Ripples on my Pond

This has been a long time coming but the stars are aligned for a change in my life;  changes in work patterns, changes in work place and changes in where and how I live.  None of this will happen overnight, but I am putting in place the processes that I need to take in order to effect these changes.

So what has precipitated it all now?  A cluster of things, not necessarily huge individually but when considered in total add up to the fact that I should stop whinging and moaning to myself about issues I don’t like and take action.

I’ll just give a brief summary of some of the catalysts:

  • Physical.  My weight is increasing alarmingly, my body is stiffening and my hair is falling out.  This last factor is particularly distressing as new hair is not growing.  I am developing female pattern baldness.  I consulted a dermatologist yesterday about treatment options and one of the first questions that he asked was ‘Has there been much stress in your life lately?’  Sure has.  A combination of stress and genetics is prompting my more visible sections of scalp.  It is unlikely that I will stimulate more hair growth but hopefully I can stop it falling out.  I have been warned that it will get worse before it starts to get better.  I want more time to exercise and to de-stress.

 

  • My job is on a path to nowhere.  It pays well for what I do, but I feel sidelined and marginalised and have reached a point where my self-belief is being eroded.  I work for a micro-manager and that is very stressful.  The senior person in my section withholds information and meaningful work.  A couple of times in recent months, I have been told that I am a ‘good girl’ on completing a task.  I am the oldest person in the team and at approaching 60 am no longer a girl.  As a survival tactic, I withdraw to a degree at work and don’t ‘engage’.  I know that this is to my detriment in my manager’s assessment of my abilities.  Having held quite senior roles and responsibilities before however, being fed menial tasks only (or those that are incredibly problematic ) is very demoralising. I don’t want to work in this environment any more.

 

  • I recently applied for a newly created role.    At the company’s insistence, I had my interview the morning after returning from an overseas flight and so was very jet-lagged but even so felt that I had acquitted myself well.  I have not been advised of the outcome, but am reasonably sure that a young man has been given the job instead.  I have an appointment for an interview de-brief next week.  Applying for this role, one for which I feel that I am very suited, was one way of taking a lateral step out of my current situation, even though it was still working with the same team.  If I am right in my belief that I have not been successful, then it will be a strong message to me that there is a limited future for me within the company, except in my current tightly controlled and frustrating position.  Time to open my parachute and make the jump.

 

  • Last year I explored the opportunities for a more flexible working environment, such as a nine-day fortnight.  I was quite prepared to work longer on those nine days to make up the time, but this was not acceptable to my manager and in fact he sees this discussion as an indication that my focus is not totally on the company.  The company pays lip-service to the concept of a flexible workplace but as I have seen, some can take advantage of this and some can’t.  I want more work-life balance.

 

  • I feel that my creative and entrepreneurial spirit is being stifled.  This is not fun, and I have a reasonable belief that there is more to life than this.  I can’t sit at that pokey little desk much longer.  Most of the time I am dreaming of what I would rather be doing.  I want to put the drive and enthusiasm back into my day.

 

  • My father is in his late nineties.  His health is deteriorating and I would like to spend more time with him.  Time with my Dad is short.

 

  • My house is quite large.  I love the amenity that I created when I built it but I am a slave to the house and garden.  A large gum tree in an adjoining back yard is sucking all moisture out of the soil and is causing significant movement in one corner of the house that will have ongoing ramifications, especially for my hip pocket.  I am continually having to clean gutters and sweep up leaves and bark around the entire house.  I can’t cope with all the maintenance issues on my own, either from a time or financial perspective.  (‘What?’  I hear you say.  ‘Doesn’t’ young Donald help?’  SNORTI want my time back for me.

