Sunday 19 January 2014

A Cabin By The Sea...

... our version of Kevin McCloud's Man Made Home 'By the Sea'

Well goodbye 2013 and hello 2014 and all the exciting challenges that lie ahead. If we thought that last year was pretty eventful on the home and family front, then 2014 looks like it will be equally challenging and fun all at the same time! We haven't done much on the blog front so far this year though, as we have been trying to make the most of a few weeks off and keeping the girls entertained over the school holidays. Plus Kate is enjoying her last couple of weeks with Poppy before she starts school.
By far the most exciting challenge ahead for us this year will be the move from our current renovation project, to our 'Cabin by the Sea' - our next renovation project in what will be our forever home (well at least for the next decade while the girls go through school). Kate and I have always wanted to live closer to the ocean, and we knew this as soon as we arrived back in Townsville. While inner city suburb living afforded us a short ten minute drive to the ocean, we would much rather be a short 2 minute walk to this...
How gorgeous is that! We can't wait to live out there and at this stage it is our plan to be in the house by Easter. Unlike our current house which needed a lot of work done as soon as we moved in, we are going to try and resist the urge to go in with all guns blazing this time, and do what all the house renovation books say and live in the house for 12 months first. 
So armed with Kevin McCloud's Grand Design handbook, re-runs of Grand Designs on the ABC, and a healthy array of renovation blogs to read, we are going to try and last the 12 months while we:
a) finish this place and take it to market, and
b) plan how the new house needs to be adjusted to make it our home (and our cabin by the sea).
And it all starts with this rough sketch...
I was motivated this week by Caroline's post on West End Cottage titled 'How Much Room Do You Need?'. It's a fitting question when you look at the size of homes being built in Australia (getting bigger in size every year) on ever decreasing sized land plots. In addition to this theme that Caroline raises, and the book by Stuart Harrison titled 'Forty Six Square Metres of Land Doesn't Normally Become a House', there are two other good books I read in the USA which I would recommend. First is 'The Not So Big House' by Sarah Susanka, and the second is titled 'Staying Put - Remodel Your House to Get the Home You Want' by Duo Dickinson. Both books are full of great ideas for maximising the space in your home during the initial planning phase of a new build, or for planning a renovation, without resorting to the impersonality of building yet another McMansion. I have followed Caroline's renovation on her blog and have been impressed by not only the style and quality of the renovation, but also by the clever use of space that the architects and her have designed, while keeping the house on a relatively conservative footprint (in my humble opinion).
I'm also a big fan of Kevin McCloud and I plan on using both Grand Designs Handbooks to guide Kate and I as we venture on through this next 12 months of planning. Here are Kevin's Top 10 Tips which we will try to abide by during the initial planning and then subsequent renovation...
  1. Employ an architect - and a good one at that.
  2. Contain your budget and your ambition - and allow a 20% contingency fee.
  3. Spend more time planning up front to keep build time to a minimum.
  4. Don't risk it all for a dream you've never lived - incorporate as many elements in your design that you know make you happy.
  5. Employ as many professionals as you can afford - especially a good builder.
  6. Don't throw away all your old furniture and buy everything new - our possessions are our autobiographies.
  7. Don't expect the finished build to change who you are - it's more like the process of building will teach you more about yourself.
  8. Don't expect too much of your team - if you want the best quality expect to have to wait and to pay for it.
  9. Write everything down. Everything. And keep a build diary to record progress and bore your children and friends with.
  10. Remember that inside your home is private and personal, while outside is public property and part of other people's lives - give your architect, builder and landscaper room to manoeuvre here... "If you want to paint your front door, get your neighbour to choose the colour."
And so taking that into consideration, we are going to cheat immediately, as there is one or two projects that can't wait for artistic inspiration to strike. The Bathroom and Toilet are in dire need of repair (and updating), and as the house only has one bathroom and toilet (for now), we need to get this done before moving in as we don't have the luxury this time of using one bathroom while renovating the other. And so without further ado, here is the first two projects looming on our renovation list...
Ok, so that's the Real Estate Agent's photo.
In reality it's not as bright and clean and functioning as that...
Having said that because the following photos have been taken on different days in different light, the most accurate colour is probably this photo, i.e. white floors and a light grey tile.
This is the main reason we have to do the bathroom. The 'Roman Floor Tile' shower tray is old technology; i.e. a tin shower tray underneath tiles, that is now leaking and water is penetrating through the back wall into the laundry. It's a big job to fix, so it means we may as well crack on and do the bathroom now, before we move in.
That's the old tub, and the tile shelf at the rear is barely hanging on anymore. That will all come out and a new tub will go in there - Kate's already picked one with a head rest ;-)
Even though I'm colour blind, that vanity top hurts my eyes!
Time for the old heave-ho, we have a more beachy theme in mind.
Last but not least, the toilet needs replacing, the walls need to be de-tiled, and the water pipe needs to be put back into the wall. Whoever did that last time they did a repair may have saved themselves some money, but the visual after effect is crap...
So there you have it. We'll do the immediate must do jobs, then sit back, relax and plan like Kevin McCloud for our Cabin by the Sea's' next evolution. If we can do that, then we just might be able to meet Kevin's vision as stated here...
"If Grand Designs does anything for the 99% of its viewers, it shows them that homes can be genuinely life affirming, that houses too, can be architecture. And it shows them what's possible, not just at the top of the market... it raises the bar. We should not only build a house that is modern now, we should build one that will still be modern in 20 years."
I wonder how we will go, where will we have progressed to 12 months from now; maybe you'll have to keep an eye out for a blog post titled 'A Cabin By The Sea Revisited'...
Cue Grand Designs end of show theme music...
Cheers, Col


