Rotten Tomatoes

Have you seen any rotten tomatoes lately? Really, nobody wants to see or smell rotten tomatoes. I only want the fresh, plump and juicy variety on my kitchen bench. A few weeks ago, there was an overabundance of tomatoes in the supermarket. I was buying these for $3kg. Yesterday, they were $7.90kg. In between, what happened? Were there that many tomatoes that they perished on the vine, while the next crop was still ripening?

Whatever the price, tomatoes are regularly in our daily diet. As we consume so many tomatoes I will be pleased when we are growing our own. This will happen once the vegetable garden patch is sorted. Our last attempt to grow tomatoes was unsuccessful, mostly due to the birds. They and/or the possums randomly ate the tomatoes and what we ended up with was a vine of rotten tomatoes. The ones we picked early never ripened. Even the cherry tomatoes that are the easiest to grow were attacked by predators.

I think it is payback because we don’t provide any seeds for the birds or food for the possums that visit our garden. We aim to be self-sufficient and therefore expect that the wildlife visiting our garden, will also be self-sufficient. Our helping hand, at least for the birds, is to grow trees and shrubs that provide seeds and nectar from the flowers. Rainbow lorikeets love to feed on native flowers. Right now, the birds are overdosing on the nectar from a flowering gum on our property. This is great for the birds, but the noise at 6am or earlier is deafening. Is this a message to me that I should be getting out of bed? I should think about that one for a little longer!

The bad news is that the combination of birds and possums meant no home-grown tomatoes for us! They decimated our crop even though we did our best to protect them with plastic netting. There is good news though. If you, like us, live in South East Queensland tomatoes can be grown all year round.

This is when our tomato crop looked promising before the predators took over!

Tomatoes like the sun and we have plenty of this in the Sunshine State, Queensland. Even though, today and for the rest of the week it is expected to rain. To get ready for our next attempt at growing tomatoes I researched the topic. This is what I came up with.

  1. Tomatoes like full sun (at least 8 hours a day)
  2. Good drainage in fertile soil (prepare soil in advance)
  3. Water (water well after planting; never let the soil dry out, but don’t overwater)
  4. Mulch (straw or sugar cane)
  5. Regular feeding (compost and chook poo. You can get chook poo in pellet form if you don’t have the real thing)
  6. Alkaline soil (dolomite 6 weeks before planting. You can also by a kit to check the ph level in the soil. Aim for 6.5)
  7. Staking (for taller plants staking is essential)
  8. Pinch back suckers if they start growing below the first flower cluster. Pinching out any sucker that grows on a branch will put all the growth energy into the flowers. The tomato yield is much higher with this “pinching out” practice.

There are many choices when it comes to growing tomatoes at home. For our next planting, I would like to try the Grosse Lisse again. They are a round plump tomato and everyone tells me they are easy to grow. That is, once the predators and pests are taken care of. Father Tom is also another option as it is fast growing and has superior resistance to disease. That is what I need a tomato vine that looks after itself. The Roma and Cherry tomatoes are a favourite. Then I discovered that Mama’s Delight is great for novices like me. Perhaps also the heirloom variety, Tommy Toe or Mortgage Lifter. The story behind the latter is about a fellow who was growing tomatoes to boost his income. He had so much success with the tomato he paid off his mortgage 6 years early. Hence its given name.

Pests are my worst nightmare when growing tomatoes. We are working on keeping out some of the pests by closing in our vegetable garden. But it doesn’t end there. Crop rotation reduces disease. Yet, we still need to deal with caterpillar grubs, the fruit fly and aphids. There are products available however our aim is to grow organic tomatoes.  If we have a pest problem we will deal with it at the time. It is all about journeying in life “learning as we grow”. Once I learn as I grow, my joy of having a Mediterranean Garden will also grow.

I love the rich red colour of tomatoes when contrasted with the rich purple of a black plum.

TOP TIP: Ripen tomatoes by putting in a brown paper bag with a banana. Tomatoes taste better if they are not refrigerated. Though, to keep mine fresh, given the hot weather in Queensland, after tomatoes are ripened, I like to keep them in the fridge.

The Versatility of Straw

There are many things we can do with straw – it has so much versatility. One of these is to make a straw scarecrow. Years ago, when I lived in Maleny there was the annual scarecrow competition. It was the 1990’s and the Maleny Scarecrow Festival was one of Australia’s first and best scarecrow festivals. The Maleny festival ceased and the Mary Valley Scarecrow Festival took over. It is held every October (October 7 – November 11, 2017). This could be a great way to spend a weekend, soaking up the sights, tastes and smell of the Mary Valley (between Gympie and Imbil, Queensland). But there is much more you can do with straw.

Think back to the story of the “Three Little Pigs”. It is a fairy tale is about three pigs, who built their house of different materials. They used straw, sticks and bricks. The BIG bad wolf blew down the first two houses made of straw and sticks but could not blow down the house make of bricks. Since the “Three Little Pigs” story much has changed with building materials. These days all you need is “straw” to build a house. Gather a little here and a little there and suddenly you have a cosy and sustainable house; a straw bale house.

If you are thinking about building a straw bale house, look here for some practical and informative advice. Building a straw bale house will be cheaper if you do it yourself or gather a few friends to help. It will cost more if you engage a designer and contractor. Like me, you may have seen some of the housing projects people embark on in the television show “Grand Designs”. Kevin McCloud, after many years of hosting the show, knows about design and the challenges of house building. He does not have his head in the clouds like many of those who appear on the show!