 

Probably my recent trip to Norway chasing the Northern Lights stirred things up but they didn’t really need much stirring.  There was an appropriate quotation that I read yesterday:

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

Working in a dead end job for turkeys, being miserable and being a slave to a pile of bricks and mortar is not how this story is going to end.  I am going to sell the house before the structural issues become critical.  I will rent while I look around for another property, probably a development site.  I will take my time but will design a house that suits my needs into the future.  It will be functional and sustainable but will also have spiritual corners.  The lessons that I learnt from building this house will be applied to the next house.  It will be an exciting exercise.

I have some things to do first though.  I am building a front fence and have a development application before Council at the moment.  Once that is completed, I will work on the front garden and landscaping and get that into shape.  There will also be some repainting, oiling the deck and timbers and a few things like that.  Not sure if I will sell via auction or via private treaty but will probably sell it myself.  I have sold my previous properties myself.

The other issue to address is that of gainful employment, and this one is trickier.  I would like to generate a comparable income, but more flexibly and possibly through self-employment or through doing contract work.

The role that I applied for was as Community Engagement Manager and I could pursue work in this area, either as a contractor or for another organisation.  It is work that I have been doing without the title.

There are a host of other ideas that are percolating, ranging from being a private investigator, freelance writer, increasing my celebrancy activities and pursuing an option as a training provider.  Or a combination of various options.   Many years ago, I supplied and built modular housing under contract and I loved this job.  Perhaps I can do that again.  Whatever I do, it will be something with self-respect.

I will leave at a time of my choosing, and will use the interval to undertake research and test the options.  I shall chart this journey as it happens.

Searching for the Lights

Strictly speaking I should be drinking Aquavit, but instead I am sipping duty free Southern Comfort as I wait for the sky to light up. I am on the MV Kong Harald, sailing up the coast of Norway between the island villages of Lofotr and Svolvaer. I am on this cruise in search of the Northern Lights, as well as visiting the Arctic Circle and learning more of this part of the world.

On the port side, there is a soft glow, a halo lifting above the horizon that is the beginning of a northern light. It is so soft that at this time, it would not be easily picked up by a camera, and the colour is a lighter shade of grey, rather than the vibrant greens and blues of all the postcards in the ship’s gift shop. My cabin is on the right side of the ship, so I can peep out of my window from time to time to see if the colour is deepening and progressing. We will be docking shortly in Svolvaer though, and I think that until we leave the lights of the town behind, we will not be able to see anything dramatic.

In order to venture outside on deck, particularly the upper deck, I need to pull on an extra pair of trousers, my fleecy-lined boots, padded coat, gloves, scarf and furry hat. Up on the top deck, I added a balaclava as well. It is the wind that is the real killer. A public announcement has just advised that there is a Viking Museum adjacent to the dock in Svolvaer and it will be open at this time of night (9:00 pm) so I might sneak ashore briefly to have a look. Perhaps I will locate some forebears, as I am sure that some early ancestors came from this part of the world.

No such luck. We wandered around the town and only found a war museum, covering the years of the second world war. It was Vikings that I was after, not modern war memorabilia. I am now back on board, waiting for the ship to finish loading and to depart. This particular shipping line runs a continuous service from Bergen to Kirkenes and back again. Many of the passengers are tourists like myself, but others are Norwegian travellers, moving between towns and villages. Most of the Norwegian settlement is on the coast and at this time of year, road travel is very dicey. To travel by sea therefore is very practical.

The glow of northern lights has now disappeared. Hopefully, it will appear again tomorrow night when we are further north. At 11:00 pm I will go up to the top deck for some sort of ceremony that the captain is putting on, with a special supper of fish cakes provided. There was an announcement about this, but sometimes the accent of the woman who is in charge of communication is a little difficult to interpret.

Just after 8:00 this morning, we crossed the Arctic Circle, and so after breakfast we had a baptism ceremony with King Neptune. This involved having a ladle of cold water and chunks of ice poured down the back of your neck (inside your clothing) after which you received a certificate and a tot of mulled wine. This was up on the top deck with a howling wind, but everyone lined up for the ‘baptism’. It was only a momentary shock, but the dampness persisted for some time. I applied the hair dryer to nether regions and knickers after a while to hasten the drying process.

