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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pimp My Hundred Bucks - Part Thirteen

Approximately four weeks ago I left you facing the possible End of the World, what an anti climax that was! So much for the Mayan Apocalypse!

But it’s not all bad news; I get to continue toward my goal of turning $100 into $500 without having to worry about the earth shaking me to death, for now at least.

However I do find myself facing a less global catastrophe and a more internal disaster – I have no idea what to write today!

It seems my three weeks under the Australian Sun has either fried my brain or programmed me to enjoy doing nothing more than anything else. Holidays are fantastic, especially the one I just got back from in which I read several books, swam every day and ate most of Australia’s supply of mangos and deep fried calamari…

Sadly I always come back from Australia fat; the jeans that only just fit me before I left New Zealand now fit me as long as not doing up your fly is a fashion, which it isn’t, so they’re going on a holiday of their own until I can lose some weight, which means my jeans get to go on a much longer holiday than the one I just enjoyed.

But I’m back now, and slowly and disparagingly, I find myself struck hard in the face by reality and pining for my next holiday… and I’ve only been back at work for two days! And my work pants are killing me!

But this blog isn’t about how I’m multiplying in waist inches, but rather how I am increasing the capacity of my wallet!

Having had such a big gap between this blog and the last I feel the need to bring us all up to speed.

Late in September last year, following on from my previous series Pimp My Twenty Bucks, in which I successfully turned $20 into $112, I decided to take that figure and turn it into a more useful $500!

I felt it was important to give ten percent of it away to a charity I believed in, mostly because of my faith but also because money is worth nothing to me if I’m the only one benefitting from it!

Then I took $11.25 and tucked it away in my bedside draw for a rainy day, I’m glad to say it hasn’t rained hard enough to make me want to spend it yet and it’s still there.

After that I invested $20 in the ANZ Bank affiliated investment scheme known in New Zealand as “Bonus Bonds”, where it has matured into a nice big… er... um… $20… so that investment hasn’t really paid off yet, but I’m glad to remind you that that $20 is and always will be mine to take back whenever I so please.

Finally with the remaining $69 or so I purchased new stock and topped up my Trademe account, making it possible for me to start this whole affair with just over 100 books in stock.

By late December and Part Twelve of this series I had $285 to show for my efforts! But thanks to a few lingering listings and my purchasing some summer reading from myself I actually made it to $300 by the time I went on my holiday!

Apart from increasing in stomach mass I did get the chance whilst on holiday to think about where to go from here, with only $200 to go. I got to sort of step out of myself, metaphorically speaking of course, and separate the wheat from the chaff and came up with a plan of attack for when I got back to the real world in New Zealand.

You’ll be relieved to know that for now I’m ditching my YouTube antics because my adsense isn’t growing fast enough and, well, most of the stuff on my channel is just silly. Maybe as this series progresses I’ll be able to come up with more lucrative video concepts but for the time being me talking, singing or wobbling my tummy at a camera is going out of syndication!

The next thing I decided was that I wanted to hit the ground running upon my return so as far as pimping my hundred bucks was concerned! So in the last few days of my holiday I relisted all the items remaining from last year, about 170 books and actually managed to sell several whilst still on holiday!

So in the past ten days I have sold eleven titles, which I didn’t feel was too bad considering the summer holidays are nearly over and my highest sales usually occur just before the holidays…

I sold

Emma by Jane Austen for $3
Tribulation Force by Tim Lahaye $3
Starman by Sara Douglas $3
Flying Saucers and their Occupants by Jim and Coral Lorenzen $3
Ben Hur by Lew Wallace $5
Birds of Prey by Wilbur Smith $3
A box of damaged books for $2
Heidi Grows Up by Charles Tritten $6
Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden $5
People of the Fire by W.Michael Gear $5
Vixen 03 by Clive Cussler $5

Thus adding $43 to my progress which somehow went backwards from $300 to $283.99!

I mentioned above that I wanted to “hit the ground running” and so I spent up on some new stock last week plus paid a bit more than usual on promoting my books within Trademe, hence the figure less than $300… but hopefully the extra spending will pay off!

I now have 202 books listed on Trademe.

I’m currently having an argument with myself about whether doubling the amount of books listed will potentially double the amount I earn? Sounds like wishful thinking.

Until next weekend!

Click Here to read Part Fourteen in this series!

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Currumbin Animal Sanctuary - A Review

Queensland is awesome.

Although I find myself at the moment trapped in the back seat of a Honda Jazz between the car seats of a sleeping three year old and a very "over it" two year old whose having a conversation with a plastic lizard.

