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!