Monday, 10 October 2011

Buy Nothing New. Fail.

Oh readers, I am ashamed. I pledged to Buy Nothing New. I have broken my pledge. I have Bought New Things.

This is like eating all of your butterscotch lollies in the first 30 minutes of the 40 Hour Famine and then going through McDonald's drive-through for a Big Mac meal and a box of McDonaldland cookies.

Let me walk you through how we got from the excitement of last Thursday to the shame of today.

Things started so well. Miss E and I visited my mum and requested the loan of a cake tin. I explained that I could not buy my own cake tin as I was Buying Nothing New! Mum searched her cupboard. She had to get so far into her cupboard, I thought there was a good chance she could reach Narnia and have a conversation with Mr. Tumnas.

Mum returned from the depths of her cupboard to report that my sister had borrowed her best cake tin. She'd gotten there about six months before me. Apparently, she is buying nothing new either.

However, Mum didn't return from Narnia empty-handed.  She gave me a slightly dented square cake tin. I accepted it happily and returned home feeling very pleased with myself and my commitment to my pledge to Buy Nothing New.

I used the slightly dented square tin to bake a banana cake.

I thought it was fine but then I removed it from the tin...

It resembled a giant slice of banana toast rather than a banana cake. To give you a sense of scale, the cake is sitting on a dinner plate.

I checked my recipe and realised I had omitted two of the required tablespoons of self-raising flour AND had used a tin that was far bigger than required.

I was slightly troubled by my banana cake's appearance but, overall, I was delighted. I was filled with satisfaction that only comes from taking a black banana, butter, eggs and some flour and producing a cake. This feeling was new to me.

Fuelled by my satisfaction, I became determined to own my own cake tins so that I could continue this lovely baking experience.

Mr. B's mum popped over for a visit so she joined Miss E and I on our quest to own cake tins. We set out on a journey to the local op shops.

I was filled with high op shop hopes. The op shop volunteers were extremely helpful. One kind op shop man embarked on a lengthy "out the back" search but, sadly, returned empty handed.

Our op shop visits were fruitless.

Undeterred, I put a message out to my Freecycle community. I asked the community if anyone had any cake tins they could spare. I love the Freecycle community.

Mr. B, Miss E and I left the house - with the banana cake - early on Saturday morning to attend a four-hour Child First Aid course. We discovered that someone had broken into our cars! No! Horrifying. Nothing had been taken but the locks were broken.

While we were aware that this was not the crime of the century, we thought the local police would like to be informed. We were very impressed by their response. The constable was very sympathetic and promised that the Crimes Unit would attend. However, he did laugh when I suggested that we "nail these bastards".

This incident really has nothing to do with my Buy Nothing New pledge but I thought you'd like to know about it.

I did receive word from two members of the Freecycle community. They had cake tins for me. Coincidentally, they were from the same suburb (as each other - not the same suburb as me). It must be a suburb where baking used to take place but no longer. Unfortunately, the suburb was very far away from our suburb. I wanted the cake tins but I didn't want to drive an hour to get them.

I left the house on Sunday morning to do the supermarket shopping. This is where things went downhill. I decided to have a quick look in Harris Scarfe. Danger.

It was at Harris Scarfe that my commitment to my Buy Nothing New pledge crumbled.

50% off bakeware.

I couldn't resist it.

I considered hiding the bags in the car until November, but, given recent events, decided that they would be at risk of being stolen.

So, I took my New Things into the house. I could see that Mr. B, as my husband, was fairly concerned, that I could make a public commitment and break it after three days.

The cruel tragedy is that I haven't bought anything new for months. But, that is no excuse. You can't eat a Big Mac during the 40 Hour Famine and say that you skipped dinner last week.

I called my mum to alert her.

Me: Mum, I have a problem. I broke my Buy Nothing New pledge. 50% off bakeware at Harris Scarfe.
Mum: Oh well, I think one cake tin is okay.
Me: I bought a cake tin, a cooling rack, a loaf pan, two mini muffin trays and some wooden spoons.
Mum: Oh.
Me: But it only cost me $30.35.
Mum: Oh! Great! Can you go back and get a cake tin for your sister?

Thanks Mum.

The Buy Nothing New campaign is offering a $5000 prize for the best documentation of the Buy Nothing New experience. I'd say I've disqualified myself. It is a shame. I could have bought some full-size muffin trays with that cash.

