Friday, June 24, 2016

Term is over!

It's been such a long, challenging term. Tonight, we marked its end with manicures, Nando's, and a happy half-hour of craft supplies shopping.

Now it's onwards and upwards to two weeks of winter holidays for the kids, and one week of working around them for me and one week of shared holidays, yippee!

We have little planned for the coming week while I must work, but I suspect it's going to involve rather a lot of reading, watching Doctor Who and Stargate, doing crafts, painting, playing Minecraft, and walking with the dog. The two elder kids and I are also doing our own family writing challenge - like a mini-NaNoWriMo - where we are going to try to get 500 words a day down on our respective projects.

But it's cold, and we're all tired. Yes, I need to work at least 4 of the coming 7 days before commencing my leave next Friday afternoon, but it'll all be at home. I think we're going to all need a lot of time at home, some hibernating time, some cave time, to recouperate.

We got through a long, busy term. It involved assessments and workloads, tournaments and an operation. It had trials and tribulations, performances and learning, stresses and excitements. Every day had its demands. Now here we are, on the other side, and ready for the reward.

Year One in Business

Today marks the first anniversary of leaving my salaried job and returning to life as a freelance contractor. Since that makes it also, technically, the anniversary of my life as a sole trader / small business operator, I thought it would be worth having a look at how it's all gone.

First, the stats. This year, I have:

- Worked for 5 clients - 3 "major", 2 "minor", covering the private, tertiary and government sectors. My two biggest clients were my two University clients, closely followed by my government client, which certainly tells me some things about where the bulk of my work will likely lie.

- Had 11 weeks completely off: the whole month of July 2015 (5 weeks), a week in October, two weeks over Christmas / New Year, two weeks over Easter, and a week in April. The April week was due to illness / surgery, but all others were planned family or vacation time.

- Worked an average of 3.75 days a week in my 41 working weeks. This wasn't evenly spread - there were weeks I worked 6 long days to meet deadlines, and weeks I sent things off on a Tuesday lunchtime and was not occupied with work again until the following week as I waited for client responses. The busiest stretch was from mid-February to the end of May. This tidal pattern is quite normal for professional services providers like me, and provided you can adapt to it, it is a pretty good way to work.

- Attended client sites / meetings an average of one day a week across my working weeks. There were weeks I traveled to clients two or even three days (especially during my very busy February-May period), but there were also weeks I didn't go onsite at all. The clear majority of my work was performed in my home office.

- Earned quite a bit more than I would've made staying in my part-time salaried role (I was working 0.6 when I left my former job), but a little less than my fulltime salary in that job. This seems reasonable given that I only worked about 150 days in the year compared with the 240 I would've worked fulltime (or the 144 days I would've worked staying part-time), and comfortably covered my need for sick, vacation and family time.

From a stats viewpoint, then, it's been a successful first year in business. My goals were to replace my part-time salary, work less weeks, and work at home more, so those goals have definitely been kicked to the curb.

The thing the stats don't fully show, though, is the lifestyle benefit and general easing of stress that moving back into business has afforded me. Project-based work, which is what I do, suits my temperament and my skills; I am very good at managing deadline pressure, very bad at ongoing situational stress. Working at home has its challenges, of course, but it suits me and my family needs much better than working in an office did - the sheer logistics of life are so much more doable.

I've been very fortunate to have had four big projects this year, which has enabled the income flow to be maintained and also helped me build more networks. Hopefully this will continue into 2016-17: signs are promising so far, as while I am in the final stages of two of my large projects now, I have been extended with one client until September, and have expressions of interest for a new project with a new client.

For this coming Year Two in business, I have three goals:

- Save 70% of the money needed to cover our planned 2018 overseas holiday from my earnings. My goal is to be in a position by next July to pay for all the items that we will book via travel agent: our flights, train and bus passes, travel insurance, and all prebooked tours / attraction passes. This will leave me well-placed to book and pay for the other big upfront expense (accommodation, which I will do myself mostly via Air BnB) over the course of the subsequent six months.

The way I think of it is this: In this first year in business, 30% of my gross earnings - 40% of net - went on paying for our new kitchen, and we still met (sometimes scraping, but we met!) all our other expenses. If my earnings are similar to last year, I will only need to save 20% of my gross earnings to reach the travel payment goal by the end of June. Even in the context of a year where expenses will be a bit higher, thanks to having two kids at high school, this seems like it should be achievable.

- Increase earnings by 5% on last year. This is an intentionally modest growth goal and I think I can achieve it.

- Take 8 weeks fully off, including 4 weeks in summer. (One of these weeks off will in fact be the first week in the new financial year - we are all having the first week of July off as a family).

One of the only things I didn't love about my work year was that the exigencies of my projects had me back at work on 3 January, when the kids still had 4 weeks of summer holidays left. This time I intend to be firm about closing up shop on Tuesday 20 December (the last day of the primary school year) and not reopening until Monday 23 January.

We'll see how that all goes!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Sevenling for the Night Before my Birthday (Poem)

Three things about my hair:
it is as much silver as mouse-nibble brown, now;
it is thick as a badger's pelt;
it still forms inappropriately juvenile ringlets in damp weather.

