Friday, December 30, 2016

The year that was

As 2016 creaks towards its end, it seems like the right moment to reflect on the year that's been, as well as express some hopes (and fears, maybe) for the year to come.

Some people are diarists; some record their lives in photographs; some, and perhaps in some ways the wisest, allow their lives to go by unrecorded.

I am not a daily recorder, but I do like to make A record, periodically, and these annual posts suit my style for doing so.

That said, here we go ... 2016, the year that was.

Us vs the World

I think it will come as no surprise to
anyone when I say that on a global level, 2016 was a very weird, foreboding, sad, scary, and downright unsettling year.

Starting with the death of David Bowie in early January, the year seemed determined to throw curveball after curveball - the death count of beloved celebrities was insanely high, while 2016 also brought us:

- New terrorist attacks
- Syria burning basically to the ground
- Brexit
- Donald Trump getting elected to be the actual President of the whatheactualhell United States of America
- Less globally significantly but personally disappointingly, a second term for the LNP government in Australia

Many people lost in 2016 were significant cultural figures in my life - it was a particularly brutal year for GenXers in this regard.

It's hard to pick from the extensive list, but I'll be honest and say I cried the most, and ached in my heart, for the loss of Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Carrie Fisher. They were all people I didn't know but artists whose art I *did* know and was touched by.

Yet despite all this - and believe me I am alive to the cognitive dissonance implied in my next statement - 2016 was, for us as a family and for me as an individual, a remarkably good year. It
was a year of achieving things and enjoying things, a year of generally good health and good events, a year free of catastrophe on a major scale.

So while 2016 was a year that the world as a whole might be better off forgetting ... I have to say, for us, it was a year worth remembering, even as we are aware of and attuned to the bigger picture.

Work and School

This was a great year for us in terms of work and school.

My business (freelancing) really took off in 2016, and I had plenty of interesting work from four big clients and one smaller one, across a variety of projects and areas. I enjoyed my work and my clients a lot, and on a financial level, the year was made much more pleasant by the extra income this brought in.

For the kids, 2016 was a watershed year at school in many ways - it was my eldest's first year at high school, to which she has made a great transition, and my middle kid's last year at primary school.

For me, it was the last year before a break of volunteering fortnightly in the school kitchen as part of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program, which is an absolute delight to be part of. I so enjoyed being able to assist my middle kid's class in this final year of her primary school.

The whole "graduation week" for middle kid was very special time, and her winning of an award for outstanding academic achievement was just the icing on the cake.

My youngest had a great year in Grade 2 and seems to have finally cracked the code of independent reading, and her skills in this area just keep growing apace.

Family / Health

2016 was a generally good year for both our immediate family and our extended family. Aside from a nasty winter flu that belted us around a bit, and a run-in with thunderstorm asthma, our immediate family's health was very good - probably the most robust it has been for years (especially in my case - I've had a very good year with my collection of autoimmune illnesses).

Our extended family fared reasonably well until the end of the year -
my parents had a busy one, with a European trip and moving into their new place, while my brother and his partner continued their renovation efforts. A darker spot appeared in December with the serious illness and hospitalisation of my mother in law, but she is now, thankfully, improving, although her recovery is likely to be quite extended.

Holidays, Birthdays and Special Days

This year was absolutely replete with high notes. I can't remember a year in which there was such consistent doses of daily pleasures and special days. We really have been very blessed.

So many good things happened that it's hard to name them all, but I'd probably select these as the absolute winners:

1. Our MTC season tickets: My husband and I saw 7 plays this year as Wednesday matinees and had a truly wonderful time, each day combining it with a brunch or lunch to serve as a day out. Our favourites of the seven plays were Disgraced, Miss Julie, and The Odd Couple.

2. Our three little family holidays: We were lucky enough to get away three times in 2016 - we had 8 days in Canberra in the Easter school holidays, 4 days in Marysville / Lake Mountain with family friends in July (for the snow!), and 3 days in Ballarat / Sovereign Hill in early October.

