Money woes – I blame the dog.

Well, ok, we don’t have any REAL money woes. Not the sort of woes where we have to survive on $2 a day or anything. We don’t even have the OMG can we pay the mortgage this month woes. Our money woes are strictly of the I’ve-spent-too-much-money-on-the-credit-card sort, and it’s the time of year where I’m not earning an income, therefore no real way to pay it all off. I went into financial meltdown today.

So what did we spend the (imaginary) money on, I hear you ask, desultorily, because, let’s face it, no-one really cares about the financial woes of people who have the highest standard of living ON EARTH. Oh, pish. You want to know.

Well, it all started with a dog. This one. (Isn’t she the cutest little thing you ever saw!!!)

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It’s all her fault. We decided we needed to have a dog to complement and complete our family. Which meant we needed to do something about the fence situation. Which meant that we had to spend a squillion dollars on a new fence. During my fallow period where I’m not earning a sou or brass razoo. So we’re now dealing with the excitement that follows a rash, impulse purchase situation, and very little spare money with which to fund such a purchase. Factor in Christmas, 2 sets of school fees, a new sofa bed, anniversary dinner and overnight fancy shmancy hotel stay, an unexpected school uniform purchase, new glasses, ASIC and accountant fees, rates, electricity, phone and water bills, dog crate and the like, and you’ll see why I went into financial meltdown today.

Fence building in and of itself is not a very hard business. You see a fence line, you build a fence. Simple, right? Wrong. You have to CLEAR the fence line first. You then have to clear the site of the detritus you collected. So alongside paying the fence dude, you also have to pay the back hoe dude, the skip dude, and even the tree lopper dude if you have annoying, pesky trees in the way. Every dude costs money, even if the cost of the skip and back hoe dudes have been factored into the fence costs. Because one always finds ways to increase one’s requirements. Such as clearing the back yard. Or replacing some rotten battens on the side of the house. Or taking away the annoying concrete garden beds. Or removing a dozen dangerous pest trees. Or just deciding that, really, one loves a moonscape in the back yard and one must repeat same in the front. SIGH.

So here are some pictures of the house before and after fence and tree loppers have been through, and before the front fence is finished. This is the small fortune we’ve spent for our lovely, verdant yard to go from this:

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To this:

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Erp. And the back looks even more moonscaped. Money, it appears, buys destruction to living things. Even though these living things include camphor laurel and chinese elm trees, 2 of the most pernicious and annoying trees on the planet. It is said that camphor laurel is a good tree to grow and regenerate desert.

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One for him, one for me, one for her, one for me: Xmas gift buying dilemmas

I’ve lost a few pounds these last 2 months: 14, to be precise. A stone in imperial measurements. I feel MUCH better. Although the last few nights keeping the food intake down has been a real problem. That’s Xmas for you. Anyhoo, so the DH and I need to do some Xmas shopping for the family Kris Kringle and we dash into town in between rehearsals and performance for a Xmas show. We pop into a few stores and of course there are very few people about on a Wednesday night at 5pm in David Jones. Can’t think where they all get to, but in the store they ain’t. This is one of the few times I regret NOT having a store loyalty card, because we may have gone a bit overboard.

I need to buy boy stuff for the brothers-in-law. I’m the shopping lackey on behalf of my youngest son, who knows not a jot about buying stuff for family. He needs to buy a wallet with a coin purse (who knew?) for his 30-something nuncle. Anyway, I’ve decided I’m the shopping QUEEN of hidden sales. I found the most divine wallet for my bro-in-law’s KK, sleek black on the outside, but FUNKY PURPLE on the inside! And a totally cool retro lining! And a coin purse! AND it’s Ted Baker! The price was more than double that of our agreed $50, but I spied a tinge of red on the OTHER SIDE OF THE PRICE TAG. It was 50% reduced! I ROCK!

Then, I call my sister who knows not what to get for her husband and cannot help me one little bit. She says, “he likes Deux Et Machina stuff”. Easy. He gets a funky hipster t-shirt saying “Temple of Enthusiasm” on the back, which describes him perfectly. So this shopping is done within an hour. Not bad. And the lovely staff at David Jones are sooo helpful – which is completely unlike the norm in this type of department store.