Another purpose for straw is bedding for chickens. Princess Chickens, is what I called my hens when I lived in Maleny. They are the ones who get treated like royalty, have plenty of straw for bedding in their Palace (aka coop). Throw a little sawdust on top and you have very happy chickens as they scratch around looking for a hidden treat!

My Princess Chickens in 2015 enjoying the “good life”!

Chickens are very inquisitive. Straw is a very good bedding material for chickens in the coop. You can also scatter straw in their run. My chickens always preferred wood shavings in their nesting box.

When you want to mulch the vegetable garden, look no further than straw. As I mentioned in an earlier post we are revamping our vegetable garden. I will invite you into our vegetable patch when we complete the work in a month or two!

Straw is very versatile. We use straw for construction, animal feed and bedding, horticulture, basketry, clothing and straw hats. The traditional sandal of Koreans are made of straw. They are called Jipsin. Paper is made from straw, as is rope. Straw is very useful, adaptable and versatile.

Straw is representative of life. Straw is a by-product of wheat and wheat sustains us. From wheat, we make flour and with flour we make bread. If we started from scratch, by planting wheat, it would take a while before we had bread to eat. Thankfully, we have those who work on the land to grow wheat and all we have to do is reach up to the supermarket shelf and take home our flour. The other day I bought my usual 5kg bag of Kialla Organic unbleached flour (not available at the supermarket). While not everything we eat is organic, it is better to go organic where we can as there are less pesticides and preservatives in our diet.

Before reading this did you ever think about  the versatility of straw? Straw is a little like life. Life gets better if we embrace its versatility, make the most of what we have and adapt to life’s challenges.

Daily, I gather the “straws of life” and do the best I can with what I have. Straw is life-giving and life is an ongoing task of work and play and gathering up the moments. When we gather together with family and friends a complete picture of our life emerges. If we, like straw are versatile, we can cope with what life throws at us and come out from under the bale of straw into the daylight!

Letter to Malcolm

On February 17th, I wrote a post titled “People, Passion and Politics”. It mentioned a letter I wrote to the Prime Minister of Australia regarding the changes to the Age Pension assets test. At the time, I was waiting for a response. I received it the day before my birthday.  A happy birthday cheer from the Hon. Mr Malcolm Turnbull, MP! Though when I opened the letter it was not on the Prime Minister’s letterhead.

My letter had been referred to the Minister for Social Services, the Hon Christian Porter MP, as the matter was within his portfolio responsibilities. Then the letter was given to an A/g Branch Manager from the International and Means Test Policy Branch. I was not sure what A/g stood for and went to the internet for guidance. One meaning was “air to ground”. But that didn’t sound right. I went back to my first hunch of a new shortened version for “acting”, that is, doing someone else’s job while they are “acting” somewhere else or on leave.

I scanned through the letter looking for a response regarding the Prime Minister’s view on establishing an Age Pension Tribunal, like the Parliamentary Salaries Tribunal. No mention of this anywhere in the letter. There was other information, some of which I will share in this post.

The emphasis, once again, was on the age pension being a “safety net”.  The new terminology of “safety net” instead of “entitlement” is an outcome of The National Commission of Audit Report 2014, “Towards Responsible Government”.

If a person meets an asset test they are “entitled” to an age pension or part thereof. No sorry, not “entitled”, but eligible. Note: a synonym for “eligible” is “entitled”. All that is happening is a play with words.

The letter I received was both a lecture and a history lesson. The lecture began with telling me that the “Age Pension is funded by taxpayers, and targeted through the means test to those who need it most”. The writer of the letter obviously did not read my post of January 23rd titled “The Naked Retiree and Age Pension Entitlements”. This detailed the history of the National Welfare Fund, dating back to the 1940’s in Australia. The writer stated that “those most affected by the changes would only have to draw down around 1.8% of their assets to make up for the loss of their part pension”. Note: assets also include furniture, cars, boats, caravans, jewellery etc. These assets cannot be drawn down on!

Given the poor interest rate return on cash investments the age pensioner will soon be eroding their capital. I spoke to one retiree recently who has $600,000 invested in a term deposit account. For six months, they will receive 2.7% interest or $8,100 on their money. Due to the changes, they are over the threshold of $542,500 and their part-pension ceased as of 1 January, 2017. To maintain a comfortable lifestyle this person requires $43,372 a year. Even with $16,200 of interest yearly another $27,172 is needed annually. It is clear to me why there are some unhappy people who settled into retirement under the “old” social security rules. Eventually though, once this person draws down on their capital over time they will again qualify for a part-pension.

If we are not careful our money, it will just slip away – out of our wallet!

Ian Wallace from the Courier-Mail wrote an article on 2 January, 2017. He stated “I suspect that outbursts of the most vocal and perturbed objectors to the changes to the aged pension are all about greed not need. People do not like to talk about greed, but really how much money in retirement is enough? There is nothing wrong with enjoying an affordable level of living and lifestyle, but a sense of entitlement is creating the most demanding generation in Australia’s history.” More rhetoric about “entitlement”. Yet, that is how it was set up by the government! It appears retirees are a “greedy bunch”. What can they do now? Sorry kids, we are spending your inheritance.

