Thursday, September 30, 2010

Videojug Is Calling

I got some fan mail the other day. Well, I suspect it was more spam mail than fan mail, still it was very nice to hear from Jemma who told me she had come across my blog and was "really impressed".

Turns out Jemma is the editor of and was inviting me to contribute to her site. She wrote, "I'd like to invite you to join our growing community of writers (it's 100% Free)." The 100% Free part, by the way, seems to refer to the writers' contributions - as in, you donate your work to the site and hope that you will generate enough traffic to get a share of whatever advertising there is on your pages. Which means, it's most likely that your work will indeed be 100% Free.

Now may sound like the digital version of one of those 1950's style men's magazines, but in fact it is a how-to website. Jemma calls it the "world's leading" how-to site, but then I'm not sure who else is in the game. Here's what she wrote: "We've just launched a powerful new self-publishing website that helps people with unique know-how and expertise (i.e., you) connect with our knowledge-hungry audience." One of the benefits is I could "build an online audience" and "become an authority on (my) favorite subjects".

That's a tempting proposition. I mean, who wouldn't want to be an authority with an online audience? But here's my problem. Just what is my unique know-how and expertise that could make me an authority? I wonder how much, if any, of this blog Jemma read because I cannot think of very much in here that would suggest that I might be an expert-in-hiding that her "knowledge-hungry" audience needs to discover. In fact, most of my family think of me as a how-NOT-to sort of person.

Doesn't matter. I need to figure out what I can be an expert about. 
I suppose there are a few areas I could tackle, but do people really need instructional pieces on how to how to determine when cocktail hour should start? Or yes, I could write about how to do Wii Fit exercises, but I do think you should be able to complete a workout without falling over before you try to teach others how to do it.

I am somewhat knowledgeable about fixing a toaster when the element has burnt out. But the do-it-yourself-ers might be dissatisfied to learn that the secret is to screw it up several times and write several blog posts about it, then hope your spouse secretly takes it to a friend who fixes it before you kill yourself. I don't know, maybe they would enjoy such a novel approach to home electrical repairs. But I doubt it.

I could write a lot of essays about playing online poker, but my hunch is that most people want to learn how to win, not lose. And I could write lots about how to write a blog, but again I suspect that most potential readers are more interested in how to write a blog that gets an audience of more than 12 people (13 if I count Jemma).

I suppose, if anything, this blog is about retirement and after a couple of years I should have learned a few things. Yes, I could write a piece on how to retire, but after I say, "Don't go to work any more," there's not a lot more to add. Now, how to retire and avoid eating cat food when your money runs out would truly be a topic worth writing about. Only, I am not sure I know the answer to that myself. In fact, I think I will go to and see if there's anyone there who can help me with that.

In the meantime, I guess I will have to set Jemma's invitation aside until I can think of some niche where I can become a worldwide authority. Or at least a worldwide web authority - I think there is a pretty big difference. Come to think of it, there was a teaser on the home page of Jemma's website this morning. "Get good at making a decision," it said. Maybe I'd better check that one out jiffy quick. A knowledge-hungry audience is probably awaiting.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Red Velvet Lounge

Shirley visited last weekend, and we had a fantastic time with our dear friend.

The Red Velvet Lounge in Cygnet
One of the things we love about having our friends visit is that it gives us a chance to do a little exploring and discover new things near our new home. On Saturday we made a fantastic discovery when we drove to Cygnet, about 40 minutes south of here, to check out a restaurant that we read about.

The Red Velvet Lounge's chef, Steve Cumper, has just been named as Australia's top country chef by Country Style Magazine. Having a treasure so close to home was too tempting to foodies like the three of us, so off we went on a crisp but beautifully sunny spring day.

On an out-of-season Saturday at 1pm, the place was very busy, making me think future visits - especially in the summer - will be on retirees' time frames and in the middle of the week. The restaurant is close to my ideal. It is comfy and totally not pretentious; the staff is casual and super friendly; and the food was fantastic. I know why the chef wins awards.

