Thursday, October 11, 2012

A steady diet of good books.

Ah, home readers.  Those small books of questionable literary merit that come home each week for you to hear your child read and improve their literacy.  I know they are of good value, but they are tedious.  But this week we had a chuckle at a non-PC little book called Mum’s Diet. 

“I’m too fat,” said Mum.
“No, you’re not,” we said.
“You’re only saying that,” said Mum.  “Look at me! I’m far too fat and I’m going on a diet.”
We all moaned and groaned.  When Mum when on a diet, we went on a diet too.

On the first day of Mum’s diet they all eat lettuce and tomatoes.  On the second day they eat parsley and carrots.  (What sort of diet is this?)

We said to Mum, “You have carrots and parsley and we’ll have spaghetti.”
“No,” cried Mum. “I’m not sitting here watching you two gobble down spaghetti.”
“You could close your eyes” we said. 

The next day they go to Dad’s house and try to raid his fridge.

“Don’t tell me,” said Dad. “Your mother’s on another diet.”

Mum weighs herself every morning, and cries that she is still fat.  

But then one day the kids come home to a fantastic smell:  spaghetti and doughnuts!  Mum has given up on the diet.

Or maybe it’s not politically incorrect.  They have ticked other boxes of inclusivity: a dark skinned family and a single mother.  Maybe the book is indeed educational, about the importance of self acceptance and the dangers of yo-yo dieting.  It finishes like this:

We hugged Mum. 
“You’re a cuddly mother.  We like you just as you are.”
“I think I like me too,” laughed Mum, and she had another doughnut.   

Or maybe it’s time to cull this book from the collection. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Decluttering Conversations

I’ll clean out the spare stationery draw today.  

Oh, good.  There’s a lot of stuff in there you don’t need.

Yeah, yeah.  But I’m sure most of it is useful!

How many spare display folders does one need?

Okay.  Not that many.  But I’ll keep all these manilla folders.  They are definitely useful.

Hmm. You’re less than halfway through that box of 100.  Did you buy that box when you were still at uni?  That’s at least ten years.  You usually just recycle a manilla folder when you need one.

Of course I do!  I don’t want to waste them! 

And all these refill pages for display folders. There’s an unopened packet of 100!  Plus the rest…

I used to use them in folders for my sheet music.  

But a packet of 100?  Why did you even buy that in the first place?

In case I needed them.  

In case you needed them?  Why not just wait until you actually needed them?

Yes, okay, okay.  Can we move on?  What will I do with all these envelopes?  

That’s a lot of envelopes.

I know.  But I when I needed envelopes I could only buy a box of 100.  And I use those four different sizes.  Just not very often.

Fair enough.  That letter paper?

But what if I need to write a-

You don’t write letters.  Ever.  Some of that you’ve had since you were ten.  Bin! 

What if I need this graph paper?

Have you needed graph paper in the last fifteen years?

But what if I NEED some?

You can get more.  Get rid of it.  

Right.  That’s done.  Yes, I’ve kept a little more than I probably need to.  But this is my first stationery cull.  I think I’ve done okay. It looks tidy.  There’s less unnecessary stuff in the drawer. I’m happy with that. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Repairing the burst seams in my wardrobe

I have over 100 items of clothing in my wardrobe.   

This doesn’t even include underwear, swimwear, or my maternity clothing.  

More than one hundred.  I counted them after I did a cull recently. 

Please don’t laugh.  Or judge.   (Especially not before you’ve counted the items of clothing in your own wardrobe.)   

I know I own far too many clothes.  It’s more than I can reasonably wear (there ARE only seven days a week, and I wash on at least two of those).   My whole adult life I have had too many clothes.  Conventional decluttering wisdom says if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it.  Yeah, but I’ve got clothes that I have only worn once in the last year, but I still love them.  Or, worse, I haven’t worn them in over a year because I have more clothes than I could have worn in that amount of time.

Here’s the surprising thing:  almost one-fifth of my wardrobe has been introduced in the last year-and-a-half, while I’ve been trying to gain control over my impulse shopping.   Only about 10% is over six or seven years old.  And given that I’ve either given away or worn out a large number of items of clothing, it means that I’ve bought or sewn a lot of clothes over the last five or six years.  

This is the alternative decluttering wisdom that I need to hear: stop buying more clothes.  Wear the clothes you already own.  Don’t even bother looking at the shops if you have plenty already.   Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean you need another shirt: there will be another sale.  