Trapped in this tight space, for the hour or so from Brisbane to Queensland's Sunshine Coast, clamped in place by two enormous toddler seats, I've tried reading, I've tried drinking an iced Mocha from Gloria Jeans, but boredom and claustrophobia has lead me to take my two year old's lead...

Not having a plastic lizard of my own to complain to I'll resort to texting the tale of how the lizard in question made its way into our family...

Yesterday was day three of my much longed for holiday here in Oz.

I started the morning with the following Status update on Facebook:

"QLD is awesome, Mangos are awesome, not working is awesome, not being contactable is awesome..."

Along with all the other awesome things I mentioned to make my friends back home in cold NZ jealous, I knew today was going to be awesome as we prepared to embark on an adventure down the line - on the Gold Coast.

If you're foreign to Australia any holiday here, in my opinion, is not complete until you tick at least one of these three things from your "must do" list - lose your togs in the surf and exposing your buttocks to the world (ticked that off my list today), get up close and friendly with the evolution-defying wild life and finally overdosing on some of the best fish and chip takeaways this side if the Southern Hemisphere!

Yesterday we took to knocking off item number two and seeking out somewhere that would blow our kid's minds by exposing them to some fair dinkum crikey inducing wild life.

In this part of Queensland there are a few places to choose from - Australia Zoo, made famous by the late Wild Life Warrior, Steve Irwin, or Sea World on the Gold Coast which I can vouch for as pretty cool but...

Being on a tight budget we chose a third option - Currumbin Animal Sanctuary.

The reasons were mostly personal, given I had lived on the Gold Coast for about 6 years, I wanted to show my kids what life was like for Dad in the old days but the fact that under 4's get in for free made my wallet say, "let's go there instead!"

The first thing that got me was the staff, after the 55 minute drive from Brisbane the kids were acting out like epileptic rats, so a quick stop for an ice-block at the Park's entrance cafe helped to reset their mood while I met a friendly kangaroo handler who doted over my girls for a few minutes.

It's always mice when a total stranger reminds you that your children are nice, you sometimes need that after being trapped in a car with them for an hour.

While the girls ruined their summer dresses with melting Calippos and I sipped on the iced-mocha the barrister made for me even though it wasn't on the menu, my youngest was very disturbed by the replica of an iguana watching us from nearby. It looked so real we had to poke it a few times to convince her it wasn't going to have us for snacks.

Then a water dragon joined us. Just so you know in New Zealand, where I'm from, we have a pretty funky variety of creatures but for an Aucklander like myself sharing a cafe with something as large and reptilian and unphased as a Water Dragon is like having a coffee with an astronaut whose chest suddenly bursts open as Ridley Scott’s alien flies across the table.

Australia is so alien it might as well be Mars.

And at this stage we hadn't actually made it past the gift shop.

The Sanctuary itself is scenic, lush and feels like a scene from Jurassic Park. Our first stop was an area where the only thing separating you from pythons, Red Belly Black Snakes and crocs is the comforting glass...

However this didn't stop this water dragon from telepathically interrogating us from his rock outside his enclosure! I touched him, he didn't care, he was probably calculating how much of me he could fit in his refrigerator.

After that we could have caught the Park's family friendly train but we decided to walk past the koala (or drop-bear) enclosure. My girls got excited over the "that ones" in the eucalyptus trees who, we realized, weren't doing very much at all.

We moved on from there to a pretty sweet playground where I got eaten by a fibre glass crocodile, threatened by an enormous spider and once again spied on by yet another water dragon. Were these things following us?

We ventured further into the park, now on a quest to find our girls some kangaroos. We passed a Tasmanian Devil enclosure along the way where we didn't see any Tasmanian Devils, but we did however see the remains of the rabbit they had just been fed. I liked that bit.

I refrained from photographing the dead rabbit parts...

Finally we found the kangaroo area where I met the friendly lady from the cafe again as I filled a plastic cup with animal feed. From her I learned that a large number of the females had Joey's
onboard, that is, babies.

Have you ever lost your kid in a toy store? A candy store even? A Pet Store? Well, imagine losing them in a toy store where all the toys are alive and possibly made of chocolate. Despite all these kangaroos lying around and, some of them even bigger than me, you would have thought they were made of lolly pops the way my kids terrorized them for cuddles, pats and even conversation. This was it, this was what we paid for and this is the main reason I'd recommend this park to anyone, the kangaroos made my kids as crazy as if they bathed daily in red cordial and gave my camera clicking fingers lots of exercise.

By now it was past midday and the Aussie heat was proving too much for this kiwi family. We had only seen perhaps a third of the park but we had sure got our money’s worth.