Friday 3 January 2014

Targets Down...

...Patch Out.*

Well today marks my first day in a brave new world, as after 21 years in the Australian Army, I now find myself as a bonafide civilian once again. Truth be told it has been a gradual adjustment, as I have been on leave and long service leave studying followed by on the job training in my new chosen career field in finance.

But more on that some other time. For now I wanted to look back at what 21 years service in the military has involved, and I thought the best way to do this was through a photo essay. While the following is lengthy, there is no way this post could accurately sum up what those 21 years has entailed, but for now it's a good snapshot to look back on, and an insight for those who wonder what those in uniform actually do. So sit back, stay calm, and read on...

NB: Please note that in the interests of operational security, some of the photos have been altered to protect the identity of some personnel (not to mention some people don't like photos of themselves on the web).

I enlisted in late January 1993 as an Officer Cadet at the Australian Defence Force Academy. The above photo shows members of the Army Class at single service training in Holsworthy Barracks.

Graduation Day at the Academy in 1995 before 'heading over the hill'
to the Royal Military College Duntroon.
 BC Day (Battalion Commander's) in Kapyong Company 1996. Our weekly Monday morning inspection that involved many hours of preparation every Sunday night.
Exercise Beersheba at High Range Training Area, Townsville in October 1996. My first taste of Armoured Units (and it wouldn't be my last).
At Government House in 1997 with Lieutenant Colonel Cantwell and his wife Jane. He gave me a few much needed kicks in the backside over the last part of my officer training which served me in good stead for my career. I was lucky enough to serve with him on operations in 2009 -2010.
RMC Duntroon Graduation Day in June 1997, with my two Grandmothers.
I learnt a lot from these two remarkable ladies.
My first 'real' exercise in August 1997 with 1st Armoured Regiment (Tank) at Mount Bundey Training Area in the Northern Territory. Armoured vehicles are given names by their crews, the first letter of which starts with the Squadron they are in. I was in B Squadron, and the humour of the Australian soldier prevails - I am pointing at a RAEME Fitters Track called 'Buknakid'...
Tanks and Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) on the firing point, Mount Bundey 1997.
Exercise Southern Leopard at Puckapunyal 1998, doing a 'pack change' (engine replacement) for a Leopard Tank. That's me on the tools there, learning first hand what the Diggers & Craftsmen do for a living. This hands on approach came from my farming background, and again served me in good stead throughout my career.
At Mount Bundey again in late 1998 with Operations Support Squadron, the Logistics Squadron that supports the Tank Regiment. That's me in the crew commander's hatch of the APC, having recently achieved my crew commander's competencies.

