got a kettle just around the corner to boil water to make up cleaning products, wash large items like the oven trays. It's a really handy laundry!
The Magnolia will produce large fragrant flowers we and the bees can enjoy.
Now the new shed is finished, we have a new view from the Pool.
I still remember when I took my Mum to look at this house after we signed the contract. She was horrified. But I guess Steve and I we had a vision. We bought this place relatively cheap. We had the area around the house concreted, installed more water tanks, connected rain instead of bore water to the house and renovated bathroom and kitchen. We build the garage and the laundry as well as the chook and dog pen. Steve created beautiful gardens and I created a beautiful home. I absolutely love this place! We still have a few visions and we want to do most of our project now where I'm working so that in about 10 years time when I'm planning to retire, everything is exactly how we want it to be, it's easy to maintain and it's not going to be costly. But until then, we keep improving.