But oh dear. What can this be? We’ve stumbled into the Ladies summer fashion section. Oh dear. And I’ve espied something simply divine. A sleeveless cotton frock in stripes of mint, white and navy, gently pleated, with the most divine little waist, narrow white belt and tailored perfectly for me. I HAVE to try it on. DH conspires with me. He is NOT helpful. He pulls out an Australian size 10. That’s a US size 8, I think. I try it on. It fits. Not the it-sort-of-fits-but-it’s-a-bit-tight-round-the-waist, rather it-fits-perfectly-and-I-look-hot-in-it fits. I walk out of the dressing room, DH GLANCES up and says, “yep, you look hot”, then goes back to reading his phone email. “Really?” I squawk. “Yep. Happy Christmas, darling”. Quoth he, glancing briefly over his glasses. “You’d better get it. You look hot”.

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Ok. I will. But I’m not entirely sure how we are going to pay for the other Xmas gifts AND the fence AND the tree stump removal at this rate. So it’s one for him and one for me and one for her and one for me: I’m a naughty bunny. But losing those 14 pounds (sounds better than 6.4 kilos) has made a huge difference to my waist line, and it needs to be rewarded. Doesn’t it?

Kicking goals part whatever

Last weekend my friend Cheryl (not her real name) and I went down south for a weekend of fun, frivolity and Sondheim. We certainly had fun! Frivolity was a little short on the cards and so was Sondheim. Sondheim postponed his trip to Melbourne to a more suitable time than the one we had booked but I’m not going back again – can’t afford it. Grrrrrr.

So Friday afternoon after an uneventful flight where I’m frantically trying to finish editing a PhD thesis (NOT my own, sadly), we get to mum and dad’s place. Straight away we have dinner to organise because it appears ALL the family are wanting to get together for a family dinner! Son number 2 comes over after uni for a tete-a-tete about how he might move out of his father’s flat, where he is mightily unhappy, and into my mum and dad’s place to board for 2013. We chat about it: mum and dad aren’t too worried about it and I think are actually looking forward to having him there. They do the strict parent thing, not really remembering that he has been an adult for a couple of years squeezed into a tiny room and forced to be neat and tidy. Son number 2 is generally a creature of neat and tidy habit, so their fears are allayed there. He also listens to music quietly, so that is another bonus. And he can look after the animals when Mum and Dad are away, which is stupidly frequently.

The next task is to tell the Son number 1, who will be forced to financially support his unemployed, layabout, sick father and his girlfriend. I say layabout and sick in the same breath because his dad is bi-polar but won’t get a proper diagnosis or do anything about it, and wonders why he spends six months in bed feeling miserable, and then can’t get a decent job because he has no skills because he can’t finish anything. Sad and annoying, mainly for his Son number 1.

So, it’s a family dinner. I’m thinking that we’ll do a family thing and then that will be it for the weekend, but no. All the sisters bar one turn up, children and animals in tow. It’s a mad house. 5 boys and five dogs under 4 ft. There’s screaming and yelling and dogs barking, my mum yelling at the dogs to be quiet (oh, the irony), champagne flowing and a wonderful evening to be had. Loudly. Luckily it’s all over by about 9.30 when my Son number 2 turns up after work and we’re able to have some quiet time together. Cheryl the friend luckily thinks my family is screamingly funny.

On Saturday we meet her friend in town for a get together, and house auction, and lunch in Albert Park. A lovely afternoon, and my boy turns up to have lunch with us. A tiny bout of shopping fervor, and then it’s Sondheim night. A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. His first solo effort. And a funny thing DID happen on the way to the forum. We’re on the tram, about to travel into town when a young woman has an epileptic fit. Quite a big one. She’s fine, by the way, but it’s 7.42pm and after a long wait for the ambulance there’s no way of getting into town by the 8pm start time. Sheesh. It looks like we’re going to miss not only Sondheim on the Monday, but Forum on the Saturday as well. We dash out of the tram and as luck would have it a taxi is passing by with its light on: available. We fling ourselves into the taxi and zoom into town, making the start of the show with mere seconds to spare, time to buy a program and sit down, gasping with effort and terror and hilarity. And then there was the show. Funny and stupid. Hilarious. Geoffrey Rush and Magda Szubanski and Shane Bourne and Gerry Connolly and Hugh Sheridan and Mitchell Butel.  Nuff said.

