smallglowYesterday we awoke to find Sydney bathed in a seriously eerie orange glow. Gale force winds had blown this dusty soup in from the west of our state. The day before, despite little water, this dirt had been trying really hard to grow our vegetables, so this colourful gift from mother nature pleased neither us nor our farmers. It was estimated that about 4000 tons of top-soil sprinkled down on Sydney alone and caused much mayhem as it did so. Planes and ferries were all cancelled, air-conditioners blocked up and many asthma sufferers rang 000 (our emergency number) to report severe breathing troubles. Even indoors you could smell and taste the dust and today the big clean up begins. Yes everything is covered in a red haze.

I took these photos in our street at about 7.00am and they show precisely what it was like yesterday morning. The last dust storm like this to hit Sydney, was back in 1939. As I pulled open Rodent Boy’s curtains and let the weird orange glow wash over his room, he leapt to his window, and noticeably struggled to make sense of this once in a lifetime event. In response to the inevitable “What the..?” I teased him it was ‘the revenge of the Rangas!’ Rangas is an Australian colloquialism for red-headed people, short for Orangutans. For a second he believed me.


If you’d like to see more pics taken by other people in Sydney click here


bsIt was Working Mum’s birthday yesterday. Being midweek, and due to the fact that she was also attending Rodent Boy’s parent teacher night before coming home, I decided to cook her a special meal. Coming up with something that is both sophisticated, yet palatable to the children though, is always a challenge. I consulted my guru, Taste.com.au and began to look through for inspiration. For some reason, my kids don’t like onions and mushrooms, so I insanely decided to make these my ‘theme ingredients’ – I’ve clearly been watching far too much Iron Chef! I also had some nice aged rump steak in the fridge so quickly arrived at Beef stroganoff and crispy potatoes. Yes, Working Mum would like this, it was suitably involved to demonstrate great culinary effort, a tad decadent befitting the occasion, and definitely within my skill level. It was also loaded with onions and mushrooms. Perfect!

Reading through the reviews I was further motivated by such comments; Best beef stroganoff ever; Both kids ate every bite; What a hit this was, my wife and our three year old both cleaned it up; Definitely going into the rotation. Some people did think there was perhaps a little too much onion. I however chose to follow the recipe without deviation except using rump not fillet and while yes, it did seem like there was too much onion at one stage, when it was cooked down and combined I thought it was fine.

So what did my tribe think? Well most importantly the birthday girl loved it! She even licked her plate clean like a little girl. A personal triumph for me though was seeing all three kids finishing their plates, onions, mushrooms an’ all. The crispy potatoes were also voted the best ‘chips’ ever! Compliment indeed! In summary, there are a few stages requiring a degree of effort, but it was all really worth it, so give it a go and let me know what you think.

tThey really are something else aren’t they? I just can’t believe I was this annoying when I was a teen.

Soldier Boy, who is 14, has really been pushing the envelope on the communication/entertainment front recently. Firstly, he ran up a massive bill on the home phone calling some girl’s mobile for hours at a time, usually while I was asleep. So I grounded him and declared all home phones must now be relinquished and stockpiled in my bedroom every night. Knowing I wouldn’t realistically be able to keep this up, I secretly also moved us over to a combined phone/internet plan which for $99 a month offers unlimited/untimed free calls to all mobiles and landlines Australia wide, as well as our cable broadband internet with 20 gigabytes of data download.

So what does he do next? He starts calling her from his mobile (one call was over 90 minutes) blowing his $30 cap plan to pieces. Instead of a bill for $30 for the month he got one for $197. I refuse to pay all these excesses of course, otherwise how do they learn? Besides, he’s got more disposable income than I do due to his lucrative neighbourhood junk mail delivery. Grounded again.

So I decided to reveal and carefully explain how the new ‘Fusion’ phone/internet plan works. A risk, because ‘fair-go’ policies do exist with this plan, but at least there would be no nasty cost surprises right? Of course there would be… he’s a teen. On the last day of the new plan, with 19.5 gigabytes used, he decided to download from iTunes three movies and Series 6 of the Family Guy purchased on my account. He did ask me of course, he had to, he needed the password, but indicated he just wanted to spend his iTunes gift voucher from Grandma. Yeh, okay I thought, $25, a few songs, that shouldn’t be a problem… He then proceeded to overspend his gift token by 400% which was annoying enough, but the real crime came when he downloaded the hi-definition files. That blew our 20 gigabyte limit and incurred $97.50 in excess download fees – almost doubling the monthly base rate of $99. Had he downloaded them the next day of course, then it would have cost nothing. $197.50 for four DVDs! Argghhh! Thought about grounding him yet again, but refrained from doing so as frankly, him staying in, is costing too much money.

