Autumn Excursion

Today (wearing my celebrant hat) I conducted a wedding ceremony at Hepburn Springs, north-west of Melbourne. It was a great opportunity to get to know an unfamilar area of Victoria, so I booked myself into the local pub and did some exploring.

To my delight, I discovered that it was autumn in that region. Okay, I know that it’s also autumn here in Melbourne but living in the CBD I don’t see or experience it. Suddenly there was colour – reds, golds, oranges and browns. Leaves scattered on my car overnight.

There were other issues that reminded me of what I don’t see in the city. I knew I was back in the country when I could smell the wood fires burning. There were horses in the paddocks wearing their blankets, and the paddocks gleamed with moisture after the early morning frost had melted. Sheep with black faces and feet grazed in others.

At times the paddocks were bordered by canopies of tall gums which shielded the road. Other times there were forests of densely planted eucalypts.  Roadside signs indicated that one should watch out for wombats, and sadly I saw one sad little marsupial, paws skywards, evidently having lost a battle with a car. This was not far past a sign proclaiming Wombat Forest.

At farm gates, there were buckets of produce, with hand-painted signs and honour boxes for when you made your purchase. One sign indicated that free range, fair trade horse poo was available. Not having a garden I passed that one up. I did come home with a carton of free range eggs instead. I assume that they were also free trade.

The pub in which I over-nighted was fairly typical.  Bathroom down the hall, noisy wooden floors and a wood fire down by the front bar.  I was relieved that the drinkers on the balcony outside my room didn’t stay too late.  My only complaint was that tea and coffee facilities were not provided for guests – in fact the only things in the room were a bed and bedside table. No chair, desk, or any other amenities. I hoped that there might be a lounge upstairs for the benefit of guests but it was not to be.  The décor was pleasant but for what was provided the tariff was on the expensive side.

I woke early and went for a walk early in the morning before finding an early morning café that could not only offer a cup of tea to start with followed by a country breakfast, but also the Sunday papers.  There are some city habits that I don’t like to lose. I then found a country market and browsed the stalls with loaves of bread, fresh produce, arts and crafts, and various tools. Heaps more of course. Chocolate brownies, candles, second- hand clothing and treasures of days past and now dubious use. I purchased a lovely blue felt had and think that it will be useful to cover the frizzy hair on cold, damp Melbourne streets.

I loved my weekend excursion. Living in the city is like living in an insular bubble, in spite of the cultural benefits. I must do it again.

Discovering Melbourne

Although I have thought often of my blog in the year since I have last updated it, demands on my time lead me away from regular entry. There has been another seismic shift in my universe, and here I am once again.

As a brief synopsis, my last full time position was made redundant and in the face of a very sad economy and even sadder employment market, I retrained and launched my business as a life coach (www.worklifejunction.com.au), helping people through times of transition and career review. It was a challenge getting clients and sufficient income to cover the establishment and ongoing costs. As the redundancy funds ran out, and I was confronting utter exhaustion from long hours in business development, I became increasingly concerned. Thoughts of selling the house were looming. I did love not being in the corporate environment, and in particular not having to participate in mindless performance reviews, but all the same there is something to be said for a regular and dependable income.

Scanning my LinkedIn feed early one morning, I noted a job interstate that outlined all of my prior experience. I could tick all of their boxes. For fun, I threw together a quick application and emailed it off, considering that my age and current location would see my application confined to the bin. I was surprised to get an interview (via Skype) and even more surprised to land the role. With my son now independent and living interstate, and my father now deceased, there was nothing major to stop be taking the role. Okay, there were two cats to consider and a large house and garden that needed looking after but they were not insurmountable problems and so here I am. In apartment on the seventh floor of a CBD building in Melbourne.

I drove over from Adelaide last weekend with a carload of personal effects and started work on the Monday. That sounds quite simple, except that the apartment in which I am currently living is owned by the sister of an in-law, and when she vacated the apartment a couple of years ago, she walked out and shut the door on everything here. She started again in her new apartment – new furniture, new clothes, new household goods. She was also a hoarder – old boxes, broken items, empty containers: all of them are stacked in every room. She has not been able to deal with it since. There are various reasons for that and I won’t go into it here but it means that I am confronted with dealing with the sorting and disposal issue.

