When the weekend boredom beckons…

So, I guess my husband and I are workaholics. This was brought home to me on Saturday afternoon, when I spent 2 hours trying to figure out how to work the MYOB First Edge accounting software I bought for my business (Plainsong Enterprises – anything for a quick plug). We both agree that weekends are difficult to get through. There are weekends when our children are with us which is a whole world of inexplicable events, and then there are the OTHER weekends. You know, the ones where you wake up Saturday morning and you have no social functions to attend, no concerts or films to see (because you’re on a budget so spending money on fun is not within acceptable parameters) and there is nothing on TV worth watching. That sort of weekend. We have a process emerging for these kinds of moments. We wake up, hubby buys paper and maybe croissants, we drink coffee and read the paper until mid-morning. Then we go to half a dozen open houses to do our house purchasing research – my parameters are becoming more defined now. By this time the coffee has worn off, the car air conditioning doesn’t work any more (something to ask my motor mechanic about….) and it’s time for the shopping. Grocery shopping. But somehow, amongst all our declarations of non expenditure due to no money, we still manage to buy business equipment (for the business, it’s a business expense, I need a home binding machine for all my music and reports, I really do, and I’m sick of people not bringing water, so I need a water chiller in the foyer, yes I really do). Oops. This is alongside the $200 I spent on an accounting package I don’t know how to use, and the Australian edition of Bookkeeping for Dummies, 2010. I should never be let near Officeworks. My husband now realises it’s a sickness for me. I am heavily addicted.

Saturday evenings are now a wasteland of me trying to get Accounting software to work, and my husband writing more grant proposals and answering emails and putting out spotfires. And occasionally I give up, and play Sims3, which unfortunately is now more boring than real life. Just when you think academics don’t do any work, you find my hubby putting in 14 hour days, 6 days a week. He wades through and corrects his students’ PhD or DMA work, he reads or plans operating manuals for the university, he answers a thousand emails. He goes to retreats and important meetings. He told me this morning before heading off on a 3 day management retreat that it was expected he would change for dinner, because wearing day clothes at an evening function is not a good idea.

We have ceased to function as a unit. We are now working machines. So, as I say, Saturday has become about buying stuff. Houses to buy in future, groceries ($170 – down to a dull roar); office furniture, and GIFTS. Who knew gifts were the killer? Trying to buy a gift for my little sister Nell’s wedding is impossible – we may have to go for the gift voucher like everyone else – and then there are the children. My stepson is turning 13 this Saturday. Of course, he had made no plans for a party so it will be a pretty ad hoc sort of affair, I’m afraid. I think they want to do the go kart racing thing. Fine by me. But what to get a child who has everything he needs? (except War Hammer, and neither his mother nor his father are getting any of THAT! Overpriced plastic crap) I thought a phone might be a good idea. He is attending high school now and what with all the travel and the too-ing and fro-ing, I recommended it. Also because his mother won’t let him call his dad and his dad is sick of having a gatekeeper monitoring his calls to his son. So, without revealing what we finally got for this child, let it be said that here now begins the lifelong commitment to communication of an electronic nature.

So Saturday and Sunday become about shopping, getting out of the heat, and working. Because when we get home from the shopping, hubby goes into his room and I go into mine, and we don’t see each other again until dinner. And that’s the weekend.



I am the budget goddess – nearly!

So, continuing my story about making changes in our spending habits, and getting out of the debt stranglehold we currently choke under, I’ve done the weekly accounts and I have to say: I’m thrilled with our efforts so far. In the far and distant past I had been a pretty sensible spender – there was a finite amount of money to spend and I was the only one making any, so I had to be careful. After marrying my husband, all of a sudden our spending habits went through the roof. The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, and vice versa. We are also compulsive spenders, usually on the small stuff, and hubby has no idea of what he has in his bank account.