The super fast mini train pulled into the kangaroo enclosure and my wife and I agreed it was time to go.

Twenty minutes later my girls have a rubber snake each, an echidna and a plastic lizard. The friendly staff helped me to sneak out some paddle pops for the grownups.

Later that day on a completely different part of the Gold Coast I saw another Water Dragon spying in my family near a swimming pool. Was that a spy radio attached to his head?

Queensland is awesome.

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hobbiton New Zealand - A Review

I have confession to make, I’m an in the closet nerd.

That’s a lie of course; I don’t hide my dorkiness very well. As I write this I’m wearing a red t-shirt with Optimus Prime ready for action plastered across my stomach and chest. My mother in law made me a Star Fleet Command jump suit for my birthday, not because she hates me but because I ASKED HER TO!
When I was little I would say that if I ever had three wishes I would wish for an actual working TARDIS – heck, just today I was in a shopping mall in Brisbane at a mobile phone kiosk asking after TARDIS style phone covers! After my lack of success at Dr Whoing my phone I went straight to the Sponge Bob Square pants phone covers...

I have four t-shirts with a star trek theme. I have a shirt that has Star Dad written in the same font as the Star Wars trilogy, in yellow. I asked my wife if I could paint the doors to my home office to look like police box doors - I am the quintessential pathological nerd.

Of course my wife said no to the police box doors. She’s not a geek like me. The only way she would ever watch an episode of anything Sci-Fi or fantasy related is if it involved drugs, rope or a very large amount of money. Or perhaps if I told a really big lie and pretended it was a Nicholas Sparks story...

But, luckily she puts up with it, and thankfully my fan boy nature makes me very easy to buy for come birthdays and Christmas.

And that is how I found myself on December 16th 2012 in the coolest place on earth... Middle Earth that is – Hobbiton, Matamata, New Zealand.

Located on the Alexander Farm on 501 Buckland Road, Hanuera is what remains of the set of The Shire from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and more recently The Hobbit, exactly as it appears in that movie.

Well, almost exactly... you don’t actually get to go into the “Hobbit Holes” but for the most part you get to walk through the hilly village as part of a tour group... but I’m jumping ahead of myself.

Arriving at the Shire’s Rest Cafe, after our two hour drive from Auckland the first thing you notice is the lush green hills, as if an enormous JRR Tolkien had taken an even bigger copy of his books and shook them out until this fantastical environment plopped out of the pages to form the land I was now drooling over...

There’s a gift shop with books and figures and beer, Lord of the Rings beer... too much to take in. We had a coffee while my girls murdered some paddle-pops until the tour bus arrived to take my three year old and I to the magical land of hairy footed ones.

We’re on the bus now driving down the gravel road through hills so green you could lose Kermit the Frog in them. Cows to the right of us, sheep to the left of us and Hobbits hiding from us at every corner, the nice old bus driver pointing out places of interest as we crawled over the stones:

“Peter Jackson flew over here looking for the perfect place for the Shire,” he says, “They made a deal with the Alexanders...”

“The New Zealand Army came in here and built this road”

“Over there in that empty paddock, that’s where the tents and trailer for all the important actors were, it was really busy back then”

Now, the sheep are all that remain of the Hollywood types who once graced these fields.

“Way over there, see that big barn... Peter wanted that out of the film, so they made it look like a tree.”

We finally get to where we are going. My daughter and I, along with a bunch of other Nerds, follow the well dressed tour guide, now a young man who turns out to be some local champion athlete, of what I don’t know because geeks like me know that REAL sports involve Lightsabers.

Anyway, we go through some rustic wooden gates, stone walls on either side and you suddenly realize it’s the exact spot where Frodo saw Gandalf coming into town in the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring and your palms are starting to sweat because this is just too darn awesome!

Beyond that entrance is a town carved in the hills, cooler than Ewok tree houses, cooler than the stone cities of Petra, this is Hobbiton. Beautiful circular doorways, brightly hued, inviting you to come inside, except on the other side is nothing but your imagination, and lots of dirt...

Chimney’s sticking out of the ground, immaculate gardens that somehow look like they’ve been there forever, there’s even an over grown veggie patch with a scarecrow – seriously how often do you get to see a scarecrow these days?

The tour starts at the bottom of a hill on top of which is the illustrious Bag End, sporting a splendid fake tree of shiny leaves. Beautiful. Juxtaposed against the hole of a poor Hobbit, complete with a beautiful door but no windows, we are told that apparently the poorer the Hobbit, the lesser the windows...

By this point the tour guide is getting annoyed with my daughter and I because we are the ones staying behind taking photos along with the Japanese tourists who got so used to us interrupting their photo ops that they started offering us cough lollies...