Afterwards we grab a drink at Double Happiness, hidden among the laneways of Melbourne, and then home we go. Mum and Dad are away for the night (I thought it was supposed to be for 2 nights, but no, it’s barely 24 hours – funny how she exaggerates).

Sunday is supposed to be a quiet day: a wander through my sister’s new house in Camberwell, a quick wander through an antique market then a drop in at my step-daughter-in-law’s 21st birthday, taking in the sights of Fitzroy as we do. No chance to do that. We turn up at 2.30 and can’t really leave until 5 for the sake of propriety. Father of the daughter gives a highly emotional and challenging speech about his daughter, who has had some serious mental health problems, and we’re all a bit aghast and taken aback, but also embracing this man’s admittance that he was not always there for his daughter in her hours of need (well, he was, actually, but I think he feels he failed). Poor Cheryl. The whole Sunday (well, ok, we rose late), taken up with my family’s issues.

Then it’s home for the next saga. Cheryl is having dinner with a friend and I have to take my son and his girlfriend out for dinner – I have to tell them Son number 2 is moving out and they will have to find an extra $7200 per year to live off. There are tears. I’m aghast. The catastrophising is amazing. There is blame and anger and tantrums and all at the dinner table at a little suburban restaurant. Urgh. So that’s the hard bit taken care of. The Son number 1 will meet me the following day and I will take him shopping (every time I come south I have to spend about $1000 just on my boys. It’s crazy). I go home and mum and dad are up, as is Cheryl, having a nice cup of tea. Well, after Jack Irish is finished the whole sorry saga comes out and there’s more agonising and discussion and I think my poor friend Cheryl will NEVER get to see Melbourne, or, more importantly, do any shopping.

So Monday finally rolls around and by 11am we’re off. And it’s a race from the start. We go to town, Cheryl and I, and we begin by buying EXACTLY the same shoes a size apart. Well, they are such a lovely 2-tone shoe! Then she buys a gorgeous off-the-shoulder shift-dress and I go to meet an old friend for lunch while she continues shopping. I meet Cheryl and my Son number 1 back in town 90 minutes later and we go to the QV centre where I buy some light clothes for summer, then we head off to Melbourne Central and Cheryl finds another perfect dress for the races – she looks exquisite with her new shoes, bag in the same tones, and a divine halter neck brown-spotted cream silk shift dress. I buy Son number 1 some jeans and then we head home for another small family dinner with my boys and the girlfriend. And it’s all ok.

But my poor friend Cheryl. I had been hoping that we would get to some sights in Melbourne, maybe even visit a museum, but no! Not a chance. My family hijacked the weekend. But it was ok: it was hilarious. And Cheryl is a trooper.

Goal setting time again.

Today I set some goals for October. So this post is a bit of a list post, because it’s been a while since I wrote one!

In some interesting news, my article to RSME was accepted with major revisions. Lovely. It’s been nearly a year coming and the information needed minor updating anyway, but when I looked at the comments they were really very positive and thoughtful. 2 reviewers said minor revisions, one said major revisions, but I really liked the lovely, gentle commentary. The Editor, who has final say, then suggested major revisions, but when I looked at what she was suggesting, they seemed minor in comparison with some article submissions I’ve received lately. So that’s something else to get done by the end of the year.

I finally decided to exercise. I’ve been putting it off in the forlorn hope that I would “reward” myself with a training program once my PhD was submitted. This was stupid. I’m taking the bull by the horns and just going for it anyway. I think it will help my alertness and general health and will help my study work too. I’m too sedentary anyway and my stomach fat is finally starting to have a life of its own, wobbling and moving in the opposite direction to me whenever I do something physical. Urgh. I’ve planned how much weight I think I can lose by Xmas (that’s 8 kilos!), and how much stamina I want to have, how much body fat and how much strength I think I can achieve in 10 weeks.

