25 December 2008

The Relocator strikes again

It all began slowly on Sunday Evening.
We noticed that the water in our toilet bowl was higher than normal and was taking some time to drop to normal levels. Then Dad came in and asked if we had noticed the issue as he had the same problem. We checked the other two toilets and we knew we "had a problem".
Next morning, Lana did a marathon ring around to find a plumber that could visit us and clean out the septic pipe. Lana called about four and talked to answering machines. Then one answered his own phone and Lana exclaimed, "Wow! A real person!"
"Now, don't get excited yet." was the reply. All the plumbers had long lists and couldn't get to us before Christmas. We had eleven people who couldn't hold on quite that long!
Eventually one lady answered the phone and said, "Hang on, I'll just get him." and Lana grabbed Dad in excitement saying, "He is there! We have hope!"
The plumber arrived mid afternoon and went to work with his "electric eel" which went down the pipe and found the blockage. The plastic spade (pictured) was the culprit. It had been dropped in by "someone" into the access hatch (also pictured), and wedged in the pipe. Our relocator strikes again! $280 later and it was all over.
"Now you're back in business." said the plumber as he left.
"In more ways than one." replied Lana.
But this was only part one!
Unbeknown to us, the release of the blockage caused a wave of muck to rush into the first septic tank. This then surged into the cleansing tank and blocked the exit pipe which is designed to pump out excess water - not muck.
The first we knew of this problem was on Wednesday after lunch when the warning light and alarm on the septic started.
"Opa," Eric informed Dad, ominously, "The warning light is on."
We opened the tank and started a new call around. We needed a pump out of all the muck from  both septic tanks on the day before Christmas. And all the muck disposal venues were closed for Christmas.  Lana eventually got to a local fellow and mentioned we have eleven people here. He explained that he couldn't get it done until after Christmas. Lana then played the "sympathy card", talking about the number of bottoms using the system. He sighed and said, "Everybody should have a toilet - and a telephone."
Lana paused in hope and he continued with a sigh, "Give me your address. Give me half an hour to go down the shop and buy my wife a card and a couple of bottles of red and I'll be out there."
He arrived and cleaned out the tanks, with Dad helping and working together with him. Meanwhile, Dad pulled out the pump and cleaned out the muck from there.  Eventually all was OK and we were once more back in business.  He was supposed to charge us $560, but he only charged us $500.
Merry Christmas.

15 December 2008

What are you doing?

The children have been enjoying our large tree, climbing and swinging on many limbs.  I noticed Rose hanging on a branch with her feet about 6 feet off the ground.
"What are you doing?" I asked as I moved in to assist.
"This!" she replied happily swinging on the branch.
Ask a dumb question ...
So I just stayed close to catch her if she fell, but she reached across to the ladder and got down quite safely.

Elephant stamps all round

In our State there is quite a procedure for a person to gain a driver's license. First they pass a written test to obtain a learner's permit. They then have a minimum of one year and up to three years to gain 120 hours of driving experience, covering a number of key learning areas including at least 20 hours of night driving.
That is a lot of driving!
Ariel passed her written test first go. She knew that if she failed she would have to try again and pay another fee but I don't think she needed the financial threat as she remembers what she reads very well.
We then decided to use a professional trainer for 20 hours to make sure she learned the basics in a structured manner. Now the remaining time she is mostly spending with me. 
For all you Dads out there, think of this as a great bonding experience. Together you face danger and stress, calmly suggesting improvements to your daughter's driving like, "Slow down ... slow down, SLOW DOWN! STOP!!!".
"I was stopping!" comes the calm reply, as you get your hand off the hand/emergency brake, and breathe again.
Ah, this is what memories are made of.
But that was early days. Every time we go out, Ariel is my chauffeur, driving at up to the maximum 80km per hour (50 mph).  The trip may take a little longer for highway trips, but it all counts gradually to those magical 120 hours.
Ariel is improving greatly. So much so that she earned her first Elephant Stamp on her hand.

Hair Fashions

Ariel likes to have her hair "just so" and Lana has been assisting her for many years. On Saturday Ariel decided that twin platts joined together would be the correct style for the day.
I only had a small improvement. A little Lego lady could sit quite comfortably in the join, swinging delicately while holding on to some strands of hair.
But Ariel didn't approve.

12 December 2008

Opa's little helper

Lana's Dad ("Opa") was working in the workshop/garage and Martin was doing his usual thing - tagging along and providing valuable assistance.
While Opa was busy and being noisy, Martin found the ear protectors and put them on. Of course, he began talking louder because he couldn't hear himself properly. 
Then Martin found a hammer and centre punch and started copying how he had seen Opa work with the tools. Noticing the potential danger, Opa thought quickly,  pulled out his phone and took a photo.

6 December 2008

The Fort grows

The next playground stage is "The Fort". This has the main building and then a bridge to a tower.
Attached to the tower is an old swing set friends had which was partly broken - now fixed and back in action.  Underneath the tower will be a sandpit and some netting to climb upon.
This playground is getting bigger all the time.  Speed of growth depends on funding and sourcing of second hand materials. 
As you can see from the second photo, the bridge and most of the top level are finally complete.
See how all the children are gathered along the bridge? The construction is strong enough to handle adults as well as plenty of children, running, jumping and otherwise playing around.
Funding and materials are currently in slow down mode again, but the next steps include a roof over the fort, linked to a water tank to collect rain water.  This way the children have their own water to play with without using our reserves.
Like many areas outside main towns in Australia, our water supply is entirely supplied by rain water.  We are all used to using water wisely and every roof around here is attached somehow to a water tank.
The four red plastic things in front of the fort are covering the hole into which we will be putting a large pole ready for the flying fox.  This time I hope to develop a safer testing system than the last time we had a flying fox. But that will be reported in due course...