Currently, I am sleeping on a mattress on the lounge room floor. The kitchen and one of the bathrooms are functional and I have just taken delivery of a washing machine (she did take the fridge and washing machine) so yay – I can now wash my clothes. I really, really want to sort out the rest of the apartment though and as she wants to review items and decide what she still does and does not want, I have to wait for her to turn up. It is now 3:30 on a Sunday and although she texted that she was on her way over an hour ago (living 10 minutes walk from me) she still hasn’t turned up. I guess we are not getting much done this weekend.

There are some plus sides to this apartment. It doesn’t have a huge garden to maintain and that is a huge plus. I did buy a cumquat tree for the balcony yesterday and also a Croton for indoors. I still need some greenery about me. When she has sorted/taken the rest of her stuff on the balcony, I will make that a more liveable space, with a small table and chairs and some potted herbs – perhaps even a tomato.

I have Chinatown on my doorstep and the train and tram service run past my door, with the train being underground. I don’t have the internet connected yet, so I can slip over to the train station daily and access 250Mb of free wifi. This is not a lot but it all helps.

1 Hydrangeas in the Conservatory across the road

2. View from my balcony

3. My new abode (level 7)

Don’t Come Monday

Now that it has finally happened, I’m feeling a bit drained and over it all. More than a year ago, my senior manager indicated that projected work was not at the level previously anticipated and that this may have in impact on the team. A few months ago, he announced the process to be undertaken for a resources review within the team. A few weeks ago, he advised me that my position would not be carried forward into the new financial year and a few days ago, he confirmed the date and details of my departure.  Because of ongoing projects, that won’t be for three months yet, but at least there is a definite date.

Some people have no notice of impending redundancy, having their work ID card and mobile phone retrieved as they are being ushered out the back door. I can’t complain about the lack of notice, nor the redundancy payout which is more than fair. Between the sudden death approach though and the painfully drawn-out process that I have experienced, there should be a realistic and compassionate compromise.

All is not lost however. For some time the joys of corporate life have not necessarily been waning but the joys of working with decreasing autonomy and increasingly restrictive policies and procedures palled a long time ago.  Most people hit a peak in their career a long way before retirement age.  From then on, the opportunities are fewer, and career moves seem to be sideways rather than forwards.  Increasingly, I have been thinking ‘Is that all there is?’ Motivation has been at an all-time low, driven only by the salary that was deposited into my account each month.

I have been planning my escape route for a while and my redundancy payment will help to fund the start-up phase.  Of course my nearest and dearest are advising that I should be taking all sorts of actions now to attempt to secure another job and not to rely on my own devices, but you know what?  I am not going to listen.

For a start, I am what would be described as a mature-aged female and I know that options for re-employment are limited.  From about 40 onwards, I found that opportunities dried up significantly.  If I think back to the times in my working career when I have been the happiest and the most engaged, it has been when I was self-employed.  My success record has been a bit erratic, but in hindsight, I can see that I was under-funded, lacking in crucial knowledge or experience and without appropriate mentors.  In spite of those impediments, I still managed to support myself.

This time, I have a wealth of life and commercial experience, and a better understanding of what I don’t know.  I am up-skilling and on a massive learning curve.  At times it seems totally over-whelming but it’s exciting too and I can’t wait to be able to devote myself to growing the business full time.

It won’t be without challenges, and I will put together a risk management plan to mitigate those.  Social isolation, demotivation, and time management are a few of the issues that I will have to address.  I am relying on planning and networking to help here, plus explaining to others that working from home is still ‘working’ and explaining to my two cats that just because I am  here through the day, does not mean that I am available to constantly refill the food bowl.

I am really interested to learn how others have tackled the career change later in life, and in particular if you have started an entirely new business.  Did you feel more confident as an encorepreneur?  What were the problems that you encountered?  Are you glad that you did it?  Tell me.

At any given moment you have the power to say that this is not how the story is going to end.

Travel Writing Workshop

There has to be some sort of reward for surviving a week of above 40 degree temperatures here in Adelaide, and today it was attending a travel writing workshop.  I don’t necessarily see myself taking up a new travel writing career (it pays too poorly for a start) but as always I have come away from the day impassioned and full of ideas for different writing projects.  The last workshop that I did was writing for radio and that was enthusiasm-generating as well.  Oh for the time to do it all.  Those brain storms and possibilities are all documented and at some point I will return to them and follow some up.