So, October – December: I have a thesis to edit by 22 October. Sounds like fun and is an interesting premise. I always learn something new when I edit. And I get paid. I have 3 (unpaid) book chapters to write. Something tells me I should really get onto those ASAP. At least I should make outlines of the chapters! I have an (unpaid) article to revise. I have a small (paid) research project to analyse and semi-write a presentation for. I have 85 (paid) essays to correct by mid-November. I have 30 students to teach and prepare for their exams. I’m helping out at a Musical Theatre Charity Concert (unpaid). I’m planning my company’s Showcase Concert set for November.

I’m seeing a PT every week, and I’m going to exercise 4 times a week. I’m joining another gym, because it has yoga classes and a pool and other classes that will help me. I’m going to Melbourne to see Stephen Sondheim in concert and seeing if I can get my youngest to move away from his toxic relationship with his father and brother and move into my parent’s place until he finishes his diploma.

What a month, and this doesn’t include the house painting I’m planning, nor the PhD work I’m trying to rediscover, nor the extra work I may need to take on to pay for school fees and credit card debt. What a month, what a year.

Banks don’t like small business

I have a few thousand in the company bank account which I’m keeping for a rainy day (December, January and February are the rainy months in our house) and I wondered, as I wandered into the bank to deposit a cheque, will the bank lend me any money for work to the studio windows? The studio windows are old, creaky and unattractive louvre windows that have huge gaps at the top of the frame, allowing noise, insects, dirt and hot air to enter. Here’s a photo.

 

Ugly, yes? I think so. On our other windows we have some lovely hopscotch windows that we would like to replicate in the louvre windows’ place, like so:

 

 

Aren’t these pretty? Of course, they need a paint, which is the December January summer holiday job. I hope. Of course, I want laminated windows for the studio, which should help reduce sound and heat transference .

 

So, I idly wonder if the bank will lend me some money to replace the louvres, as there are 17 louvre windows in the studio. Count ’em. 17. I love our house, but we’re on a road that gets a lot of traffic. Particularly roaring up the hill in evening peak hour, which is my teaching time. So it’s noisy, it’s hot and sometimes I feel quite miserable in there. I’ve taken to doing all my written work in the kitchen space because it’s quieter and cooler here, notwithstanding the lovely new air-conditioning that has gone in the studio just this last two weeks.

I ask the bank what types of business loans might be available for a small company like mine. It turns out, none. I can’t borrow nada unless I take out a second mortgage on our home. Bastards. Never mind I actually have the funds sitting in the account and that I could even pay off an expensive overdraft quite quickly: apparently I need a secured loan. So. Never mind that I’ve never been in debt or that I’ve shown good growth over the last few years: they don’t want to know me. Not even a credit card. Now, I know I said I have rainy day money, but if I spend my rainy day money all at once, we won’t eat over summer and there will be no Xmas and our credit card bills won’t be paid. And the children of step won’t be going to a fancy shmancy private school: they’ll be going to the local high school.

I may have to find other ways of making money to pay for comfort and joy in my studio.

 

House Rules

Last weekend: yesterday, in fact, DH and I decided rather unexpectedly to attack the front garden. We’ve been in the house (affectionately known as “Moneypit”) for a year now, and we’re slowly making improvements to the joint. Last week the air-conditioning went in and this week we completely overhauled the front garden. As I have students and families coming into the area, I knew we only had a day to make the garden vaguely respectable, so we began early. Father’s Day was a blast. First DH attacked the Monstera plant, discovering to his dismay that even a chain saw was pretty useless against its gorgon roots. The chainsaw broke. Mind you, it was an electric one borrowed from his dad, and it barely worked.