5 December 2008

Bruggie Brothers Garden Maintenance

In line with our financial training for the children, the older boys Eric (15) and James(12.5) wanted some more funds for the things they wanted. This meant finding a way of earning money from people other than Dad and Mum.
One of the local village residents only comes down every couple of weeks and found the maintenance portion very draining to their enjoyment of village life. So they pay the boys a fixed amount per month to keep the grounds maintained - mowing, leaf clearing, gutter cleaning and so on. This is apportioned to us as a contribution to capital costs (lawn mower, trimmer and so on) and then each of the boys splitting across their savings and spending accounts. This then led to getting more mowing work for a couple more residents on an ad hoc basis.
This photo is the one we use for their business cards for their business: Bruggie Brothers Garden Maintenance.
This has led to another milestone. When the children earn a consistent $10 or more per month they can open up a bank account. This is pretty exciting for them as they see interest received as a bonus money.
"So the bank pays me not to spend my money?" James asked in amazement the other day.
"Yes," I replied, "Ariel earned a week's wages last quarter for leaving the money in her account."
Although the children earn their own money and at least 1/3rd goes into savings, we retain veto rights over their purchases. This has allowed them to learn what is - and more importantly, what is not - appropriate spending.
The other condition to having their own bank account is maintaining their own set of accounts in Quicken. That way we can do reports and see all the money they earned and where it all went.
Reviewing their accounts involve me asking questions like, "Look how much you spent on these items over the last year. How much do you still play with them? Do you still have them?"
This is a great training tool.
I was very interested when James came up to me the other day and asked, "Can you change my savings/spend mix? I want to save half rather than a third."
Woohoo! Tick off that little check box marked "Learn basic financial responsibility".

1 December 2008

Where is Matt?

Matt Harding is a funny guy. He has been able to turn a funny idea of dancing a jig in front of a video camera for family and friends into a business! He details his travels at his website: Where the Hell is Matt? and the Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting story on him too.
In these days of media telling us the world is ending, Matt is a good example of how opportunities are everywhere to enjoy life and make a living too. I just felt here is a good example of the one man's love of life spreading worldwide.
Matt's site tells his story here.

23 November 2008

Getting real close to Jesus

Today Clare made her first Holy Communion.
We have been working up to this for the last few months. I have been part of the parish team who taught all the children wishing to have their first Confession and Communion. Clare has joined me in all the lessons, which was some special "time with Dad" time.
The parish has a great programme whereby the children attend the classes with at least one of their parents. We know that it is really important for the parents to learn what we are teaching as much as we want the children to learn as well. After all, we only are able to share the faith with them for the 6 lessons, their responsibility is to pass on the faith full time.
The trick is to pass on the fundamentals of the Faith in a manner which the children can understand but also opens up the Faith to the adults.
For example, Clare asked me, "Why is Jesus fully God and fully man?" Good question. We then went through salvation history where God made a deal (covenant) with Man from Adam (a couple), Noah (a family), Abraham (a tribe), Moses (a people) and David (a Kingdom) and each time the human side of the deal was broken. But God still had to make a binding deal with Man so we could get back with him after the Failure of the first Man, Adam.
So Jesus became fully Man, while still being fully God. Therefore he was able to uphold both ends of the agreement and we were able to get past the impasse of fallen Man.
That made sense and Clare was OK.
It was fun teaching the children. My method of teaching is very much question and answer format, getting the children to think about what we are discussing. And I am the type of teacher that catches napping students by asking them for an answer using their name.
One question I asked the children was '"How do you know you have a soul?"
No one knew how to answer. So we went through our material senses - sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
"Can you use these senses with anything at all?" I asked.
"Sure!" was the reply.
"Ok. Where are you?" I asked.
They all pointed.
"No, that's your nose. No that's your cheek. No that's your belly button."
The children looked perplexed. Where were they?
"If you chopped off your leg, where are you then? In fact, your whole body you call YOUR body. So YOU must be somewhere that you can't get at with your material senses, but obviously you are here because we are talking to each other. So you must be more than just the material bit. You are body AND soul."
So after all this Clare had her special day. She wore a very fancy white dress (as you can see) and sat in a special seat right at the front of the pews during the Mass. Rose had a special red dress so she could enjoy the day too. Clare has been so excited she would inform us each day for the last two weeks how many days were left until her First Communion.

8 November 2008

DMC Bankrupt - not long to go ...

The administrators of DMC have announced that they will extend the deathwatch by 4 months.  The other two parts of DMC have been dismantled and sold off.  The time for potential buyers to put in their bids has been extended to 21 November, and the final decision is deferred to 5 March 2009.

Basically the levels of debt prior to this period of administration has compromised the chances of DMC coming out as an operating entity.

The same issues that were in existence at the start of administration that I mentioned before are still in place, but now you can add a likely downturn in the market as well.  So if the business has high levels of debt, a downturn in trading terms (via Exchange Rate differences), a downturn in the market (less sales) and trust in the company reduced by the troubles in the company the chance of coming through alive are low.
This will cause a huge change in the Cross Stitch market, especially considering a huge portion of the kits come standard with DMC colours and coding.  Also, many non DMC threads are still based on DMC dyed threads and blank/white stock.

The photo is a fine hangman's noose in DMC colour 316.

3 November 2008

A Model Son in Law

I received a phone call from a lady in our Parish when I was working away from home a few weeks ago. This lady began to explain to me how she was organising a fundraiser to provide funds for maintenance of the parish church. She thought a Fashion show would be a good idea and spent about 20 minutes building up to the question, "Will you be one of the models?"
I could see this coming and said, "Sure. Are you desperate for suitable volunteers?"
She breathed a sigh of relief and said she would be in touch for the fitting and other details.
I immediately emailed Lana with what was happening. About half way into the email I included a photo of me using my webcam looking very "Model-ish" and the comment "Stop laughing!"  (The picture above is me in "Model mode")
I was right! She was laughing very much and so was Ariel who was looking over her shoulder.
About a week or so later our neighbour who works with a fellow parishioner was told he was going to the store to pick up some clothes.
"Don't you have enough clothes?" she asked.
"No. I am in a fashion show. With David."
"David?" she asked.
"Yeah, David your neighbour."
A picture came into her head of me doing the model thing and she began laughing and had to take her break. She figured it was all a joke until she visited Lana who confirmed it all.
That weekend Lana's Mum asked Lana, "How's my model son in law going?"
Friends that visit us each week also were amused and wanted to come, too.
All up I ended up with a support team of 14 people. And Lana secretly made up little flags with "David" on them to wave when I came out to show the fine clothes.
The night finally arrived and the first outfit was casual. The children couldn't remember me in shorts and flip-flops/thongs - it was a sight to see. The white legs certainly were impressive.
I didn't know about the little "David" flags until I first came out and saw a wave of flags waving.
The next outfit was smart casual and the third was a "James Bond" style outfit - Tuxedo, with white shirt and bow tie. A suitable "Oooh" was heard when I walked out. Now that was more like it.
The last outfit was a winter sporting outfit with beanie and it was very hot - but also something I never normally wear. The children thought it was all great fun seeing Dad dress up.
The Fund raiser went very well and over $2,000 was raised to assist in Church maintenance. And I am left with the seemingly never ending "supportive" comments relating to my very fashionable modelling career.