Not that I haven’t been writing.  My manuscript ‘The Red Heart’ is with the publisher and supposedly is undergoing an editing process as we write and the cover is also being designed.  The release date was 14 February but that date is drawing alarmingly close and I haven’t had confirmation that it will actually be made available on that date.  Hopefully soon.  In the meantime, I need to do some more work on the sequel.  I have the general plot idea but as I am just working on the first chapter there is much to be done.

I have a short story to submit to an anthology as well.  The publisher is seeking submissions on love stories, and I have just the thing in my bottom drawer, written about some of my observations from my occasional work as a marriage celebrant.  It will need some minor adaptation to suit the submission guidelines but other than that it is ready to go.

Time is one of the most precious commodities in my life, and I have come to the decision that in the middle of the year, I will reduce my working days to four per week.  This will of course mean a reduction in income but in part I will be pulling the belt tighter and in part will be developing alternative sources.  I have started a program of study that will be the springboard for the next career change – one that will ultimately allow me to be self-employed again.  More on that later.

In the meantime, young Donald and I are travelling to Japan in a couple of months and this will be an ideal time to put some travel writing ideas into practice.  We are going to attend the wedding of a young friend and are very much looking forward to the cultural experience – as well as the food, the sights, and the adventure.  I will be writing about it here of course, but will think about other avenues in the coming weeks.  It will be such an antidote to recent drab working experiences – I can hardly wait.

The Journey

My son has returned home.  He got a big hug rather than a fatted calf and it was good to have him with me again, however briefly that might be.

When he left aged 18 to seek work and fortune interstate, it was a wrenching moment, but one that I knew he had to make.  Think ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’, or ‘The Journey’ by John Marsden or all those classic stories relating to The Journey that you may have read.  It is a time when a young person leaves the safety and security of home to seek the learning and experience that life outside of the home has to offer them.  There is the call to adventure, entering the labyrinth, fighting the demons, achieving, reaching an understanding, etc. as described by Joseph Campbell in ‘The Hero’s Journey’.

Journey

Young Donald had reached a crossroads in his life.  He had realised that his relationship with Daisy was destructive and based on the web of lies that she continually spun.  (Donald and Daisy are discussed in earlier posts.)  He was played for the sucker.  He had dropped out of school and had no prospects, beyond the casual pub job that he had.  He was bored at home and I was forever on his back about helping around the house and just doing something.

I was fed up with the piles of dirty dishes around the house and other things just dumped anywhere and had made the decision at work that day that when I got home, we would have a serious talk.  Either he needed to leave home, or he needed to start paying board.  He got in first.  He said that he had been thinking and perhaps he would go to Perth and look for work.  I was both stunned and relieved.

Perth was not such a big deal in that my sister lives in that city and his donor father is also there, although Donald and his father hardly knew each other.  They certainly did not have a father/son relationship.  Still it was far away and it meant that Donald was going to have to find accommodation, a job, and to make a new life for himself.

While away, he did labouring work, did some TAFE study in the mining sector and got a job at the remote Woodie Woodie mine site in the Pilbara region.  He had to work with characters who Donald described as racist, sexist and homophobic.  (I was relieved that he recognised these people for what they were.  It meant that I had done something right.)  He found himself somewhere to live and made new friends.  Those were the social skills.

On the practical side, he learnt self-resilience, how to budget on minimal income, how to shop economically, and how to keep himself healthy with wise food choices.  He can drive a 4-Wheel Drive and change a spark plug.  He has a range of technical skills that surprise me.  He also has a new confidence in himself that I welcome.

OK – there are not total miracles here.  There are still dirty plates hibernating in his room but not as many and he is better at washing up and domestic chores and cooking dinner for us both too.  Importantly, it was a teenager who left and it is a young man who has come back.  It is so good to have him home again.  I didn’t realise how much I had missed that kiss goodnight before he went to bed or he went out with his friends.  It’s great to have someone with whom I can discuss issues and share decisions.  At some stage, Donald will move on and make his own life elsewhere, but for now I like the feeling of company and understanding.

I realised when he left that this was a move that he needed to make but it is only now that I have understood that it was a version of the epic Journey.  Thinking back, it is very similar to a journey of self-discovery that I made decades before, and that was important to my self-learning as well.  It is a pity that all young people are not able to make this trip of discovery though many of them do.

Did you make a journey?  What changes did it make for you?

Reflection and Writing in Robe

One of my favourite places is Robe, in the south east of South Australia.  It is a historic coastal village that is known these days for its lobster catches, most of which are destined for foreign tables, unfortunately.

