Friday, 28 December 2012

Lister Family Christmas

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Exchange rate dilemnas.. and a giveaway!!

In ex-pat land, sending money home is a frequent topic of conversation. We obsess over fractional movements in the exchange rate and try to hit the 'send' button at exactly the right time to maximise our pound for dollar exchange rate. At one point, I was hovering over exchange rates daily trying to figure out whether to pull the trigger or hang on 'just one more day' for a better rate.

What I didn't properly accept, what that all of this effort was probably in vain, because whatever I saved in rates I probably lost in the fees I was paying to transfer the cash in the first place! So, this Christmas as we head back to the UK for our annual trip to (a) see family and friends, (b) remember what cold really feels like and (c) keep the UK retail sector alive, I'm trying a different tactic to transfer our spending money.

Western Union is offering $0 transfer fees to any UK bank account, and claims to have better rates than Westpac, ANZ, CBA and the NAB.

Now I know that ANZ charges me $24 every time I make a transfer, and my UK bank definitely charges me about £20 to receive. With Western Union both of those fees are scrapped, but surely they will compensate for this in the rate? Well, I checked on 19th November and the GBP:AUD rate was 0.6189 with ANZ but 0.6248 at Western Union.

That Macbook Pro purchase I'm considering in the UK this Christmas is all of a sudden looking a little bit more justifiable ;-) In fact, it's a no brainer. Isn't it? Tom? Yes? Surely?!!!

So I've decided to give Western Union a go. They are a long established money transfer service, so I'm comfortable with their credibility, but this 'bank deposit' service is new.

It was very quick to set up an account, and I had done this, plus made my money transfer in less than 10 minutes. I got an email when it and arrived, and sure enough, no receiver fee from my UK bank. I think this is perhaps my new way of operating! I will point out that you have to use an Australian credit card to make the transfer, and your credit card provider might treat the transaction as a cash advance - so pay your balance immediately to avoid any fees on that side!

If you want to give it a go, visit Western Union here.

To celebrate the launch of this service, Western Union is giving away a hamper of British sweets to one lucky reader of my blog! Yes, sweets - not lollies! Pear drops, rhubarb and custard, jelly tots, wine gums.. you name it, a hamper full of these British classics could be yours.

All you need to do to enter is leave a comment on this post, telling us what your favourite sweet is! (Participants must live in Australia and the contest will close on 30th January 2013). Now, I'm off to write my UK shopping list....

 * this is a sponsored post

Sunday, 18 November 2012


It's been a quiet month for blogging as work and photography have kept me busy, but this week I got the chance to take three days away from normality and attend the second of five YLT conferences. YLT is a leadership development program run by workplace, which myself and 40 of my peers are participating in throughout the next 12 months. We spend five three-day conferences together in different locations around Australia, and this time we were in Victoria.

It is all about the soft skills - self-awareness, finding your values, and learning not just about who you but who you want to be. Sound like a load of waffle? I can understand why it might appear this way, but it's hands down the best training program I've ever done...

Here's a few photos from this weeks conference.

We started the conference with the Cape Schank beach walk before catching up with everyone on the beach:
After a long day of training, four participants organised a 'Mad Hatter's Tea Party', with fancy dress theme of 'what you want to be when you grow up' (as a child).. I wore a TV set fashioned from a cardboard box, as a TV news reporter! As I was the one with the camera, I have no photos of this at the moment...

We ate party food, played party games (egg and spoon race, musical chairs, pass the parcel), and Adrian won the prize for best outfit as a racing car driver. Lauren also celebrated her birthday!


Day two went by in a flurry without any photos, but the camera came back out for the closing session. Myself and three colleagues were responsible for organising an activity to close the conference. To end with some light-hearted fun we decided to 'sing the blues' and ask participants to compose a verse or two of 'blues' about what they had learnt on the conference. We then joined up all the verses to make a song. The result was a 'masterpiece', complete with poorly played harmonicas but bags of enthusiasm!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Golden Seeds - Part 1 : Planting

If you follow me on instagram (anyone? no, I didn't think so!) then you might have seen my weekly updates on my 'Golden Seeds'. I thought this perhaps needed some further explanation.

I have just started a year long training program that focuses on personal development. It's one of these courses that takes you on a bit of a journey of self reflection (click off now if you wish), and to symbolise the journey on which we are about to embark, all of the participants were given a packet of 'golden seeds'. In this packet were a mixture of Australian native seeds, and we were encouraged to plant them to remind us that 'from little things, big things grow'.

In the spirit of giving it a go.. here's the planting of my golden seeds. Check out my instagram for weekly updates.

Herb Garden

Thanks to Jamie Oliver and his Thirty Minute Meals which all require thirty different herbs, we have decided to plant some herbs on our balcony. This was a resounding failure in our old apartment as our pour little herbs were too exposed to the elements of Port Phillip bay, but we are hoping our new, more sheltered spot will provide a better home.

Tom planted some bigger, decorative pots and I was in charge of herbs. I chose rosemary, mint, coriander and oregano.I was not praised for my selection, as Tom insists we have never ever used oregano in a recipe before... well, you never know what Jamie will require next!

Here's a few planting pics:

Swinging past Sinagpore

En-route back from Thailand we whizzed through Singapore. We had an eight hour stopover during the daytime, and in between immigration, baggage collection, transport, and all the other admin surrounding air travel, we managed to sneak in about 3 hours in the city..... and, we were really impressed!

