Monday, January 22, 2018

This month in review, this quarter in view

Last year, for a few months, I was doing review / in view posts here. I started off doing them weekly in March, then later dropped to fortnightly and then 4-weekly, before abandoning them altogether in November as end-of-year shenanigans took hold.

I did find them a useful, albeit unsustainable, exercise for most of the time I was doing them. It helped me to get a bit of perspective on my life and activities balance, and gave me a bit of a boost in weeks that I felt I wasn't achieving anything (counting your tasks can have the same effect as counting your blessings in that regard!) I plan to sporadically do a similar thing this year, but I'm not going to commit to a particular schedule, as that gets a bit difficult to sustain.

As the New Year is no longer brand-spanking new, though, I thought I'd do a little overview of how our summer has gone so far (I date "summer" for this purpose as being from Boxing Day onwards) and the big-ticket items coming up between now and the end of term one (Good Friday).

The summer has been quite a good one. It has not been the height of excitement or indeed relaxation (we haven't gone away anywhere big, although we have done day trips and fun things) and I have been back working from home since 8 January, so that has not been completely challenge-free, but it has still been a positive month overall.

This first term looks frankly monstrous with work commitment levels, but I am hoping to get through it intact. I am trying very hard to plan for a scaling down from term two onwards, to recalibrate my business commitments in the second half of the year to be never more than 4, and preferably 3 - 3.5, days a week (rather than the 5-6 I could easily fill now - only having the kids home, and one unexpected migraine that kicked out most of a planned work day, has stopped me working full weeks since 8 January). This will partly be achievable by developing more formal subcontracting relationships and really using others' expertise.

As indicated below, despite how busy I am, I am also going to take two Mental Health Days during this term on weekdays where I can have 6.5 hours while the kids are at school to do something relaxing and recharging. I will probably use one of those days for doing a bunch of mildly enjoyable but also necessary non-work things like getting my hair cut and going gift / party shopping - this one I'll locate close to my 9-year-old's birthday party in late Feb, so I can make sure I have enough unstressy time to get everything I need for that. The other day, not sure, see what I feel like when I get there!

So we'll see. The nature of my work is such that things really can change on a dime, so my projections below might end up needing adjustment. This is the putative plan though, for now.

Summer in Review

- Multiple friend sleepovers, hang-outs and playdates for all three kids
- Weekly ice-skating visits for 12-year-old and some combination of friends and family
- Several swimming-related excursions (beach / pool)
- Day trip to Hanging Rock (that was magnificent)
- Visit to the Triennial exhibition at the NGV (also magnificent)
- 2 x movie trips (a split one where some of us saw Ferdinand, some of us saw Wonder, and one of us saw The Greatest Showman; and a me-and-kids-and-their-friends trip to Jumanji)
- A two-night holiday at grandparents for the kids
- Dinner out to Hellenic Hotel for husband and I (while kids were away!)
- Much Ado About Nothing at the Pop Up Globe for me with a friend
- So far, 7 days of paid work for me (4 in week of 8 Jan, 3 last week), with an anticipated 3.5 days this week to round off the month
- Finalisation of Japan trip plans and payments
- Participating in Month of Poetry challenge - haven't missed a day yet!

Term in View (from now til Good Friday)

- Kids back to school and school routines from 29/1 (primary schooler) and 2/2 (high schoolers)
- Return to weekly gymnastics, swimming, jujitsu and skating classes: Two key differences will be the extended length gymnastics class for almost-9 year old , which will add one pressure, and the 14-year-old self-commuting to jujitsu, which will relieve one pressure (although we will still be picking her up at the end) 
- Average of 5 days booked work per week over 4 client projects for me, with at least one, and probably two, interstate trips to clients
- Preparations for our overseas trip (!)
- Plan for two Mental Health Days across the course of the term (dates TBC)
- Special events: youngest's 9th birthday and party (late Feb), Roger Waters concert and overnight hotel stay (me and hubs), Evanescence concert (14 year old and her dad), husband's birthday, friends' second wedding

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Monday, January 1, 2018

Month of Poetry #1: A Poem for New Year's Day, 2018

I will definitely not be posting all my Month of Poetry efforts, but I do like to put my New Year's Day poem, so here it is!