23 October 2008

Dorothy the Dinosaur has changed

Some time ago we were able to get hold of some old playground equipment. It had originally belonged to a Fast Food restaurant which had upgraded, then it was sold to someone else and sold again. Each time it had not been assembled as it probably looked like a good idea at the time of purchase, but it was just too big for a typical suburban back yard and too much for the one or two child families. We were able to get it for $500 and we promptly put it together. Being Green and Yellow it looked - kind of - like Dorothy the Dinosaur from the Wiggles.
This was disassembled to make way for the new, improved playground and has now been reborn. The addition of a new slide and "Voila!" the children have more things on which to play. They were too excited to help very effectively. As each piece was put together with much grunting and groaning by our builder friend and Lana and Ariel, the younger children were climbing over everything.
This isn't too bad a playground for a private backyard.

(Where were Eric and I while all this hard labour was going on? In the city, working at one of my clients. Eric is assisting with some data entry, providing a very good source of labour. The client wins, Eric gets some income and also some good experience, and I get fine company at work.)

19 October 2008

Martin is Back

Martin is free! His leg cast came off 10 days ago and he is really having fun running around everywhere!
When Lana entered the surgery, Martin realised where he was and began crying. He had been here before and was pointing to his escape path straight out those front doors. The X Ray showed great healing and leg bones fully restored. Once the cast was off and Lana exited the building he was on the ground and running.
Thankfully that little adventure is over and Martin is back on track, relocating to his heart's content.

18 October 2008

Press Play: The Shop

The playground has begun to grow again after a Winter hiatus. The girl's shop has 4 walls, floor and roof. Although it still has a few more refinements remaining, it is enough for the girls to start playing shops.
We asked Clare what she would name her shop. She thought long and hard before arriving at her answer: "The Shop"
So "The Shop" it is. We will put up a sign with "Est. 2008" declaring it so. Here is Rose peeking over the counter awaiting customers.
The instruction to the fellow helping us make the playground was to "think generational". This playground has to survive not only our children, but also their children too. After all, we have to cater for double a small school population - 7 children!
To test out the new shop, I asked Rose to sell me something. I asked, "What does the shop sell?" "Anything!" she replied and ran off towards the house. While I was waiting Peter offered to sell me a gun, ammunition and some body armour. This should prove to be an interesting range of merchandise. A Mini Walmart indeed!
Rose finally returned with a collection of pretend fruit and boxes which she carefully placed around the wall supports which served as temporary shelving. When all was ready, she looked at me and announced, "Now press play." That is a modern way for little children to say "Let's begin".
Here she is selling me a very fine red tomato. Such a fine smile with which to serve her large clientele.

8 October 2008

4H Carnival Of Homeschooling

The Carnival Of Homeschooling is up at Corn and Oil, celebrating the National 4H week.

We experienced 4H when we lived in Georgia, when Ariel and Eric joined in the BB gun competitions.  They didn't get through the try-outs but did pretty well for beginners.  (See how young Eric looks in the second link!)

Personal Highlights of the carnival:
Video killed the Book - we have found that movies rarely do justice to the book.  Many times we eagerly read the book and at other times we avoided the film supposedly "based" on books we really enjoy.  (For example, Around the World in 80 days is a great book that none of the movies have really captured.)

Why I don't like calling it "Home School" - We call our education home schooling for two reasons.  It is the commonly understood word that everyone has heard.  The second reason is that we redefine "school" to be more than just 9 to 3, plus homework, plus travel plus fundraising plus extra curricular activities.  For us it is the whole education experience from reading, writing and arithmetic, plus listening to stories, playing around, games, building things, dressing up, visiting shops, people, church, events and buildings.  For us "school" is a holistic education.

And, of course, there is our post: Another Homeschool Reason: No Fundraising.

6 October 2008

An Australian Primer to the Financial Mess

I have been speaking to many people about the unfolding financial mess and there is widespread confusion about what it's all about.  Also, many Australians do not realise how different the financial and government situation is in the US, so I thought it was time for a primer on the situation.

Differences in Financial Structures
1. There are LOTS of banks in the US, some so small they only have between 2 and 5 branches and some very large ones.  Australia has four main banks and a few smaller ones, but all banks have LOTS of branches.  The bank we used when we were in Georgia only covered a couple of counties.  If I wanted to transfer funds or access funds elsewhere in the country complex deals had been arranged to manage this.  In Australia you can access your funds anywhere in Australia.

2. The government enforced rules requiring the banks to make bad loans.  Initially the Carter administration passed laws encouraging banks to provide funds for disadvantaged people to own their own homes.  The Clinton administration decided to enforce the laws so that if any bank wanted to merge or acquire other banks they had to show they made loans to these disadvantaged people.  By disadvantaged you can read "unable to pay" or "bad credit risk".  There is no benefit in making bad loans in Australia.

3. Bankruptcy is relatively easy in the US.  Having bad credit will result in expensive credit, insurance and lots of other penalties, but if it is bad already, it is hard to get worse.  If you had bad credit, and a fellow in a suit said here is a bundle of money to buy your own home, and I'll even fiddle the application so you qualify, this meant free rent.  When the repayments became impossible, the common response was to send the keys to the mortgage owner and walk away.  In Australia, the debt stays with the person and is difficult to recover from a bankruptcy.

4. When the bank had lots of these doubtful debts, the government started bodies - oddly named Freddie and Fannie Mac.  These organisations worked book keeping magic and arranged to buy the doubtful debts and then mix them in all sorts of combinations and resell them.  Somehow this made horrible grade debt into A grade debt.  There is no mechanism for this here.

5. Australia's banking system is pretty solid.  Our main problem is our size and reliance on international finds and markets.  When the US and China sneeze, we get a cold too.

6. US Land taxes/council rates fund the local school system.  These can be many thousands of dollars.  These taxes remain with the property, so if a home is abandoned for two years, the selling price will keep dropping to take into account the back taxes.  That is one reason why Walmart finds it cheaper to build a new store outside the city limits rather than purchase a distressed downtown property.  Sometimes town councils will sell a property for $1 PLUS back taxes, and it will still find no buyers.  In Australia, local rates only pay for Council activities.  Schools are funded by State taxes.