Three things to turn over, quietly, in the marches of dawn:
I am heavy with the weight of things undone;
I am grown into myself, at last; I tip my hat to the world with the returning sun.

The mother saluting the crone, as autumn's fingers lengthen in my bones.

- Kathy, 18/6/16

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Alone (Poem)

I saw a fascinating little documentary on SETI (the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) a couple of months ago when awake with insomnia, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. In particular, the unpicking of the Drake Equation (maths equation that purports to work out how many extraterrestrial civilizations there might be) and the role of the Firmi Paradox (which asks the simple question - if intelligence is so common, why haven't we encountered any?) has been causing me to ponder. This is the outcome of these thinks.

Many are the stars.
White ice fractured on the inscrutable mask of god;
dwarfs and giants, neutron bombs and tauri,
stars in their main sequence, like our own

Stars that hold exoplanets in squeezing embrace,
millions upon millions, spinning around the light:

planets where anything might live
petri of their own mitochondria
life reaching towards the pulsing energy of the local sun.

Anything at all -
bug-civilizations and nanite empires
democracies of wraith-creatures born in sulfur
thousand-year-livers and brief flaring butterflies
teeming bacteria without limit or end
sentient and sapient, striding their natal dust:

or, of course, planets where nothing might live
no biology to disturb the chemical soup
no life to turn towards the warmth, and say: We are

The tyranny of distance meaning, of course,
that unless one of us learns how to unpick the seams of the universe
we will never find each other, whether we look or not.

so each, functionally, practically: alone
We are.
We may be legion.
We may be the only children of an overwhelming multiverse.

For now, though: We are.
The sky tells us nothing more; the hidden god shrugs
and we keep listening
in radio telescopes and dreams

We are.
Alone, we are.

- Kathy, 14/06/16

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Shame (Poem)

it is a strange thing, how ashamed women are
how unpersoned we become
by the small tricks and tells of the body:
odours, fluids, that stain and darken and drip
insisting on permeability
screeching our leakiness to the neutral, offended air

some kinds of fluids, especially:
some kinds of crucifixions, heart-deep.

how strange it is, to be rendered small and dumb with the piercing shame
of blood-wet thighs in a dove-grey suit
to understand, without understanding, the depth of this transgression -

a thing which is born of the body only, and as biddable,
as much our fault,
as the keening of the four winds.

a thing which marks us, like a prison tattoo:

a secret that everyone knows
trembling in the faint metallic tang of it
taboo and disgust locking fingers over us

how small, we. how shameful.

it is a strange thing.

- Kathy, 9/6/16

Saturday, June 4, 2016

On buying less stuff to have more experiences

For many years now, we have been promising our three children that will be going on a family overseas holiday in 2018 - the year of husband and my 20th wedding anniversary. With three kids and no private fortune, we have always known this is something we will only do once as a family of five.

Family opinion on where this much-anticipated trip should be to has varied over time, but we are settled now on the UK and France (or, more accurately, London and surrounds, Oxford, Cornwall and Paris and surrounds). We are looking at going for 3.5 weeks from late March to mid-late April in 2018, encompassing Easter and the school holidays as well as one week of term two.

As I am beginning the process of pricing the trip, it has been borne on me that the next two years will need to be otherwise frugal ones to fund our adventure.

We won't be luxury travellers by any means and I am already gathering intel about the most cost effective ways to do things (the London Pass which covers admissions to so many attractions, as well as bus and tube travel, for instance, looks like great value).

There are heaps of free walking tours available too, and the time we spend in Cornwall is likely to have a lot of walking in it in particular. Because my plan is to Air BnB apartments or cottages in our three base locations (London, Cornwall and Paris), I expect to be able to save both money and Coeliac angst by preparing food ourselves for the majority of the meals.

But with the sneakiest strategies in the world, the base cost of the trip, starting with five airfares from Australia, is not going to be small. Moreover, we don't plan to stint ourselves of seeing or doing things we all are enthused about. The kids would be unhappy to leave London without visiting Harry Potter studios, for instance, while both my husband and I agree that we want to pay the extra for a Stonehenge tour day that includes going inside the circle. We're going such a long way, and we will likely never get there again - I don't want to miss out on things because of worries about cost.

So yes, we need to save and be very careful for the next 18 months. We have fixed costs that must be met - mortgage, bills, education costs, insurance,  running costs on the car - and I have already booked and indeed paid for two budget local holidays (3 nights in Marysville in July, and 9 nights in Warrnambool next January).

Other that necessary expenditure, though, we will need to really limit our spending on ... stuff. We are not excessively spendthrift, but we have tended to be a bit too cavalier about weekly takeaway,  lunches out, and seemingly small consumer goods that we buy just-because (books, clothes,  household items ...) And much as we have been enjoying our MTC season tickets this year, that's a luxury that won't be repeated. It all adds up over time.

If I keep getting a good amount of freelance work and can set aside every second payment for the trip over the next year, we will be well situated to prepay for those things that can be prepaid well in advance (flights,  passes, tours, travel insurances) by July or so next year. I can then turn my mind to booking and paying for accommodation after that.

 The trick, though, is to be controlled enough with other spending (and to get enough work!) to make that possible. But at the end of the day, I know what's going to make us happier - it's special experiences we have together, not more stuff.