My three key points:

1. Be very careful about making a pledge and publicly announcing it.

2. Be very, very careful about entering Harris Scarfe when they have a 30% - 60% off sale.

3. Stay tuned for tales of my first forays into baking.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Buy. Nothing. New.

Miss E and I have signed up to participate in Buy Nothing New month. Well, I have signed up and Miss E is coming along for the ride. Miss E has no income, and lacks the fine motor skills to handle cash, a credit card or a keyboard. As a result, her personal purchasing power is quite limited. Buy Nothing New is Business as Usual for Miss E.

Buy Nothing New is a month-long challenge supported by the Salvation Army, the Brotherhood of St. Laurence and others. The idea is that, during the month of October, you only buy essentials (food, drink, medications, hygiene). The Buy Nothing New website explains that you can beg, borrow, barter, swap or buy second hand whatever you need. You just buy nothing new.
I love a time-based challenge. I especially love it when the name of the challenge is derived from the name of the month in which the challenge takes place - e.g. Movember, Ocsober. I have never neglected my personal grooming to the extent that I could participate in Movember. And, despite one or two nasty, vodka & orange related incidents in my past, I am not a big drinker and participation in Ocsober would really just be Business as Usual for both myself and Miss E.

Buy Nothing New does not have a name derived from the month of October, but it is very appealing to me.

My reasons for participating in Buy Nothing New are threefold:

1. Save money. I get a great deal of satisfaction from frugality. I love it. This challenge is fuel to my frugality fire.

2. Less stuff. Our home is very, very little. It looks better when it has less stuff in it. The less stuff I bring into this house means less stuff to tidy (or hide when people come over to make our home look tidy). It also means less stuff to eventually throw away.

3. Less landfill. I watched a report on 6:30 with George Negus and the landfill statistics were shocking. You can watch it here. I don't have sound on my computer so I can't watch it again to report on the stats so please watch the report or just take my word for it. Shocking.

So, I have pledged my participation. Of course, the minute I pledged, I thought of three things I'd like to buy: a cake tin, a cake cooling tray and a nice container for my clothes pegs marked "PEGS".

I never bake cakes but my mum had access to some very overripe bananas and she gave some to me- the black banana market at work, if you will - and they are crying out to be baked into a cake. This is hard to do without a cake tin. I did own a cake tin once. It was a groovy, silicone, roll-it-up, space-saving cake tin. Sadly, it has been rolled up and is currently saving space somewhere that is unknown to me.

 I have never owned a cake cooling tray but my anti cake baking tendencies have meant this has never been a pressing problem - until now.

The peg container is even more difficult to justify. Every day, I look at our pegs sitting outside on our window ledge in a very sad, wicker basket that doubles as a home for a delightful family of spiders, and I think to myself, "my plastic pegs deserve better". Of course, the pegs have lived quite happily in their wicker basket for many years but, no more! This situation is going to be improved.

I must be honest and inform you that, before I made the pledge, but after the commencement of October, I did make one purchase. After reading of our batsuit troubles, two very kind friends alerted me to a product of which I was previously unaware: Sleepy Wings (the pic below is from the Sleepy Wings website).

Sleepy Wings is "a versatile slumber jacket that provides parents assistance with their baby’s sleep, feed and scratching habits in the first year when a baby has little control of their own limbs". I know that a versatile slumber jacket does not sound like a necessity but, please trust me, that we need the assistance the Sleepy Wings promise to provide.

I did have a quick look on eBay to see if I could buy the Sleepy Wings second hand but I only found one auction and it wasn't ending for a week. We need the Sleepy Wings now. Through the course of my eBay search, I did find these creepy dolls which also have Sleepy and Wings in their name. I can't seem to save the pic but you can see them here.

My three key points:

1. I'm very excited to be participating in a time-based challenge. The last one I remember participating in is the 40 Hour Famine. My strongest memory of the 40 Hour Famine is eating a lot of butterscotch lollies.

2. Less stuff is good.

3. Stay tuned for tales of how we obtain what we need (or, more accurately, want) without buying anything new!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Secrets of a football supporter's wife

When I met Mr. B, he adopted a policy of full disclosure... he informed me, very early on, that he supports the Collingwood Football Club.

For those who may not be aware, Collingwood (also known as "The Magpies" or "The Pies") is an Australian rules football club which plays in the Australian Football League (AFL).

As Wikipedia explains, Collingwood has retained the reputation in the national competition as the "team everybody loves to hate".

When I met Mr. B, my feelings towards AFL could best be described as indifferent. I know that this is how my feelings could best be described because I checked to see if they were any better adjectives and "indifferent" was the best.

