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.)