A Poem for the New Year, 2018

The new year arrived quietly, while I was almost sleeping;
tucked up against a warm-flush child, her face a mirror of passing dreams
half-smiles and flickering eyelids a semaphore of visions under the skin

The new year: not in coloured skies and disinhibited screaming
but softly, in even breath and the sussuration of trees
between one moment and the next, slipping in under the door
The newborn to replace the dead, as it always does
and the calendar turns over

And we have done this before
and will do this again
and it will, every time, mean both nothing and something:

caught in the human mystery of renewal
the seductive belief in clean pages and blank slates
the mesmerising idea that we, too, can be born fresh

a new self for a new year
forgiven our trespasses, and forgiving those who trespassed against us
here in this year that is granted to us all, every one:
this new-hatched year, with no pain in it yet.

- Kathy, 1/1/18

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The old year is (almost) dead. Long live the New

2017 will be over in less than 16 hours. It has been a monstrous year in many ways and for many people - but also a year of bringing sunlight into dark places, and letting it do its painful but necessary disinfecting work.

2017 at large

It's been Year 1 of Trump, which has impacted the whole world, although nowhere more severely, of course, than the US itself. It's been the year of Weinstein and the undercutting of the
whole house of cards (double entendre intended) around Hollywood and its systemic sexual and other abuses of the young, the female, and the powerless.

Sparked by that, it's been the year of #metoo ... and for millions upon millions across the world, that has opened up the places we got hurt, and it has not been an easy experience.

In New Zealand, a Labour government took office, signalling a shifting tide there, while erstwhile human rights hero Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese hero, has been shown to have feet of clay, with her government's systemic and brutal persecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

It's been a year of crisis across the world - every year has its crises, but that does not make 2017's any less painful. Refugee rates continue to rise, and the ability and willingness of rich safe countries to handle refugee intake has been further abraded. Famine is biting hard, again.

In Australia, it has been a fairly ridiculous year politically, with the keynote being the dual citizenship crisis that has sucked in over a dozen federal parliamentarians to date (I mean. HONESTLY). Socialised medicine remains under threat, and the NDIS is a debacle. International corporations pay no taxes, and welfare recipients are demonised and squeezed to the bone.

Australia continues to imprison refugees in offshore jails for the non-crime of seeking asylum, and that situation grows ever more desperate, and our country's shame ever more profound, with every month that passes.

In Victoria, we've got a lot of new infrastructure projects bubbling along, a progressive government that's doing pretty well on most fronts but has shown recent signs of being rather worryingly willing to bed down with big corporates, and is facing a perceived law and order problem that might unseat it if it can't change the narrative around this.

There was one overwhelmingly good thing, at a national level, in 2017 too. The marriage equality postal survey was a terrible and wastefully cruel thing to put the community through, but we got through it and now marriage equality is law - this is a victory to be celebrated.

Our 2017

For us, as a family, 2017 was a year of contrasts and mixed outcomes. It was not the easiest or happiest year we have ever had, but we did rise to most of the challenges and we got through it. It's been such a jam-packed year that it's hard to know where to start, so I am going to use the tried-and-true category analysis method.

Work, Study, Hobbies and Creativity

This was a good year under this heading. My secondborn made a successful transition to high school, while my youngest had her best year yet at school in Grade 3, coming along in leaps and bounds in all areas. 

My eldest had a great Year 8, and took up inter-school debating, at which she excelled, and continued her clarinet studies to good effect. 

Both the elder two started writing more
creatively this year, and are producing some wonderful stuff. The secondborn was rewarded for her efforts with both the Community Award and the English Award for year 7, while the eldest received the Social Justice Award, reflecting her commitment to and engagement with the school's social justice program.