I would like to get down to just 30-odd items of clothing - a third of what I own now.   Does that sound crazy?  Sure.  But I don’t think it is unreasonable, either.   Have you heard it said that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time?  Looking at the clothes I have, and the clothes I wear, I would say that it’s true enough of me.   It means potentially buying nothing new for a year.  Or four.  But it also means that when I do need to buy more clothes I need to be more intentional.    

I’ve started out by identifying my style: a-line skirts, simple t-shirts or blouses, sandals or mary-janes, a chunky necklace. No tiny prints, no stripes, no ruffles.  A little bit hippy.   If I must buy more clothes, they must fit with my style. 

Then I’ve chosen a colour palette. I only buy clothes in colours that suit me: browns, purples, berries, olivey-greens, creams.    I don’t buy colours that I know to not look good on me, or that I tend not to choose to wear: white, blue, red, yellow, black.  (I used to wear a lot of black, but as I have gotten older it doesn’t look so good on me and is being phased out of my wardrobe.)  

Then I consider my lifestyle.  At this stage in life I spend most of my time home with young kids, and my choice of clothing needs to reflect this.  And given that most of the time it’s too hot to wear long sleeves, so I don’t need to own winter attire. 

Sticking to a style and palette, everything should go together, and with a selection of shoes and accessories, there is still plenty to keep it interesting. 

I’m thinking about putting everything but 30-odd items of clothing away in a box or another wardrobe, and when something needs replacing I’ll go ‘shopping’ in my box first.  

To fix my clothing clutter problem, I need only buy clothes when necessary and be intentional about what I do buy. Don’t just get rid of clothes you don’t wear, break the cycle by not buying them in the first place. 

 What about your wardrobe?  Too many clothes, or just enough?  Do you wear everything you have?  Are you intentional in what clothing you buy?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Reducing Our Car Dependency

We are a one car family, and plan on staying that way for a long time to come.  In fact, we are working towards a point where our car is no longer a necessity for us to function day by day. 

To make it work, I plan my days and weeks.  I only have the car some days a week.  If I need to go anywhere, I go on the days I have the car, and I go there on my way to and from school, rather than coming home and going out again (this saves time and fuel).  We also use the bus.  The bus isn’t the best option in our town, because it’s not overly reliable and takes a lot longer to get anywhere than driving.  But for $2.80 once or twice a week, we don’t care if it takes longer: it’s an awful lot less than a second car would cost us. 

Cars are expensive.  Including insurance, registration, service costs, new tyres and depreciation, our car costs us around $13 a day just to own.  Our fuel costs currently are about $5.40 per day. (That equals just over $6700 a year.)  My estimate is that a second car would cost us between $8 and $12 a day, plus fuel.   

Now that our eldest has started school, at the same school the my husband teaches at, things have become more complicated. They are both at the same school, but if there are meetings on after school, I have to have the car on those days to pick our son up.  Some afternoons we do things after school, some afternoons my husband catches the bus home. But because we live 15 minutes drive from school, and I walk our son in and out of school the days I drop him off and pick him up, it works out as a minimum of 50 minutes for me to do the whole trip.  But a second car would probably only save me an hour or two a week, and we would use roughly the same amount of fuel as we use currently. 

Our solution is to move closer to school.  Not just closer to school, but generally more central.   The area we plan on moving to is within walking/riding distance from school, but also close enough to other schools in the event that we need to change schools in the future.  It is also close to a main bus route, and if I do return to work some day, most of the high schools are accessible by bus.  Being able to walk more places is much better for my health than driving everywhere, and I believe a better use of my time.  There are other reasons for us to move from this house, but if I only took into account moving costs compared to buying a second car, we would break even with the move in 4-6 years.  

We can’t have no car at all.  Public transport in our town is not sophisticated enough to allow us to do that.  And just like we can’t manage without a car, there are plenty of people for whom it is not realistic to live with just one car.  But for some families, it may be an unthought of possibility.  If one person can get to work by public transport (or walking or riding!), and the total yearly cost is less than the cost to own a second car, it may be worth considering ditching one car.  Buses aren’t just for poor people (which seems to be the attitude in regional cities), and half an hour on the train is time you can spend reading rather than concentrating on traffic.    

