Saturday 22 June 2019

The Joyful Frugalista

Serina Bird wants to reclaim frugality. "Once upon a time, thrift and frugality were celebrated as virtues."
Instead of being equated with negative words such as poor, meagre, paltry, cheap, insufficient or even skimpy, I want frugality to be associated with concepts such as creativity, appreciation, abundance, choice, empowerment and being enterprising and environmentally sound. 
For her the frugalista lifestyle is about financial empowerment. Don't live a life of FOMO and debt. 
There is a better way. And that way is to take control of your finances, to learn to live within your means, to aim to create more wealth and to develop a savings plan. 
Her underlying themes of self-worth, abidance and gratitude 
It is about being authentic and true to myself, and striving (in small, everyday ways) to make the world a better place. 
And our lives a better place too. Serina provides us with lots of inventive ways to find cheap or free goods and services. And to not be ashamed about that. 
It is ok to accept with gratitude the abundance that the universe provides. Something free is not automatically substandard, nor is it wrong (unless, of course, you stole it).
Naturally, Serina takes all of this very seriously. She has recorded every dollar she has spent for over 10 years! I couldn't tell you what I spent yesterday, or last week. She even makes a monthly income/expenses report. Like she is a business. While I can see how that makes sense to do that, I can't ever see me doing it. She juggles multiple investment properties, and has for many years, through her first marriage, and then divorce, and now into her second marriage. 

I particularly liked the section on The Power of Little Savings, teaching us that every dollar counts. I've been doing something similar for a while. I make lots of small extra payments to my mortgage and superannuation whenever I buy something and make a saving. A trick I learned from the $1000 Project. Serina talks the talk, and walks the walk. She buys second hand clothes and goes urban foraging. She maintained a $50 weekly food budget for herself and her two sons for over a year! I pretty much drop 50 bucks every time I go to the supermarket. Well, not every time, but often. 

I also liked the more personal chapters where she recounted her own story. Her marriages. Her habits. Her goals- she wants to be a billionaire! And yet doesn't like FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early). It's a sad day when you realise you're already too old to set FIRE to your life...

Serina lives in Canberra, a city that has four distinct season, with a real winter. Well, as real as it gets in Australia. My town does too. She likes embracing the seasons and suggests that we think of our homes as a chalet. She uses the German word gemütlich to convert this sense of wintery cosiness, I'm more used to the Danish term hygge

But I've been interested in making my life more hygge for a while now. I turn on a sparkly light, day or night, just because it gives me joy. I've bought (and actually use) scented candles. I'm using a furry, soft fake fur blanket (the dog likes that too, dogs have an innate sense of hygge, though perhaps not so much as cats).

Each chapter ends with a Frugalista Challenge. Some of them would be easy peasy. Don't buy any new clothes or shoes for a month. Done. Try to reduce your grocery expenditure to $25 per person per week. I just broke out in a cold sweat. I am going to try and record every dollar that I spend. For a month! I've tried doing this sort of thing before, but have rarely gone beyond a day. We'll see how it goes. I think I might try it as a project for July. 

While I'll never be a Frugalista anywhere near Serina Bird level we can always learn things from such books. 
You can afford anything, but you can't afford everything.
I borrowed The Joyful Frugalista from my library. And so I've just transferred $29.99 into my super. The lessons from this book will take me into retirement. I hope Serina would be proud. 

Serina Bird blogs at Joyful Frugalista

Sunday 16 June 2019


I've just started using Borrow Box from my library, and I'm in love. Borrow Box is an app that you use via your library to borrow eaudiobooks and ebooks. The app is super easy to use. Once was the first audiobook I listened to with Borrow Box. It was such a fab reading experience. I listened to most of it on a train trip, some whilst out walking the dogs, some driving the car to work. All so easy.

At this stage I'm only planning to use it for audiobooks (because I'm using it on my phone and I don't really like ebooks so much, especially reading phone size ebooks). I can borrow four audiobooks at a time (and four ebooks if I choose to), which is enough to keep me out of trouble I guess, although there are so many there that I want to inhale.

I'd been meaning to read Once for some time. It's a very well known book, and I've had a copy sitting about the house in the TBR for quite a while. Although I didn't know all that much about it. I knew that it was about a boy called Felix and set during the Second World War, but not really much more than that.