The impact
1. Note how the US government has encouraged the banks to make bad debts and then provided a way to keep the whole thing going.  Now the government has bought up Feddie and Fannie and with the bailout/rescue will buy up the other mortgages at great prices.  Voila! The US government now owns a HUGE portion of the mortgage market in the US.  And all it took was some manipulation and banker's greed and we have a very effective transfer of property ownership.

2.  This will lead to a massive consolidation of US financial institutions.  Until that all shakes out, the money will flow sporadically which means credit will be tight.  Tight credit normally means higher interest rates and reduced consumer confidence.  So businesses with lots of debt will have to pay more to service that debt and earn less from sales.  The result is business failures, unemployment and tougher times for all.

3.  This is not like the 1929/30 depression.  It is closer to the 1873 depression.  Then a similar reckless financial expansion led to a 4 to 8 year depression.

4. The European banks are not in any better position than the US banks.  They are also collapsing all over the place as they did similar "imprudent" lending and also investing in US financial institutions.

5.  China and India are very reliant on the US economy.  When it slows down, all the underlying landmines in China - demographic, economic and social - will begin exploding resulting in depression there too.

6.  Australia's markets are overseas, so we will also feel the effects.

What now?
1. Brace yourselves.  Cut your expenses and live within (and hopefully below) your means.  You know you should have been doing this anyway, but now you have no choice.

2. Concentrate on the important things - family, faith and community.  These three things do not require money to be fulfilling.  Investments in Family, faith and community result in huge returns over many years.

Further Reading: 

5 October 2008

Another Homeschool Reason - No Fundraising

Last weekend we attended a fundraising for a local public primary (elementary) school. They were desperately trying to raise the funds to keep the school open. I don't know how raising funds would help determine the ability to remain open for a public school, but I stopped by the Parents and Friends stall and asked how many students were attending the school.
"Three." The lady answered
"Three?" I asked in surprise.
"But there will be more next year."
This sounds a bit hopeful. With a dwindling child population, how can the State (which funds schools in Australia) legitimately maintain the school for three children. Our homeschool is double the number of students and we have NO assistance from the government.
So why do so many parents have to bring chocolates, lollies and other stuff to sell at their workplaces to raise funds for their school? If I asked people to give me some money to build a playground in my back yard, they would laugh. If I asked them to buy something to help in fund raising for recreation facilities for my children's school, they would find this more acceptable. Yet there is no difference.  Here is a photo of the school playground.
When people ask me about homeschooling, one of the benefits I list is "No fundraising". I always get the response how this IS a definite benefit.

(The photo is of Clare dutifully pointing out the termite mound on the school grounds. Isn't it huge!) She was eyeing the great school playground, and once I had taken the photo she joined the rest of our children to play on the equipment. We felt good knowing that double the normal school population was able to use the equipment.)

28 September 2008

How Homeschoolers Party

We have just had a combined foursome birthday party.  Naturally, this was a Costume party and was organised some time in advance. The local Hall was booked as it has a kitchen, dance floor, plenty of parking and a playground for the children and was quite inexpensive. Combining the birthdays of four children was a great excuse to get together.
By way of background this is how a typical homeschooling party works here. People are invited as families. All the family, parents, older and younger children, are all welcome. The concept of dropping the children off and going home is such a strange concept for us.  Each family brings a main meal and a dessert dish which is all served in the communal eating area at the appropriate times. Email is the key to maintain contact with the families spread across the country.
We had visitors from as far south as 8 hours away in Victoria, and North about 8 hours in Northern New South Wales and West about 6 hours away in central New South Wales. We estimated that there about 200 or so people in attendance. Some of the parents dressed up too, such as these fine parents reliving the glories of the 60's. Cool dude! They could even dance the part!
As families arrived the children quickly raced off to find others around their hight and the parents greeted each other with great smiles. All looked forward to this type of party.

The Children
A caller was hired to call bush dancing. Earlier dances were mostly for the younger children which meant simple steps and lots of screaming. This photo centres on Rose and Clare having a great time doing the "Kangaroo" dance which works like this: 
Everyone was in a circle with the child chosen as the Kangaroo in the middle. The music starts and the circle moves 8 steps right then 8 steps left and they rush in - yell - rush out and then in - yell - and out and the Kangaroo hops around and picks someone to be the next kangaroo and it goes around again. It ends up when the caller said he wanted 2, then 4, then 8, then 16 then everyone in the middle as Kangaroos. (If you click on the photo you will get a more detailed view of Rose throroughly enjoying the dance.)
Between dances they had a great time playing in the playground outside or just running around.

The Youth
The girls all greeted each other with the traditional "energy exchange" hug. You know the type - a squeal of delight, then quick hug with an air kiss or brush of cheeks. All girls do this and my theory is that it is a form of energy exchange.
The boys method of energy exchange is a gruff "Gedday" and then shake hands firmly, quickly followed by hands in pockets, a slight shuffle of the feet with "How're ya goin" and so on.
Once these traditional routines have been exchanged, the Youth mix in various mixed groups updating each other since they last met or chatted online. Once the dancing started in earnest, they all went into the hall (some "volunteered" by their parents) and began bush dancing.
The youth had a great collection of costumes, the girls mostly in flowing style dresses and boys in quite a variety of outfits from Ned Kelly, hobo, Zorro, Where's Wally, Soldier, James Bond, Bob the Bludger, a crusader with a real sword (the boys were impressed) and a motley collection of pirates.

The Adults
The parents were able to have conversations beyond sport and weather (although these too were covered). We discussed politics, religion, the saving of the world, the qualities of great priests and bishops, literature, Global "Warming" and how cold it has become and even occasionally mentioned curriculum and homeschooling methods. Basically it is socialisation for adults too.
The average number of children at this party is about 5 children. So that is roughly one adult to three children or so, aged from 2 months to 21 years old. Now you have to imagine how three dads talk at this type of party. There we were standing next to the playground - minding the children as it were - while the children frolicked all over the equipment and we randomly looked in their direction.
One child who I don't know walked right toward me and pointed his finger at my chest. "Can you get me a drink?" "Sure," I reply and break off the conversation and get him a drink from the drink urn which was too high for him.
Upon returning to the two other Dads, I catch on to where the conversation has turned and the child of one of the other dads asks him, "Where's Mum" "Over there," he replies pointing. Then the third dad is interrupted with another child. But this has all become so second nature our conversation continues merrily along. As we recall the conversation with our wives, these interruptions are not mentioned and our wives assume we had all the time to ourselves while they were continually interrupted with children.
(This last picture is of Martin pretending he has no broken leg when I really was watching him in the playground.)
The story of our children's costumes is detailed here.