Mr. B's feelings for Collingwood can best be described with words that are antonyms for indifferent: attached, caring, loving, passionate, ardent. You get the idea.

Over the course of my relationship with Mr. B, my AFL knowledge has increased by approximately 98%. It is worth noting that it is quite easy for something to increase by 98% when you start from a very, very low base.

Through my relationship with Mr. B, I have become a member of the so-called "Magpie Army". I am proud to be in the army but, let's face it, if this was a real army, I'd be working a full-time job and going along to Army Reserves now and again. I don't think they'd be sending me out to the front line.

I have some secrets about my support for the Pies that I think it is time to share:

Secret #1: Was that a goal? What just happened?
Image source
Before I tell you my secret, I'd like to share some of my football knowledge with you. In AFL, if you kick the ball between the two tall posts, you get six points. If you kick it between the outer posts, you get one point.

My secret is this: I can never tell which posts the ball has gone between.

I have to wait for the response from others before I cheer or shake my head in frustration. A good rule is this: if the players start giving each other manly hugs, then it is time to cheer.

To be honest, I don't feel too bad about this one. It seems to me that sometimes goal umpires can't tell either. On Saturday, the Pies were given six points when they didn't kick it between the two tall posts (the ball hit the post which means one point... how do you like my knowledge?). My advice would be that if you can't tell which posts the ball has gone between, don't be a goal umpire.

Secret #2: Who is that?
Image source 
Mr. B knows the name of every player. His cheering is very personal and very specific (e.g. "Go Leon!", "Kick a goal, Trav!").

When I first met Mr. B, I was very keen to impress. I decided that one way to impress him would be to show him that I cared enough about the Pies to also be very personal and specific in my cheering.

My problem was that I didn't know the names of any of the players. So, I listened to Mr. B. He used two names which were familiar to me: Heath and Dale. I knew these names because they were also the names of software developers that I worked with at the time. So, at every match, I enthusiastically cheered on Heath and Dale. But I didn't know who they were. In my mind, I was cheering on my software developer buddies.

Please note that the two people in the picture above are football players not software developers; I am sure they are also very nice even if they are less familiar with the Microsoft .NET framework.

Secret #3: I am in love with a silver fox
This is actually not a secret. I am very vocal about my feelings on this topic. I talk about it with Mr. B and Mr. B's mum. I am in love with this man:
Image source

There is something about Mick's silver foxiness that is irresistible to me. I have seen photos of Mick as a young man - with brown hair - and he does nothing for me. On Saturday, the Pies lost the Grand Final but the news that really broke my heart was that Mick won't be taking up the Director of Coaching position at the Pies. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Mick though. I love you Mick!

My three key points:

1. Even though I can't always tell when they have kicked a goal, I support the Pies. Please don't love to hate me.

2. If you drew a Venn diagram and AFL footballers were in one circle and software developers were in the other, the area of overlap would be quite small but Heath and Dale would be in there and I would be cheering for them.

3. I love you Mick, you foxy minx.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

You Get a Car! And You Get a Car...

We all know that Miss E's batsuit is one of her favourite things. I was thinking today that, in her first five months, she has identified a number of other favourite things.

As I thought about Miss E's favourite things, my neurons connected me to Oprah and her favourite things. As Wikipedia carefully explains, "Oprah's Favourite Things" was an annual segment that appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show from 2002 to 2010... the audience members that were present during the taping of the episode receive items from that year's list for free.

In 2004, every audience member received a brand new car worth approximately $30,000. You get a car! And you get a car! EVERYBODY GETS A CAR!

This made me think... if Miss E was the host of a self-titled, multi-award-winning, nationally syndicated talk show, which had become the highest-rated program of its kind in history, what items would she be giving away in her annual favourite things segment?

If you were lucky enough to be in her audience today, you would receive three things:

1. Oven mitt!

You get a mitt! And you get a mitt! EVERYBODY GETS A MITT!

She loves this oven mitt with a passion. The only thing she loves as much as this mitt is the matching mitt that goes on your other hand.

She loves it when the mitts grab her cheeks.

She loves it when you use it as a puppet and it talks to her.

She loves it when the mitts dance around the kitchen - especially when they "vogue" 90s Madonna style.

Price: It is hard to put a price on this mitt. It has survived Mr. B's bachelor cooking and now resides peacefully in the second drawer down in our kitchen.