Adventure Training in 1998. That's my mate 'JR' and I on top of Ayers Rock.
JR and I also tried our hand at bull riding. Here's one of my more memorable rides on 'Midas Dykman' at the 1998 Darwin Pro Rodeo.
 Operations Support Squadron on Exercise Croc West at Eppenara Station (NT) in mid 1999. One upside to being out bush was the crackin' sunrises and sunsets we got to see.

Recovery Operations on Croc West 1999. That's a 40 tonne Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARVM) pulling out the Heavy Recovery Vehicle (bogged in sand) which was recovering my Tracked Load Carrier (TLC or 'Tilly') which has overheated after the engine ate a fan belt...

Me in the crew commanders 'turret' of my 'Tilly'. From memory the name of the vehicle was 'Obsolete'. Can't imagine why, do you like the bullet proof glass...?

(Then) Corporal 'H' and myself, and the infamous 84B, reminiscing about the Renner Springs Roadhouse Ready Reaction Force...

Pre-deployment training at 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment in Brisbane for troops deploying to East Timor.
Freedom of the City Parade through Brisbane CBD in 2000, to mark the 140th Birthday of the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment. Believe it or not, but I'm on horseback in the second last row as a member of the historical Troop. Riding double reined while carrying a .303 rifle at a trot behind and in front of APCs is no small trick I can assure you ;-)

On the Road to Balibo, Operation Tanager, East Timor 2001
Bacau, Operation Tanger, East Timor 2001

Myself, Major 'T', and Flight Lieutenant 'J'.
Australian Headquarters, Dili 2001.

Being presented with my UNTAET Medal by Lieutenant General Peter Cosgrove.
NB: After East Timor I took a little overseas holiday, where I met a British lass named Kate in Greece, and the rest as they say, is history!
Aboard HMAS Kanimbla in 2003 doing ship to shore operations. Two weeks on board confirmed that my decision to join the Army over the Navy was indeed correct!

It's not all work - Sasha trying on my slouch hat in 2004.
In October 2005 I returned to the 1st Armoured Regiment as the Officer Commanding Operations Support Squadron, for what would be a very busy two years, retiring the Leopard Tank from service and introducing the M1A1 Abrams Tank into service.

The Standard of the Regiment passes by the retiring Leopards, Darwin 2007.

The newly introduced M1A1 Abrams Tanks, Darwin 2007.

Last Leopard Tank rounds down range, Mount Bundey 2007.

M1A1 Abrams Tank Troop first rounds down range, Mount Bundey 2007.
With Kate the night before deploying to Afghanistan on Operation Slipper in October 2007; the first of many long days apart over the coming few years. I will always be thankful for the support she provided me and for how she has raised the girls every time duty called me away. Thanks baby x

With Doc Neeson of 'The Angels' who came to perform for the troops in Kabul in late 2007. A truly genuine nice guy who cares about soldiers.

While on a counter insurgency leaders course we got the opportunity to visit the Queens Palace (ruins) outside of Kabul. I love this shot looking back to the Kings Palace ruins. Not something you get to see every day.

Taking the plumes (in the slouch hat) for a stroll around what was nicknamed 'the beer garden' at Headquarters ISAF, Kabul in late 2007. The Australians and Americans were 'on the dry', the Europeans however were a different kettle of fish with different rules...

On top of Swimming Pool Hill in Kabul, January 2008. And yes, it was cold!
 In early 2008 I escorted the new Australian Commander for Afghanistan on a visit to our Australian Headquarters in Iraq. In and out in less than 24 hours, but here is the proof that I was there. Little did I know then, but I'd be back again later that year...

I love the engineering that goes into Armoured vehicles. Check out this Macedonian APC having some engine work done! Kabul, 2008.

All soldiers should get to have a birthday while deployed on operations.
This is mine in Kabul, February 2008.

About once a fortnight I used to try and drop in to see Sammy, have some Afghan Tea, and learn a little about his country. I also ended up buying three or four rugs (coincidence I am sure). Kabul 2008.

In late 2008, with Kate about eight weeks out from Poppy being born, I deployed at short notice back to Iraq. Here I am in front of the Al Fahwar Palace, Camp Victory, Baghdad 2008.