Arriving in Oslo was such a treat. A snow storm started a bit before my aircraft touchdown, with visibility out of the plane windows very limited. By the time I had caught the train into the city and checked into my central hotel, the snow was thick on the ground. I caught up with Dermot and Catherine here, and the three of us rugged up and went tromping through the snow, taking photos as we went. We were all a bit agog at the beggars sitting in the snow, with a candle in a cup placed in front of them. I was also surprised at the number of men, who were not wearing hats, even those who were bald. The cityscape was magical though and we were intrigued with the novelty of it all.

I have just come back from the top deck. I still don’t fully understand what it was all about but think that appeasing the Fjord Trolls had something to do with it. The hot fish cakes were wonderful and the hot mugs of tea served with a dash of rum provided their own heat as well.

Thank God it’s Friday

Just as well it was a short week this week (holiday Monday) as I had an attack of the blahs and the week dragged.  Probably adjusting to the earlier rising with Daylight Saving contributed to the feeling, plus ongoing altercations with young Donald.  He insists that he is still going to school, that he will not get a job and that I cannot make him do otherwise.  Just quietly, he is probably right, but if his intention is to go to school, then he actually has to do that.  I have told him that I am not intervening on his behalf with the school.  It is up to him to do so if he wants to try to talk his way back in.

Normally I ride my bicycle to work, or if the weather is inclement then I ride Jeffrey, my motor scooter.  Very occasionally I take the car, but this means that I must remember to keep shifting it through the day as there is a two-hour limit on car parks.  Thursday morning, I decided to drive as I was feeling tired and lethargic and also the weather was drizzly.  I was running rather late, so when I rushed outside to actually leave, I was not impressed to discover that the car was not in the driveway.  Nor was Donald in the house.  He had slipped out after I had gone to sleep and driven to Daisy’s house.  Needless to say I blew my top and left a very hostile message on his mobile phone.  At times like this I am beside myself with fury.  It’s that casual assumption that he can just take the car whenever he likes that upsets me.  I was also cross with myself that I had left the keys out where he could take them.  I shouldn’t have to hide them though.

The nice surprise for the week was receiving an email from a woman who I last saw thirty years ago.  We both met, some years before that when we both worked in a bar in Alice Springs.  K was only a couple of years older than me, but by comparison I was very innocent and naive.  She was the most overtly sexual woman I had ever met.  She wore skimpy skirts and low-cut tops, and her long hair, parted on the side seductively grazed those pouting lips.  As the male customers walked into our restaurant each evening, she would look them over critically and assess which were worth pursuing that evening.  Whichever man she chose, she usually got.  He didn’t have a chance.

K half terrified me and half fascinated me.  For some reason she took a shine to me and took me under her wing.  We were chalk and cheese but became good friends anyway.  We had many hilarious nights in the restaurant, and of course after work we would hit the town, living it up until the early hours and exhaustion hit.  I recall skinny dipping in the motel swimming pool at midnight, wearing sunglasses and our knickers on our heads as a disguise.  We probably kept half the guests awake with our raucous laughter and rude jokes.

She took me to my first bush race meeting, giving me more of a run-down on the men that were there than on the horses on the track.  It was their form that she was more concerned with anyway, though of course we did have a bet on the horses as well.  I recall when one famous Australian rock star, well known for his musical roles as well, hit town for a concert.  K took one look at the statuesque figure and said, ‘Duckie, I’m going to have him!’ and she did.  I gather it was a night to remember, for she said to me the next morning, ‘Boy, he wasn’t hiding behind the door when they were handed out!’  By her reports, he was very well endowed.  I think of that every time I see him on TV.

Although she had grown up in Alice, there came a time when she wanted a change, and she decided to move to Townsville.  I visited her a few times and still enjoyed her company although the relationship that she had at that time had brought about an element of more sedate behaviour.  Well, of a sort.