I went a bit crazy with the photo’s after a while, even more so when I began doing that thing where you hold your camera out in front of you and photograph yourself looking like a total idiot. I was thinking I would make the coolest slide show ever made at the end of the day, but now as I look back on it, what a dorkI It doesn’t help that my “selfie” shots were taken with an SLR as big as some kind of experimental weapon of mass destruction.

But I didn’t care, I was having fun, and my three year old thought Daddy was being cool. At least, that's what I choose to believe...

Perhaps the best part was the “stone” bridge went over across the river to the Green Dragon, the final destination of the whole tour, where you get a complimentary Cider, ginger ale or specially brewed Hobbit Beer which is only available in this part of the world. I took a lot of “selfies” there as well.

There we were, my three year old daughter and I, transported to this medieval “pub”, with cobble stoned floors, an open hearth, oaken tables and clay goblets drinking cider... uh, not my three year old of course, she was drinking the ginger ale, but for a moment there I was a Hobbit, my daughter was a Hobbit and the two of us were doing Hobbit stuff, sucked into the fantasy, the camera being the only thing out of place as I pointed to the exquisitely carved green dragon above the counter and told my princess all about Smaug and his dwarvish hoard under the mountain.

Then the tour guide beckoned us to leave, and I didn't want to go... either because I didn't want it not to be real, or perhaps I just wanted another drink... either way this was one of the coolest daddy-daughter dates I have ever been on.

Some people want rides and interactivity when they go to things, but this experience was quaint, excellently quaint, scenic, absorbing and rich with fantastical ambience, despite the “look but don’t touchiness” about it.
We got back to the cafe where my darling, wife and youngest daughter awaited us; I had a delectable steak sandwich and began to plan my 40th, five years from now, at the Green Dragon.

Yep, I’m a nerd but darn proud of it.

Anyway, I want to leave you now with these pictographs of my day, because as you can see, a picture is worth way more than the 1315 words it took for me to write this review.

(pictures coming soon!)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

George Carlin on Christianity

UPDATE: I'm not writing this blog anymore, but please visit my YouTube channel The Vocabuverse and subscribe for more great things to come!

Occasionally I find myself being sucked into the Stumble Upon app on my phone. It’s like a bad science fiction movie where trapped in the Event Horizon of a Black Hole time slows down and before I know it I’ve been Stumbling for nearly an hour without even realizing it…

It was during one such session that I found myself reading quotes by the late George Carlin.

Not being that much acquainted with his career, beyond the Bill and Ted Universe that is, I decided to google him further, in particular to find out what his religious views were, something I seem to be doing with a lot of celebrities these days…

It didn’t take long before I found James Aquione’s site with 101 of Georges “Greatest Quotes” and I don’t have much to say that is negative, after all I found myself laughing at most of George’s quips, such as “Honesty is the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.”

I kept reading down the line until I found what I was looking for, George’s “comedic” take on religion, and it made me sad because, well, although I know he meant it as a joke, if this is what he truly believed then his attitude toward Christianity was abysmally wrong when he said:

“Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.”

The sad thing is, throughout my life I have encountered many people with this same view of the Christian faith, that God is this grumpy old man, usually with a beard, in the clouds who doesn’t want us to have any fun so he made up a bunch of rules that were impossible to live by and then he punishes us for them – what kind of God is that?

But you might as well be looking at a picture of the Queen and describing her as a horse, because this is NOT what Christianity is about at all!

I don’t know why people take this view when the Bible spells out the truth so plainly? Perhaps the devil has a misinformation campaign dedicated to mislead would be seekers from the actual facts, or perhaps people just make this stuff up to use as an excuse?

Whatever the reason is I would now like to break down George’s “statement of faith” and show why his view of Christianity was at best only two dimensional and at worst, completely false.

1) Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky.

First up let’s be honest – George is not talking about religion. He has used the word as a euphemism for Christianity. The rest of his joke proves this, but we’ll get to that later. I would like to point out that Christian’s do not believe in an invisible man in the sky. Yes God is invisible to us but so are atoms and so is the wind. The Bible teaches that God is Omnipresent and therefore is not specifically in any one place at any time but rather in all places at once. Please see Psalm 139 for proof. Interestingly In Ephesians 6:12 the Apostle Paul points out the strange relationship the spiritual forces of evil have with the “heavenly realms”. So perhaps the only man in the clouds we should be worried about is the Devil?