It was very east-meets-west, had fantastic shopping, great transportation and interesting modern architecture. It also happened to be qualifying day for the Singapore Grand Prix, so there was an extra buzz around the place. Literally.

Here's a few photos, and a promise to return to Singapore before too long and look around properly...

 Shopping mall boating lake anyone?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Eight months on...

Having brought our wedding forward by 8 months, it seem only fitting that we should push our honeymoon back by a similar amount of time. In fact, the truth is that romanticism got shunned for practicalities immediately after our December wedding. I had to return to work, and as soon as I was able to take a break, the football season had started which meant that Tom was occupied. So, this is how we wind up, nearly nine months after our wedding, sitting in Koh Samui airport after six nights of glorious relaxation in Thailand.

It was worth the wait.

We have spent the week at the Mantra Samui - a boutique resort nestled in the Bophut hills. It is not only a long way from anywhere, but separated from the hustle and bustle by a long, bumpy, steep and windy road. We picked it on a whim in an Expedia sale that had 90 minutes left to run at 10.30pm one Sunday night, and it was a calculated gamble that paid off.(I say calculated because naturally we consulted trip advisor before booking).

Our room was luxurious, the view was like a postcard, the infinity pool was an aqueous haven, and the staff were friendly. However it was the attention to detail that made this hotel so memorable. Notes on our pillows at night time, beach bags and flip flops provided, complementary juice shots by the pool, golf buggies to drive you around the resort, the mantra signature dog toy on our beds (which incidentally made a great iPad stand), and little 'mantras' written everywhere from menus to staff uniforms to the pavements...

'there are two sides to every story ' (etched in the pavement)

'you are beautiful' (in the bottom of every rubbish bin)

and so on...

Our lazy days by the pool were accompanied by a highly amusing sound track of popular western songs, transformed into easy listening background music by Thai covers. A good chunk of the songs were typical easy listening titles - Careless Whisper by George Michael, a bit of Lighthouse Family, you get the picture. But then, we had slow ballad covers of YMCA, Bring Me to Life, I will Survive, Mr Brightside, and to top it off, Radio GaGa from We Will Rock You. Hilarious.

The food from the hotel restaurant was delicious and served a range of Thai stir fries and curries, as well as the best pizza I've had in years! One night the staff from reception performed Thai dancing, which was slow and intricate and involved bending their hands into shapes that are not anatomically possible for me or Tom. I'm wondering if this results from (a) a genetic predisposition to supple joints in Thai people, (b) a regime of childhood stretching or (c) Tom and I being severely inflexible.

The latter is definitely true if our yoga lesson was anything to go by. Our Thai paradise seemed like the ideal time to try yoga, although I didn't expect our teacher to be a cockney ex-pat who reckoned he had 'done a couple of courses'! I also didn't expect our honeymoon to degenerate to the lows of Tom exclaiming, 'who's idea was this?!' as our new cockney friend pushed him to the limits of his flexibility, and then some more. After a reminder that we were in fact on holiday, and would like to be able to walk tomorrow, he eased up on us. For the record, Tom was far better than me!

We made trips to two local areas during our stay. Firstly, the town on Chaweng, which was typical tourist Thailand (let's call it TTT). TTT consists of rows of shops selling counterfeit goods (handbags, sunglasses, DVDs etc), beaches lined with tacky bars and jet skis for hire, rows of hungover sunburned bodies, and countless locals offering services (taxi, massage, both?!) or asking for money. There was also a car driving circuits playing 'Final countdown' at full volume advertising Thai boxing. One circuit and a Diet Coke was enough for us to experience TTT before we moved on. The highlight for me was a Boots store selling UK cosmetics, where everything was on 2 for 1!

Secondly we visited Bophut village, which has retained more Thai culture and was less touristy. We had a delicious cocktail by the beach and the water was warm and clear. The quality of  accommodation for tourists was very high, but when venturing outside of the resorts the diversity of the local surroundings was significant. There were pockets of land strewn with litter and shacks for houses interspersed with much higher quality dwellings. The majority of locals use mopeds for transportation with no helmets and with children standing up between adult's knees! I had expected the roads to be a fast and scary experience. In fact the pace of traffic was very slow (thanks to scooters with small engines dictating the pace). It was the different perception of acceptable distance between vehicles that got me however... My foot was hovering over the break pedal from my back seat driving position!

The week has ended in record time, and as with all good things it has come to an end. I write this from Samui airport departure lounge (side note - just spotted a cat for first time ever in a departure lounge!) from where we will fly to Sinagpore for a few final hours of holiday before returning to Melbourne. Dinner on our last night was like the final of Strictly Come Dancing. We put on our best  clothes and ordered our favourite menu item from the whole week, plus a little something special that we had saved until the very end! There was no trophy, but we leave Thailand with tanned skin, relaxed minds, less baggage, more flexibility and a dot to dot puzzle of insect bites on our legs.

Thank you to the guests of our Aussie wedding party who kindly contributed to our wonderful  honeymoon experience... we won't be forgetting this in a hurry! x

Saturday, 1 September 2012

365: Saturday 1st September 2012

Happy birthday Lou!

365: Wednesday 29th August 2012

Back to Jamie for more Thirty Minute Meals.

365: Sunday 26th August 2012

As you do... ?!

365: Saturday 25th August 2012

Once upon a time, today was going to be our wedding day! Instead we went out for breakfast, only a few days off 8 months of marriage :-)