Something intriguing happened on one of those visits.  K and her sister had recently lost their father and were consulting a medium for some belated consultation with their parent.  There were unresolved issues from memory and they wanted to make contact with him.  This was taking place at the sister’s house, after which K and I were going out on the town.  At the appointed time, I drove over to the sister’s house to pick up K.  As I approached the back door, I could hear the conversation happening inside and deduced that the consultation was still in progress.  I didn’t knock, not wanting to create a disturbance but quietly opened the door, crept inside and sat down.

The man was talking in a focused fashion with his eyes closed to aid concentration or to better hear the voices I assume.  Suddenly, he stopped talking and went quiet.  He shifted in his seat and then started talking again.  He said that a young lady has just entered the room, and there is someone here who wishes to speak to her.  He described a young man who had died a short time previously and gave details of the death and my reactions to the news.  The description fitted a friend of mine, and he gave accurate detail of the circumstances and the impact on myself and the fact that I had sent a silent prayer to this friend.  I was told that the friend had received this prayer and wished to thank me.  Nobody in that room knew of my friend’s death, and I had never told K about it.  To say that I was rendered speechless at this encounter would be an understatement.  I wished later that I had thought to ask some questions, the answers to which only my friend and I would know the answers but was not quick enough.

K is now married and living a retired and settled life.  She had a young son (as a single mother) when I first knew her and now she has a granddaughter a little older than my son.  She always had a passion for animals and it seems that she still has a menagerie, with a focus on birds and parrots now – intelligent birds that are as demanding as little children.

I was delighted that she made contact with me.  I had often wondered what had become of her, but as she had married and changed her name, had no way of contacting her.  We shared news and photographs and promised to keep in touch.  She says that she has put on a bit more weight than she used to carry, but then haven’t we all?  In my mind’s eye though, I will still see the vamp that challenged and scared the pants off me when I first met her.  Can’t wait to catch up with her again.

Draw to the Coast

Do you ever dream of a sea change? I do … frequently. Apparently the term sea change is uniquely Australian. This is one of the things that I learnt in a seminar yesterday.

The Australian population is one of the most mobile in the western world, and we move commonly at times of life’s transitions. A female born at the beginning of this century has a live expectancy of 79 years. The closer she gets to that age however, the more her expectancy extends as by that time she has passed some of the earlier hurdles that could potentially cut her off at the pass, such as childhood or child birth. By the time this female reaches retirement age of 65 therefore, she still has 1/3 of her life to live. Makes you think about financial provision for the third age, doesn’t it? We have to provide for ourselves for such a long time for those who travel life as a solo venture, it’s even more important and just a little bit harder.

The time of retirement is one of those mobility triggers, as retirement is not necessarily spent in the same place as when one was in the work force. That means leaving a place of known community and probably established support. The choice of new location therefore is important as it needs to be somewhere that also offers support and the sort of links that might be required. Some people might think of moving to where the kids are, but given the mobility that I mentioned earlier, there is no guarantee that the kids will stay put. Following them can be a bad bet and not terribly practical. A sea change can seem attractive when making these sorts of decisions.

It’s not all about retirement of course. Some people make the move to the coast at other times of life. They may live at the coast, but work elsewhere. There are those who work FIFO (fly in fly out) or DIDO (drive in drive out) and those who telecommute. Some even manage to get employment in the new location. The smaller size of the coastal communities is attractive – also age-friendly communities. It’s not uncommon for some people, in or around the 40s, to buy a second home on the coast. It is either used as an investment or as a holiday home in the short term, but long term there is the intention to use it as a retirement home.

Demographers predict that Australia has another fifty years of being skewed towards an ageing population. It is further anticipated that the draw to the coast will be significant over this period. It wont be an end-of-life movement but part of a cycle of migration. There may then be a return to the city in later years when greater support is required, particularly of a medical nature.