We all shared some dips to start. One was a rocket and cream cheese blend, but the real star was a red pepper (capsicum) with crushed almonds. No, actually the real star was the grilled sourdough served with the dips.

Knowing from his blogs that the chef is a keen pie fanatic, I ignored the word "organic" in the description and opted for the beef pie with potato puree and mustard sauce. Sooo good. LK had quail with leeks on risotto, which she liked a lot. Shirl went for the pulled pork sandwich and I'm afraid that came a distant third in the race.

"It's nowhere near as good as yours," she told LK, meaning she qualifies for a lifetime pass good for unlimited stays at our house.

One of the real advantages of going to a restaurant for lunch is that you get to move cocktail hour forward by four or five hours, and the three of us weren't about to pass that up. We had a really nice local pinot noir from Tinderbox Vineyard, which is only a few miles south of Kingston. We'll be visiting their cellar door soon.

It was great to learn that a restaurant this good is so near.  Even greater was finding that, awards be damned, the restaurant was not pricey. In fact, it was dramatically less than we had become used to paying in Sydney.

For the drive home, we decided to see spots we'd never visited so went to the southern tip of the peninsula and drove back along the coast with Bruny Island looming off to the right. It was a slower, winding road but every few moments we'd round a bend and see a new bay or beach that was drop-dead gorgeous. And such great names - Eggs and Bacon Bay, Flowerpot, Snug and (inevitably) Lower Snug.

Only half a day gone and it was already pretty great. Well, until we got home and watched the AFL Grand Final that wasn't quite final. But one result is certain: the Red Velvet Lounge is a real winner. Can't wait to go back.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Luck of the Draw

Australia is turning into Jessica Rabbit. You remember her great line, "I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way."

Well this weekend Oz once again decided to be drawn. Not in the sense of sketched, but in the sense of a tie, no result, no winner and no loser. We're becoming the national equivalent of a pageant on Toddlers and Tiaras where no kid walks away a loser.

You would remember a couple of weeks ago when as a nation we decided we couldn't make up our mind about who should win the national election. So instead we redefined democracy and let a few independent candidates make up our minds for us. These were people who chose not to run in a party - and therefore chose not to have any importance in Parliament. But Aussies love underdogs, and we decided to let them have more importance than anyone else for a couple of weeks.

And of course, they made a mess of their moments in the sun. But that's not what this post is about.

On Saturday we held the Grand Final for the AFL - Aussie Rules football for you Yanks. This is as big as the NFL Super Bowl except for a couple of things. First, the fan enthusiasm here is even greater than the Super Bowl. Consider this. On the day before the game there is always a massive parade in Melbourne. That picture at the top is from the Herald Sun which estimated that about 100,000 folks came out for the parade.

There is some similarity. The game between the Collingwood Magpies and St Kilda Saints was played in front of more than 100,000 people and with massive TV ratings. But despite the parade, the huge crowd at the game, the enormous TV audience - and here's the difference - we don't know who the champion is for this year yet.

Nope. At the end of regulation time, the score was tied. And a drawn match ends just that way, with the score knotted. No extra time, no golden goal, no penalty shootout, no countback, no result. Instead, the exhausted players, and probably equally exhausted fans, will have to get together next weekend and do it all over again. In chess, it would be called a stalemate. Here it's called "bloody ridiculous" by one of the players interviewed after the game.

Ironically, if it happened in the semi-final matches last week, they would have played extra time, but for some reason the league has decided it's more fun (or perhaps more profitable?) to send everyone home and have them come back in a week.

Our friend Wally is a mad keen fan of the Magpies, favorites to win the match. He rang a couple of hours after the match and sounded as deflated as I have ever heard anyone. "Mate," he said, his voice hoarse from too much cheering I assume, "there was no result... no result." It's fairly easy to offer regrets to a friend whose team has lost the big match, but there don't seem to be any convenient phrases to console someone whose team has not lost, they just didn't win.

Of course our major national sport - cricket - has no result so often that it has even developed different words to describe it, kind of the way Eskimos are said to have dozens of word for snow. In cricket, a tie is when both teams end the match with exactly the same number of runs scored. A draw is when the match ends before both sides have had their full turns.