It would have been okay and retirees could have kept the title of “greedy bunch” if they stopped living so long! This is the biggest problem. People are living longer and that was not anticipated by the “greedy politicians” who were unwise in their spending habits and decision-making. Now the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990 must be changed. This is because politician’s working entitlements to do their job is no longer an “entitlement” but a “work expense”. A change of words to make it more palatable and acceptable to the Australian public.

Another question I asked was about the “entitlements”, sorry “work expenses” of current and former Parliamentarians. The A/g Branch Manager suggested I may wish to raise this matter directly with Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance. In my days, when I was working for the State Government, we would refer the matter to the Minister on behalf of the constituent for a response! We live in changing times!

This is the world I live in, these are the permutations of the world, I and others must accept. We have no power to protest, except at the voting booth. It is no wonder that the major parties are worried about what the populist think of them. There is much discomfort due to the rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party. One Nation are not proposing to change the threshold for the assets test or the taper rate however they will increase the age pension for those on the lowest income and will oppose the family home be included in the assets test. That is a positive step forward.

Sometimes we need to take time out and contemplate the deeper issues of life!

The issues facing older Australians are only one matter. Everyone is dealing with rising energy costs, daily cost of living, housing affordable, increasing household debt, homelessness, health and education costs. Where is it all heading? In The Weekend Australian, March 4-5, 2017, there was an article titled “Turnbull reaches the Tipping Point”. In case you have just returned to Australia after 3 years in Mongolia, Turnbull is our Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull (the person I wrote my letter to). Not only has Turnbull reached the Tipping Point, the Nation of Australia is at a Tipping Point economically – too much debt, too much deficit. Whatever you think of Pauline Hanson, maybe she is right, by saying if we don’t address the “real” issues we will become a third world country. At the very least, Australia could lose its AAA credit rating and then there would be a gradual decline into a depression.

I certainly hope a financial collapse can be avoided by clever management of the budget: federal, state and household. This weekend, through the Western Australian, State election, we will all be enlightened as to how people vote when the nation is at a tipping point. I will be closely watching the result.  This could well be the “compass” for the future direction of politics in the Australia.

Time Management Between 5 to 9

The 5 to 9 principle is a key to assist me in understanding how good I am at time management. Do you think you are too busy to time-manage? Or, are you one of those people who says “it never worked for me” or “just not necessary”? Maybe it never worked because you never stuck at it long enough. I am a great supporter of time management. Yet, since I retired I have gone off-track in successfully managing the time available to me during the day. Busy people are great time-managers. As the saying goes “if you want something done, give it to a busy person”! Right now, at my time of life, I have more flexibility with my time. This can be both a positive and a negative, depending on how I use the 24 hours in a day, the 1440 minutes. To re-evaluate my time management I examined what I do with my time between 5 to 9, rather than concentrate what happens between 9 to 5. If you are working in a 9 to 5 job, 5 days a week, then that period of the day is taken care of. Time then to move to the 5 to 9 principle of time management.

What we do between 5 to 9 can make or break our day! At different times of our lives we manage time differently. Take, for example, a mother with a young baby working in an office. I have been there and I was up early and attending to tasks so that I could be sitting at my desk by 9 a.m. Now as a a retiree I don’t have to get up too early unless I have set goals and have planned my day.

Planning our day and week is essential if we want to be good time managers.

It does not matter what planning tool is used to plan our week. It can be as simple as writing key tasks and goals on a calendar or in a diary. I have fallen into the habit of keeping my tasks and goals in my head, with the occasional list, however that is not fully working for me. Even though I have set days for particular tasks there are still hours in the day unaccounted for! My current way of planning my time is not working because I want to achieve more with the time available to me. My One & Only (O&O) and I write appointments/activities on our calendar. This is a good start but it is not the complete answer to managing my time better.

If I plan my day I will achieve more with the 1440 minutes I have in the day. If I don’t plan I am like the waves of the ocean, rolling from one task to another without much thought.

The 5 to 9 principle starts at 5 a.m. Usually, I am still asleep! Should I get up earlier? Not in the winter in Toowoomba. That is when I hibernate!  Just like bears, I slow down in the winter. But if I don’t start my day until 7 a.m. I have already lost 2 hours that I could have used. This morning I planned, in my head, to go for an early morning walk today. It happened and my O&O were out walking at 6.30 a.m. If I used the four hours before 9 a.m. I would achieve great things! When I was studying many years ago I got up at 4 a.m. to study. I found that I achieved much more in those early hours between 4 to 7 than I would have later in the day.

When I was conscientiously planning my week I discovered a freedom that I did not have before. Now, since lost! I must get back into strategically planning my week. I say strategically because knowing my intended plans for the week will free up my mind to concentrate on the task at hand. When I don’t do this I am continually thinking about what to do next! When I plan my week I start with working out my priorities for the week. Planning can also mean giving ourselves permission for “down time”. That is, time for self and/or time with our partner/family.