So, saving all the receipts this week has given me a chance to look over our spending, and, I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with the result. Without going into particular detail, I can say that we have spent about $130 on food and groceries and household goods this week. Add that to the $200 we spent on food and groceries last week and we are well under our $500 per fortnight total. We have a fridge full of food and a cupboard groaning with produce, and our only needs are fresh herbs or milk (I am doing great things with mince, but will expand this to include other meat once the mince clears out of the freezer – we bought about 4 kilos last week, enough for at least 8 meals, and our freezer is chockablock!). Our necessary spending: transport, medication etc, came in at $99 for the week, but should last another 2 weeks on average. And, best of all, our discretionary spending has been great. We spent about $86 this week. Now, if you include drinks this arvo and a friend’s BBQ tomorrow (already paid for), we should come well under the $125 per week I had budgeted for discretionary spending. Our biggest cost thus far has been grog. Even though we are not drinking during the week, I have insisted we buy a bottle of white spirits so that we can do the cheaper alternative of mixed drinks in the summer months when we ARE drinking. And beer has become very dear to us, too. In both the drinking, and the spending sense!

It is clear to me that the small things are costing us big. I spent $9.00 on takeaway coffee this week, so I’m figuring out ways to take freshly ground coffee to work, cutting down on the takeaways and enjoying my own stuff. We do have a coffee plunger, but it’s much too big for my little cups of espresso, and we don’t have a one person unit. Maybe today I’ll buy one to take to work. It seems like a false economy, but I suspect if I spend another $9.00 this week that will be $18.00 over a fortnight on takeaway coffee. And a single plunger is about the same cost, so wearing that cost into the following fortnight will see us come out even there, and thereafter I will save. I have stopped buying takeaway lunches – I may slip up from time to time, but it’s better than buying a $10 lunch every day and wondering where the money went at the end of it all.

One of our big pitfalls has been eating out, and going out generally. At present we are not going out much at all, and it’s killing us by degrees on the inside. There is nothing on the TV and often we end up doing work in front of the TV, rocking quietly in the corner from boredom. This will be a challenge for us. We can go and see some wonderful movies at the moment at a very cheap rate, but I’m suggesting we eke the movie watching out over a few weeks, so that there is always something to do each weekend, or, if we really can’t cope anymore, during the week. Another thing I’m trying to do is to have people over more frequently, but on a cheaper budget. Spaghetti or gnocchi with a great ragu rather than expensive roast rib eye, that sort of thing. Home made dessert instead of my favourite cheat: beautiful lemon tart from the local bakery. Home baked bread, beautiful soup. Curry night! I do some great curries, and have learned how to throw together a fabulous feast in about an hour, including roti bread. I don’t cheat on the Dhal or the curried vegies, but I do cheat on Tandoori paste for chicken. Curry is a superb and cheap way to eat, especially cheap cuts of meat, or vegetarian, and it’s hugely communal. Perfect for parties.

I’m really thrilled that, now that I’m seeing our spending become more manageable, we can begin to make forward plans that don’t include paying off megadebt. I’m concerned about our clothes for 2011 as they wear badly in this heat – in Brisbane you have to wash clothes after wearing them only once, including long pants and jeans, so they quickly lose quality. I’m not sure how we will keep up with that this year, but once we have seen our spending for three months we may have a better idea of the costs we are saving and how to give ourselves prizes or gifts from time to time.

So, week two down, week three coming our way. Of course, next weekend will be interesting because we will have the kids with us and they suck money out of us like the little succubi they are. I think we’ll be doing the “earning money to spend it” routine from now on – cleaning rooms, making beds, doing dishes, feeding animals – that sort of thing. Hubby tends to throw money at the kids every time he sees them and I’m not sure he realises how much he spends on them. So earning their pocket money and saving for special items will be the next budget education program for the kids.

Let’s hope the dog doesn’t decide to have another fit, that my business keeps on keeping on, and that this budget haven I have created for us lives to tell another day.


“Organizationing” my life is working!!!

Well, my two grand schemes are in play. To reduce our spending and to organise my PhD work. I’m pleased and happy with the way things are turning out this week. In terms of PhD I’ve got meetings with both supervisors this week, and I’ve been keeping on track with my data analysis; and I have set in train the spending slash and burn. So far it has been quite good, although Scott had to buy Apple Care at a squillion bucks because his computer CD thingy ceased working.