But footy? The championship match? No, I can't believe anyone is happy today that there hasn't been a result. At least the football isn't breaking the draw the way they did with the federal government. If they did, they would have just asked the last place team to decide which of the finalists should get the trophy and given the losers a chance to negotiate with both of the teams before announcing a winner.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I have returned to the Wii. In fact this weekend, as I stood on the board so it could weigh me before telling me I was hopelessly overweight, my Wii pointed out that it had been 222 days since I had last used it. It's good to know that all those months of sitting in storage didn't diminish its ability to guilt trip me.

Nor did it diminish its ability to make me hurt. I was definitely rusty but I got through most of the exercises without a problem. OK, without a new problem. I always sway like a palm tree in a cyclone on those one-legged exercises. But I did especially well on the one where you just stand still and breathe, so I didn't feel I had gone completely out of shape.

Until the next morning. when I couldn't even stay in bed before dawn because some of my leg muscles were sending burning, stabbing pains deep into my dreams. Basically, it involved most of the muscles in the top half of that picture.

They continued to hurt during the day, mostly when I sat down or stood up. It surprised me how often I sit down during the day. In fact, because of the muscle pain I now realize that much of my routine involves standing up and moving in order to sit down again somewhere else.

Doing my best Homer Simpson impression, I would forget about the pain once I was seated/standing. But then, when it was time to sit down or stand up again, I would let out a spontaneous yelp -- a manly yelp, I hope, but probably not. This wasn't so bad when I sat down at the table or in an easy chair, but a little embarrassing getting in and out of the car in a parking lot. I imagine it would have really raised eyebrows if someone had been outside the bathroom door.

I don't know who came up with the No Pain, No Gain slogan, but they have convinced the world that it's true even though every instinct we have suggests otherwise. But who am I to argue with popular belief? It was back to the Wii the next day regardless of muscle aches. I did skip the one-legged stuff because I wasn't sure I would be able to get up when I fell over. But the rest weren't too bad. And the Wii even praised me, telling me I certainly take my exercising seriously. Although I think it was being sarcastic.

Then yesterday I decided it was time to assemble my new lawnmower and attack the grass. I had bought a push mower, rather than a power mower, because I thought it would be good way to get in some useful exercise.

Mind you, that was when we lived at a property that had a lawn so small you could cut the grass with scissors during a TV commercial break and still have time to get a snack. This place has a much bigger lawn, and it took about an hour to get it mowed. That includes the ten minutes when I had to reassemble the mower because I had originally assembled it incorrectly and everything fell apart in the middle of the mowing.

Anyhow, I was right. It is good exercise. Only this morning it's the back of my calves and my heels that are hurting. I didn't even know you could stress out the muscles in your heels. And if that picture is any indicator it looks as if it's the Achilles tendon that's throbbing.

At least it doesn't make me yelp when I sit down or stand up. But I do kind of grunt every time I take a step.

All of which is making me re-think this fitness stuff. On the surface it seems like a good idea to work these muscles into shape and strengthen the legs.

But all the empirical evidence keeps pointing to one conclusion: There are a lot fewer aches and pains if I just keep sitting on my butt all day. It's a close call, but I guess it's back to the Wii today for one more round of abuse.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Episode VI: Return of the Bill

There are things I no longer expect to hear. Stuff like, "Nice head of hair, Don" and "Are those size 34 jeans?" But of all the things I did not expect to hear today, up there among the leaders would be LK - once again - telling someone from Optus what had happened to her account when they screwed up the billing address. Yet this is exactly what happened this afternoon.

It all started when I practiced that most sacred ritual for retirees - I went to the mailbox. There was LK's first Optus bill since the marathon session of a few weeks ago. With some trepidation, she opened the bill but sure enough there were all the credits they had promised.

And a new charge she hadn't been told about.

Optus was charging over $10 for what the bill called "Business Insur Monthly Service". It sure looked like a monthly insurance bill but surely, we reasoned, no company is going to charge you $10 more to guarantee that you get the service they're charging you $30 for.