Our transport arrives to take us from the Green Zone in Baghdad back to Camp Victory.

And off they go after dropping us safely 'home'.

On the flight deck of a C-130 heading home to Australia. My boss kindly sent me home to be there in time for Poppy's birth; an act of generosity I'll never forget.

In mid 2009 I went back to Afghanistan on a recon prior to another deployment. Here's me with the best man from my wedding, finally catching up many years later in Tarin Kowt.

The following photos are a very small snippet from my last deployment to Afghanistan in 2009/2010, giving a small insight for you the reader as to what our troops can experience over the course of a Task Group's deployment cycle.

The return of 'Sabi' who went missing in action in Afghanistan and was
recovered on a subsequent operation 18 months later.

Troops on patrol in late 2009.
Catching a flight to Kandahar on a Chinook, 2010.

Catching a flight back to Tarin Kowt on a US Blackhawk, 2010.

Vehicle casualty recovery by Russian helicopter, 2010.

Troops on patrol, April 2010.

 Australian Troops in US Blackhawks departing on Patrol in April 2010.
 Troop insertion in April 2010.

End of the Day - Captain 'S', April 2010.
Me reading the Ode, ANZAC Day, Tarin Kowt, April 2010.

 On the flight line in Kandahar with a US Air Force A-10, May 2010.
Quite simply they are an amazing aircraft!
 The diversity of the terrain in Afghanistan that our troops had to operate in.
Just prior to coming home to Australia, I received a phone call asking if I would like to undertake an exchange with the Defense Logistics Agency (Distribution) in New Cumberland, PA, USA. The following is a brief snapshot of our time there.
Military History tour of Gettysburg, PA. We were posted to PA for two years from December 2010 to January 2012. I visited this battlefield many times over two years, always learning something new, and always coming away deeply moved and with a greater understanding of the American psyche.

 At the United States Marine Corps Memorial, Asan Beach, Guam 2011
with my good friend LtCol (Retired) Eugene Summers.
In July 1944 during WWII 55,000 USMC Troops landed at Asan Beach to retake the island from the Japanese. There were 7,000 American casualties and 18,000 Japanese were killed. Like Gettysburg it was a very moving place to visit.
Sasha and Poppy after being presented with their Military Kids Recognition Medals on ANZAC Day 2012, 'for perseverance on the home front during their parent’s deployment’. A fabulous initiative developed by the Ipswich RSL Sub Branch, these medallions are presented to children whose parents have served Australia on deployment. 

At the Vermont Tough Mudder 2012, with my good buddy Dave. One of the toughest physical events I have done, but worth it to raise money for the Wounded Warriors Program.

Tour of the Harley Davidson Factory in 2012 with the US Navy Supply Corps .

Here's me happy to have completed the Chicago Marathon in 4hrs 49 mins, in which I ran to raise funds for Legacy Australia. An awesome event in one of my favourite US cities, and a thoroughly deserving charity.

Just before coming home one of the US Navy Officers took Kate and I out shooting on the range, a brief opportunity to fire some unique weaponry, which we'll likely not have the opportunity to do so again.

How very fitting that my last photo in uniform was at a Brewery; the original Yuengling Brewery in Pottsville PA, which I got to tour with the US Navy Supply Corps. We were also fortunate enough to meet the owner, Dick Yuengling, a 5th generation brewer. I highly recommend the Porters as well as their Black & Tan brews!
Kate and I after renewing our vows in Las Vegas on the way home to Australia!
Chapel of the Flowers, Las Vegas, January 2013.

My last ANZAC Day as a serving member, just after the Townsville Dawn Service with Sasha & Poppy. Two very patient girls who put up with their daddy being away for long periods due to operational requirements. Thank you girls x
And after the last 21 years, I reckon everything I learned and everything I experienced can best be summed up by the following two quotes below...


Roll on the next 21 years I say and all the new challenges ahead.

'Go you good thing'!
Cheers, Col       

* 'Targets down patch out' is a saying that comes from conducting range shoots. If you are working under cover moving the targets up and down manually, it means the shoot is complete and you can lower the targets and use stickers to patch the bullet holes, so that the targets can be used again. It is also the best thing to hear at the end of a long hot day as it means your work there is done.