I’m insisting we be sensible. Scott fancied going to the movies on Saturday – we can do that pretty cheaply, but I knew we were going out on Sunday to a music listening party, and I wanted to spread the love, as it were. If we go out next weekend we will feel like we have done something each weekend. And that will be good. Spreading the love.

Summer bliss

I spent time with my family in Melbourne over Christmas, time with my friends, and I am now back in sunny/raining cats and dogs Brisbane with my husband and step kids, painting desks, enjoying quiet summer days with books and Wii games, wishing I could get to work but coping so far with the necessity of child minding while the summer holidays lasts. The dog is ok but on his last year I think – the Pancreatitis attack really knocked him about and now he wanders in a crazy way about the house (which he is not supposed to be in) and sleeps a lot. He only copes with 20 minute walks now. He really is a wonderful animal and I will miss him terribly when he goes. Except his smell, which, even after washing, is pretty appalling.

The step children are being wonderful at the moment, both of them. They are not taking it in turns to be horrible: instead they are both being helpful and polite and sweet and cheerful. I love it when kids are like this. Lachlan (the 12 yr old and the eldest) brought up the vacuum cleaner from downstairs when I asked and then, without prompting, decided to vacuum the whole top part of the house. I was astounded. The dog has been shedding like crazy and he normally stays outside the house, but now that he is completely senile he comes into the house and leaves a trail of beagle dog hairs everywhere. Lachlan took the initiative and just did the job without being asked. Amazing. And Zoe has consistently been cheerful and happy and very very helpful. They are now both cleaning up without being asked and helping in the kitchen. Such a change from 2010.

We’ve been painting Monty’s old desk which I had had commissioned as a special size about 9 years ago. An ex-boyfriend painted the pine desk in pretty gross colours: gloss black, burgundy trim and truly hideous green stencil initials of Monty. We sanded it back yesterday and the kids and I painted the undercoat on this morning. It was a pretty quick and easy job and the kids were terrific. They got in and painted thoroughly and were totally accepting of me “finishing off” as it were. We’ll put on the first lurid pink top coat tomorrow and finish the job on Friday, I hope. The desk is perfect for Zoe and should look a treat once finished.

We’ve planned a number of activities this hols to keep the kids amused, including friend visits and sleepovers, golf mornings, movie afternoons, painting the desk, plus Wii games galore. We bought a dance Wii and it’s proving so much fun for the whole family! Scott, surprisingly, considering his two left feet, is consistently winning. And Lachlan the twelve year old is really very good too. Zoe the ten year old is, of course, the best, but I’ve managed to beat her once or twice when dancing to Viva Las Vegas. The kids were also given a Masterchef cookbook and have been working through the recipes with my help. It has proven to be a brilliant way to reintroduce flavoursĀ  and food they previously hated. Gee I’m clever.

As to New Year resolutions: so far I’ve been sensible with my eating in the new year and have noticed a ravenous hunger, which means I’ve been eating too much. I’ve stopped drinking on weeknights and already am sleeping better and have more energy at night. It should be good for my work AND my teaching. As Scott noticed last night, I’ve been pretty good, but he could have murdered a beer last night. So he had a water and felt better. And I’m finding I need to drink lots of water as well. But generally feeling cheerful and alive. So it’s all good so far! Bring on the weight loss, I say. After having a busy few days weeding the garden, playing and dancing to Wii, and generally moving more, I feel confident that the enormous weight I’ve suddenly added to my hips, thighs and tummy will soon dissipate. I’ve checked out the activities at UQ, and will try to get to some Yoga classes there and generally improve my fitness and flexibility. When I do even the slightest exercise, I tend to lose a bit of weight – not sure I can cope with the hideous Brisbane humidity in February, but I’ll give it a shot.

The Christmas Madness descends

Yep, it begins. Monty’s birthday is early enough that we miss the worst of it, but from here on in I will have no solace until the New Year. I am supposed to be working today. This means that I am planning on spending some time doing the newsletter for ANATS (my final one); doing some work on the ARC, and planning my Xmas concert. The Xmas concert is the easy bit. Provide music for the accompanist, plan the rehearsal times before hand, ensure that there is afternoon tea and cake afterward. Plan the concert event, create a running sheet, print out the program. Super dooper easy. It’s all the other work that’s crapola hard thinking work. I have to get the ARC full first draft done this week. Why did I say I was going to do this??!!