And then we realized it was Optus.

LK was quite understandably in no mood to talk to Optusians one more time, but I was curious about the charge so I rang them to ask what exactly that charge was. A very friendly woman asked for the account PIN number, and when I told her neither LK nor I knew it, she said she was going to transfer me to someone else and put me on hold.

Remembering how long you can be on hold with this company, I completely lost interest and hung up. But Optusians are nothing if not tenacious, and a minute later the woman I had been speaking with rang back and said she was ready to transfer the call now. Her calling back kind of spooked me and also made me realize we should have been hanging up on these folks a long time ago. But at least we weren't paying for this call.

Optus was using a trick developed by cheating spouses and kids playing hooky, and it was really hard to hear the rep so I asked LK to handle the call. She sighed and took the phone. And soon I heard her telling yet another Optusian what had happened earlier this year. And what LK then learned in return will undoubtedly make the Optusian Wars Top Ten Highlight Reel.

It turns out that when they disconnected her service in May, they had somehow also started to charge her a monthly fee to insure that her service would not be interrupted.

Now go back and read that slowly, because it says exactly what you thought it did. This company started charging her more than $10 a month to guarantee that she would have a service that they canceled the day the insurance started.

And it turns out that we've already paid more than $50 of this insurance when I gave my credit card after the first round of Optusian Wars. And yes, today's representative agreed, after LK was put on hold for about five minutes, they now owe us money - about $9.

So I think LK won this round of the Optusian Wars. Except she had already decided to cancel her service with them, but now they owe her money. Plus, because they took so long to replace her sim card and she couldn't use her phone, she has around $28 in calling credits. So it doesn't really make sense to leave them now.

I suppose this episode could end with teddy bears dancing around a fire, But why do I have this image of a dark room in Singapore with panels of glowing diodes in which Darth Optus and Sith Titus sit plotting their next attack?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Good Sports

I have been a glutton since Saturday night. And yes, I hear a few of you saying, "Since which Saturday night? The first one in 1974?"

But I'm not talking about food, but sports. In the past four days I have watched the beloved Swannies lose in an AFL (Aussie Rules football to you Yanks) playoff game; I watched college and pro US football (gridiron to you Aussies); I watched semis and finals of the tennis, a little bit of rugby, a couple of baseball games and Junior Masterchef Australia. (I added that last one so my list would have at least one thing LK watched with me.)

Unfortunately my teams haven't been doing all that well, and I am pretty fast running out of anyone to cheer for. On Saturday night Wally - who is a diehard Collingwood fan - rang to tell me he was hoping for a Swans win against the Western Bulldogs. On Sunday, Wally sent me a text message that said, "Sorry, mate, maybe next year." Wally is a nice guy, anyhow, but I think it's easy to be kind to losers when your team is the favorite to win it all.

Actually, now that I've moved from Sydney I suppose I don't have to continue to be a Swans fan. Lacking a team from Tasmania in the league, I really could pick just about any team I want and become their fan. Which means I can pick a team that everyone thinks is the favorite to win the championship next year.

Unfortunately, it feels a little sleazy to do that. Even though I only started cheering the Swans on in 1989 at my first AFL game after we moved to Sydney, I think there are pretty rigid moral conventions that prevent you from changing your allegiance. Even though the players change teams whenever they can find an extra zero in their salary, it seems we poor fans feel guilty and disloyal if we don't continue to support a team that isn't even aware we're behind it in the first place.

Certainly I cannot stop being a Boston fan. But now that the Red Sox are hopelessly far from a playoff spot with only a couple of weeks left in the baseball season, it doesn't leave much to get excited about even during the most exciting part of the year.

So today I had to content myself with watching the two teams ahead of the Sox - the New York Yankees and Tampa Rays - play for first place. Thank God it was New York playing, so at least I had a team I hated and could cheer for Tampa (who did win in extra innings, probably due to my overseas support).