Felix is a nine year old boy living in a remote Polish orphanage in 1942. Although he isn't an orphan, or he wasn't when his parents left him there three years and eight months ago. As you might expect things are rather grim in a Polish orphanage during the war- watery soup, shared baths and bullying amongst the kids. But things change enormously for Felix when he leaves the orphanage one day to return home to find his parents.

Of course Felix's Jewish bookseller parents are no longer keeping their small town shop. They have been displaced by a Polish family, and Felix starts a larger quest to find them. We visit the Warsaw Ghetto, and witness so much brutality (and some kindness) at the hands of Nazi soldiers. I may have cried at times. It's hard not to.

As an adult reader it is impossible not to be aware of what Poland 1942 means as a setting. I guess as a child you would have less of an awareness, and less of an understanding of the historical and political context. When groups of people are being marched down a road or pushed onto a train you know where they are going. Felix doesn't.

Morris Gleitzman is such a prolific Australian author, who is just taking on his role as our fifth Australian Children's Laureate. I've seen him speak quite a few times. I've read a few of his books. Loyal Creatures, which I loved (see my review), and Two Weeks With the Queen, which I don't remember loving so much.

Once was tremendously successful and popular and has now grown into a series of six books. Once. Then. Now. Soon. After. Maybe. I'm planning on listening to all of them. Indeed I have Then all downloaded and ready to go next.

Sunday 9 June 2019

Speaking Up

I really have been straying out of my comfort zone lately. So much nonfiction! I saw Gillian Triggs speak at Newcastle Writers Festival recently, she was very impressive, and so when her audiobook Speaking Up popped on my BorrowBox I was there.

Because of my general head in the sand approach to life I only heard of Gillian and her work last year. She gave a keynote at a conference I attended, unfortunately I missed that session, but everyone there raved about it. Then I saw her in Newcastle April. Speaking Up was the overall best seller at the festival bookshop. Which is intriguing, as it's not a super easy read.

Gillian has had an extraordinary life and career. Born in the UK, her family migrated to Melbourne in 1958. Gillian remembers seeing refugees on the streets of London after the war, and feels her sense of social justice was forged by the war and her parents visions of freedom, non-discrimination and racial equality, "the values for which their war had been fought". She studied law at Melbourne Uni in the 60s and went on to have an international career specialising in International Maritime Law. She worked and lived in Texas, Singapore, Paris, London and Sydney. She has had two marriages, the first to the Dean of her law school, and with the second she became a diplomatic wife to the Australian Ambassador in Singapore then Paris. Yes I got a little bit jealous around that part. She had three children, the third of whom was profoundly disabled by Edwards Syndrome.

In 2012 Gillian Triggs became President of the Australian Human Rights Commission and "discovered her public voice and that she had something useful to say." She certainly has a lot of useful things to say. 
Human rights apply to everyone, all the time. Those whose human rights need protecting are not always socially worthy citizens. Human rights defenders do not pick and chose whom to protect and this is the point. Vulnerable people, usually minorities, and sometimes unpopular people all have the right to enjoy fundamental freedoms and respect as human beings. 
I really enjoyed these early, more biographical chapters, but the majority of the book is much more academic and scholarly. Law for the nonlawyer is quite often dry and boring. And how long can anyone really think about Senate Estimates? Gillian Triggs does her best to make this accessible for the average reader, but still my eyes and consciousness glazed over at times. Quite literally one day on a long distance drive.

Yet the subjects that Gillian Triggs addresses are interesting, and clearly important. Family violence, economic empowerment of women, constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians, Aboriginal deaths in custody, refugees, mandatory detention, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, youth suicide, metadata, marriage equality. Gillian wants nothing more than for us to join her in speaking up for human rights. 
Australia is the only democratic nation in the world and the only common law country that does not have a bill or charter of rights to ensure the freedom of its citizens and residents. Australia is also the only Commonwealth country not to have a treaty with its indigenous people...
Gillian Triggs dates the decline of human rights in Australia from 2001. A lot of things changed around the world that year of course, but she sites particularly Tampa, Children Overboard and September 11 as causing Australia to change course. 
How is it that the sovereign nation of Australia, one of the architects of international human rights agreements following World War II and a globally recognised good international citizen has regressed so far in failing to respect human rights in the 21st century?
It is shocking that Gillian finds human rights to have regressed further over her five years at the Commission. 