None of these trips were particularly costly - we stayed at pretty basic places and cooked our own food, and a lot of what we did was cheap or free (barring some of the attractions, which were worth the cost on the whole!) Each holiday did us a great deal of good, though, and we enjoyed the time away from the everyday.

3. Events and Concerts: 2016 had plenty of special stuff going on for all of us. 
We did a family day at Adventure Park Geelong in January, which was a perfect summer activity. I took the 7 year old to see Matilda in March, which was just superb - every bit as good as everyone says! 

We did a nerd family weekend at OzComicCon in June, which, while it involved hard work as we assisted on our friends' stall, was also brilliant fun (the kids cosplayed for the first time!) 

October brought both the Madman Anime Festival for husband and the two older kids, and our annual Halloween Party, complete with many sugar-hyped and dressed-up children. The zombie brains jelly was, as usual, a hit :-)

I took the older two kids to see some of their YouTube idols at the Palais in November, and in what was a real highlight of the year, took my middle kid to see Coldplay at Etihad Stadium on the spur of the moment in December. It was an awesome concert and we both loved it.

Christmas Day - in fact, the whole Christmas season - was really wonderful this year. I think not hosting the day at my house relieved a lot of pressure and allowed me to really relax and enjoy the season. My brother and his partner did a magnificent job hosting the family lunch.

4. Birthdays: We once again celebrated the kids' birthdays in 2016, with a movie party at home in February for the 7 year old (we watched Oddball on the big screen), complete with pinata and Pikachu cake; a bowling and laser tag party in May for the 11 year old, with Stargate cake; and a "Fandom" party in August for the 13 year old, with a badge cake marked with her favourite creative franchises.

Creative Life

 This is probably the only category in which I give 2016 a C+ Could Try Harder.

Although I did complete Month of Poetry in January and have been actively contributing throughout the year to my Facebook-based poetry group, I didn't attempt NaNoWriMo this year because I was so busy with my business, and most of the writing projects I had been very enthusiastic about at the start of the year failed to materialise.

I also stopped writing book reviews in about April (due to a range of factors) and for the first year since 2010, I didn't do the Man Booker Challenge.

Although all of this was probably inevitable given my business growth and family responsibilities, I did feel it as a loss this year, and would very much like to do more in this space in 2017.

Looking Ahead

Thinking about 2017 is sort of strange - for us it'll be another transitional year, with a second child entering high school, and also, hopefully, a consolidation year for me in my business. 

That said, the world and our own community have some big challenges and uncertain times ahead, and we have to play our part in addressing that, and there's no guarantees that our current comfort will continue.

For myself and my family, I hope for: 
- a successful high school transition for my secondborn; 
- a renewal of my creative life; 
- more opportunities created and taken to get involved with social justice imperatives;
- another good year in business;
- movement on our longer term plan to convert the garage into a room;
- the ability to plan and save for our 2018 Japan holiday; and
- health and contentment for us all, at least most of the time.

If the year ahead delivers that, it will be a stupendous year indeed.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Sevenling for the Season

This is my now-traditional "Christmas card in a poem", for all of you. Blessings of the season, whatever it should chance to mean for you - even if it's just four days off work in a row and a Call the Midwife marathon on the teev. (Actually, that sounds kind of blissful...)

Three things they said the astrologers brought:
Riches, for dominion; spiced perfume, for transcendence;
burial oil, to foreshadow the ending.

Three things, now, to ask of the season:
Lovingkindness, for the sad and weakened; restfulness, for the weary and heavy-laden;
Abundance, flowing freely, for all at the table.

The future forestalls; a moment of forgetting, dressed in silver bells.

- Kathy, 24/12/16

Sunday, December 11, 2016

On reflecting on good fortune

I took my secondborn daughter to see Coldplay at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium last night.

It was a spur of the moment decision - tickets were available for the second concert on the very morning, and knowing how much she loves Coldplay, I impulsively bought two tickets.