In all my reading about planning over the years I found it does not have to be regimented. If we plan, we make the decisions what we do with our time. As we are the creator our our plan, we can also change and modify our daily/ weekly plan. If I concentrate on the 5 to 9 period x 2 in my day it gives me a window into how good I am using my time. Most days at 5 p.m. I start dinner preparation. I could also use this time to go for a walk. The weather has worked against me getting out and walking. We have had a heat-wave and at 5 p.m. or even 6 p.m. it has been too hot to walk. It makes sense then to go walking at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. The 6 a.m. sounds like a more sensibly time to me. If it is my aim to maximise my time between 5 to 9 am in the morning then by the time it is 9 in the evening I should be thinking about going to bed! The favourite television show will have to be recorded and watched at another time. That is, if I am serious about managing my time and not lapsing into a time waster!

The best way to manage my time is simple enough. I first identify my priorities and block this time out. The next step is to write a list of activities/tasks I want to achieve in the week. Then it is time to work out what day/time these will be scheduled. It is March already and time is marching on. I best plan so that the time I have does not just slip away. If I plan and schedule tasks/activities I will be more on track to reflect on my week and congratulate myself on my achievements. What about you? Do you plan your day/week? What works for you that might also work for me? Do you believe in the idiom “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”?

The Art of Waiting

If we do not like waiting, is it because we have not mastered the “art of waiting”? Is there an “art of waiting” and where do you and I come in the queue, when it comes to waiting?

These days everyone is in a hurry. It seems no one likes to wait! Fast food outlets; fast coffee outlets or pre-orders for your coffee; pre-packaged food in the supermarkets and even meat is marinated and or pre-chopped, for our convenience.

When my O&O and I go shopping we only need to look at our own behaviour to realise, we have joined the queue of the “I don’t like waiting”.  We look for the check-out aisle that has the smallest wait time. Then when we go to fill up the car with petrol, we either go at a time when the petrol station is not busy, or we look for the shortest queue.

If we want to go out to dinner and don’t want to wait, we book a table. Today, there are some restaurants and cafés that don’t take bookings. What! We might have to wait! Maggie Beer’s Farm House Restaurant is one restaurant that does not take bookings for lunch (they are only opened during the day). What would my O&O and I do to overcome the wait? We would make sure we were there early enough to be one of the first to get a table, or at the very least, up front in the queue.

One of the best examples of “having to wait” is due to pregnancy. It is, without a premature birth, a nine-month waiting time. This time is spent in anticipation, excitement and preparation. Similarly, if building a new house – we wait! The anticipation, excitement and preparation keeps us busy without focusing on the “waiting period”.  In these circumstances, we like to wait as we need the time to get ready for the time when the project comes to an end.

One of the worst waiting times for me is when we have been selling a house. Our most recent experience in 2015 was difficult. Mostly, this was because we liked the house to be presented at its best and this meant being ready, always, during the waiting period. The waiting period is exacerbated if a property does not sell. It must be both costly and frustrating for people who need to move out of their home and move to a new city or town for work. The waiting time is tough. Yes, waiting is an art.

Then there are people who do not seem to have a care in the world when it comes to waiting. I believe there are not too many of these around. If you are one of these people who like to wait, can you please share your secret with me. On the other hand, are you pretending, with your laissez faire approach to waiting, that this is perfectly fine! No waiting is not always fine, but it is something we must live with. The best approach then is to find ways to fill in the waiting time – activities that we enjoy or those that will help take our mind off the “waiting time”.

Are you like me when it comes to waiting for a trades-person or invited guests to arrive at your home for a meal? If they do not turn up at the arranged time doubt arises. Were we clear about the time? Did they forget they were “coming for dinner” or was it tomorrow the trades-person said he would arrive to assess the job and quote? We then contemplate whether we should we give them a phone call or text. It is much easier today, if you have a mobile phone, to text to say “I’ll be a little late”. If you don’t get a text, then during the waiting time you wonder “what should I do”. As I mentioned earlier, keep busy, do something, don’t just sit and wait and frustrate!

Just hanging about …..waiting!

There are occasions in life, that we have no choice but to wait for others. One area we should not wait is to wait for others to make us happy; waiting for others to fulfil our needs; waiting for others to encourage us or waiting for other to make up their mind. In these areas, we cannot or should not wait forever. We must take the initiative. If we wait, we may wait a lifetime! Waiting for others to make us happy, is a sure way to make us feel sad. Waiting for God to answer a prayer could mean we are asking and waiting for the wrong thing. Waiting for love is a sure sign that we should just get on with life and firstly love ourselves. After this, love has a strange habit of turning up.

What is the moral in the “art of waiting”? Firstly, for me, it is to accept those daily situations where waiting is part of life. There is nothing we can do to change the situation. It is best to “go with the flow” rather than swim against the tide. Secondly, I must challenge myself to go beyond waiting. That is, to live my life to the fullest, to keep busy, to set new goals, projects and activities for my life. Then something amazing happens – during the waiting time! I discover that it is more comfortable to swim with the tide and accept that “waiting” is part of the flow of life. Then, before I know it, I find I have mastered the “art of waiting”.

 

People, Passion and Politics

Where you find people, you usually find passion and politics. People, whether they are our loved ones or friends, people are important. We rely on other people. It is difficult to live a life without communicating and caring about others.

I have heard people say over the years that life is better if you find and follow your passion! Is it that easy, I ask myself? Sometimes finding out what we are passionate about can be the most difficult activity. If you are a regular reader of my blog you may have noticed that I write on light-hearted subjects and then others that are socio-political. This is because I am passionate about human rights and social justice in all its many forms. My passion comes from my values, attitudes and worldview. I get passionate about “bad” decisions made by government leaders. Decisions that impact poorly on people and their well-being.