2) Who watches everything you do every minute of every day

Yes, this is true, we do believe that God watches us every day but I think there is way more to it than that. Perhaps I am nit picking here but the Christian God is not bound by the confines of space and time. To say God watches us every minute of every day suggests a linear perspective of how God does this, when the Bible says that God knows the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end. He doesn’t sit there watching every event as it happens in chronological/glacial order – he sees every minute of every day, every minute that has ever been and every minute that ever was ALL AT ONCE. The Bible teaches that not only is God Omnipresent, he is also Omniscient which means he knows all things, every event, every minute detail of everything and everyone, Jesus himself said that every hair on our head is counted (Matthew 10:30). Please don’t mistake God for someone who just watches us, it’s way more complicated than that.

3) And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do…

Yes BUT the Bible does not teach that obeying the Ten Commandments will get us into heaven. As Paul said in Romans it is through the law that we become conscious of sin. We would not know what sin was if God had not given us this law. We would not understand why we needed a savior in the first place if God had not given us the law. Read the Book of Romans for an in depth discussion of this. I’d also like to knock out the ridiculous view that God somehow sat down one day and made up the Ten Commandments arbitrarily, this is simply not the case. The Ten Commandments are a picture of God’s perfection; they are a reflection of his character. If you want to know what God is like then read the Commandments; if you want to see them in action then study the life of Christ – the only human being who ever kept every single one, not because he tried to keep them but because he embodied them as an individual.

4) And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time.

Wrong again. It’s simply not that simple! We aren’t sinners because we do these things; we do these things BECAUSE we are sinners. The Ten Commandments prove that our human nature is opposed to God’s character! Actually one of the reasons I believe in Christianity is because the Ten Commandments are so inhuman in their demands I can’t imagine any man-made religion as having come up with them.

There’s another point I would like to bring up here, God is not a thief. When he said, “Do not steal” he meant “I do not steal, therefore you shall not steal.” What’s my point? God will take into heaven that which belongs to him. People who are destined for damnation don’t go there because he wants to send you there. It’s because he is NOT a thief. The Bible teaches that if you do not belong to God you belong to the other guy. In Matthew 25:31-46 we read the parable of the sheep and the goats, when Jesus judges the nations. When he casts away the “goats” he says, “Depart from me you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” From my understanding of Scripture the point is clear, eternal punishment was made for the devil and his angels. When the devil goes there he will take that which belongs to him. God is not a thief. He has purchased us with the blood of his Son, but if we are unwilling to accept God as our new owner then there’s not much that can be done about it outside of God robbing the devil, but if he did that, he would be a thief, and therefore not a good God.

One last point, there seems to be this notion that the Lake of Fire as described in the Bible is a place where there is torture and demons brandishing pitch forks. From what I have read, there won’t be any fallen angels having fun in damnation, they’re being punished too.

5) But he loves you.

Yes, he does. I’m a dad and I don’t love anyone enough to give up my children for them, at least not in my limited Human capacity. When was the last time you said to someone, you know I’ve just been told that if I sacrifice my child then it will end world hunger? Would you believe them? No sane Human can say they love their fellow man that much. And yet God does. I can’t even begin to explain the mystery of the relationship between God the Son and God the Father but I do know that God the Father sent God the Son to die a brutal death, which he did not deserve, to purchase Humanity with his blood so that we could have that one shot of getting into Heaven, not because we kept the Ten Commandments but because by them we knew that we were sinners and needed a Savior.

6) And he needs your money.

Actually no, he doesn’t. The Bible says that God “owns the cattle on a thousand hills” and that, “the earth is the Lord’s”. God has no need for money. There is a gross overemphasis on money in the Western Church which I am ashamed of but please, for the love of God, consider Revelation 3:17 as Jesus says to the Laodicean Church, “… you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked…” I believe this verse is for the modern Western Church as much as it was for the Laodicians.

However I also believe in using my resources, whether that be time or money, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Another way to put it is if I had a brother who was dying because he couldn’t afford his treatment but I could afford it, then what kind of man would I be if I did not use my money to save my brother’s life? The Gospel is the same, it is the treatment that Humanity needs, those of us who have the money to take it to the ends of the earth should.

But there are also times in the Christian walk where one might feel convicted to relinquish their dependence on money but this has more to do with our need to depend on God and has nothing to do with his dependence on our money.

Of course, I’ve probably taken this joke too far. George did after all say, “I love and treasure individuals as I meet them; I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.” And I respect him for saying as much, but the statement he made, as I said before, reflects the average non-Christian’s view of what I believe and I hate when people put words in my mouth.

UPDATE: I'm not writing this blog anymore, but please visit my YouTube channel The Vocabuverse and subscribe for more great things to come!

Come find me on YouTube!