At the end of the week I will be travelling to Port Fairy in Victoria for an annual sojourn with friends and on a whim I have taken the entire week off work, and have been spending the preceding days in Robe.  Here I have been writing, and walking and thinking and meandering.  Tonight, in honour of my impending birthday, which is one of those with a zero on the end, I am taking myself to a highly recommended seafood restaurant, and dining on lobster.  This is an extravagant indulgence but this birthday won’t come around again and I think I deserve it.

Robe is approximately four hours’ drive south of Adelaide.  When making long journeys by car, I borrow a couple of talking books from the library.  Listening to the story makes the time pass more easily.  Baz Luhrman’s film ‘The Great Gatsby’ is about to be released and before seeing it I would like to re-acquaint myself with the book.  It would be great, I thought, if I could find a digital copy of the book at the library so that I would listen to it in the car.  It seemed such a positive omen for this trip therefore when there on the shelf and right in front of me was a copy of Gatsby.  It was meant to be.  I listened to most of it on the way down and was captivated by the elegance of Scott F Fitzgerald’s writing.  It is something to aspire to.

I am staying in a motel, which is a little uninspiring, but is one of the cheaper options in town.  Of course I am paying the rate that applies to two people but that is what happens when you travel on your own.  In between discovering where the best coffee in town is brewed, I have also been working on a short story which I started some years ago and at that time, reached a dead end.  I have circumnavigated that block and finished the tale, in draft form at least.  That feels good.

I have also revisited a novel, based in Robe and which I started a decade ago.  Reading now what I wrote then, I realise how laboriously written it was and how much needs to be deleted.  The story itself, not totally plotted, has merit but the telling needs much work.  At least I have developed skill to the point where I recognise bad writing when I see it, especially my own.  I will pick this story up again and try to do something with it.

The weather is too cold for swimming in the sea, or even paddling.  Great for bracing walks along the beach though.  This is the view from the Town Beach.

Looking along the Town Beach

This afternoon, having finished the draft of my story, I wandered along Long Beach instead (yes, that is what it is called).  The tide was going out and I cannot resist looking for treasures that the sea might have yielded, like a perfectly formed fan shell.  There weren’t any but  I found a shell with iridescent nacre and also a bit of wave-buffeted and encrusted green glass.

Shell and piece of glass found on Long Beach

Shell and piece of glass found on Long Beach

In a previous post on Slow Writing, I mentioned my intention to acquire a fountain pen again and to write; write letters, write in my journal (as opposed to my blog) and to write those more intimate communications.  I brought the pen with me and yesterday, sat in the window of the local library, overlooking the foreshore and brought my journal up-to-date.  Sigh.  Why would I ever go back to work???

Time to get ready for my dinner.  Along with the jeans and woollen jumpers, I packed an outfit suitable for fine dining.  I shall wash and dry my hair, pull on my stockings and apply my most sophisticated face.  I am surprised that I have reached the age that I have, but fully intend to make the most of it.  Bon appetit.

The Arctic Circle

It feels as though we have packed a lot into the last week. During that time, we caught the train from Oslo to Trondheim, boarded our cruise ship, sailed up the coast of Norway stopping at ports along the way, went dog-sledding in Tronso, visited North Cape (northern-most part of Europe), left the ship in Kirkenes and did a snow-mobile safari. We have heard bits and pieces about the Sami culture (though no where near enough – it is only glossed over by the Norwegians) and have learnt bits about Norwegian history and people. We have dined on smoked salmon for breakfast lunch and tea and have eaten heaps of other fish as well. Our omega 3 levels must be brilliant at the moment.

We have been unbelievably cold, whipped by fierce winds, have been snowed on and I have slipped and fallen numerous times. There is nothing soft about compacted snow. It hurts! Me and icy surfaces so not have a good interaction. I think that I need clip-on grip things on the bottom of my shoes. We have eaten dried reindeer, dried cod and fish cakes and have drunk Aquavit and various other spirits.

North Cape was particularly fierce as the winds and the snowstorm made it difficult to stand upright. We loved it though. We loved being there and we loved the experience. Amazingly, phone reception was brilliant so we took the opportunity to call our nearest and dearest, chirping at them in the middle of the night ‘Guess where I am now?’ Those who were asleep were gracious at being woken up. Purchasing travel sim cards for our phones prior to leaving Australia has meant that we have been able to continue using our phones on the trip, and to make reasonably priced calls.