A Costume Party hurrah!

The whole family worked very hard over the last few weeks getting ready for the big birthday costume party bash. Four homeschooling children turned 18 in the last few months so they combined together to have one big birthday at the local hall. And it was a COSTUME party. Woo hoo!
The boys wanted to go as Jedi - but good ones. You know, the sort of Jedi that don't steal children and leave their mothers behind or breach someone's free will by using mind control. And they only fight in just wars.
Eric had purchased a visual guide a while ago and it includes almost every character from the Star Wars universe with lots of photos. This was the pattern for their costumes.
Lana found the material through a neighbour and we were given some old leather that friends didn't want anymore. Combined, Lana and Mum were able to make a robe with belt and sash and all the appropriate bits.
The boys made light sabres from an old pipe with matches and other bits and pieces glued on and painted for the buttons and so on. The poles were made from "Black Boy" bushes and painted with bright paint.  And they were able to wear their gum boots (rubber boots) out to a party.
The girls were another joint effort.
Clare was finally able to wear a lovely white dress we had been given by one of our American friends when we lived in Georgia. It now fits and Clare was very excited to be able to finally wear it. Rose's dress also came from the US from a thrift store (Opportunity shop). It had originally been bought for Clare but now fit Rose. Never throw away a nice dress when smaller sized children follow.
The floral crowns were made from ribbon and some wire and artificial flowers Grandma purchased. Opa twisted the wire, then Lana and her mum glued the ribbon and flowers to make a crown which fit their heads.  Only a few minor wounds could be shown for the effort.
Ariel wanted to go in a nice dress costume. So, off to the opportunity shop (op shop) for shopping. The dress was based on one purchased for $12.00. Lana and Ariel examined the options and found a white dress which could be said to be from the Jane Austen era. Perfect! This was adjusted to fit Ariel better, and it was jazzed up with a collection of 26 applique flowers which Ariel sewed on all week. The blue robe was a sheet(part of a set) and cost $1 and was then sewed in half. Ariel found the shoes at another op shop for $1. You've gotta love those op shops for great clothes!
The last bit was Ariel's hair. Lana and Ariel looked online and found various hair styles which were appropriate and Lana proceeded to do the braids and bun and ribbon thing. Here is a close up so you can see the pattern. I think they all scrubbed up pretty well.
It was a good team effort.  Lana, her mum and Ariel combined their talents to create some great costumes for very little cost.  A fine example of low cost fun.  I am sure the boys will be wearing their costumes often.  They were made well knowing that they would have to stand up to a lot of enthusiastic play.

26 September 2008

Beware! There be Rocks Ahead!

I have been keeping tabs on what is happening in the US Financial markets as it does affect us here in far away Australia. The US economy affects China and India which purchase a lot of Australian resources. In our global economy, the financial chaos in the US affects every country.
The bailout is just the latest in a long series of government moves to become bigger and more involved in everyone's lives. It is not Republican vs Democrat as both seem to go for bigger governments in practice, even if they say otherwise.

Some background:
Loans have been made that normally should never been made. Typically banks and financiers made loans to people who couldn't pay, or on houses that were way overvalued. This was a combination of government policy and financier greed.

Now these loans were pretty dodgy. Although on the books they may be valued at $100, considering the risk of default, they may only be worth $50 to $60. (That is the open market value for them). To cover up this risky nature, many of the loans were bundled together into a group of loans called a CDO (Collateralized Debt Obligation - aka Bag of Bad Debts)
Now the CDO was presented as a AAA rating (That is, worth the full face value of the investment). The new $1000 CDO containing 10 dodgy loans was promoted as really being worth $1000. As these CDO's were often rolled up further and further, firms investing in them thought their money was safe as no-one could - or wanted to - discover what was really in those CDOs. They were "Asset Backed" so were as "safe as houses".
Problem is, the underlying loans were already starting to fall apart as those with the loans were defaulting and house values dropping.

If the banks with these dodgy loans tried selling them on the open market, they would have to record the loss. That would make them insolvent and the bank would go down. So they don't sell, hoping (futilely) that the loans will stay good. But the underlying house values are still dropping so the assets backing the defaulting loan don't even match what is owed. A loss in inevitable.

Imagine what would happen if many banks closed down. This is the current risk. If enough banks go down, the effect on others as interbank transfers start failing on the financial system is pretty dreadful. At the end of the day, the bailout will happen so that the financial system - worldwide - doesn't go into an equivalent of toxic shock.

Is the bailout a good idea? No, but I can't see the choice. All the decisions and government meddling over the last 10 years have been to artificially pump of the economy, and the banks and financiers have raked in the money knowing that the financial economy was all a stack of cards waiting to fall down. The laws requiring loans to be made to those that were never a good risk certainly didn't help. What a dumb idea. That deferred a recession but has only made it worse. Many of the decisions over the last few years is like you or I borrowing on credit cads to pay essentials or opening new credit cards with higher interest to pay off older ones.
Eventually the credit merry-go-round stops and the tears start.

The media reports this as a failure of free market capitalism.  The US market (and all financial markets) are not free market.  They are REGULATED free-ish markets.  It's just that the regulators in the US meddled way too much.

What can you do?
About the bailout? Nothing.
About your own situations? As always, follow Macawber's advice to young David Copperfield (paraphrased). 
Annual Income $20, Annual expenses $19.90 = Happiness. 
Annual Income $20, Annual Expenses $20.10 = misery.

There are two sides to getting into a better financial state - Offensive (getting income) and Defensive (not spending). Both are vital. As the Defensive side is mostly in the homemaker's area work at it the same way as the primary bread-winner works at the offensive. 
Cut unnecessary expenses like cable TV and many expensive activities. Encourage your children to provide services to locals such as car washing, mowing and house maintenance - for a fee. It is good for them and they can contribute to the family. Overall, operate as a combined family, not a set of individuals, and typically you will do well.

Also, remember that the economy always goes up and down. It has been quite a while since the last down cycle, and it is no surprise that this has come. Those who allowed themselves to be unwise with their money in good times will now have to relearn in the bad times. The best way to get through any bad times - whether war or disaster or economy - is strength of character. Integrity is your best defense.
Practice what you preach, remember God is in charge and ask him for help.