As far as I’m aware, oil is a finite resource.  Fuel will continue to get more expensive until eventually it runs out.  Hopefully, alternative options for powering cars will have taken hold well before that day and we will be able to continue driving, but in the mean time I don’t want to have to pay for increasing fuel costs if I don’t need to.   Also, burning fossil fuels has a negative environmental impact.  I don’t just mean global warming, which I appreciate that some of my readers disagree with me about. The pollution that comes from driving cars isn’t such a great thing, really.   So, for me, there are many reasons that I want to reduce my dependency on cars.  

What about you? How reliant are you on your car?  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Six hours a day, with twelve weeks holidays!

You may have heard people say that teacher’s don’t deserve any pay rises, because they only work six hours a day and get twelve weeks holiday.  If they want decent pay they should get a real job.  (Forget the fact that none of those people working in real jobs would have said job without the aid of 10-12 years with their teachers.) But I’m not talking today about pay.   It’s the ‘six hours a day’ issue I want to address. 

I feel qualified to talk about this, because I used to be a teacher (and may yet find myself back in the classroom), and have been married to a teacher for almost eight years.  I do not come from a position of ‘teachers are so hard done by and have the hardest job in the world’.  No, every job has its good and its bad.  And every job has slightly different arrangements.

In Australia, everyone is entitled to four weeks annual leave.  There are also around ten gazetted public holidays, which differ from state to state.  Depending on the year, about half of these fall during the school holidays.    There are twelve weeks of school holidays for students in Queensland public schools, and I will assume most states have roughly the same amount.  The school holidays include about six student free days, where teaching staff are required to be at school either in professional development courses or planning.  

If you have done the maths in the above paragraph you should have concluded:  average Australian = six weeks off work.  (People who are require to work on public holidays are compensated with higher pay rates for those days, and may get an alternative day as their ‘day off’.)  Of the twelve weeks of school holidays, a teacher is entitled to four weeks annual leave, one week’s worth is public holidays, and one week’s worth they aren’t actually on holidays at all.  So they have an extra six weeks of holidays.   Which does seem a bit unfair at face value. 

  Teachers are usually required to be at school from 8:30 to 3:30, which means a teacher’s official work hours are seven hours a day. The school day runs from approximately 9am to 3pm, with about an hour for lunch breaks. In Queensland, the Unions require that primary school teachers have a minimum of two non-contact hours a week, time where their class is with a specialist teacher (e.g physical education, library, music.)  This makes up for the lunch breaks lost to things like detentions, helping students and playground duties. 

For a teacher to work the same amount of time as someone in a ‘nine-to-five’ job they need to work an extra hour a day on top of their ‘official’ hours, as well as six hours a week for the forty weeks of term to make up for the forty hours a week of their extra six weeks holidays (not included lunch breaks!).   So by working from 8-4:30 every day plus a few days at the end of each set of school holidays (I usually count our summer holidays finished 1 ½ weeks before school starts) and maybe a weekend here and there, teachers have already completely made up for their extra six weeks off.  Once you factor in time spent to plan and prepare lessons, mark homework and other assessment, write report cards, conduct both official and unofficial parent teacher interviews, assist in extra-curricular activities (e.g. choir, musicals, debating and other inter-school competitions), attend school camps, attend staff meetings and curriculum planning meetings, participate in outside-school hours events such as fetes and awards nights, and attend professional development seminars, then it isn’t hard to make up that time. No, not all teachers put in this effort.  There are some who will do barely more than seven hours a day for forty weeks.  But these teachers are doing a disservice to their students and should not be teaching.   

  Different jobs have different arrangements.  Yes, teachers have "twelve weeks holidays", but have to take them at the same time as the students.  Some jobs require much longer work hours, but also command a much higher salary.  Some jobs attract overtime rates for hours worked above 40.  Some employees are given time-in-lieu that they are able to cash in or take as extra holidays.  Some employees have rostered days off every fortnight, and work nine hours a day for nine days to have the tenth day off.   The hours beyond 40 hours that salaried employees work - including teachers - to meet expectations is becoming more and more common, and is another issue altogether. 

Do teachers work more than anyone else?  No.  Do teachers have a harder job than everyone else?  No.  Do teachers work for six hours a day and get 12 weeks holidays? No.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Curing my bad shopping habits: Part Four

Part four: I used to have a shopping problem, but I stopped shopping.  That sounds simple.  It sounds so obvious.   But it is a little more complex.  If someone wants to lose weight, you can’t just say ‘well, eat less’.  Why are they eating more than they need to?  Are they actually eating the right amount, but choosing the wrong foods and need to learn what the right foods are?   