Side note: you may be able to see that I am modelling a polar fleece top as well as an oven mitt. Polar fleece is also one of Miss E's favourite things. Her love for polar fleece has been largely bred from familiarity: I have worn polar fleece almost every day since she was born.

2. Galah hand puppet!
You get a galah hand puppet! And you get a galah hand puppet! EVERYBODY GETS A GALAH HAND PUPPET!

Item #2 is actually very closely related to item #1. 

When I saw how much Miss E loved the oven mitt, I thought to myself, "Self, you need to buy this child a hand puppet".

So, off we went today and we found the galah hand puppet at our local op shop. I popped it into the washing machine and the galah hand puppet is as good as new.

After we returned home, we discovered that the galah hand puppet also has a squeaky noise feature. Love it. It has quickly rocketed up the "Miss E's favourite things" list. 

Price: $3. 

3. Night-Night, Baby!
You get Night-Night, Baby! And you get Night-Night, Baby! EVERYBODY GETS NIGHT-NIGHT, BABY!

Sometimes Miss E lies under her playgym and expresses her general dissatisfaction with the world around her. You show her Night-Night, Baby and she loves the world again.

I think she is secretly in love with the baby on the cover.

If she had fine motor skills, the cover of this book would probably be covered with texta love hearts.

If she had fine motor skills, Internet access and a credit card, she'd probably buy the domain:

Night-Night, Baby is not a particularly compelling read. It contains photos of a racially diverse group of babies as they complete their daily routine (e.g. eat, have a bath, and, of course, go to sleep). It lacks a convincing protagonist and a plot. However, Miss E loves it. Maybe it is like reading Who magazine for babies. She likes to know what the other babies are up to.

Price: $6.60 at The Book Depository.

My three key points:

1. Miss E is probably not quite ready for her own, self-titled talk show. We'll re-assess at 12 months.

2. Miss E needs to build stronger relationships with luxury brands so that she has some better stuff to give to her studio audience.

3. Babies really don't care about price when it comes to determining their favourite things.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Community service announcement

I am interrupting normal Three Key Points programming today to bring you a community service announcement.

I received an early morning text from my Mum today. Early morning text messages can be great (e.g. Baby X was born at 3am....) but they can also be not so great. This one was not so great. Mum was letting me know that she had fallen victim to a telemarketing remote access scam.

My mum is a very smart, very switched on lady. She would not claim to be an IT genius and she is not going  to be a CTO any time soon, but she knows her way around a computer. She is a one-woman promotion machine for this blog (thanks Mum), we are friends on Facebook and she loves to do a little online shopping now and again. She is no dummy.

Mum and I agreed that more people need to know about this scam so here is the story of what happened:

1. Mum received a phone call from a company claiming that they were aware of problems with the virus software on her computer. They sounded legitimate and professional. They emphasised the urgency of resolving this problem. Apparently, they will often claim to be calling from Windows, Microsoft, Telstra or BigPond.

2. They got her to go to their website and directed her to some links that made her believe there were serious problems with the computer.

3. They gained remote access to my Mum's computer and also obtained her credit card details to charge her for their "services".

4. They made several follow-up phone calls over the course of the evening.

5. Mum became suspicious. She googled. She realised she had been scammed.

This scam appears to have been going strong since about 2009 and it seems that they have been working their script to prey on common computer-related fears.

Once we realised the scam had happened, this is what we did:

1. Alerted the bank and cancelled the credit card.

2. Sought consultation from the people we know who fall into the category of "IT genius".

3. Made an appointment with Geeks2U - mum will be getting a home visit tomorrow to have her PC fully checked.

4. Called the police.

5. Posted on the Whirlpool forum for advice and moral support. I posted on this thread - - it was started back in 2009 and is still being updated regularly.

6. Called Scamwatch - a division of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. They have lots of info on this scam.

My call to Scamwatch revealed the following:

1. Scamwatch receive thousands of calls per week and the vast majority are on this scam.

2. The scammers will probably try to call my mum again.

3. Scamwatch have never received reports of identity theft stemming from this scam... their main focus seems to be to get the credit card details and make the single charge.

This scam makes me so mad, but I did read some funny responses that some IT savvy people have given when the scammers have called them. This is one of my favourites:

Responded to the question, "I understand your computer is running slowly, is that right?" with "No, actually my computer is, very literally, the fastest computer in the entire world." They hung up.

And this is another good one:

1. Pretend you know nothing whatsoever about computers. "The window? You mean the square box thing?"

2. Fake shock and concern that there is something wrong with your computer, thank them for taking the trouble to help you fix it.