Kirkenes was desolate, fierce, colder than imagined and covered in snow and ice. My ears hurt so much with the cold, I thought that they would snap off. There are a couple of five star hotels in town, some cheaper ones, and  the Snow Hotel. This has around 20 rooms and is recreated each year, carved out of snow and ice. We had the opportunity to stay a night in this establishment, sleeping in special cocoons in ice rooms but decided on conventional comfort instead. The idea of getting up in the middle of the night to go to the loo and having to wriggle out of a cocoon and make a dash to the adjoining ablutions block was not something that I welcomed.

I was surprised to learn that the 5* hotels were in town, but then learnt that there is a major ship building industry for the Arctic fishing fleet, and also there are adjacent iron ore mines. Outside our hotel, we ran into a young Australian couple who had come to Kirkenes so that he could take up a job with Northern Iron, an Australian-owned company in the region. She had a job with the Snow Hotel. There are corporate visitors and occasional conventions, and the Russian border is only 15 kms away. Sometimes there are Russian visitors from Murmansk, and I gather that Kirkenes is a popular shopping location for the Russian neighbours. We noted that some of the street signs are in Russian as well as Norwegian.

Walking around town, we were intrigued with small stand-on sleds that we saw in use. People pushed them uphill but then scooted along the flat or skied downhill. People stood up on the skis and held onto handles at waist height. A shopping basket or child seat could be positioned towards the front. There were special racks outside the supermarket so that the sleds could be parked securely whilst the owners were shopping. They looked cool. When we strolled downtown in the evening to find a meal, I noticed that one of these sleds was sitting unattended outside our hotel. It was too tempting. I decided to borrow it to take on our search for food. Manoeuvring this contraption was not as easy as it looked (especially when I was nearly wetting my pants with laughter) but I managed to sort of scoot my way down the street. Going down hill was a blast but a little scary also.

Leaving the restaurant, I was relieved to see that the sled was still waiting outside. I had to get it back to the hotel! Approaching the last slope down to the hotel, I was a little apprehensive. The surface of the road was rally icy. I suggested that Dermot might like a turn instead and he readily agreed, asking if I would take a photo of him as well. Good idea. He slid off down the road and I followed, focussing on him through the view finder. With my gloved fingers, somehow I put the camera into video mode and had no idea how to turn it off and so just went with it. The camera captures the moment when my feet slipped from under me and I came down with a thump and a curse. The topsy-turvey view looks a bit giddy-fying, but I soon get back to my feet, steady the camera and start to follow him again. Thump. I fell over again. By this stage I was seriously unimpressed as I think that the dialogue captured by the camera indicates. I minced along very carefully to finally get myself down the bottom. I should have just skied down in the first place. We carefully parked the sled back where we had found it and nonchalantly sauntered inside.

The focus and highlight of the trip  was the Northern Lights. The souvenir long-sleeved T-Shirt that I purchased on the ship says discreetly on a sleeve, ‘Hunting the Light’ and that is why we made the trip in the first place. The views that we had of the lights from the ship were great, and each night they got progressively stronger. We were so fortunate that there was a solar flare happening during our Norwegian tour, meaning that conditions were favourable for strong Northern Light development.

The last night on the ship was a bit rough and the weather did not support standing on the deck staring skywards. Along with all the rest of the passengers, I retired to my cabin early and kept my head down. No Northern Lights that night. We had high hopes for a last aerial display in Kirkenes though. We weren’t disappointed. We were about to retire, having decided when nothing was happening for the night, when a glance out of the hotel window have the hind of a light ray creeping across from the west. We raced down stairs and blocked out the freezing cold for as long as we could while watching the lights unfurl and roll or streak across the sky. It was spectacular and just as we thought that it was dying down, would suddenly start up again. The cold got to me though, as I had taken my thermal leggings off earlier and was just wearing ordinary trousers. We were standing around in about minus 25 degrees by this time and you really need to be appropriately dressed for prolonged exposure. After a while, I just had to go inside but was really stoked when I realised that my hotel window looked out in the right direction, and that if I opened the curtains and turned out all the lights, I could still see the display – with the benefit of oil heating as well. It was worth it. I only wish that I had been able to capture what I could see with my camera but a point and shoot digital doesn’t cut it.

The last couple of days have been in Oslo, but that will be covered in my next post.