20 September 2008

A Claytons Birthday Party

Even with 9 birthdays plus Grandma and Opa there is still a drought of birthday parties between July and October.  The solution?
Celebrate someone else's!
My sister is turning 40 around now so we have celebrated her birthday.
Happy Birthday to my sister from the Bruggies up North!

Note: The term "Claytons" is an Australian term meaning "The [Insert thing here] you have when you're not having a [Insert thing here]".  In this case this is a birthday party we are celebrating when we're not celebrating a birthday!

7 September 2008

Clare's new attempt for a pet

Clare went to Grandma to help her relieve the pain of a bee sting.  Grandma applied the appropriate ointment and TLC and they went in to see Lana.
"Oh no!" said Lana, "How did the bee sting you?"
"I was trying to catch it for a pet." Clare replied.
"Did you catch it?"
"Yes.  I had it in my hands when it stung me."
"So, would a bee make a good pet?"
Clare thought carefully, "No, I don't think so."

This is Clare at the side of the road with a collection of Wattle branches she had collected.

A 4 year old knows everything

Yesterday Rose was "helping" Grandma cut up strawberries.  This help involves chatting away incessantly while occasionally test whether the strawberries are OK by eating one or two.
As Grandma was telling Rose various bits of news, Rose would reply, "I know that." every time.
"Are you 4?" Grandma finally asked.
"Yes I Am!" Rose replied.
Anyone with a four year old understands this is the age when they know everything.
"Clare says you and Opa are really old and are going to die soon." she next announced in a matter-of-fact way.
"I don't think it'll be that soon," replied Grandma.
"Good." answered Rose, "Because I love you and Opa a real lot."
At dinner tonight Rose was bouncing around madly.
"Are you a Jack-in-a-box or a Rose-in-a-box?" I asked.
"Peter took it." she answered.  Now that is a guilty conscience!

29 August 2008

Sibling Rivalry - Not!

We reckon it must be pretty hard for people with only two children.  I mean with only two children the parents are still playing one-on-one.  With three or more you are into zone defense!
While Martin was doing his latest adventure at the hospital, I was with the rest of the children at a nearby park and doing a little shopping.  As I am not able to hover over one or two children - being so outnumbered - I just opened the park gate and told them to "Go and play!".  Then I just wandered around doing my job - "Look at me!", "Can you push me?", "Dad!  I did it! I got across in one go!"
This photo is of the 5 middle children all playing on the spinning pole thing. (The pole is meant to be bent - it isn't bending due to the strain)
The children don't get into terrible fights.  They have occasional disagreements, but they learn to solve these difficulties in a civilized manner.  As we all have to live together, there isn't a lot of room - or sympathy - for selfish grandstanding or retaining animosity.

I asked each of the children individually what it was like having lots of brothers and sisters.
Peter (9): "Fun!  Good to play with and you don't have to sleep in a room by yourself, and you can ask people to help you.  You can join with your brothers' pocket money to buy something quicker."
Eric (14): "You don't have to visit someone's house to find someone to play with.  You can muck around with them without worrying too much about causing offense."
Ariel (17): "Annoying. (then she smiled as she thought further) And fun. You get to have others do your bidding.  You have little remote controls" [little children to get things for you]
James (12): "Fun.  If you can't figure something out, you can ask your older brother who has been reading a lot for ideas."
Clare (7): "Fun.  You can play with them."
That's not a bad response from a question without notice.

(The second photo I took of Peter while we were both on the spinning pole thing.  Boy, those things spin fast!)

Grandparents are Handy

Before Lana and her Dad returned home with Martin from the hospital on Sunday, Lana's Mum had already made a pair of pants which would fit over his cast.  By Tuesday, she had made two more pants for Martin.
Also by Tuesday, Lana's Dad had made a special wheeled trolley with cushion for Martin to push himself around on.
You can see both the cushion and one of the pants in this picture of Martin eating a Mandarine.
Living with grandparents is a truly wonderful experience.
1. Our children get to know and learn from their grandparents.
2. We all experience more of life's mysteries and aging when there is a broader mix of ages.
3. The children know that if Mum and Dad become less agile, we will be taking care of them.  Just like they will do when we get older.
4. The inter generational knowledge transfer is very beneficial for us all.
5. An extra car and driver is very convenient!
The main thing was to know more about each other, allowing us to live together and grow in familial love.
Cool! (as the children would say.)

24 August 2008

Martin vs the Bird Bath

Here is Martin. He has a broken leg.
Yesterday we had a great day planned. Lana, Ariel, her Mum, sister and friend all were going to the Sydney Stitches and Craft show. This was a good opportunity for us to visit friends nearby so we all went up, dropped the rest of the children at the friend's place, picked up Mrs Friend and two of her daughters, dropped the giggle of girls off at the show and Mr Friend and I had a good day chatting away and minding the children. There were 11 children under our diligent care and there were no problems at all until right near the end.
Mr Friend and I heard a cry from the back yard. We recognised it as *that* sort of cry and quickly went outside to see Martin crying while trying to climb the ladder of the slide, but he couldn't put any weight on his leg. Clare told us the concrete bird bath had fallen on his leg. Mr Friend and I exchanged glances and I used diversion therapy on him by changing his nappy (diaper) and water soaked clothes. A bruise was quickly forming on his lower leg and we knew that had to hurt. But was it broken? We couldn't tell but he was pretty unhappy.
We think Martin must have lifted himself up by the edge of the birdbath to see what was in it. The base cracked, the top fell on top of him and covered him with water. Clare lifted the bird bath off him just before we got outside to see what was happening.
I went and picked up the giggle of girls and returned. Martin was very glad to see Lana but still wasn't happy. So we returned home. Overnight Martin awoke a few times but slept well.
This morning we decided we had to go to the hospital with Martin. Again. Lana went with her Dad while I took the rest of the family to Mass.
Sure enough, the leg was broken. The main bone had cracked about 3/4 through. Martin now has a support behind his leg and bandages. In a few days when the pain and swelling dies down, we will go back for another X ray and probably a cast of some sort.
I think the hardest part for the next few days will be trying to keep Martin from getting up and running around!

10 August 2008

What's this white stuff?

Today it was very cold. So cold we had this white stuff known as "snow" falling!
So we quickly rushed out to see this wonder. The children and our guests all went outside to experience the snow. We also saw our neighbours doing a little happy dance showing their appreciation  that snow was falling.
If you click the photo you can see James giving the snow "two thumbs up" award while trying to catch some snow in his mouth.