Mum and dad are coming to Brissie on Friday. Thus, I need to prepare their room, plan the Xmas dinner being held here on Sunday night (same day as the concert – get it all over and done with at the same time, hence madness). I need to clean the house and buy Xmas gifts for the family: Haz and Adam. I need to buy gifts for my boys, although I have already bought them mock gifts.

And, then there’s Scott. What do I get for the man who wants for nothing, who is notoriously picky about clothing and who does not need stuff (except perhaps a new car)? I’m lost there. If I buy him something for the house he will accuse me of Indian giving. If I buy him clothes he will accuse me of trying to dress him in outfits that don’t work (and he’s right). I WAS going to buy him a desk but he has bought himself one already. He knows what to get me: I’ve been signposting for the last month. But him: urgh. I’m stuck.

And then, there is my work. My own work. My study, my lovely lovely data. Oh, forget about that – I don’t have time to even think of it! Next year, next year. Forget about December: too much happening.

In my home town… and missing it!

I’m in my home town this weekend and I’m missing it badly. A visceral desire for a return to its pleasures and its Melbourne attributes. I’m here and I’m in the moment, loving the moment, missing the moments all the time, and not missing Brisbane at all right now. Oh, fickle me. How quickly I throw off the shackles of loyalty and adoptive responsibility for the preferences of childhood memories. Oh, what treachery. And I’m back in a fortnight, all too ready to plunge myself into the pleasures of Melbourne all too soon. Oh, I hate me sometimes.


Solutions to the old and tired life: get active

Well, after a fairly exhausting conference – particularly if one is presenting – and saying goodbye to my 18 yr old son who has decided that life in Melbourne is more to his liking than life in Brisbane, I discovered the best way to get over the grief and sadness and tiredness of his going is to get active. Get busy, get cleaning. It so happened that the hard rubbish collection was due over the weekend. We took the opportunity to get rid of old filing cabinets and the usual collection of mechanical detritus on our front lawn. Funny, to say the least, that curb burglars then mussed up our neatly piled up junk and took the bits they preferred, leaving the complete dross behind.

It was such a relief to get rid of old and unwanted things, even those which had served me so well, including the old colour printer and various other implements. We removed old broken things and even said good bye to a working cathode ray tv. We noticed that nearly every household was getting rid of their old tvs – it was sad to see the passing of an era, but, like us, I guess people, once they had tried the new tvs, couldn’t get rid of the old ones fast enough. Curb burglars were raiding the insides of them and leaving the cathode ray in the box – there’s probably gold in there. I said goodbye to an old, very good quality mini Sony stereo – the radio still worked, but various connections weren’t working so well anymore, and the CD player had ceased to work years ago; plus no-one plays tapes anymore… I hope the person who took it has a great time with it – the speakers are excellent.

We moved rooms around, set up a really lovely guest bedroom with the spare parts from Blake’s life – his bed, the desk, his storage units from Ikea, and rearranged Zoe’s room. She is thrilled with her new/old Ikea storage unit and the crappy desk which we will paint pink. Her room is fully set up now with the old computer (not connected to the internet) and she couldn’t be happier, even if her furniture is a mish mash of old cast offs, like castaways on a desert island, in her room.

And, to top it off, I made a lamb roast which the children wolfed down. They were lovely to me during my grief-stricken day. But I am better now. I spent money I don’t really have on things I don’t really need for the studio; – well, I DO really need them, but I could JUSTIFY NOT getting them on the basis of cost and cash flow. I bought an HP monitor – 20″, cheap as chips, and a desk chair (another one) for my own desk. And the children set up our Christmas trees, which has lightened my mood considerably. I’m so much happier about things now, even while I continue to mourn for my boy – I will miss him dreadfully. But he’s not dead, he will no doubt come and visit throughout the next year and I have finally paid off his school fees. That’s it – the last of them gone, and the chance now for me to get my credit card bills down to a dull roar. I’m planning on paying it off next year and reducing the limit from $15000 to $7500. I haven’t paid it down for years and I’m sick of paying the interest and living beyond my means. So that’s in hand, too. If I pay it off at $1000 per month or thereabouts, it will be no time before it’s completely gone and then the saving can begin in earnest. I want to own my own house!!!!