I began gently weeding. This whole process descended into: “let’s pull out anything we don’t like”, which left the front garden beds, sad and decrepit as they already were, looking like they’d had a severe short back and sides. We’ve yet to pull out all the Elms that keep suckering – we’re told we have to get a stump grinder to remove them and THEN apply a poison to the roots remaining as they refuse to die. And there were a few sad old bushy hedge-like shrubs that actually look rather nice when they flower but otherwise are the most hideously ugly things you can imagine. They went too.

So, with most of the ugly and old and overgrown now shorn, pulled out and otherwise emasculated, we thought idly, “wonder what the house would look like without the disgusting cyclone fencing?” And so began the next saga. Grabbing wire-cutters we cut off all the old rusting wire. This proved easy. But then we were left with the remains of the fence, framing the ugliness of the now denuded garden beds. So I grabbed a shifting spanner… and the rest is history. At least, the fence is!

Before the attackThis is a shot of the house before the fence came down. Neat enough, I suppose, but we had let it descend into something rather less gorgeous by the end of the year. Note the large Monstera Deliciosa blocking off the lovely appearance of the battens beneath the left gable.

 

This is the house after the fence has been removed. The only thing left standing is the funny old letterbox, which we’re keeping for the time being, because we’ll probably incorporate a letter box into the new and improved fence when it goes up. We WERE thinking of a high 1.5m wooden fence as we will be getting a dog and we live on a busy street, but the house looks so pretty, grand and lovely with all its character on show that I think we’ll get a lower version of the same fence design and grow a low hedge above it.

Naturally, we then had to go to a large hardware warehouse and buy an angle grinder. Yep. We have the tools. The only things missing now are a decent circular saw and a jigsaw and a…the list goes on, excitingly. And we bought some weed matting and pine bark mulch for under the stairs and that front area under the left gable, because nothing grows there and the cat poos there. It looks neat and attractive now. We’re still to finish the the sides of the block, but I’m much happier now the front looks respectable. Lovely, even. We worked ALL day, from about 7.30am on Father’s Day, until about 6.00pm, and today I have aches and pains I never knew existed. But the front looks great.

There is, of course, the matter of a carport. Painting the house. Changing the louvre windows for solid laminated windows. Restoring the front verandah. More to come.

 

 

 

Sondheim Sondheim Sondheim!

This week a girlfriend and I decided to plan a weekend in Melbourne to see Stephen Sondheim in Conversation on a Monday night in October. Then we decided to see A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum on the Saturday night as well. It’s raining Sondheim. To top it off, I’ve bookmarked a few books to buy for the library – mostly by Sondheim. Fanboi, much? Can I afford any of this? NO. Care, much? NO. Well, I AM getting a shivery feeling about how I am to pay for it, but let’s put fingers in our ear and shout “la la la not listening not listening” whenever this shivery feeling occurs.

I’m a fan of Sondheim, but I will confess that the only two shows I had ever seen of his until a few years ago were Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music. I don’t count West Side Story, because Bernstein wrote the music to that. I taped Sweeney Todd when it was on TV in about 1985, with the incomparable Angela Lansbury, for whom the role of Mrs Lovett was created, and it was on high rotation on the teev, along with videos of the The Blues Brothers and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I loved A Little Night Music, and loved the MTC production starring Lisa McCune and others. I’ve since seen Into the Woods once, by a pro-am company. And I coached roles for Sunday Afternoon in the Park with George. And that’s it. That’s all. I teach his songs ALL the time, and I love his music. I think I love his lyrics more, but I am in love with the glorious, tricky repetition of his music, the intelligence shining through like a beacon amongst the Musical Theatre dross (that’s dross by ALW or anything with Les in the title). So when my friend wrote to me on FB and asked if I’d like to go to a live show starring him, I had no hesitation in saying YES! Because he’s 82, and who knows how much longer he’ll live?

So, on the weekend when hubby and I are discussing my lack of employ over summer, I’m planning on a fabulous weekend with a girlfriend, away from the hubby, down in Melbourne, all fun and no responsibility. I think I need it, though.

 

Reinvention and the mummy blog.