7 August 2008

Not Back to School at the Carnival

The latest Carnival of Homeschooling is up at The Homeschool Cafe.
Our post on not finishing text books is included.

31 July 2008

Why Text Books review so much of last year

While Lana and I were loitering around hospital with Martin, we spent time with other patients and their parents in the children's ward.  One such lad who was recovering from a tonsillectomy was enjoyable company.  His mother wanted to make sure he didn't miss any of his schooling so had arranged to pick up his school books and find out to what page he was required to finish.
She was told that the rest of the class was up to page 34 of the Maths book.  The schools have just returned for Term 3 (out of 4) so we would have thought the class would be about half way through the book.  But the book has around 180 pages!
"Oh, we never finish the books," answered the lad, as if this was common knowledge.
Thinking back to our school days I remember we never finished our text books either.  No wonder the first 25% to 33% of each year's books review the prior year.  This is probably because the students didn't actually cover the topics being "reviewed"! 
Meanwhile, most homeschool parents stress over completing each of the school books.  We get the book, look at the total number of lessons or pages, divide by the number of school weeks and then proceed to do that much per week. As the end of the year draws near, the children see the book is nearing completion and wonder things like, "Hey, there are only 4 lessons to go.  I'll just do them now and I can put the book away!"
We explained this to the boy's mother and she agreed it all made sense to her.
Also, one of the boy's assignments was to write an essay on "How do you feel about ANZAC day?"
"What's ANZAC day?" he asked.
In Australia this is a sad indictment of the school and the parents.  It is comparable to a US student asking, "What's Memorial Day?" Why would the school give an assignment about a subject if it hasn't even been discussed or taught at school first?  And even then, what type of stupid assignment asks how you "feel" about the topic?  How can you be marked wrong?
So we once more find additional reasons to homeschool.

30 July 2008

Is this a good date?

We have escaped the hospital. Martin will have to go back on Friday for a checkup but all should be well. The abscess was about the size of a marble and very painful, but the hole is already starting to heal and Martin is much happier.
Whenever any of the nursing staff or doctors approached Martin he gave them a very severe look. When he was placed on the bed so they could inspect his progress he started wailing strongly. Even getting his temperature taken was deemed too intrusive for Martin. However, he calmed down quickly and after Lana had taken his temperature, happily wandered to the Nursing station and gave them back the thermometer.
Last Saturday I meant to take Lana on a "date" but it didn't really work out and we just had time together and did a little shopping. Upon our return home Ariel was disgusted and said to us, "Shopping isn't a date." Ariel claims Mum was also disappointed, so with two women against me I had no hope.  I had to try again.
So on Saturday we tried again and this time caught a movie and had a meal together, although Martin was a bit whiny at the time and accompanied us. This was better and had a higher "Ariel Approval Rating". 
Yesterday when Lana was sitting in her chair, exhausted from a weary night's sleep in her clothes on an uncomfortable pull out bed, holding a tired and sore Martin, I asked, "Is this a good date?" I was rewarded with a weak smile.
Well, this is what family life is all about. We make our various plans and then life intervenes. Then plans are changed and we all cope with the new circumstances. If it wasn't for these trials, then the good parts would all blend together. It's like seasons. Winter makes us appreciate Summer, and the heights of Summer make us long for Winter. The good times can lull us into a false sense of security and allow us to assume that life should always be like this.
It's events like these that remind us how truly fortunate we are.
(Isn't Martin cute in a hospital robe his size?  He looks like an Angel until a nurse approaches.)

29 July 2008

Martin's latest adventure

Yesterday Martin was not happy. When we changed his nappy we noticed a really big sore. Lana called me and we decided Lana should take Martin to the doctor.
At 4:00pm Lana was brought in to the assistant doctor. She took one look and called in the main doctor. Lana was sent to the hospital to check with the pediatrician and surgeon.
I left Sydney and met Lana at 5:30 pm and we waited around while various staff did their thing by walking in, asking the same questions, having a look and then walking out with very little information passed to us. I don't know why the interpersonal skills of hospital staff are so lacking. A simple, "Hello, my name is X and this is what's happening" would be great. Instead we had the "hurry up and wait" syndrome until 8:00pm when we discovered Martin would be staying at the hospital overnight ready for an operation first thing in the morning. Gee, thanks for letting us know this was happening guys!
Anyway, now the operation is over, we have finally been told that Martin had a perianal abscess. We did know that the abscess or tumor would have to be drained, but that is all we knew beforehand.  This is often caused by bacteria getting into a small cut or scratch near the bottom exit area and then having a party causing an abscess. So now Martin will be in hospital for the next day or so, having antibiotics to attack the infection and recover from the operation and anesthesia.
The hardest part was applying the cannula. As you can see by the photo it is well attached to stop Martin getting at it. He was wrapped in a sheet so only one arm was free. Lana hugged him tightly, one nurse held his upper arm and another held his lower arm. The pediatrician then inserted the cannula and applied the bandages. At times Martin was winning the struggle!

21 July 2008

Sore Feet, Light Hearts - The Aftermath

Now that we are home and have had a really good sleep, we are taking time to reflect on yesterday. We are very glad we took the trouble to be part of World Youth Day. The next WYD has been announced for 2011 in Madrid, Spain. Ariel will be 20 and Eric 17 so I think we will try to be there with me as a chaperone.
We saw that attending a WYD can be a good or bad experience depending on the group with which you attend. A good group with solid priests and chaperones can increase the good sides for all attending. The pilgrims that stayed with us had the mix pretty good. The unaccompanied pilgrims we saw at WYD showed the other options.
So we are calling one of the good priests we know who will most likely be going and arrange to be part of his group. Even if he doesn't know it yet. We have 3 years to save the money and learn Spanish.
The first photo is of Martin during the Pope's homily. The location of his hands certainly caused a few smiles. Rose also enjoyed herself using Eric's binoculars.
The children did really well with all the walking. We had to carry Martin often, and occasionally put Rose on my shoulders, but overall they walked all the way. Clare did the whole walk with hardly any complaining. Meanwhile, the less fit of us (Lana, Ariel, James and myself) all have blisters on our feet and sore hips. We are going to start regular walks to improve our fitness. If we intend on more travelling we need to be able to do so with less soreness!
As Rose had plenty of time on my shoulders or in the stroller, she decided it was time to skip as we approached the train station on the way home.  "You wouldn't skip when my feet didn't hurt, and I'm not doing it now!"
There were flags everywhere! Every nationality had their flag flying proudly and provided all geography students with an impromptu quiz. One flag I couldn't recognise which was flying in many places was a yellow one with three red horizontal stripes. I asked one of the pilgrims holding this flag and he informed me it was the Vietnamese flag - from before the communists took over.
This flag was flown by thousands of the Vietnamese refugees and their descendants. The fellow I spoke to has been in Australia over 25 years and happily explained it all to me.
This last photo is of the flag of Ferrari - the motor vehicle company. I asked loudly, "I didn't realise Ferrari was a country.  I wonder what cars they drive there?" and the fellow holding the flag laughed and waved his flag more vigorously.
Luckily, the client I was meant to visit today was the one who had the great view at the altar yesterday. He was very accommodating and allowed me to cancel the appointment so I could let my feet and legs recover. He has had a great laugh at how much fitter he is being over 25 years older than me!
We are glad we went, but will be even more glad when our unfit bodies recover.
We hope you have enjoyed our coverage of World Youth Day. We may get some more photos if "our" pilgrims send some to us, and we might then add a few more straggling posts, but we are glad to have been able to provide a glimpse of WYD 2008 from a local family's point of view.

