Friday, 28 October 2011

Bryna's Got Talent

While it's no surprise to us how talented all our children are, it's great to see some of the rest of the planet give them a little recognition. Bryna took up ballet while we were still in California and has continued to dance, along with Mara, since we got back. Her primary school (elementary/grundschule) recently ran a competition using the now seemingly ubiquitous " ... Got Talent" and she did well enough in the heats -- run on a weeknight at the school -- to be invited back to the finals that were held at the school fĂȘte a few weeks later. And she won! She performed a self-choreographed dance routine to the first few minutes of Ben Fold's Still Fightin' It. There were even prizes -- well done Bryna. :)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

So ... We Bought a House

After nineteen years of wedded bliss and six children, Gaynor and I feel it is time to settle down[1]. While we certainly aren't ruling out relocating to other countries in the future -- if it's a disease, Gaynor and I should probably both be formally diagnosed -- but for the time being putting down some stable-ish roots is our plan. We believe it is the right time for the children and, financially, it makes more sense for us too. Actually, this is probably our first real opportunity to buy a house. No-one would give me a loan as a student and once I finished my studies we fled the country almost straight away. That was always our plan and hope anyway. Although we came close to buying a house in California -- the market was certainly good for buyers and we were looking -- uncertainty in our longer-term plans made us hesitant.

So once we had decided to move back to Australia, and with the certainty of at least a few years of employment, we knew we wanted to buy a house as soon as possible. As much as we would have liked to, we didn't think we could stay in temporary accommodation until we purchased but we talked to a mortgage broker soon after settling in (and taking care of the very hectic stuff) and he helped us understand our financial reach. Then all we had to do was find something with that reach.

Unfortunately, what seemed to be within our reach was a small cupboard "far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of [Canberra]". Somewhat deflated, but nevertheless undeterred, Gaynor started scouring the web and newspapers but this time for real. Our plan was to try and find something that needed improvement, preferably with a larger block in case the house also needed extensions. We also thought that if we could put in most of the work ourselves we'd be getting ahead a little, or at least providing a little protection if the market were to take a downward slide.

Gaynor has had strong opinions about houses and their designs since she was young. I have lived in houses. So one of the challenges for Gaynor was not only to find a house within our budget, our preferred area and our improve-it-while-you-live-in-it plan but to negotiate with her husband and his quickly-formed opinions. Fortunately, I've learnt a lot about houses recently and, combined with a bit of travel, I'm now far more amenable to ideas outside my traditional purview. Still, I provide the occasional resistance, just to help me feel like I'm part of the action.

Despite all this, we did find a few houses that fit our criteria and they were all being offered via auctions. The first house was on a massive block but was riddled with termite damage. We estimated about $20,000 worth of materials alone to make it livable. In order to get the hang of auctions, I had attended one that I did not register to bid in. Interesting to see how quickly several thousand dollars can be added to a price. At the auction for the Termite Castle we were eventually outbid by a guy who almost certainly will sub-divide the block, knock down the Castle and put in a couple of new houses. Hard to compete with that kind of money.

At that auction was another real estate agent who approached us afterwards to inform us that there was another similar place, just around the corner, coming up for auction in a few weeks. After looking through it, it also needed a fair bit of work but not as much as the first place. The auction eventually rolled around and it turns out, we were the only bidders! My opening bid was, obviously, too low and so we negotiated with the seller afterwards. In the end, she had an over-inflated sense of what the house was worth and would not come down to something closer to reality. We'd always maintained the position that we had to be prepared to walk away if it didn't work and we wouldn't put ourselves into something we couldn't afford. And in this case, we walked.

Finally, we found a small place, better maintained than the first two but with a slightly smaller block and a little further out. From the outset there was very little interest in this property and when the auction arrived, we were the only registered bidders. I did feel a little awkward as the auctioneer asked repeatedly for an opening bid, knowing that I was the only one who could start. One might think that the previous auctions had helped me relax a little but I still find committing to that much money a bit stressful. My starting bid was naturally low and, as per auction regulations, the seller, via the auctioneer, can enter one bid. He did this but it was already beyond what we felt we could comfortably afford and more than I was prepared to commit without further consideration. The house was passed in unsold and then we started a tense 20 minutes of back and forth between us and the vendor and discussions between Gaynor and I. Eventually, we decided came to a price slightly lower than half way between his initial price and ours. I note that it was slightly lower because he wouldn't budge and we daren't go any higher and so, to make the sale, the estate agents knocked the last thousand off, out of their commission. We can live with that.

So now we have a place. Settlement is in a few more weeks with plenty of paperwork and financial decisions to worry about in the meantime. And, even though the challenges of renovations and, hopefully, extensions are still ahead of us and, even though it'll be smaller and older than we have become accustomed to in the past few years, Gaynor still seems pretty happy and it will be ours.

[1] I believe I have worked through my fear of commitment.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Micah Reads 'Big Little'

Micah loves books and puzzles. Here he is with one of his favourite books that he can 'read' himself. The funny, sort of scrunched up face he pulls is his deliberate smiling face. :)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Celia Lashlie: The World of Boys and Men

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to Celia Lashlie give a public lecture at ANU entitled The World of Boys and Men. Though I have lived in this world for a while, I thought it would be useful to get an outsider's point-of-view, to be reminded of how my own boys sometimes see things and pick up any insights she might have gained. Unfortunately, I don't have time to give a full account of the talk and so, instead, for those interested in helping to raise successful men, I offer below an unedited copy of my own notes taken.
  • 'I get annoyed when ...' puts it on yourself rather than 'You should ...' which puts it on him.
  • Boys tend to ignore women's voices because they have heard many negative comments throughout their lives since there were small -- often from others who do not need to pass judgements -- that they aren't okay being who they are. a-la 2 year old misbeaving in public.
  • Once they are 12 -- 13 they turn off until ~24.
  • Note:
    • women think and talk at the same time, thinking out loud
    • men think and then talk -- note the gap -- and women prefer to fill the gap.
  • Often the thinking on the part of men in response to an 'uh oh' question[1] is to pick the words that get him out of trouble.[2]
  • Women consider externally and men consider internally. Wait for them to consider! In both cases!
  • Boys make 30 second decisions.
  • Men have intuition -- just use it differently.
  • Take in information from 2 years old -> 12 -- 13 and then process.
  • 12 -- 13 slow down; the laziness is wanting to slow the world down and is aware of the end of adolescence, the world is changing.
  • Slow down means getting through with "Don't know" or "No" and will wait for a woman to answer her own question.
  • Boys know through observation how things are. Example!
  • Relationships -- the essence of life -- will keep boys safe.
  • In communicating, learn to wait for answers, don't fill the gap nor provide answers or options. Let them think and talk and don't let them off the hook by doing those earlier things. Look directly at them.
  • They already know right from wrong so need to prod their intuition -- simply need to remind them without your own emotional insecurities.
  • Parents (mothers?) have checklist of things to talk about during adolescence and avoid segueing to it.
  • Ask them by stating own views and giving them time to think abou it and then being prepared for their answers.
  • Nothing if not pragmatic!
  • Pragmatism drives many actions and communications
  • They must experience consequences to learn.
  • Set the line and let him find it.
  • Link action and consequences -- his pragmatic nature will drive the results.

[1] She explained that an 'uh oh' question is typically one of deeper significance that usually has the man mentally responding with an 'uh oh'.
[2] It reminded me of one of my favourite illustrative stories, The Difference Between Men and Women.