Remember parts two and three of how I cured my shopping habit?  I simplified my budget and got honest about how much I was spending and how much I could spend, and made practical changes.  Then I learnt to recognise how much I used and needed, and consequently what I didn’t need.    Without those two changes, I probably couldn’t have stopped shopping.  

Now, understand, when I say I stopped shopping, I don’t mean I made a pact to buy nothing for a year, or to buy nothing new for a year.  This is a permanent change.  I don’t just wander through Target or Spotlight anymore, and generally avoid shopping centres there is something particular there that I need.  I don’t look at clearance racks for ‘just in case there’s something good on there’.   I don’t browse a lot of online stores either.  And ever so occasionally, I leave the kids with my husband and go shopping on my own: wander, browse, try things on.   

When I do need to go shopping I consider my purchase.  Do I have one already? When will I use this?  What will I use it for?  Does it actually fit? Do I have anything to wear it with? Do I really need it?  If I can only answer ‘I don’t know’ to the question, then I don’t buy it.  I have put plenty of things back after wandering around with them for five or ten minutes.  Often if I want it but I’m not sure, I’ll leave the shop and come back later when I’ve made up my mind.  If it’s gone by then, it doesn’t matter because another one will come along.   Usually, I know before I even go shopping whether I need it or not. 

Sometimes I still buy things that I don’t need.  The worst is when I do the grocery shopping.   I’m not perfect.  And I’m not writing this to tell you how awesome I am and that you should all be like me.  This was hard work to completely change the way I think.    

Buy less and be better for it. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Curing my bad shopping habits: Part Three

Once upon a time I bought far too much.  I’d spot great bargains and buy them because I knew they were things that we would use, or that we needed - even if they weren’t really.   I guess I overestimated what we needed and how much we used - maybe because I grew up in a large family and we always needed lots, or maybe I was duped by the two-for-one sales and the economy of scale. 

It started with cling wrap.  I scoffed at a comment I’d read online somewhere, someone saying they took a year to use a roll of it.  So I wrote the date on the end of the next cling wrap I opened, and finished it almost 18 months later.  I started to keep track of other things as well.   500mL of olive oil lasts me about two months.  I realised we use less pasta and rice because we tend to bulk up on vegetables.  We have used 9 rolls of toilet paper in the last month.  I haven’t worked out how long deodorant and toothpaste last me, but I know I only need to buy them a few times a year.   At the moment, the largest box of Weet-bix lasts us less than two weeks.  This has revolutionised my grocery shopping.  I stockpile less, I spend less, and I waste less. 

Considering how much and how little we used food and personal hygiene items made me also look at how much I owned of non-perishable items.  Clothes.  Shoes.  Books.  DVDs.   Recipe books.  There are only 24 hours in a day, only seven days in a week, only 352 days in a year.  I had enough recipes in books that I could cook something different every day for two-and-a-half years.  A whole month of not having to wash clothes.  Two weeks worth of shoes.   Books that I was never going to read again.   Did I really need all this stuff?

I started buying less clothes for the kids once I realised that I was packing away barely worn clothes when my eldest son grew out of them.  I wash every few days, and he would always just take the clothes on top, so why not only have the clothes on top?  

And I stopped buying craft and sewing materials at a faster rate than which I could actually use them, but that’s whole post of it’s own! 

What about you?  Do you tend to by more than you need, or only just enough?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Curing my bad shopping habits: Part Two

Yesterday I shared with you how I had a shopping problem, and was spending all our savings on things that I didn’t need. 

We only have one income.  I am not in paid employment, so that I can be home with our preschool aged children as necessary.  My husband is a teacher, so he earns a reasonable salary (well above the average in Australia), but we still have to watch what we spend.   But herein is part of the problem: I don’t work so we only have one income, but because I don’t work I have extra time to go shopping.  

I had a budget.  I knew how much money we had to spend, and kept very detailed track of what I was spending.  But I kept overspending.  In every category, other than bills.  And the further each category went into the red, the more I felt I was fighting a losing battle and stopped fighting.  Bad move. 

We also had a free redraw facility on our home loan.  So each fortnight we’d pay a high amount onto the loan, and I’d pay everything by credit card.  When the credit card came due I paid it in full by redrawing off the loan.  Obviously, such a plan wasn’t working for me.