Now I am retired I can spend more time contemplating social and political issues facing older Australians. But, should I leave human rights and social justice alone and move into lighter topics! Walking more lightly on the planet, being environmentally conscious and living simply. Yes, I should do that. If I live simply I become more reliant on myself rather than others providing for all my needs. I then become more aware of my habits as a consumer and the impact these have on the environment. But then, even if I wade into these topics I find I am wading into the “political”. Life is full of politics and rather than sit on the sideline I like to get involved. I am interested in the decisions of government at every level that effect my life and others well-being.

I am annoyed about the changes to the age pension that impacted negatively on so many people. The goalposts were moved when the match was still being played. Imagine if that happened at a football match. Rioting would follow.

Tasman Arch is in Tasman National Park, Tasmania. It is the remains of the roof of a large sea cave, or tunnel, that was created by wave action over many thousands of years. The pressure of water and compressed air, sand and stones acted on vertical cracks (joints) in the cliff, dislodging slabs and boulders. The arch will eventually collapse, like any government that erodes the trust of people.

All on my own, I decided to have a “small” riot. My riot, my personal ruckus, has not even rippled the water! The first part of my ruckus on 5th January, 2017 was to write to my local federal Minister, Dr John McVeigh (Member for Groom). An automated reply on the same day included “if it’s not immediately clear in your email that you are from Groom, you may wish to resend it with your address details”. After 2 weeks, I thought maybe my Post Office Box address, which is in the Groom Electorate, was not sufficient. I then re-forwarded the email with my residential address. Another automated response. Six weeks on from when I first sent the email, no reply.

In my email to Dr McVeigh I asked for a “please explain”. Was this my first mistake? The query was how $2.4 billion will be saved by the introduction of changes to age pensioner entitlements? Politicians and the media were throwing around this line at the time and I could not find any mathematical basis for it.

On the 11th January, 2017 I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull. I posted the letter with a priority label. I am still waiting for a reply. I raised the point made by Everald Compton who has recommended the government establish an Age Pension Tribunal, one that is total independent of politics. It would be the same as the Parliamentary Salaries Tribunal. I asked the Prime Minister if he was supportive of such an approach? Will I ever hear? I have been looking forward to receiving my letter on the PM’s letterhead and signed with his personal signature. Am I subject to tactical ignoring? There is a power differential between me as an Australian citizen and a person who has the power to make decisions on my behalf! I hope I am not being tactical ignored! All that will do is “fire up” my passion for the cause! Since I sent off my email and letter I found out that politicians and their staff do ignore constituents. Correspondence that is too onerous is filed in the bin.

A photo of the envelope which held the letter I sent to the Prime Minister. His reply could have been held up in the post!

After a working life of over two decades in the Queensland State Government it was always my experience that anyone who contacted a Member of Parliament was treated with dignity and respect. Everyone received a reply and at times a phone call if they contacted the Minister or the Premier. Has something changed? Is everyone who contacts a politician with an issue being tactical ignored these days? Do people matter to politicians? Are politicians more worried about their rights and entitlements more than people? Does power create a false sense of superiority where people don’t matter?

The other day in parliament question time the Prime Minister showed his passionate side in his tirade against the Labor Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. It all started when Mr Shorten called the Prime Minister “Mr Harbourside Mansion”. He then questioned the Prime Minister about taking $2.7 billion from Australian families while proposing to give $7.4 billion to big banks in tax giveaways. The theatrics of Parliament question time! Politicians poking fun and laughing at one another and then being sent out of the chamber by the Speaker of the House for being disruptive. Is this the way to govern the country? Isn’t it time to get back to governing for the “people” and getting passionate about the well-being and lifestyle for every Australian?

What will happen at the State and Federal elections over the next couple of years? Will people vote with their feet and walk away from the major parties? In the meantime, don’t bother writing to a politician, you won’t get a response. A better option is to align with the organisation “GetUp”? My one lone voice is then amplified alongside millions of others. GetUp wants to see a “thriving democracy in Australia led by the values and hopes of everyday people” …. now that’s a good start!

The Upsides and Downsides of Health Care in Australia

There are upsides and downsides to health care in Australia. The upside is that we all have access to health care through public hospitals and the universal health care system, Medicare. When you have private health care insurance, the upside is you have more choices. With private health care insurance waiting times for elective surgery and access to other medical specialist care is reduced. The downside is that you pay for health insurance and sometimes for health care services, not covered by your policy. The other downside is that Medicare is under pressure as health care costs increase. The system cannot keep up with demand and that is a big downside, just plain “bad news” for all Australians.

The 2014 Report by the Grattan Institute tells us that “every year public hospitals spend one billion dollars with little or no benefit”. That is a particularly big downside. Spending one billion on health care in Australia with little or no benefit!

HEALTH CARE COSTS GROW

Each year health expenditure is growing. Spending on health in Australia was $161.6 billion in 2014–15. Expenditure was $4.4 billion (2.8%) higher than in 2013–14. The health care share from the economy, that is the amount from Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period was 10%.  We are told that health care costs are too high, yet the USA spent 17.5% of GDP in 2014.