At the same time I was triple channel flipping between that game, the men's final of the US Open Tennis and an NFL game between Baltimore and the New York Jets. I didn't really care who won the tennis, but again was pleased to be able to cheer on Baltimore to beat a team from New York. Which it did. And the day before, in a game where the team names sound like they're from a very bad novel, I had cheered for the Redskins to beat the hated Cowboys. Which they also did.

So perhaps I am a negative sort of fan. Can't get my teams over the line by supporting them, but I can get the teams I don't like to lose. Come to think of it, that was the whole premise of The Cooler, wasn't it? Maybe I need to go to Wrest Point Casino down the road and see if they want to hire me.

Oh well, I can't really complain too much. Even though this year is a bit of a washout, my teams have won the World Series and the Super Bowl a couple of times in recent years, the Swans did win the championship a couple of years ago as did the Celtics in the NBA, and even my old home town's college team won the national basketball championship seven years ago. Even the Sydney Kings won the national pro basketball championship before they collapsed in bankruptcy. So it's not like I'm an immigrant from Loserville who can only cheer against good teams.

But it would be nice to be behind a winner one more time. That's why it was especially heartening to see the New England Patriots win the first game of the NFL season. I just hope they don't break my heart this year.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Out of the Loop

I keep trying to convince myself that I'm not getting old. I just assume that most people feel worse after they sleep than when they go to bed, and surely even young men are finding that the hair in their ears is growing more rapidly than the hair on their head. Can there be any doubt that the true sign that you're getting old is not that you forget your wife's name, but your own.

But I am starting to wonder if I'm kidding myself. Yesterday while I was waiting to check out at the supermarket, I looked at the magazine covers. There were stories about the Speidi's reuniting and another one about Katy. It wasn't a Katy I knew. And I have no idea who the Speidi's are, much less what caused them to break up in the first place.

I then looked at the other magazines in the rack. Lots of first names that meant nothing to me. And lots of pictures of people whom I wouldn't serve a drink without two photo IDs.

I realized at that moment that I have grown old. Or, to be exact, that there are lots of people around who are much younger than me. I kind of guessed it earlier when I got my regular iTunes e-mail with new releases and didn't recognize a single name. But I know I've been out of step with modern music. When I hear that the kids like hip-hop music, I can't help wondering why this urban music has a name straight out of "Here Comes Peter Cottontail."

There used to be a way of measuring your social intelligence that was not based on what you knew, but what you were aware of. I think it was Q something or other, but as happens a lot lately, I can't quite recall. But I can say with certainty that my score in that regard would be a whole lot lower today than when I was, say, a young 50-year-old.

Last night I was on the Huffington Post web site, and did something I don't often do. I paid attention to the bits that I don't know. And here's what I discovered. There's lots of people that are apparently newsworthy of whom I have not the slightest awareness.

Take, for example, the headlines: "Crystal Bowersox's Privacy Breached by Snooping Ohio Officials", "Spencer Pratt Apologizes for Outrageous and Infantile Behavior", "Rachel Dratch Gives Birth" and "Heidi Montag Massages Breast Implants, Laments Ear Pinning".

OK, you may know who all of these people are, but I do not. And I am fairly sure that I would remember a name like Crystal Bowersox. I certainly would remember someone who massages their breast implants and wants the world to know about it.

There was even a picture that made me aware how out-of-touch I am getting.

OK, I know that's Halle Berry. But I honestly don't have a clue who the guy is. And yet the web site assumes he's so well known that they don't even need to name him. It is small comfort to know that the kids who know all of these people probably wouldn't have a chance of recognizing Annette and Fabian.

Oh well, it's probably not all bad that I'm out of the loop. Because I didn't know who Taylor Momsen is, I wasn't tempted to read this report:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rainy Day Woman

We have our first visitor to our new home.

Caroline flew from Sydney Friday night for the weekend. We were excited to see her and excited to show off some of the highlights of our new home. We planned a full weekend - up early to go to Salamanca Markets on Saturday with some sightseeing afterwards, a drive to Mt Nelson and maybe a walk along Kingston Beach. Knowing how high the chances were that we would all need a little recovery time on Sunday morning, we planned on a late-ish breakfast with Bloody Marys and home-made corned beef hash and then stop off at one of the seafood restaurants on Sullivans Cove on the way to the airport that night.