So I started paying cash.  I know that it helps some people keep track of their spending by having all of their transactions on a credit card statement, but swiping every time I bought something wasn’t helping me.  I put away my credit card and paid cash instead, and kept track of how much cash I was getting out of the bank each week.   Maybe I’m a more visual person, but seeing how much cash I started with and how much cash I ended with each week prompted me to be more conscious of where that cash was going.  It may help that a week is much shorter than a month, and so the pain of having spent all the money comes sooner when it’s paid with cash. 

I also stopped using our home loan’s redraw facility.   I opened two separate accounts: one for money for predictable bills and one for money to save for larger purchases and irregular bills (mechanic, doctor etc).  Long term savings, such as that needed to buy our next car outright and not on finance, still went into the loan.  Suddenly, instead of seeing our loan balance going up more than going down, I kept watching it go down and down and down.  This gave me great impetus to keep saving.

My budget used to have around twenty categories - loan, groceries, insurances, rates, clothes, entertainment, eating out, fuel, gifts: it went on and on.  My budget now has six categories: bills, home loan, kids’ and school savings, general maintenance (health, house, holidays, car), giving, general spending.   General spending includes everything that doesn’t fit into another category (fuel is included in bills, because we are fairly consistent in our fuel usage).  I still spend a little too much in the general spending category, but the amount I am over each year has been decreasing, despite cost of food increasing considerably in the same time. 

A simpler budget helps me keep my money organised, and using cash keeps my spending under (better) control.  What about you: do you keep a simple or complex budget?  Do you pay cash or credit?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Curing my bad shopping habits: Part One

I used to have a shopping problem.   My shopping problem didn’t come in the form of new designer clothes every week and thousands of dollars in mounting credit card debt.  It looked more like this:

Deodorant is on special, two for one. I use deodorant, I’ll stock up at that price.  
Shirts in the next size up for my son, marked down to three dollars each.  I’ll buy three. 
That is the most beautiful fabric I have ever seen!  It would make such a lovely skirt. I’ll get that.
Clearance rack of tops. That’s pretty.  I’ll get that.
That’s cheap. It would make a great gift for someone.  I’ll buy it and put it away for when I need it.
That book looks like a good read.  And it’s only $5. I may as well get it. 
I am a hoarder by nature, tend to buy things and keep things because I might need them or they might come in handy, even if it is somewhat illogical to do so.  And I’m an overbuyer, which I guess goes hand in hand with being a hoarder.   
I wasn’t putting us into debt by my shopping habit, but I was eating into our savings considerably.  One day I looked at the amount still owing on our loan, the time in which we should have been able to pay it off, and the time it was actually going to take, and I realised I had to do something differently.   So I got serious about making changes. 

And I made some changes.  I said that I used to have a shopping problem.  I’ve almost solved it.  I still need to work hard at it: not stockpiling, not buying things because I can’t pass it up at that price.  I still buy more than I need to. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to not work hard at it.  

My husband tells me that I wasn’t that bad.  I didn’t spend as much as I think.  Yes, the amount of money that I spend in a week is not a lot more than a lot of families of our size spend at the supermarket each week.  But I was still buying a lot of things that I just didn’t need. 

But in curing my shopping habit, I’ve done more than just save money.  My house is becoming a lot less messy and cluttered.  Stockpiled items are getting used up and no longer falling out of my cupboards.  Less new things are arriving for me to try and find homes for.  I have more time, because I spend less time at the shops, as well as less time trying to solve the clutter problem.  I feel more confident that we can afford to be on one income for a few more years yet, so I can stay home full time with our pre-school aged children.   I’ve even lost weight, because I realised I need to eat less, and I buy less food that I don’t need. 

What were the changes I made? Stay tuned…In part two, I’ll share with you how my changing the way I budget helped me slow down on my shopping.  In part three, how I learnt to recognise what I did and didn’t need to buy.  And in part four, how I stopped shopping. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

How the locals like it?

I was surprised, as I’m sure many others were, to learn recently about the impending fate of seven of the eight IGA stores in Townsville, as well as others across the state.   

I must confess, I am not a regular IGA customer. I’m not really a regular anywhere customer.  I’ll shop where I happen to feel like shopping, not out of loyalty.  I’ve never even been a semi-regular IGA customer.  Maybe if they offered a better range of fresh foods, or a point of difference to the major supermarkets I would shop there more often.  At best, they seem to be competing, evidently unsuccessfully, with Coles and Woolies, rather than offering something unique.  