Ah well, one day I’m sure I’ll laugh about these excesses. I’ve just about got over, and in fact beginning to now dine out a bit on the ‘Princess diaries’. I refer of course to how among other things, our sixteen-year-old Princess lost her passport in London earlier this year. After telling me it was gone said, “It’s alright dad, I hated the photo on that one anyway.”

cotWell I know it’s been a long time between drinks, but I haven’t forgotten you all, my dear, loyal readers. I cannot lie though, and in fact have a bit of a confession to make. For the last month or so, I have been shamelessly two-timing you all, planning and building another blog and business. Please let me explain. One night in February, I woke up wide awake, heart pounding with what seemed like a great idea for an eCommerce business – a niche that I was sure wasn’t being very well catered for. After seeking Working Mum’s permission – which was: “Yeh, go for it.” – I’ve been pretty busy ever since making it happen. I can imagine what you’re thinking (metaphorically), “So who’s this exciting young thing he’s dumped us for?”. Well, actually, I’m not leaving you, and would be very happy to tell you all about my plans right now, but given it’s of a slightly adult nature, and my least read post was (somewhat strangely) ‘Sex and the City‘… I guess I’m a little apprehensive to do so just yet.

The name of the business was obvious, basically it just describes what it is. But as this name was not hard to imagine, I was sure the domain name would have been long gone. To my utter amazement though, every suffix variation I could possibly want was available for purchase, so I did so immediately. Sounds expensive but actually, due to my service provider having a 40% off domain names sale that day, I was able to get all five of them for less than A$100 (US$64 or £45). This included the .co.uk and the one I’m using of course, the .com. I saw it as a sign!

Next step was developing a logo and website which, being a designer, I found relatively easy. But I am happy to admit that I knew very little about Internet marketing, other than it would be crucial to the success of the venture. There is a saying in the eCommerce world, ‘You can’t just build it and they will come’. Many podcasts and miles of dog walking later, my heartfelt thanks go out to Daniel and Andy from Internet Marketing and Sterling and Jay from The Internet Business Mastery Academy. I have learned so much from these guys and found the content they provide, not only invaluable, but also highly motivating.

I guess once the site is up and running, perhaps I’ll reveal all, and who knows, maybe some of you will visit and let me know what you think, even if it’s not exactly your cup of tea.

Princess returns

ppPrincess is now safely back home, although perhaps predictably the journey was not totally without incident. Upon arrival at Heathrow, London, she was unable to locate her passport. She knew she had used it coming into the UK from France four days earlier, but somehow in between then and this panic stricken moment, it had vanished. Just part of life’s rich tapestry I guess… Still, we are all very proud of her for making this trip alone to the other side of the world for seven weeks aged just sixteen. Everyone who spent time with her has commented on what a delightful, confident young woman she has become. It’s only a pity she managed to lose her brand-new laptop on the way in, and her passport on the way out. The laptop we got back mercifully, following me coughing up the £100 recovery ransom demanded by the courier company, and who knows, maybe the passport will also turn up one day. In the meantime though I’ve had to cancel it as required by law and pay the $100 lost passport ransom demanded by the Australian Government.

Quite how she’s managed to travel without one though is still very perplexing. She not only travelled out of the UK, but also gained entry into Australia using nothing more than beautiful eyelashes and her NSW Learner Driving Licence!

Needless to say, she had a fantastic time and plans to return to France in her gap year before university. But today it’s back to school for her final year and major HSC exams. She’s actually looking forward to this for some strange reason.

Rodent Boy also started back today. Now attending the same school as his brother, he wrestled me from a lovely dream at 6am this morning, fully dressed in his crisp new uniform, demanding breakfast. As you can probably tell, he is very excited and simply cannot wait to get there. Long may all this enthusiasm last I say!

sdSixteen year old Princess has travelled to France via London on a French exchange visit. She flies back at the end of this week. Following are extractions from emails sent and received between us.

Well as you can see our Internet is finally back on following the lightning strike. After a typical Sydney summers day, balmy hot then a nice refreshing afternoon thunderstorm, the impressive lightning strikes that pounded our region unfortunately, among other things, took down our local communications hub.

school’s been great and it was good to see all my friends again after the christmas break. i found that my language had improved a lot over the holidays and I was able to speak with much more confidence. it was snowing in the marseille area when school began again and apparently too dangerous for the teachers to drive, so we all got sent home. this is what they do here if a teacher doesn’t arrive. they don’t bother find a replacement, they just send us home.