Then the rain started. And it never stopped.

Since we moved here, we've had rain clouds pass by several times but there has never been a day when we were socked in and never had bouts of sunshine. And certainly not two straight days. Until Caroline arrived for the weekend.

All Saturday morning one or the other of us would look out the window and proclaim that the rain was letting up. "It's getting better. I can almost see the beach," one of us would say. And the other two would look, shake our heads and say, "Actually, it looks worse than it was half an hour ago."

We did some quick schedule shifts. It was fairly easy to bring the Bloody Marys and corned beef hash forward a day as we decided to wait a while to see if the monsoon would let up so we could tackle the markets without wearing flippers on our feet. But as time passed, it was evident that we could either shop for vegetables in cold, driving rain or spend a comfy afternoon inside.

That didn't stop one or the other of us from occasionally suggesting it wasn't too late to go, until Caroline finally declared it was time to stop debating and either go or commit to staying home. We stayed.

In the quiet of the house on Sunday morning, all I could hear was rain. By mid-morning, the weather was more showers than torrential downpours, so we grabbed our chance to show Caroline a bit of what was out there. The tide was in, the breakers were big and the rain was just cold enough that we all decided looking at Kingston Beach from the car was enough of a nature trek for us. Then we drove into Hobart ten minutes away and did a bit more of a car tour for our visitor. We showed her several places we would have gone to if it hadn't been raining. She didn't seem impressed.

We stopped at Mure's for lunch and decided after that to go back home since it was wet and cold and no one felt like doing anything else outside. Neither of them even smiled when I pointed out that we would probably have the Botanical Gardens all to ourselves in this weather.

LK and I had wanted to show off our new home, and we both ended up acting as if we were somehow responsible for the lousy weather. We kept explaining to Caroline that the weather down here really hasn't been this bad, that in fact Hobart averages only half the rainfall of Sydney each year, et cetera, et cetera. We stopped at the point where Caroline said to us, "You're beginning to sound just like people from Melbourne. They're always saying 'You should have been here yesterday' or 'Tomorrow's going to be glorious', but they never seem to have a good day when you're visiting them."

Caroline flew back to Sydney Sunday night, and, as you would expect, we have had glorious sunny, warm days ever since. I sent her a text message on her mobile: "Oh! Why am I squinting? Why is the water all sparkly? What's happening?"

She replied fairly quickly: "Oh, so rubbing salt in the wound is the way you're going. Good to know : )"

I hope that over time she comes to realize that we really didn't have anything to do with the lousy weather.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I Tell You a Bad News

I have been spoofed, and any of you on my e-mail contact list probably know that already. It's bad enough that my friends and family have been sent malicious mail under my Hotmail account name, but even more distressing that the e-mail was so badly written.

Just in case you were one of those who was lucky enough not to get one of the phony e-mails, this is what it said (minus the website address to click through to):
Dear friends:
I tell you a good news!
I Buy 6 products china Apple Macbook Pro 2.8 GHz
15 MB986LL/A 4GB website.
I already received the product. And I above ebay, resell
these the product which purchases from China, I already
earned many money.
It's amazing! The item is original, brand new and has
high quality, but it's much cheaper. I'm pleased to
share this good news with you!
No matter what the e-mail says, I have to tell you it is not a good news. I don't know if the click-through site is malicious or just stupid enough to think people will Buy products china Apple because of this e-mail.

Obviously, this e-mail is not from me. For one thing, the writing is nothing like mine. For another, since I retired I have not earned many money. And despite my intentions upon retiring to make some money by selling things on eBay, I haven't done so. Therefore, it should be clear that I have not above ebay nor resold those the products which purchases from China.

I am a little distressed that my friends have been bothered by this nasty side of the Internet, but it is interesting which people felt it important to let me know my contact list had been misappropriated:

Jon, who used the opportunity to ask how we were doing in Tassie;
John, who just made fun of me for my poor writing skills;
and Michael, our financial planner managing our superannuation fund, who took the time to also suggest that I should let him manage even more of our retirement funds than he has already since I clearly cannot even control my e-mail.