It was an amazing show. Lights, fireworks, glitter bombs, balloons, fantastic sound quality, and an
energetic Chris Martin in fine voice.

They played a two and a half hour set in which all the favourites were played, finishing, to my daughter's delight, with her absolute fave, Up and Up. I was particularly delighted with Clocks, Everglow and Yellow.

It was worth the money, but it was not cheap, even for a Christmas present, and it's made me reflect on how privileged I am to be able to just spontaneously decide to do something like this, and the reasons I am so lucky. Which has led me to want to say this.

I am not Internet friends with employees of most of my clients - with a few exceptions for client-that-is-a-former-workplace, where they are former colleagues and friends. So this won't be seen, on the whole, by the organisations it is about, but that's OK. I still want acknowledge how grateful I am for the work I have had this year, and the opportunities it has opened up for me and my family.

Running a small business isn't always easy but it can be so rewarding, especially when you are lucky enough to have varied, interesting work and good clients to work with.

Without the ongoing patronage of my four major clients, our family life would have looked very different in 2016. There would have been no holidays and mini-breaks, no concerts and events, no roof repairs, no bedroom recarpeting or furniture-buying. School and medical / dental costs would have been tough to meet, and extracurriculars possibly out of the question. There would have been no MTC play season for Gary and I, and far fewer meals out, movie trips, and special days out. We also wouldn't be in the position we're in regarding paying down our mortgage, which we've been able to accelerate this year.

So although most of them will never see this post - I am really thankful to all my clients, for trusting me with their projects and giving me the benefit of this work. I hope to continue working with all four organisations in 2017, and look forward to a great year ahead.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Workplaces and Holidays

My favourite workplace blog, Ask A Manager, is fielding a bunch of holiday-related work questions at the moment.

The two most common themes are:

 1. Should employees give (or in some cases, be pressured to give) gifts or money to their managers as Christmas presents? (This appears to be way more common than you'd think).

 2. How do you decide who has to work the Christmas-NY gap (or in the cases of businesses or services that don't shut down even for the main days, that whole period)? (Again, the level of shenanigans turning up in the letters is extraordinary).

 I find the first issue pretty mind-blowing, TBH. I mean, OF COURSE people shouldn't be expected to (and gift etiquette positively requires them NOT to) make a financial contribution from their post-tax earnings to the person who pays them! That's like a Holiday Tax for Being Employed. Very stupid.

 I have frequently baked Christmas cookies or cupcakes and taken them into offices to share, and obviously my manager of the time was included in the comestibles distribution. But the only circumstance in which I might chuck money into a pot for a manager gift would be for something like a baby or wedding gift. (I wouldn't even do it for a leaving gift).

 That said, this year I *am* getting my boss a lovely personal Christmas gift that I know she'll love. It's a new fantasy novel and a gorgeous blue summer dress. However, my boss is MYSELF, so it's a bit different. It's like my Christmas bonus for a stonkingly good quarter, paid ... to me :-)

 Re the second point - I get why this is such a hot-button issue. It's only ever been an issue for me personally in one job - when I worked for an online news aggregator, and I did indeed have to work Christmas Day night (10pm - 7am on Boxing Day). It sucked, and I was not happy when I was rostered again to work the entire Easter weekend on nights. (I left that job a couple of months later, for many reasons, but the holiday thing was definitely one of them).

Then again, there are people who LOVE working the gap because it's so quiet and chilled at the office. My partner is in IT and he works it every year and cherishes the opportunity to get server upgrades done in peace. We traditionally take our family holidays in January or February, so it suits him. He's never in a competition to take the gap days.

 Most workplaces I have been in that don't shut down for the gap run skeleton staff for that period, and there usually someone who wants to work so they can save time off for other purposes. But when it's competitive, I think the most important thing is to be fair. It can't just be seniority or first-in-best-dressed, there needs to be some regard as to what other "desirable days" people have had in the past (or may want in the next year). If you have to work Christmas gap, you should get first pick of the days around Easter, for example. (Or, for the Americans, Thanksgiving).

 What do you reckon?