Ok, so I’ve decided I need a bit of a change. My rationale? Who really cares about research anyway? (Well, I do, but let’s not go there right now.) I’ve been feeling for a while now that this blog, while I’ve enjoyed writing it, has been a bit limiting. Hell, staying stuck with just research and singing? What was  I thinking? When I have lots of lovely stuff to write about family, house observations and other gems? So I’ve decided that as I’ve taken a break from the PhD (let’s not go there today), I needed a change of name for my blog. I needed a change of focus, and a broadening of my subjects for discussion. The name may yet change again, mainly because it sounds like a mummy blog when really, anyone with a freaking vagina and a child gets labelled as such.

Well. I have 2 home grown kids and 2 other younger sprogs I acquired from my second marriage, so I am legally and literally a mummy. But don’t get me started on that “writing about the children” bullshit. My oldest is old enough for me to be a grandmother. Which I’m not. My main concerns in life are earning enough money to afford our substantial and necessary house renovations, finishing my PhD (which, if I care enough, will happen next year, but let’s not go there), getting me a new smart dog to replace my dead stupid one, and really: enjoying the good life.

Because, really, I do have such a good life. Not as well paid a good life as I’d like (there’s that money thing again), but notwithstanding a terrible time in my twenties married to a sick, sick man, I’m pretty happy. No really philosophical thoughts. My head is a vacuum filled mainly with 12000 – 16000 hz of tinnitus noise. Think annoying TV whine right at the back of your skull – I blame Annie Lennox and too many years of singing in bands. That’s about it. Crickets.

Well, all right. Sometimes I do get a bit low. Usually lasts about a week and then I’m fine. Mostly concerned with 1/getting older; 2/end of my reproductive years; 3/not having enough money; 4/ missing my adult children who don’t live with me; 5/ not finishing my PhD (but let’s not go there); 6/ not feeling creative enough. 7/ And not being as good a writer as I want to be or think I am.

Does anyone else ever get the sense that when they write with a different “voice”, that their writing is much better? Maybe I edit better. Maybe I use less words, maybe I have a better sense of structure. But really, some of the best writing I have done is quick, deadline type stuff, only lightly edited. Bloody annoying. Specially when I labour for months on my PhD narratives and they sound like crap. Crap, I tell you.

I’m going to start a section on this blog (maybe a whole new blog, actually) where I just talk about house stuff. Because I like decorating. I really really do. I like painting and I like finishing stuff and I like things looking good. So, maybe I’ll branch out. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Does outside research get in the way of the PhD?

You betcha! Although, in my case, my outside research is directly relevant to my studies. I am co-editing a book on singing teaching, which should be published in July 2013. I have to co-write the first and last chapters and also write my own. This, while directly relating to my studies, reduces by a month the time to work on my own thesis.

I am also doing a study on assessment practices, for which I am the project manager. I am also the main analyst – through a grounded study – so I’m the one who has to sit with the data and analyse all the interviews. And we’re presenting the findings in October, so I have to get cracking with that. This is about 5 hours a week of work, for which I only get about $40 an hour, but because my stipend runs out at the end of June, I have to do the work to stay fed.

And of course, now that I have no stipend, I have no visible means of support. I have to make the hard decision about whether to stay full time or to go part time on the PhD. Either way I hope to submit at the end of the year, so it’s no skin off my nose, but it will allow me to justify why I’m going full time with work commitments.

I have a few small commitments that, while only lasting a few hours, still take up precious time. Such as doing a critical reading for someone’s PhD; singing workshops and vocal health lectures. That sort of thing. Should I be employed full time at a university? I’m not sure. I’ve seen how hard my husband works, and I don’t think I want that. On the other hand, I’d love a few more teaching hours and then if you chuck in some lecturing and research – well, it all adds up. One can only hope. Anyway, I will certainly be applying for any gig that comes up at Uni over the next 12 months in research and project management, 2 things I thought I’d never do.

But do all these things impact on my study? Yes, they do. The learning from each of these endeavours enriches my knowledge about singing, about how to do research, about what is needed in a decent PhD, and about how to make the most out of my time. These activities might get in the way, but only in a good sense.