And then today my old friend and boss David, who took the time to write. His message:

I see things have gotten pretty tough in retirement.
And in your depression, the current consumption of
alcohol is clearly affecting your English language
skills. It is sad to see old friends fall this far.
If I can help, let me know.
I appreciate his concern, but I don't know what he means about my English language skills. After all, I was only trying to tell him a good news!

And seriously, I have no idea how malicious that e-mail was, but if you received it and opened it you should probably have your security software scan your hard disk for nasties.

Friday, September 3, 2010


I see the bad moon rising.
I see trouble on the way.
Creedence Clearwater Revival

This has been a biiiiiiig spending week for us, and I am keeping a close eye on our nest egg, looking for tiny cracks to appear. I am also keeping a close eye on myself for, as you will see, something strange is happening.

The week started with a Pearl Harbor-level attack on our pocketbooks when we committed to a kitchen renovation from a joinery that had quoted on the project. We both really like the guy who did the design and his quotation for the work was spot on to our budget. Mind you, I am slowly discovering that with the pair of us our "budget" is pretty much whatever we set aside to spend on something plus whatever else it takes to get the higher-priced options we end up falling in love with.

But my feeling is that we're in this house for the long haul and there is no room more important than the kitchen. OK, there is a room that's more important, but you wouldn't call it the heart of the home and you never sit around in it with your friends.

While driving from the joinery, we passed a shop with stoves and heating stuff in the window. I pushed down on the accelerator, but LK had already spotted it so we ended up going inside. Nope, we are committed to our new role as Tasmania's 2010 Stimulus Package.

Our family room downstairs is the only one that has no heating panel in it, and we did need to get something to make he room warm. LK had her heart set on one of those gas stoves with make-believe logs in them. Not too surprisingly, we discovered that once again she had zeroed in on the very most expensive heating option (mostly because we have only LPG and not natural gas). We took a look instead at the electric mock fireplace with phony logs option.

That's a picture of "The Brooklyn", one of the two we ended up buying. Didn't slip that "two" past you, did I? Well it's easy to explain. I proposed that we take the panel heater off the wall in the dining room and move it down to the family room and put the very attractive electric fireplace in the dining room. But during discussions it became clear that LK had her heart set on having a fireplace in the family room. But...... she really did like the idea of the fireplace in the dining room.

What the hey, I thought. We'll get both. Besides, I can still use that panel heater when we renovate our bathroom next year, so it's not really wasted. After all, once you commit to spending more than the GNP of a third of the world's nations just to get your kitchen done, a little bit more for one more fireplace isn't all that scary. See I told you it was easy to explain.

In fact, I was so getting into the shopping spirit that after the fireplace store, we went to a home store looking for cushions for our new kitchen chairs. Didn't find any there, but I bought a $250 table to go on the deck.

LK looked on in amazement and said something to the effect that I was never the one who bought stuff. I smiled, wondering myself what was happening to me. It had all started happening a week earlier when I had said we should extend the hardwood floor of the kitchen into the dining room, effectively doubling the cost.

I am always the one who harumphs and questions the spending. Why am I agreeing to everything LK wants? Even scarier, why am I suddenly proposing spending that even LK hasn't thought of? I have been the defender of the nest egg, but now I have become the one pecking away at it.

I fear I may have been bitten by a new breed of werewolf who was also a compulsive shopper. Is that why LK wanted me to grow a beard - so I wouldn't notice hair on my face?

It doesn't stop, by the way. Later at home we had to choose lights for our new kitchen. LK chose some lovely stuff. And after we'd agreed to get them, she pointed out that, yes, she had chosen the most expensive. I suggested that since the floor was extending into the dining room maybe we should add that lighting there, too. Oh my God, now I feel like howling.

I suppose it was inevitable that when she showed me some outdoor furniture online last night, I said, "Great. Let's get it!"