Actually, they do have a point of difference: something unique.  They are ‘local’.    Which begs the question: what does ‘local’ mean?

Neither Terry Walters nor Derek Cornett who own the IGAs in Townsville actually live here, or in many of the other towns they own stores in.  (One of Cornett’s Townsville stores has been open for over 12 months, but has only just been included on their website this week.)  As far as I understand, they are franchisees, and so pay an annual fee to the parent company, as well as buy their stock through them or their distributor.    They pay their employees (local) and sponsor events (local) and the rest of the money…. Leaves town?  

Metcash, the parent company of IGA, is based in Melbourne, and is listed on the Stock Exchange.  The IGA brand is all over Australia.   In fact, the IGA brand comes from America, though the name has been changed from Independent Grocers Association to Independent Grocers of Australia.    I occasionally shop at Cornett’s IGA locally, occasionally shopped at Cornett’s IGA when I lived in Gympie, and usually go in to a Cornett’s IGA when we visit my in-laws near Brisbane.   All this takes away from the impression that it is a local store, at least it does for me. 

I’m going to hazard a guess that the in-house brands - Black and Gold and IGA Signature - aren’t all labelled ‘Product of Australia’ or even ‘Made in Australia’.   I’m also suspicious that tomatoes and bananas grown within a couple of hundred kilometres travel a lot further than that, via a major distribution centre, before they reach the shelves.  (This is a beef I have with supermarkets in general.)   

Now, suddenly, I’m not so convinced the IGA is ‘how the locals like it’.  Ultimately, is there a difference between IGA, Woolworths and Coles?  I don’t like the dominance that Coles and Woolworths hold over the grocery market, but that is an issue for another day.  

If started a campaign ‘Buy Local: eat at McDonalds’ most would think I was mad.   But most of the McDonalds franchises in Townsville are owned by George Colbran, who lives in Townsville and has been an active member of the Townsville community for many years.  McDonalds supports and sponsors numerous local events, big and small.    It seems that McDonalds is more ‘local’ than IGA.  

(Just as a side note, in a different article I read in the print paper that I couldn’t find online, a local (?) economist was quoted as saying the problem was that people wanted to be “$1 milk from China”.  This amused me no end, as IGA also sell $1 a litre milk, and I’m not aware of any milk in any supermarkets coming from China.) 

What do you think?  Am I missing something really important here?  Feel free to set me straight in the comments.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

A radical solution to excess alcohol consumption

Australia has a drinking problem.   There are 3000 deaths in Australia each year from alcohol - cirrhosis, car accidents, alcohol related violence, alcohol poisoning.   It costs us a lot:

It has been estimated that alcohol cost the Australian community about $15.3 billion in 2004–05, when factors such as crime and violence, treatment costs, loss of productivity 
and premature death were taken into account. These figures are recognised to be conservative, 
as the cost of alcohol related absenteeism alone has recently been estimated at $1.2 billion 
per year, using self-report data from the 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (AIHW 2002). 

My husband was watching an NRL game on TV on Friday night.  I noticed on the field two ads, both for Bundaberg Rum.  The one that stood out to me said: Get footy ready with Bundy and BWS.  

The message that this ad presents is that drinking alcohol is an important part of watching football.  But this is the problem.  Somehow, we have got this idea in our heads that you can’t have fun, you can’t enjoy life, if there isn’t alcohol involved.  

 I don’t think we need to go as far as making alcohol obsolete or socially unacceptable, in the way we have smoking.  Tobacco smoke in any amount is hazardous to health, whereas alcohol in moderation is okay.  We need  to make excess drinking socially unacceptable.  

Here’s a suggestion: get rid of ads for alcohol, or at least set up tighter restrictions on where and when alcohol ads can be shown and what can be shown in them.  

Stop the advertising companies from making us believe that alcohol is an essential part of life.  

Reducing Australia’s alcohol consumption needs a drastic solution, but who is going to stand up and make it happen.   Sporting organisations, such as the NRL and the AFL, stand to lose millions of dollars in sponsorships from alcohol companies are banned.    Television networks would also lose millions of advertising dollars.  

But worst of all, our Government isn’t going to do anything real to combat Australia’s drinking problem.  Not only do they bring in a lot of revenue from taxes on alcohol sales - a deterrent which obviously isn’t working - they fear losing votes by making an unpopular decision.  And those who stand to lose the most have the money to stop the changes we need to happen.  Money talks.  Those with money can talk to the voters and convince them this is a bad move. 