At the other end of the weather spectrum our monotonous 30°C+ days are also proving quite debilitating at times. Grandma had a lovely stay over Christmas and is now safely back on her perch in Tasmania. Muppet dog is missing his little friend who I think he thought had come to stay for good. Personally I was glad to see the back of Grandma’s dog as he had a nasty habit of pooing in unexpected places. I stood on one in the garage with no shoes on getting out of the car then there was the little extra present under the Christmas tree on Boxing day. Mum has once again scraped both the front and back bumpers of my car (both in separate incidents). You will recall both bumpers have only recently been repaired from when she did the same thing last year. Sydney FC lost again and again and now can’t make the play-offs so our season is over. Did you enjoy skiing? You look like you did from the photos on Facebook.

skiing was fantastic and i simply cannot understand why we have never been as a family?

Well… as you know, Mum and I met on the ski slopes of Europe… well, technically we were still back in a dirty corner of London’s Victoria Coach Station that stank of piss. But as we waited to board the bus that would take us to Sauze d’Oulx, through the magic of love at first sight, we were already there, elegantly swishing down the piste together hand-in-hand under the bright blue Italian sky. My point is, that Mum and I love skiing and continued to ski here in Australia after we arrived. But then you and your two brothers came along followed by Mum’s dodgy hip and and my dicky knee and somehow I guess we never really mustered the energy required. Anyway Australia is not the greatest for winter sports (hence the distinct contrast between our performance at the Winter Olympics compared to that of the summer event). To enjoy the equivalent of the European Alps you really have to go to New Zealand and then you are talking major expensive holiday for the five of us. Anyhow, I’m pleased that you, a pretty young thing with your whole life ahead of you, have aspirations to do it again.

actually i have also decided i’m going to live in france.

cif2aSixteen year old Princess has travelled to France via London on a French exchange visit. She will be there until the end of January. Following are extractions from emails sent and received between us.

So you must be having a good time… given that we haven’t heard from you?

sorry, i havnt had access to a computer for a few days. sailing was good, pretty cold but much fun. the science camp was very dull though. i think it would have been dull even if it had been in english. i think astronomical talks in french would be a good thing to prescribe to insomniacs. the free time was fun though, and i really got to know people better. I’m hopefully going horse riding this afternoon, if it doesnt rain that is. im confused about when you want to skype. you need to say the day and time it is for me. i cant do tonight because we have a party at school for the spanish exchange students who go home tomorrow, so maybe at the weekend? miss you.

Grandma and her dog have arrived safely for their Christmas visit and they tell me that your bed is very comfortable. Although we don’t have a fish pond for her to fall into, we’re all watching her like hawks when she so much as even scratches her nose. I think we might be giving her a complex though, as she doesn’t really move around very much. Muppet dog has accepted the invasion of his turf, by her little dog. This small Shih-Tzu (which I think translated means ‘Lion Dog’) is living up to his name and confidently struts around the place like he owns it. Muppet just follows him around subserviently like some sort of canine man-servant occasionally performing acts of personal hygiene upon him. It’s an excellent demonstration from the little fellow, of the dog equivalent of ‘small man’ syndrome if you ask me.

who said she could sleep in my room?

Well all our Christmas shopping is done. The usual bun fight for parking at the mall was once again the worst bit. Thank heavens for air-conditioning in our cars as I’m sure this reduces the incidence of ‘car park rage’. Interestingly, we seem to have bought more online this year, which appears to be a current trend in consumerism. I’m taking Grandma to watch Sydney FC play Perth on Sunday. She’s never been to a football match in her life so about time she did I think. You can’t die having never chanted obscenities on the terraces can you? Mum’s a bit worried about her actually making it to the terraces to begin with, what with getting through the crowd an’ all; but we’ll take it slowly and stay well away from the ponds in Centennial Park. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s also going to wear one of my supporter shirts!

I hear you are off to Avignon for Christmas. I hope we can get to Skype you on the big day (for us or for you, whichever timezone is preferable). Mum would like that. It’s Rodent Boy’s last day at school today and he announced at breakfast that he wants to burn his uniform tonight. I tried to explain that this is not something you do when just moving to a new school aged nine, but more something Year 12s do when leaving school for good. He can’t burn it anyway, as we have a total fire-ban in place today. Anyway, I explained to him that it would be much more appropriate, not to mention more environmental, to recycle it to someone else. Sleep tight my Princess.