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Episode V: The Optusians Strike Back

Probably the last thing I expected to hear this week was LK spending much of her morning trying to renew her contract with Optus. Despite the fact that they made a mistake and disconnected her service and sent her to debt collectors, she decided to continue with the company.

Many Americans won't understand this since most cell phones there are linked to a particular phone company, but here we actually get to remove one phone company's card from our mobile phones and put in another company's if we wish to change carriers. Part of LK's problem today is that my phone stopped taking a charge, but realizing that hers had been discontinued I took out her Optus sim card and inserted my Telstra card.

Well, that's not the problem. My losing her sim card is the problem.

So, LK needed to call Optus to get them to send out a replacement card. She decided that, since my Telstra handset had crapped out, she may as well renew her contract for another two years and pick up a new phone that I could use.

I can only surmise she was not paying any attention the other day while I spent an incredibly long time on the phone with Optusians. So long, in fact, that I ran up a $35+ phone bill with Telstra trying to get Optus to drop its outrageous charges.

I considered it money well spent and assumed that LK would never have another thing to do with Optus. Remember, this is the woman who created hours of running around for herself when she yanked all her money out of her long-time bank because they made her wait about 10 extra minutes. Apparently in the LK rule book a rude bank teller is 20 to 30 times worse than being sent inappropriately to a debt collector.

And judging by today's conversation, apparently having to wait about 80 extra minutes on the phone isn't that big a deal, either. Or maybe my bride is just mellowing out down here in Tassie.

Today's battle started mildly enough. First she went through the automated choices until finally getting into a hold queue for about 10 minutes. Then she talked to one person who spent about 10 more minutes and finally referred her to another department. After what seemed like an amiable chat, they then referred her to another department.

After 15 minutes of waiting on hold she got through to an Optusian who told her she needed to speak with another department.

"But that's the department that sent me to you," she said. The Optusian then spun the customer wheel of misfortune until a new name came up and recommended that LK ring them.

I could go on in greater detail, but I think some selected quotes from my sweetie will tell the story better than I can. And by the way, I am not including the six or seven times she had to explain why she was calling:

  • (speaking to me, while she is on hold) "They told me it was going to be 2 1/2 minute wait, but when it came my time they put me in another queue. You could hear the clickover happen."
  • (speaking to an Optusian) "That's one of my problems. I don't know what the pin is. . . I never changed it from 0-0-0-0."
  • (speaking to me, while she is on hold) "I just thought I was going to end up with a better phone." [You all need to remember that she started doing this to get me a better phone. Because apparently LK had forgotten it.]
  • (speaking to me, while she is on hold) "Did we take care of removing the business name when we changed our address with them? My problem is that I am afraid to mention it to them."
  • (speaking to an Optusian) "I was told I need to use MyOptus, which I've never used. I was hoping Customer Service could help me with that."
  • (speaking to an Optusian) "This is now my fifth phone call within Optus. I keep getting transferred. I want to buy something."
  • (speaking to an Optusian) "What's interesting is that what came up with the login is my husband's name and not mine."
  • (speaking to an Optusian) "No, I'm sorry. I'm not laughing at you. My husband started laughing and it made me laugh. No, really. It's not you."
  • (speaking to an Optusian) "I don't know. Maybe that's me. Maybe eight years ago, I signed up for it. I don't know."
  • (hanging up) "They said they will send me an e-mail."
By the way, our (Telstra) phone keeps track of the time a call lasts. Her final call - out of five - lasted 58 minutes. Her final comments: "I just wanted to buy something."

My final thought. The Optusians won today.


A Postscript

After posting the above very nearly in real time, LK received the e-mail from Optus that gave her access to her MyOptus account. In order to buy the phone she wanted, all she had to do was link her Optus accounts.

Problem was she needed a secure code. Which, of course, she did not have.

Not a problem. They will send it to your phone via SMS. Well, not a problem for most, but it is for someone who is waiting for the sim card to show up so the phone will work.

Still not a problem. You can call customer service and they will help you do it.

LK decided to wait for the sim card.