The cost of the Medicare levy to consumers is 2% of taxable income. In 2015-16 you did not pay the levy if your taxable income is less than $21,335 ($33,738 for seniors and pensioners). Now 30 years on from when Medicare commenced are we better off? Not so. It seems the system is on a downhill slide as we are not getting the benefit that was forecast. The intention was that we would receive 75% or 85% of the expended cost to see a doctor or medical specialist. Over time the gap has widened and out-of-pocket expenses for the consumer increases.

GOVERNMENT FREEZE ON MEDICARE REBATES

The government Medicare rebate freeze has an impact on the services provided by general practitioners (GP’s) and medical specialists. The rebate freeze is not helping the doctors, nor the consumers. By 2020, unless something changes, medical practitioners will be getting the same amount for a service they provided in 2014. They must increase their costs, as overhead and operating costs grow.

If the government will not lift the rebate freeze then the consumer will pay. It has been argued that bulk-billing practices, in such an environment, will reduce over time. Already, GP’s in New South Wales are charging aged pensioners $55 for a consultation. Similarly, in Queensland, medical practices are raising their fees so that they can continue to offer bulk-billing to low income earners and age pensioners.

CONSUMER COSTS INCREASE

The refund for a medical visit has fallen over time. For example, I saw an eye specialist three times in the past 12 months. The refund back from Medicare is 36% and 37% of the total cost, depending on the item number. But no more than 37%. Each time I paid $266 of the $360 fee. That is a big out-of-pocket expense to pay.  Even if you have private health insurance this does not extend to picking up the gap between a medical fee and the Medicare refund. The downside is that the system is very unwell.

Take another example, a situation whereby a parent needs specialist care for their child, such as a paediatrician. They firstly need a GP referral, as without this they cannot claim the Medicare benefit. The following is just one scenario. In 2015 a parent asks online “my paediatrician visit for my child will cost $250, how much will I get back from Medicare”? A comment is “I only paid $165 and I got back $60 from Medicare”. The gap for this parent is $100. This is a considerable gap, if a parent needs paediatric care for their child and cannot line-up in the public system. No private health insurer covers this type of expense, it is out-of-the pocket for the parent.

Medicare system urgently need restructuring

OLDER AUSTRALIANS PLACE PRESSURE ON MEDICARE

Let us go to the other end of the spectrum, older Australians. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has a position statement for Older Australians access to Medicare. On 13 August, 2012 they stated “between 2010 and 2050, the number of older people (65-84 years) will more than double, from 2.6 million to 6.3 million, and the number of very old (85 and over) will more than quadruple from 0.4 million to 1.8 million.” Note: the “very old”. My mother at 90 years is now in the “very old” age group. It is not enough to be “older” the aim now is to be “very older”. I will never understand such an approach. Just “older” for whatever age group over 65 years would suffice. But then again, it gives “older” people a new goal in life – to reach the age of “very older”!

The AMA has called for urgent policy development, given the increased demands for medical services. They bring attention to the fact that older Australians are not being valued as the medical infrastructure needed is not in place. The restructure of Medicare is urgently needed before it fails more and more people. The AMA state that the cost of providing bulk-billed services to older people is unsustainable. What does this mean then for older Australians? It means that we will may have to pay, and pay dearly, for our medical costs. This is already happening as I mentioned earlier. The downside is that everyone will be paying more and some older Australians will die. When people can’t afford to pay, they delay seeking specialist medical care. If they delay too long, the cost is very high – a life! But it seems that all politicians focus on are numbers, not people!

THE COST OF PRIVATE HEALTH CARE INSURANCE INCREASES

Last week there was the announcement that private health care will go up by 4.84% in April, 2017. Almost 50% of Australians have private health care. However, that is about to decrease as many are now opting out of private health care insurance, the cost is too high.

If you are not one to abandon private health care you can seek help regarding your options through an Australian Government website. I decided to compare policies and find out what would be the yearly cost for two people, with an excess of $500 for Top Hospital and Comprehensive General Cover. Of the eight recommended policies, the lowest cost was $5,880 per year and the highest cost was $7,758 per year. Both are higher than our current yearly private health insurance cost of $4,548, with the government rebate. An increase of 5% will take our cost to $4,775. For some time, we have been thinking about our general cover which includes, podiatry, psychology, acupuncture, naturopathy, remedial massage etc. We have paid the general cover premiums for decades but only access optometry and dental services. Do we need this? Will we need this? Should we like others, take the risk and jump ship when it comes to general cover?

OLDER AUSTRALIANS AND PRIVATE HEALTH CARE INSURANCE

A retired couple living a modest lifestyle requires $35,000 per year; a comfortable retirement will cost $60,000 per year. For a couple living a modest lifestyle their health care costs, based on our cover would be 14% of their yearly budget. For a couple living a comfortable lifestyle the cost reduces to just over 8% of the budget. Whatever way you look at it, all around there are downsides.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

The solution is not in the hands of consumers. It is in the hands of the Federal and State Governments to work together with medical providers in order to improve health care options for Australians of all ages. The health care system is sick and needs urgent attention. While we all wait for politicians to restructure the system and not just tinker around the edges, what do we do? The best answer I can come up is diet and exercise and have a regular health check with your GP if you are older! Making sure we don’t fall into the category whereby we are being over-serviced. Over-servicing does happen therefore it is always a good idea to question the doctor about the treatment plan. All older Australians who can access bulk-billing can easily become one of the group of “worried well” seeing their GP, just in case! Also, what about the cost of going to the doctor’s every time just to get a repeat prescription. That is something that could be addressed and potentially save millions, if not billions.