3. Ask how much it is going to cost and whether they accept credit cards. Pretend to be really stupid.

4. Ask them to hold while you find your credit card.

5. Check the phone periodically. If you need to use it tell them actually you realised you are running Linux and none of what they said was making any sense to you because you were in terminal mode, but that the windows and everything sounded very nice while you were waiting for your compile to finish.

My three key points:

1. The people who are most likely to be victims of this scam won't be reading blogs or forums to learn about it. Please tell the story of what happened to my mum to all of your friends and family who you think could be at risk (even if you think it is a low risk, just tell them about it anyway).

2. You can sign up for e-mail alerts from Scamwatch. When a scam is on their radar and has been added to their website, you can be alerted. Even if you'd be unlikely to fall for a scam, it could be worth signing up so that you can spread the word and protect the people. I have signed up and it was easy. Next time you see me, I'll probably warn you about a scam so be prepared for that.

3. Stranger Danger! Don't take lollies from strangers. Don't let strangers into your computer.

If you'd like to learn more about this scam, check out these resources:

Monday, 26 September 2011

10 reasons I should not watch Junior MasterChef

While I am fully aware that I am not Australia's next MasterChef, I do enjoy watching television programs that have the word "MasterChef" in the title.

Case in point: Junior MasterChef.

The 2011 season of Junior MasterChef kicked off last night.

I have mixed emotions about Junior MasterChef.

I watch it, but it feels wrong.

I decided to work through my feelings and, in doing so, identified ten reasons I should not watch Junior MasterChef:

1. I cry when a contestant hugs his/her Mum.

2. I cry again when a contestant hugs his/her Nana.

3. I cry, yet again, when a contestant forgets to turn on the oven.

4. I get mad when a contestant uses the word, "acidity".

5. I get very mad when a contestant uses the word, "caramelisation".

6. I get very very mad when a contestant says, "Nicely done" to a judge cracking open a lobster.

7. I am perplexed by a contestant who makes pasta 2 - 3 times per week. Two words for her: Latina Fresh.

8. I feel disappointed in my own dinner - lamb chops with steamed vegetables (prepared in 12 minutes).

9. I feel very disappointed in my own dessert - Goulburn Valley fruit cup (prepared in 0 minutes).

10. I look at the 5 month old Miss E and wonder how long it will be before she can prepare a Spinach & Feta Beef Roast with Jus, Parsnip & Potato Mash, Roasted Truss Tomatoes & Broccolini.

My three key points:

1. Young children competing on television is both wrong and compelling.

2. It is possible to have too many feelings.

3. Where can I get one of those Junior MasterChef aprons for Miss E?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Polite fury unleashed on gardener

Late last week, Miss E and I were enjoying some quiet time when I noticed, what appeared to be, a hole in the bedroom window. It was not a massive, London-riots style hole, but still, it appeared to be a hole in the window.

I immediately investigated. At first, I could not believe it was a hole. I touched it. The tip of my finger was outside! No!

Using powers of deduction honed through the many hours of my childhood spent reading Trixie Belden and watching Murder She Wrote with my Nana, I quickly identified the culprit.

It was: The Gardener in the Garden with the Whipper Snipper.

I quickly tracked down the phone number for the gardener for our block of units and I prepared to unleash my fury on him.

Now, I should explain. My fury, even when it has been unleashed, is quite a polite fury. But, still, it is fury.

The conversation went like this:

My polite fury: Oh, hello Gardener! You appear to have made a hole in our window. Please come. Please resolve the hole situation!
Mild-mannered Gardener: No worries.

Oh. That was easy. I guess my fury showed him.

So, he came. He came the next day to investigate. He was lovely. He explained that this was only the second time that this had happened in twenty-seven years of gardening.

He returned this Wednesday with his gardening offsider. They expressed concern for the sleeping Miss E who was in the room requiring the new glass. We all agreed it would be wise to move her into her pram. They replaced the glass themselves. Apparently, gardeners are also glaziers.

He will be returning next week to touch up the window frame paint that got a little chipped.

My fury is now back on its leash.

That'll do, fury, that'll do.

My three key points:

1. Broken glass is bad news. While I enjoy the Annie Lennox ditty, "Walking On Broken Glass", I do not like to actually walk on broken glass.

2. Accidents happen. Especially when using a whipper snipper.

3. Polite fury can be effective. Unleash your polite fury once in a while.