This is the sad thing.  Money is more important than lives. 

Stand up, Australia.  Let’s show the world that we can have fun without excessive drinking.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Don't get organised: simplify!

This week, I sold my Filofax on Ebay.  I can’t wait for it to be paid for and so I can put it in the mail!  

My Filofax is beautiful red leather, neat, tidy, with a clasp and just the right size.  And a big waste of my money. 

You see, I bought my Filofax at a time where I thought that all I needed to have a beautiful tidy house, and days filled with enriching activities for my son, was to be more organised.  

Only, as it turned out, I didn’t need to be more organised.  I needed to simplify.  

This is what I learnt from my expensive mistake:

- I am not a routine person.  I have routines which I follow; things I do at certain times during the day.  Things like when I eat, and when I check my email, and what I do when I get up in the morning.  But to have to follow a schedule?  That makes me break out in a cold sweat!   I love lists, and lists help me when I’m busy and I’m concerned I’ll forget something.  But if I make a list and I can’t get things marked off, it stresses me out.  A schedule is like a giant list that I might not get the things done.  A bad night sleep, a child who wants extra attention, a great article or book to read, an idea that has popped into my mind that I have to write down RIGHT NOW, something I need to know that is going to drive me crazy until I’ve found out, I just feel like sewing today, or a job takes longer than I expect: those things each mean something doesn’t get marked off, and I feel like I’ve failed.  
- I am already organised.  I am just an organised person.  Unfortunately, it’s all in my head and doesn’t translate to the chaos on the dining table, so I’ll forgive you for thinking otherwise. 
- I don’t need to be more organised, I just need less stuff.  The chaos on my dining table usually has more to do with my spontaneity and distractability than my lack of organisation, but the chaos filling the rest of the house has got to do with the lack of cupboards in which to keep it. The solution is not more cupboards.  The solution is less stuff.  I’ve been working on that, and my house is getting less chaotic. 
- I don’t need to be more organised, I just need to be less busy.  I know Mary has six kids, is on twelve different rosters at church, leads Bible Study, visits old ladies on Mondays, and listens to kids read at school, but I’m not Mary.  I’m only capable of X, Y and Z, and if I try to do more, then other things start to fall apart.  Besides, you don’t know what is actually only being held together by a loose piece of thread in Mary’s life.  She may be brilliant, or she may just not know how to prioritise or say no. 
- I’m not a tidy person, and I hate housework. I don’t need to be more organised, I just need less house to keep clean and less stuff to keep tidy.  And if you don’t like my imperfect housekeeping, well, you don’t have to live here, do you?
- Less busy-ness with housework and clutter means more time to do fun things with the kids. 

I'm getting $30 for my Filofax, and will soon be rid of something that is just cluttering my life. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Richard Gill on Music Literacy

Richard Gill is one of Australia's foremost experts on music education.  This video is about twenty minutes long, but he talks about what he sees as some of the problems in our education system at the moment.

A few of his best points:

  • That we have insisted literacy and numeracy is the right of every child is fundamentally good, but to ensure every child is literate and numerate we need to test.  But in order to ensure the school gets good results teachers are beginning to teach to the test, or excluding students who won't do well.  This is not education.
  • There are two reasons for school: to learn to think and to learn to learn. Education should be about teaching students these two things and instilling a hunger for them in the students.
  • We can't dumb down the curriculum!  Gill used the example of teaching music notation to small children using flowers or ducks or cars instead of noteheads, and that he has never, in all the music repertoire, seen a piece of music written in ducks.  This gives the message that children are silly, but they are not.  
  • The reason for teaching music is that music is good, but the bonus of teaching music is that it has flow on effects in all areas of learning.  Much research points to the reality that students who learn music do better in other subjects. 
  • Sadly, 80% of schools don't teach music.  (I'd be interested to know where he got this statistic, because I thought the number of schools that did offer music would be higher than that.) 

I agree with him.  Children need things simplified, not dumbed down.  That's the way I approach my own children: put things in a way that they can understand, but don't 'baby' them.  

Also, school should not be about learning facts, and not just about learning the mechanics of reading, writing and arithmetic.  We as educators should be creating lifelong leaners.    Unfortunately, I believe, standardised testing leads to teaching the mechanics and making sure the kids can pass.  Kids definitely need to learn reading, writing and arithmetic, but they need to learn it in a real world context, not just well enough to pass a test! 