In the meantime, we eat healthy foods, no cakes, no chocolates, limit alcohol and no sugary drinks. Reduce portion sizes, that is, only eat enough to be satisfied and drink lots of water. What – no chocolates! My 90-year-old mother loves chocolates and at her age it is one pleasure she should keep enjoying. What about you? What are you doing to keep healthy to reduce your health care costs? Are there any other upsides that come to your mind?

P.S. I have great admiration for the dedicated and hard-working doctors, nurses and allied health professionals across the country. This is a great upside, during so many downsides!

The Naked Retiree, Depression and the Mediterranean Garden

The Naked Retiree, getting older, tired and depressed should now be creating a Mediterranean Garden. There is more than one reason that the naked retiree must get out in the garden. Already, many retirees have felt the heavy hand of the Federal Government changes to the age pension. That is, those that have less in their pocket. A few naked retirees have a little more, but not much more! Around 170,000, to be more precise, will receive $30 more in their fortnightly pension payment. Though for many of those, this small “leg up” will not make much difference when many are already living on “struggle street”. There are hundreds of thousands of older Australians who have a new title – the “losers”. That is the title that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull conferred on older Australians. The ones that are helping the government manage an unsustainable budget with debt and deficits none of us can begin to imagine.

Now there is talk about the family home being included in the assets test for the age pension. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) is the latest body to call for the change. It may happen or it may not happen but with all this media publicity it creates a sense of foreboding in retirees. All of which has the potential to exacerbate the symptoms of depression or cause those who are depression free to feel miserable about what the future holds. If you are feeling depressed beyondblue has a support service that will help you. To counter the symptoms of depression it becomes even more essential for the naked retiree to get out into the garden, a Mediterranean Garden!

It may look small but when we do the garden makeover it will be big enough!

Many of us have heard about the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet or eating regime. This includes, improving cardiovascular health, less chance of developing diabetes and increased longevity. An Australian study at Deakin University has discovered further benefits. The findings were encouraging after only 12 weeks of eating a Mediterranean-style diet. In that time, one-third of the participants showed a significant improvement in their mood and depressive symptoms. There was never a better time for naked retirees to start a Mediterranean Garden.

Very soon our herb and vegetable garden will be increased in size and fully enclosed.

The benefits are many if you grow some of your own food. Firstly, you will save money at the supermarket check-out. Then, if you follow the Mediterranean eating regime you have less chance of developing diabetes. Now the naked retiree is feeling a whole lot better about themselves and life in general. This is of course, if they do not worry too much about their “long life” and how they will manage financially as they age. So, what is in this Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean way is to eat more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts; olive oil and canola oil; using herbs and spices to flavour food; limiting red meat; eating chicken and fish at least twice a week and red wine in moderation. To get the lifestyle really working combine the food with exercise. This is the Mediterranean Way and it is now “our way”. We have this type of diet and it will be even better when our food is fresh, straight from the garden, as soon as we make a few changes to our garden.

Our garden makeover includes an enclosed herb and vegetable garden. We must go down this track to keep out the possums, brush turkeys, birds and bandicoots.  Our lovely plump “Grosse Lisse” and cherry tomatoes are under attack by predators.  Tomatoes are a basic of the Mediterranean Diet and that suits me perfectly as I love tomatoes. This week I made a “Garden Herbs and Tomato” Sauce. We have a small supply ready for any pasta dishes or pizza’s over the next month or so.

This is our tomato crop that the birds and brush turkeys have been enjoying!

It does not take too much effort to make your own pasta and pizza sauce. This batch of “Garden Herbs & Tomato” Sauce has tomatoes, organic garlic, onions and herbs. Only the herbs came from our garden. The combination works well for a great taste!

We have planted citrus fruit trees that already are bearing small fruit to be harvested in the winter months. Once we have our enclosed herb and vegetable garden we will be able to dig and plant with more vigour and confidence knowing that we are protecting our small crop. Getting out in the garden, digging and weeding is also good for our health. It takes time, space and effort and not all naked retirees have the agility or health to create a garden. If you are older and you can’t manage a garden, then find out about a local farmer’s market and get your produce from there. You will find it fresher and cheaper than in the supermarket.

Naked retirees, the cohort also known as “losers,” are the older Australians, many of whom went through the Great Depression of the 1930’s. After living through the “Great Depression” they and other retirees are now living through the “Great Oppression” of the Turnbull Government. When will this cease! And where are the most brilliant minds in Australia, the ones that can get us all out of the “budget blackhole”? At the very least, without penalising older Australians. There must be another way. In the weeks and months ahead I will look at more statistics about how other countries are beating the “budget blues” without beating up on their older citizens.

The Rosemary Bush has flourished with regular watering. Growing your own herbs is so much cheaper than buying them at the supermarket.

While I am writing this, I am listening to Plácido Domingo Encanto del Mar, a collection of Mediterranean Songs, which is a coincidence. I really enjoy the Mediterranean music and listen to it often and very soon we will have our very own Mediterranean Garden. The way things are going politically and the decisions that are being made we “need” our Mediterranean Garden.