It's fair to say that most Australians (myself included) know next to nothing about our Constitution, and indeed we would hardly ever consider it, unless wishing to quote The Castle. 
The Australian Constitution does not prohibit torture, slavery or racial or sexual discrimination. The rights of children, the disabled or aged are not mentioned.
I guess none of this is too surprising given that it was set out in the dying years of the 19th century. Our Constitution does not even grant us the right to vote! Which is interesting given we have compulsory voting. Oh dear, perhaps I'm going to have to read that book too... (From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage)

I was especially interested in the sections on Aboriginal deaths in custody, on the Northern Territory Intervention, and other factors affecting Australia's Aboriginal people. Gillian recommends Ali Cobby Eckerman's poem Intervention Payback.

Juxtaposing human rights with child protection is a false binary. Australia can both protect its vulnerable children and respect the fundamental rights of our First Nations peoples to dignity and to consent to laws that affect their lives. 
Sadly, Australia can't always protect our vulnerable children though. I am glad to have learnt about the Uluru Statement from the Heart. What apart from politics can stand in the way of a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution?
Indigenous deaths in custody are reported to have increased 150% since 1991 numbering 340 in 2017.
While this number is still shocking, this sentence is badly worded. I initially thought it suggested that 340 Aboriginal people died in custody in the year 2017 which stopped me in my tracks. What she means is that 340 Aboriginal people died in the 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991. An appalling number. 

Similarly, the section on refugees were enlightening, and damning. 

Road signs warned that the (Christmas) islands giant robber crabs had protected status, asylum seekers are not similarly cared for here. 
Currently there are 65 million displaced people in the world, 1/3 of whom are refugees.
Australia's responses to this global tragedy have been exceptionally harsh, illegal and inhumane attracting international condemnation. 
I was reminded that Mandatory Detention was started in 1992 by the Keating government. It is interesting that in 2016 the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea found that detention of adult male refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island is in violation of its (relatively new) constitution. 

Naturally, Speaking Up gives us an idea of the work of the Human Rights Commission. I was most surprised that "Overwhelming people come to the Commission alleging employment discrimination." I had thought the day to day workings would be on more general social concerns, not specific complaints by individuals. But they do a lot of conciliation work. 

The protection of minorities is fundamental to our democracy. 
In the end Speaking Up is quite a lengthy argument for an Australian Charter of Rights. Gillian Triggs makes no secret of her opinion, she argues for it many times due the text and her final chapter is entitled The Time is Now, A Charter of Rights for Australia. Apparently it will help counter our "dysfunctional parliament and disempowered courts".
The real value of human rights acts lies in their symbolic, educative and informative roles restraining parliaments from passing laws that infringe fundamental rights and ensuring administrators do not impose policies that do so. When protections for human rights get legislative expression they form the scaffolding for a social structure that respects rights for communities and individuals. 
As a random fact I was fascinated to hear Gillian say that the UK had television soon after the war. I took that to mean that television started broadcasting there after the war, but the BBC actually started broadcasting regularly in 1936, and then British TV was shut down in 1939 at the start of WWII. Broadcasting then resumed in 1946. Television came to Australia in 1956 for the Melbourne Olympic Games. Not that I was there for that, but I didn't realise Australia at that time was a full 20 years behind.

Still young Gillian watched BBC documentaries on the liberation of concentration camps and recounts that her sense of social justice had its origins in her parents commitment to the values of freedom, non-discrimination and racial equality. "A choice is not binary in favour of one right or the other, rather as shown by amendments to the marriage act it is possible both to achieve marriage equality and to provide protection to those religious views that would condemn it."

There is no hierarchy of rights. One freedom does not trump another.
I had to rush towards the end to read this book. Borrowing e-audiobooks is a rigid process. You can't hang onto it for a day or so if you haven't finished with it. An e-audibook just vanishes from your phone (or device) at the allocated time. So I had to find 6 hours in a few days. I wasn't sure that I'd make it- especially when I have many other draws on my time (as we all do). I'm also halfway through the Aussie Noir thriller Scrublands, and trying to watch Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale before June 6 when Series 3 starts. Plus living a life from time to time. I tried speeding it up to 1.25 but Speaking Up is dense, and you need to concentrate properly so that didn't work for me at all. I made my deadline with a few hours to spare.