Older people today enter retirement with significant lifestyle aspirations. Even though they may percolate towards the coast, good transport options between there and the city are important. Also other community facilities such as the medical support previously mentioned, sporting, gyms, entertainment (coffee!!!) educational facilities, and libraries etc.

Coastal markets are lifestyle markets. As such they have always been popular through currently they are going through a weak spot. This follows the softening of real estate prices in most states. Inland prices tend to be a bit cheaper and so some people opt for the tree change instead and regional centres are currently undergoing a resurgence.

I love the Adelaide Hills, but the draw for me has always been towards the ocean. I have long dreamed of a dual existence – a city-based apartment and the home down on the coast to which I could retreat. I think of a smaller community and the bracing walks or paddling in the shallows. Coffee whilst the waves crash on the shore just metres away from the beach-front Kaf. Working on my writing, calmed by the ebb and flow that takes place outside my window. Some dream.

This weekend I am staying in a coastal village located about 1 hour 40 minutes south of Adelaide. It has a beautiful bay although the wind can bracing as it sweeps up from the South Pole. This is just rental accommodation – the YHA in fact. This hostel is having a half-price Spring sale. Perfect for me as I booked quickly enough to secure the Suite, which is a cut above the usual hostel accommodation.

I’m going to chill, to drink some coffee, to go for a walk along the beach and I’ll explore the local galleries and shops. I could even catch a movie this evening in an adjacent town that is large enough to sport a cinema. Depends what is showing. I’ve just had a quick peak at the website and might do the late afternoon session of Red Dog.

I’m also going to look at a local subdivision. I have visited this place before and was intrigued enough to monitor progress with interest and get regular email updates. It is not waterfront, but is set back from the beach by 200 metres or so. A tunnel takes a walking/cycling path under an adjacent main road and leads to the beach. The family who have subdivided their agricultural land have a dream of developing a precinct that has wetlands, a restoration of the local ecology, and with all dwellings built on strictly monitored environmentally sustainable principles. They have progressed well so far. Houses look out onto lagoons which have attracted local birds, amphibians, and yabbies. Flinders University is monitoring the progress. The houses all look interesting and it has a strong community feel.

There’s no way I can afford this but it ticks a lot of boxes for me. After all I am now in late 50s and relate well to the lifestyle transitional issues that the demographers are talking about. I also want more space in which to breathe. There’s no harm in just having another look, is there? If I could just somehow manage to buy the land in the first instance and build up some equity for a while before building … Perhaps a lateral solution will present itself. We’ll see.

Another comment about change was made in my seminar. Actually it was a quote by Charles Darwin.
“It’s not the strongest of the species that survives or the most intelligent, but those who are the most responsive to change.” Makes you think.


Opportunity Cost – to Alice and back

Opportunity cost – a positive teamed with a negative as in the cost benefit analysis.  On her blog Tortoise Tales, Tortoise Mum has coordinated a blog hop on this topic.  Be sure to read what the others have written too.

 I‘ve had plenty of time to ponder the choices that I have made and whether I should have followed the high road or the low road.  Many of those decisions I did make were not necessarily the best ones (strategic thinking not being my strong point) but I acknowledge that each road has resulted in significant learning opportunities and experiences that have ultimately been beneficial.

 Indulging in the tantalising Sliding Doors scenario and ‘what if?’ I have pinpointed what was probably for me the most defining decision of my life.  I was in my early twenties and decided to go travelling.  The plan was to drive up through the centre of Australia to Darwin, work there for a while in the Greek gambling clubs where a young blond female who could run fast could make a reasonable amount of money, and to then set off on the usual overland trip of that time, up through Asia, and progressing through the sub-continent, the Middle East, Europe and the UK.