My freelance business continued to expand, and I worked on a lot of different projects for four different clients over the course of the year, including a new client in Adelaide. Juggling the workload wasn't always a cakewalk, but using subcontractors certainly helped. With booked work, my business is set to continue apace until at least mid-2018, which is an encouraging thing.

I also did more this year creatively than I have been able to in the past two years, which was very encouraging. I wrote a lot of poetry and had one piece published for actual money, which was very nice. I did January's Month of Poetry and got one poem down every day. I also wrote three short stories that I liked, and had an ultimately unsuccessful go at NaNoWriMo (but even the attempt was

The biggest creative achievement of the year for me, though, will actually come to fruition in 2018 - I am almost finished compiling, editing and writing all content for my planned poetry collection, She Said: Women of Story, which will be released in June 2018. It comprises 31 poems currently (I'm hoping to add in one more!), all focusing on the female characters in various stories - Torah, mythology, and fairytales. 

Health and Activity

Our health has been generally good this year. I have had a couple of scares - an imaging error in August suggested that I had a major heart defect (I don't!) and there were another couple of things that caused angst - but on the whole, the chronic conditions were pretty well managed and we did not get any serious acute events barring a few nasty colds. It was a nil-anaesthetic year for me, which, given the frequency with which I have to have minor procedures done to manage my various bits and bobs, was a good outcome.

My mental health has also been reasonable this year, although I have had flares of anxiety to deal with. I think this is just par for the course when you have an anxiety disorder, but it did not stop me doing anything I needed or wanted to do in 2017, so I'm calling that a win.

In terms of activities, I started personal training this year and I think it has helped, although I still struggle with the time and money commitment. I am going to try to transition to self-directed exercise in 2018.

My second born took up ice skating as her sport and has embraced it wildly, progressing extremely fast. My eldest took up jujitsu and is diligently attending her classes and passing all her belts. The youngest returned to gymnastics and continued with her swimming lessons, while my husband increased his cycling and continued his power walking.

Holidays, Birthdays, Special Days and Keynote Events

We had three family holidays in 2017. In January we went to Warrnambool for 9 days, which was extremely relaxing. In July we visited with friends on the Mornington Peninsula for a few days and explored Cape Schanck and the Sculpture Park at McClelland. 

In September / October we went to Sydney and had a massively active week of walking everywhere, including the Eastern Beaches Cliffside Walk and all over the city itself, culminating in helping our friends at Sydney OzComicCon. 

The three holidays were all very different from each other, but all were great in their own ways. 2018 is going to be a cat of another colour under this heading - see below!


Events were not quite as big a feature in 2017 as they were last year, but there were still some. We helped our friends at both Melbourne (July) and Sydney (September) ComicCons, and that was fun, if exhausting. My husband took the elder two girls to the Madman Anime Convention in November.

I went to one day of Continuum, the science fiction writer's con, in June. I went to the Pop-Up Globe with my friend in October to see As You Like It, which was hilarious. While we were in Sydney in late September, we went to see the Sherlock Holmes International Exhibition, which was terrific. And perhaps most excitingly, I took my eldest as her birthday present to the Stargate 20th Anniversary Con in November, which we both enjoyed hugely.

We celebrated Halloween as usual, although in a more subdued mode than in past years as it fell on a weeknight this year. Christmas was, as always, Christmassy ... we baked a metric tonne of cookies, ate a great deal of food, exchanged gifts and celebrated with family.

2018 is likely to feature more in this category, with ComicCons and Anime Fest again plus tickets already procured for the Roger Waters concert in February (husband and I), the Evanescence concert in February (eldest and one parent), and the Dan and Phil shown in August (I am taking the elder kids and their friend).

Birthdays and Key Events

Birthdays were, as always, a feature. My youngest had a swimming party at the local pool in February, complete with Piplup (water Pokemon) cake. My secondborn had an ice skating, Star Observation Wheel and sleepover party in May. I hosted a How to Host a Murder dinner party in June to mark Turning Very Old Indeed. And my eldest, who turned 14 in August, opted for a dinner out at the local fancy hotel with several friends, complete with Star Trek comm badge cake.