And as for music, the new National Curriculum asks for two hours a week on the arts (music, art and drama), lets hope this happens in practice!  Music is good because it is good.   

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Some thoughts on private schools, public schools, and school funding

With the release of the Gonski review into school funding everyone is back out with their flaming arrows about Private vs. Public education. 

My husband teaches at an Anglican school.  He is a strong supporter of private education.   Our son attends the same school.   I attended a small Christian school for high school, and my two years of teaching were in a Christian school.   I’m in the process of deciding where I stand, on an ideological level and a pragmatic level. 

And so a few thoughts.  Feel free to rebut them.

  • Private schools are not all equal.  Not all private schools are Geelong Grammar.
  • Public schools are not all equal.  They are not all dens of iniquity, devoid of morals and failing all their students.    
  • Most religious schools follow their State’s (or now the National) Curriculum, but make some modifications.  It’s easier than writing a whole new curriculum, especially if your school is already seriously underfunded. They don’t just spend all day indoctrinating their students and ignoring Maths. 
  • Private schools get more Federal funding than public schools, but public schools get a lot more State funding.  I think on average public schools are funded double per student than private schools.  I can’t believe people still can’t get their head around this one.
  • Education is a good thing.  I think it’s a huge marker between Developed nations and Developing nations.   High levels of literacy and numeracy theoretically should keep corrupt governments out, aid in preventative medicine, reduce crime rates, increase productivity, and generally advance a nation.  Every child in Australia should have access to a good education. 
  • Not all teachers are rubbish.  Falling literacy and numeracy rates aren’t squarely to blame on our teachers, though improving teacher quality would be part of the solution. 
  • There is an argument that if governments removed private school funding then the state school system would collapse under the weight of the influx of new students, and the Goulburn School Strike is often cited as an example of what would happen in such a case.  The assumption here is that funding would be removed suddenly, all consequently underfunded schools would close their doors immediately and parents would have no choice but to send their children to the local public school.  Such a situation could be avoided with gradual removal of funding, and planning towards such a move.   If funding was phased out, then gradually fees would be increased, schools would need to find alternate income or find other ways to cut costs.  If fees increased, there would be certain points where different families would say they can’t afford it any longer.  
  • There is another argument that private schools save the government money, in the vicinity of $6000 per student.  Some families would still send their children to private schools even if there was no funding, so that would actually save the government $12000 per student.  Of the remaining students, there would be a lot of costs simply absorbed into current school costs.  Not all private schools run at full capacity.  There are 8 places for students in my husband’s class this year, and I think similar places in the other two classes of his year level.  (Other grades are full.) When I was teaching, I had a Year 9/10 music class with only 12 students.  My graduating year at school had only 4 students.  Surely such small class sizes are not an efficient use of teachers!   Also, many school resources are shared between classes.  Not every student in the school needs to be using a soccer ball, or a computer, or a trundle wheel at the same time.  A small increase in student numbers would be an even smaller increase in many resources.   Infrastructure would be a hurdle. 
  • There are a large number of Christian schools not attached to a church, or at least not receiving large amounts of funds from a church.  Many of these could not function any longer without government funding, and would lose a lot of enrolments if they increased their fees.  Is there a genuine need for such schools that requires government subsidies? I’m not sure. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.
  • Private schools can pick and choose their teachers and students.  This means they can have the best teachers and the best students.   Teachers often want to work in private schools because of the overall better behaved students, not because of increased pay.  Most private schools pay on par or below the current State award.  
  • Are there a lot of inefficiencies in the public system?  I don’t have a clue.  But I would hazard a guess that teacher’s payrises attached to length of teaching, and teaching being an almost guaranteed job is one inefficiency that could be looked into.  
  • My experience of teaching in a private school was that cutting costs meant cutting teacher’s salaries.  I was paid $8000 a year less than my public school counterparts.  (Which wasn’t voluntary.  I just wasn’t told, and not bold enough to challenge when I found out.)  But running a school is expensive.  An experienced teacher of a class of 28 (Education Queensland’s target for grades 4-10) costs $3000 per student; most private schools cap at 25 or 28.  The ancillary staff, the principal, insurance, computers, books, buildings, furniture, sporting equipment, toilet paper: it all costs extra.  
I don't have a stand yet on whether private schools should receive government funding.  Go ahead and add to my thoughts in the comments.