 I didn’t set off alone – I had a younger sister with me.  We were driving in a 1958 Morris Major Elite called Blossom and were full of youthful confidence and exuberance.  We didn’t get far as substantial rains washed out the Stuart Highway and the floods that we travelled through infiltrated the car.  We finally arrived in Alice Springs in a car with no brakes and not much money for us.  Fixing the car and getting a job to pay for it all saw me staying in Alice a bit longer than I anticipated.  Seven years longer in fact. My sister, who wasn’t the car owner, soon moved on but I stayed put.

 There were a lot of things that happened in those seven years.  I got my pilot’s licence and flew around much of Central Australia.  I started two businesses, the first in soft furnishings and the second in real estate.  Knowing that getting established in real estate would take some time, I also negotiated agencies for modular homes and started selling those as well.  In response to customer request, I also project managed construction of the homes, both in town and out bush.  I landed a contract for 33 small modular units on Aboriginal settlements, and spent days in driving around remote areas, sleeping in the back of my station wagon and supervising delivery and construction of those units.  It was a unique experience and introduced me to aboriginal culture in a way not possible in the towns.

 I built my own home in Alice as well, subcontracting out the construction but doing a lot of the grunt work myself.  Building the kitchen, installing all the air-conditioning ducting – things like that.  Saved myself a heap of money and of course derived personal satisfaction as well.  Carving a garden out of that compacted hard ground was yet another achievement, and I grew some beautiful roses.

 This took up all of my twenties.  It was a strange time in retrospect.  It was also quite a lonely time.  I loved the country and getting out of town and felt such a strong affinity for the Centralian area.  I had more acquaintances than strong friendships though.  In spite of the fact that men outweighed women, there was quantity but not necessarily quality. 

 There were passing relationships and some memorable affairs, but none of them lasted very long, except for one.  It was still disastrous.  I engaged this man as a sub-contractor on the houses that I built and there was something about him that caught my eye from day one.  Perhaps the twinkly blue eyes, the physical strength and solid build, the irrepressible laugh, or the way that he turned up the heat as he looked at you.  He oozed the X factor.  I wasn’t the only one of course, as I was soon to discover he conquered wherever he went and left a trail of devastation in his wake.  There was something about me that kept him coming back for more as well.  Both of us knew that together we had no future, but we could never quite let each other go.  I was the one who ended up with the broken heart though.  Not just broken but totally disintegrated.  Still, many years later he ended up fathering my child but that is another story altogether.

 As I approached thirty, I knew that if I didn’t get out of town soon, I would be stuck in Alice and would drift into a solitary life that I didn’t want and would always regret.  I sold up and closed businesses, let the house and headed south, determined to get some further education and a piece of paper that would give me more choices in life. 

 The Adelaide that I returned to was different to the one that I had left.  My friends had partnered up and moved on.  Paths that once converged were now far apart and our different experiences separated us.  Call me naïve but I was a bit surprised to learn that a woman entering her thirties does not have anywhere near the appeal that a woman does in her twenties.  Also, making the transition from business woman to student meant a loss of status and connections.  I was older than fellow students and had little in common with them, and no longer had networks in a city in which networks were everything.   It was a time of confusing transition.

 That period is now many years ago, and yes I got that piece of paper and a few more besides.  I did have more choices and I have travelled in a variety of directions since then and continue to do so.  I have often reflected on those years in Alice though and the impact that they had on how my life panned out.  It was a spur of the moment decision to stay there, prompted by flooded roads, a car without brakes and no money.  I have always felt though that staying in that town for so long through those years of my life was a significant factor in my not forming a regular partnership as did all the friends that I left behind.  Had I not stayed so long in a place in which I was unlikely to find a compatible partner, I may have found the relationship and family life that I had always assumed would be a reality.  Instead I have had a child on my own, and years later at that.

 Edith Piaf sang of no regrets (Non, je ne regrette rien) and she’s right.  There’s nothing to be gained from dwelling in yesterday.  Sometimes though I wonder what would have been if I’d kept on driving.

Other posts that are participating in the blog hop on Opportunity Costs: click here to view the list.