Probably the most exciting and lovely "event" of the year, though, was our hosting of a Japanese exchange student for two weeks in July / August. It was such a positive and enriching experience for us all, and we are so looking forward to seeing her again in April.

Looking Ahead

2018 is a year that holds both promises and challenges for us.

I think it's fair to say that the focal point of at least the first half of the year is going to be our long-awaited, obsessively planned, and greatly desired three-week trip to Japan in April.

We have already sunk a lot of money and effort in this trip, and there is more to come, but I am hoping it will reward all our investment. My elder two daughters are learning Japanese and all three are heavily into Japanese manga and anime culture, so I feel like it is the right place for us to be visiting for their first overseas trip. (Going in April also means we should get to see cherry blossoms, which is a massive drawcard for me!) We'll be catching up with our exchange student while we're there are well, which will be lovely.

In terms of other holidays, I am semi-planning - perhaps better say "hoping"- to take the three kids to Brisbane in the July school holidays for a few days to escape the winter and stay with a dear friend and her family who relocated there last year. Other than that, I doubt we will venture far from home for vacationing purposes, although I will be nipping back and forth to Adelaide for work throughout the year.

School and work commitments will continue without much projected change at this point,
although the nature of my work is such that I can't predict what the year overall will bring in a work sense.

Everyone is keeping on with their hobbies and activities at this stage, which means the shape of our weeks should not be radically different (at least not in the first half of the year - things often shift after a couple of terms).

A hotspot in the year for me will be the release and launch of my first poetry book, She Said: Women of Story, in June. I am hoping to have a small launch event for the book.

I'm also committed to Month of Poetry (starting tomorrow!) and have resolved to submit at least one poem every month of the year for either publication or to a competition. In 2017 I submitted only three times - twice to publications and once to a competition - and one poem was bought and published, so that is a 1/3 strike rate that gives me encouragement to continue to try.

We have some familial and interpersonal challenges to address in 2018; the mechanics of life are one thing, and fairly well-oiled for us now, but the emotional underpinnings are something else again, and I will not pretend that the road ahead is going to be smooth and easy.

I know, though, that we will all do what we need to, so that we have the best chance of having a happy, healthy, and forward-facing year in 2018.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017: The Year in Books

The year is wearing on, so it must be time for some bookly reflection.

What are your top 10 (or if you don't have 10, top 5) books read this year? They don't have to be newly published this year, just new to you!

Mine are, in no particular order:

1. Their Brilliant Careers (Ryan O'Neill): My goodness this is a clever, clever book. It's sly and hilarious and so intelligent. I've already re-read it twice trying to figure out more of the clues!

2. Hunger (Roxane Gay): This book hurts and sears, but you should read it anyway. It is a game-changer.

3. Anything is Possible (Elizabeth Strout): I reviewed this here.

4. Exit West (Mohsin Hamad): I reviewed this here.

5. Autonomous (Annalee Newitz): Planning to do a double-header review of this and Sea of Rust, so I won't say too much here, but do yourself a favour, it's terrific.

6. Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders): I reviewed this here.

7. See What I Have Done (Sarah Schmidt): This is one of the genuinely creepiest books I have read in years, and it's superb. A fictional retelling of the Borden murders, full of viscera and disgust and psychological manoueverings.

8. Autumn (Ali Smith): Beautiful.

9. Sea of Rust (C. Robert Cargill): As I said above, I'm lanning to do a double-header review of this and Autonomous. This is a cracker of as story in the real old meaty sci fi vein.

10. The two newest Penric novellas, Penric and the Fox and The Prisoner of Limnos (Lois McMaster Bujold): There will never ever be a year that the Queen puts out something new and it doesn't appear on my Top 10 list, but TWO new Penric novellas was a superb treat this year.

There were other books I read and liked this year too, as well as some re-reading of old beloveds, but these 10 were the cream of the crop for me. I'd be interested to know what the literary year looked like for others.