Nime3 Conference

I have spent the last three days attending the Nime3 Narrative Soundings conference. I have found myself only partially attending to the very interesting presentations and I wonder: am I all conferenced out? Am I done going to conferences for anything other than the networking opportunities? While I have enjoyed listening to some of the presentations I have discovered that my mind wanders and I am drawn to attending to other things, like blogs, Facebook and online banking. Perhaps I need to confess: I am only interested in the work of Graham Welch and a few others in illuminating some of the work that they do. I am not really interested in Narrative Inquiry for its own sake as I have attended many workshops and talks already. Maybe I’m tired, too. I’m saying goodbye to my son tonight. He returns to Melbourne tonight and he’s leaving on a jetplane, don’t know when he’ll be back again. We took him out to dinner last night and then to a club where we listened to funk/jazz. I drank 1 too many glasses of champagne and I am old and tired today, sad and quiet.

Returning the community heart to the suburbs

This week a semi-permanent market opened in a derelict building in Coorparoo. Upstairs has tat, soaps, clothes, trinkets etc, while downstairs is a food market. Open 4 days per week from 6am – 6pm, it has already been a runaway success. Soon they will have to provide more shopfronts for food stalls serving snacks and eats to feed the starving hordes, and there will need to be some serious thinking about where everything goes. Currently it’s a bit higgledy-piggledy and not necessarily well thought through, and some vendors are clearly not very good at stall dressing. They could use some help from window dressers and shop fitters.

I have been three times already. The first time I drove, on a Thursday afternoon, the first day it opened, and already I noticed a distinct change in the appearance of the suburb. Cars are now permanently parked along the roads leading to the market. There are people everywhere. Inside it was quiet, but when I spoke to some of the vendors they mentioned how busy they had been earlier in the day.

I have since been with my husband another two times, mainly to get a feel for the place. I am noticing when stalls aren’t working and I am noticing that there are not enough snack food stalls. And, as I mentioned, the layout needs some organisation. The place is abuzz with excitement, and a community feel that was previously missing from my suburb. It will be interesting to see the spill-over effect into the suburb surrounds, and may well change the face of the suburb for some time to come.

My interest in this is due to a couple of things. First, I have been dismayed by Brisbane’s lack of suburban soul. Coming from Melbourne where our streetscapes are characterised by strip-shopping and a strong community vibe, I noticed in Brisbane that we seemed to be missing a heart. Many suburbs tend to have one or two small shops dotted about, but there is little in the way of a corner shop, or milk bar, and there is certainly very little suburban character such as found in suburbs like Brunswick, or Carlton, or Prahran. I’ve noticed people in Brisbane tend to go to the big indoor malls, mainly because it’s air conditioned, but also because there is little to no provision for the local community. This has been very disheartening to a new resident. Of course, my observations are relegated to a few choice places where I spend most of my time.

So this market has, overnight, provided a community hub, where locals (and some others from surrounding areas) can go, chat, buy their weekly fresh groceries, and develop a community heart. What a retrograde step! This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. What communities most need is a community base. Markets, for thousands of years, have provided the community hub. Just because we now have mega cities is no reason to deny the suburban, local community their place.

And, of course, now we have a direct conduit to local farmers and providores. I bought some delicious bacon from a charcuterie, there are half a dozen green grocers: some organic ones too. There is a mushroom man, a cheese man, some yoghurt people. Some places are already more popular than others and there will be some stall holders gone in a few weeks, and some opening soon, no doubt. There are three or four bakeries, each selling different produce, and some meat vendors, a fresh fish guy, and a greek food stall. What bliss. And all because some bright spark wanted to get a market in the area.