Sore Feet, Light Hearts - The End

The key to not getting lost or losing members of the group it have some easily identifiable clothing. These pilgrims from Nottingham Diocese in England had their Robin Hood hats. We had the orange jackets and caps. One policeman saw the boys' caps and commented, "You won't get lost with those hats!" 
"Exactly!" we replied.
Escaping from Randwick was a very slow affair. 500,000 people all were trying to go the same way at the same time makes for crowded conditions. It was a matter of following the crowd and stopping often. At one stop Rose REALLY had to go. But we were in a fenced off part with no exits. We looked at a policewoman and asked, "Is there anywhere she can go to the toilet?" She looked apologetic and said "We have been holding on too!" One of the policemen overheard and stepped up, noticing Rose holding on to her bottom and jiggling. "If you're really desperate, you can go over there behind the tent for discreteness."
"Yes please!" Lana answered and the policemen let Lana and Rose out a gap in the fence. Phew, disaster averted.
When Lana went to get back in and asked to get trough the fence, the policemen was joking around, "No, No! Don't let them back in!" 
"That's Ok", Lana replied, "There's less people this side." Smiling, they let Lana return to our side of the fence.
The police were really good. Lana asked how the crowd had been behaving and a policewoman said the crowd was really good, no troubles. Unlike soccer or football crowds. One of the volunteers told us they had often asked the police if any of the pilgrims had caused trouble and the consistent reply was "No trouble at all." They added that normal crime was also less than usual.
This policeman was standing on the median strip. He noticed Rose and Clare approaching him as the children concentrated on balancing on the median strip - as children do. He motioned to his fellow policeman and both stepped off to let Clare and Rose pass, then both stepped back up.
We were walking along a more open strip of road with parks on either side which had toilets! We had a quick stop for all those that had to do their duty. James took the opportunity to rest.
Rather than join the large crowds and try to get on the trains now, we had a meal at the Oz-Turk restaurant in George Street, Sydney. This is a 24 hour eating place with inexpensive, tasty food. I went here often when I was working a lot in the city. We had an enjoyable meal, off our feet, and were able to allow the crowds to gradually diminish. 
While we were seated we noticed a pilgrim approach the counter and say, "I had a meal here yesterday, but I missed out on paying. I had the $10 meal."
It was worth being there to note the surprise on the employee's face as he accepted the money and said a dazed "Thanks".
We got back on our feet with a few groans, reached the station and once more the train was there as we were and we departed on time. "Hurry, Lana. The train is here!" Lana's look was priceless as she struggled up those stairs carrying Martin.

Sore Feet, Light Hearts - The Middle

One of my clients was also at the Mass. He called me on my mobile as he figured that we would be there too. He said that he and his wife went for a wander to have a closer look at the altar, but when they turned back the way was blocked so he ended up with a great view of the whole thing!
In this first photo you can see how well we fit in with the Papua New Guinea pilgrims. Ariel has her head resting on me as she had a version of what Martin had and wasn't feeling the best. But she soldiered on, offering it up. 
We met one of the ladies from our parish who was a volunteer providing information to all and sundry. She told us that "our" pilgrims were in section E1 - WAY over the other side of the venue. We figured the best time would be when everyone else was on the move at communion time.
Meanwhile we were able to enjoy the Mass with fine readings, music and ceremony. We could see the screens well enough and so were able to tell what was happening.
Those around us also participated in the Mass and it was a great feeling knowing you are part of a Mass with so many hundreds of thousands of other people. The Holy Father's sermon was in English, naturally enough, and he spoke it with only a little accent, and we were all able to follow along easily.
After the Homily, there was time for reflection and then the people being confirmed were announced and we all joined in sharing their baptismal promises. "Do you reject Satan and all of his empty promises?"
"I do" the huge crowd responded. These responses were made all the more impressive as they echoed around the huge venue.
Meanwhile Martin also enjoyed himself. We were next to the sandy part of the racetrack, so Martin figured this would make a great sandpit. Some of the Papua New Guinean girls were all smiles watching him play with the sand, throwing it all over himself.
After the consecration it was time for communion. We quickly started off and across the venue via the criss crossing pathways trying to get near E1 and also receive communion.
Unfortunately, the paths were changed from the map we had seen. Also, there were so many people receiving communion that all pathways were blocked.
All priests with communion were accompanied by a "minder" carrying a large yellow umbrella to help everyone find a place for receiving communion. At one point we were stopped next to a space left free for emergency traffic, some of our nearby pilgrims saw a priest and started calling over to him. He noticed us and they came into the empty area and began distributing communion using the barrier fence like an Altar Rail. The altar rail method was much more efficient. Those at the front received communion and then made their way back allowing those behind to move forward. This changing of places all happened while the priest continued distributing communion along the line.
Then other priests were noticed and called to, and we ended up with three priests distributing communion.
We then moved further towards the mythical E1, but the pathways had changed and the way was blocked by this crowd of people. Ah well. We stayed where we were hoping "our" pilgrims would stay around a little after Mass gathering their gear. Once Mass was over the exodus began. One American we spoke to said it was like "all the crowds caused by Hurricane Katrina - but nobody got killed".
We finally arrived at E1 but it was empty of people we knew. Later on we discovered they had also ignored their official places and were able to get right up the front, within a very short distance of the Pope and the Altar. We can't blame them for that!