Our house has Mediterranean influences. We have arched windows and the brick entrance is arched. We also have a water fountain out the front. Once I get the solar worked out, instead of running this with electricity we will hear the gentle sounds of running water. Maybe then I could start a tradition with neighbours, friends and family. Every time we have a visitor they must turn their back and throw a coin in the fountain! Just like at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. These coins can pay for our new seedlings for the Mediterranean Garden! Will that mean we will have “less” visitors? A funny statement I read recently was from an older woman who said to a visitor “please visit me again when you have less time”. The naked retiree must maintain a sense of humour as life can be difficult in difficult times!

It is difficult to “fly with the eagles, when we are stuck on the ground with a bunch of political turkeys”. Despite this, we are a resilient bunch, us older Australians. If you don’t feel as resilient as you would like, go out and find a group to support you through tough times. You could also join me and join National Seniors Australia. It is an independent voice to ensure the views of older Australians are heard by governments at all levels.

How to cook the perfect fillet steak

I am back in the kitchen and I want to share with you how I have managed to cook the perfect fillet steak. Now with my new induction cooktop and my new skillet (grill pan) my O&O and I are all set for many perfect and easy meals when cooking steak. Like me,  you probably buy a whole eye fillet and either cut it up to cook individual steaks or cook it whole.  Last night it was eye fillet. I had frozen individual pieces from a whole fillet which gave us 3 + meals (7 pieces). Eye fillet is usually very expensive but after shopping around I have found a butcher that sells it for $32.00 a kilo. We ended up with 2 thick eye fillets for $10.00. Now that is better than the price we would pay if we went out for a steak dinner for two!

The secret in cooking the perfect fillet steak is having a very hot pan, coating the steak in oil and leaving it out at room temperature for at least one hour before cooking. As it takes only minutes to cook fillet steak, set the table and prepare any accompaniments, whether salad or vegetables before cooking the steak. Last night we had vegetables and dijon mustard on the side. If you are still perfecting your steak cooking then take a look at the video and in no time you will be cooking the perfect fillet steak. Buon Appetito!

Back in KJ’s kitchen

It is time to leave the political landscape and the debate about the changes to the age pension and get back into KJ’s Kitchen.  Although there is plenty of fodder around to keep the conversation going about the welfare state for months to come, we need “real” food to keep us going.

My kitchen is a better working environment to prepare some great home cooked meals, that is, better than it was 3 months ago. It was in August 2016, when I mentioned that we had made the decision to replace our free-standing cooker. This is the one we inherited when we bought the house earlier in 2016. The cooker looked great and fitted nicely in the kitchen but the oven was not a top performer. Our previous house had an induction cooktop and this was my preference over a gas cooktop. The reasons included a more stable work surface; safety, as the hob on induction turns off automatically once the saucepan is removed; the induction does not give off as much heat as does the gas – I was always worried about setting the place on fire; efficiency – it is much quicker and easier to clean. I call it “my” kitchen because I do most of the cooking. When my “One & Only” (O&O) steps into the kitchen to cook, then it is BJ’s kitchen – I am happy to share!

The old free-standing cooker. It looked great but was under-performing.

Late November, just in time for Christmas, we had the free-standing cooker replaced. It took the best part 6 months to decide on the appliances as well as work out who did what. By “who did what” I mean who removes the old rangehood and who will replace it; if a joinery company makes the body for the oven will they install it? In the end, it took much research and planning, an electrician and a carpenter. We managed to bypass the plumber as my O&O installed the rangehood and I finished off the benchtop surrounds with silicone. We were pleased to see the end of the project! There is a career out there waiting for someone with initiative who will organise and complete small jobs like our minor kitchen renovation.

The new look and appliances making cooking so much easier!

Getting back into the kitchen is a great idea for anyone. Home cooking is the best! When I cook from scratch at home I know what is going into the food we are eating. We have been unwell a few times after eating out. When I cook at home I know the food has been hygienically handled, meat defrosted appropriately and the food cooked at the correct temperatures. Eating at home also saves money, it is healthier and it tastes better. Home cooking allows me to use fresh ingredients, add herbs and spices without adding food additives and preservatives. We compost our fruit and vegetable waste and it is repurposed as fertiliser for the garden.

It takes time and planning to cook at home but the benefits are greater than buying packaged items or sauce in a bottle. These days, with my new oven, cooktop and rangehood I am much happier getting back into the kitchen. My uncle’s illness last year and his death in December took more adjustment than I and my family imagined. I sat with him on his hospital bed and held his hand, we laughed and reminisced about life. We had time together and it was good. Now, even though I know he has transitioned to another place, in my mind, I still think he is living life in his kitchen; making the jam, passionfruit butter; baking cakes, preserving fruit and vegetables and pickling eggs from his home-grown chickens.  The kitchen was a place he loved. I am sure my mind will wander to him doing what he enjoyed, for some time to come, while I am cooking in my kitchen. Kitchen’s are a place where memories are made!

Little by little I am getting my energy back and it is going to be great this year, being back in KJ’s kitchen. I will concentrate on food that is simple, nutritious and easy to prepare. It does not have to be gourmet! The formula is easy, keep it to a KISS – keep it simple sweetheart! Are you back in your kitchen and all fired up for some great home cooking in 2017?

I was not sure about the shelving but have grown to love my “dress circle” of herbs. Easy to reach and all in alphabetical order!