Habit Forming

Sorry guys.

I’ve been struggling for weeks to write the second part of my career path and it’s still not suitable for broadcast. I’m onto edit number 4, trying vainly to cut out all the self-serving, woe-is-me-life-was-super-hard-back-then stuff whilst still retaining some sort of context that would explain the positively crazy off-shoots into other work dimensions.

I’ll get there, I promise.

As an interlude, here’s my latest venture: a mandala a day. And here’s why I’m:

  1. Doing it
  2. Telling you
Day 1 … and not a lot to show for it.

Whilst awaiting my latest credit on Audible (this is not a sponsored post [HA! As if!] – I’m just an addict), I was browsing the list of freebies today on my lunchtime walk and came across an intriguing little podcast called “In the habit: introduction to changing our behaviour“.

Having a whole day to wait til I can get me some more ear candy, I downloaded it and started listening and very soon realised it’s the answer I’ve been looking for lately with regards to staying sane in a stressful period of life.

Yesterday we went to the Annual Pirongia Craft Markets – a truly cool event that we stumbled upon our first year here and have made a traditional pilgrimage to ever since. There were some truly amazing and beautiful handiworks from just regular shmoes like me, which got me thinking about my creativity or lack thereof so when we came home I tried in vain to do something mildly original and creative using my graphic design programs.

Rather than satisfy my longing, it just frustrated me no end. I couldn’t do what I wanted – it would have to be hand-drawn. But ah, dear readers – am I skilled at drawing? About as much as I am at keeping my mouth shut and opinions to myself.

Of course, it takes practice and dedication. It takes setting aside regular time to perfect and hone existing skills. It takes … a habit.

According to scientific studies, it takes on average 66 days to create a new habit, not the usual 21 that’s regularly trotted out. And whilst it is proven to be harder to create good habits than bad ones, there are a few tips and tricks that can help.

You can try linking your prospective new habit to something you already do regularly, such as mealtimes. For instance, I started my lunchtime walks as a way of counteracting the desire to punch someone in the face when I had 5 different jobs on and no way of getting them all done in the given timeframes. I’d go for a good 45 minute walk, calm the F**K down then eat my lunch at my desk whilst getting back into all of the things.

Now I just do it because it makes me feel good. And, I must confess, so I can listen to my latest audiobook – which nicely segues into the next tip: Temptation Bundling.

It’s a nerdy way of saying “Combine something you love with something you should be doing but don’t really want to because you don’t love it”. Like watching that trashy movie you know is a waste of time whilst you fold the mountain of washing. It’s a win=win! You get your trash fulfilment and the family has clothes in the cupboard instead of on the floor/couch/spare bed/spare room.

Another useful tip for successfully creating a good habit is by making it public knowledge, which explains this blog post.

A final tip was to put some money on it – there’s even commitment platforms like stickK that can help you reach your goals … or pay the consequences. Literally.

I’m not going that far as we are currently like the proverbial church mice.

And because it’s now 9.30pm on the first Monday after Daylight Saving started, I think I’m already going to fail my “one a day” challenge as I’m buggered … but at least I’ve made a start. I’ll keep you updated … hopefully this won’t go the same way as my Part 2 ūüėõ

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

It would be fair to say I get around job-wise. Throughout my illustrious working career I have had the opportunity to experience so many roles – some wonderful; some not so much. The following has turned into a bit of a novel so I’ve split it into two: BCH (Before Crap Happened) and ACH (think you can figure what that stands for). Brace yourselves.

I find myself on yet another “step-to-the-right” in the dance laughingly called my ‘career path’ (more like drunken stagger) – still at the same workplace but using a different, more technical skill-set to the administrative/marketing role I’ve been filling for the past 18 months. I’m a little nervous but mainly excited about it but if you look at the experiences I’ve had over the past *cough* wee while, there’s many things I’ve already done that should help me pick it up and run with it fairly quickly.

My working career (outside of the usual after-school shenanigans) started way back in 1991 as a Coles Deli Assistant, working my way up to 2IC (which just meant I got the lucky task of coming in super-early on a Monday morning to get the rotisserie chickens cranking and set up the cabinet for the week and do the scale report to make sure we weren’t diddling the customers). Then we moved to Sydney, added a second baby to the family and I began my library studies, which led to the first twist in my path.

Had a lady haughtily demand EXACTLY 1kg of sausages “No more; no less, young lady!”. My face probs looked like his.

After moving all over the country, we landed in a small town in WA, where (on the second attempt) I became Library Officer at the Primary School two of my three kids attended (yep, quite a gap there between paid jobs). I loved this job dearly and it’s still the longest stint in one workplace in the same role (4 years). It was pretty perfect – school hours and school holidays but none of the responsibilities of a teacher (poor sods – I have so much respect for teachers from my time working with them in schools) as well as the pleasure of scouring through reviews to pick all the books.

I vividly recall reading the review for “Harry Potter and the Philosophers’ Stone” and knew it would be a hit but was unsure if it would be too hard for the kids (poor town; struggling/itinerant families; lots of behavioural issues). I ordered two copies, thinking if nothing else it would be perfect for teachers to read aloud and ended up having a waiting list of kids clamouring to read it and having to buy a few extra copies to keep up with demand. The second time I remember purchasing a book as part of my role and thinking “This is gonna be HUGE” and being proven right was for – you may know it – the first in a 4 part series called “Twilight”.

The cover in the review I read for “Twilight”. Weird, huh.

During this time I also was a casual Woolworths Cash Office Administrator on weekends. I scratch my head at this memory, wondering why on earth I did this, with three kids and already working five days a week – then I remember the expectations and mindset I was living under at the time and it makes sense. Taught me to count money real fast and honed my OCD for all notes facing the same way in neat and tidy bundles.

New town in a new state, and of course the school system was different – I had to be a teacher to work in a school library – and the local Public Library was not going to be hiring any time soon. After a brief and terrible stint as a Learning Coordinator for a state government funded adult learning centre (which didn’t actually have a building for the centre – just a room in another state government funded centre which just made it all sorts of awkward and complicated), I got lucky, scoring a job as a part-time Typesetter/Graphic Designer at the local newspaper, with no prior experience apart from the fact I was comfortable with computers, could spell and had done a module of study in my library technician’s diploma on colour design and basic formatting of promotional collateral.

We hid a coworkers’ Bionicle that sat on his computer and sent him ransom notes with accompanying Bionicle parts as part of regular newspaper office shenanigans. He was most displeased with us.

After a time I did manage to get a position as a casual Library Officer at the local library, covering shifts on Saturdays and sometimes their one late opening night per week. It was a good gig. I was studying for my Bachelor of Library Science at the time (while still working at the newspaper cause apparently I had 35 hours in a day back then), so it gave me great opportunities to put theory into practice and vice versa.

I almost blanked out the three years I spent as Library Technician for the local TAFE college after leaving the newspaper to do some full-time (but short-lived) study for a teaching degree (that’s a whole other post in itself). TAFE was a great learning experience as my manager was a great mentor willing to share her years of experience with me. Sure, she was the quintessential cranky librarian and scared the bejesus out of most people but she treated me very well … and she was so nice to my kids (as well as being a complete push-over with her own. Softie at heart.) that I couldn’t not like her. But working for State Government was a long, slow death and I did not want to slowly evolve into the quintessential cranky librarian.

How I imagine I’d look now if I’d stayed …

So I left full-time employment at a very decent government pay rate and moved onto the local Catholic High School as a part-time Library Officer … not sure how I passed the interview with regards to religious beliefs for that one but somehow I did. It was ridiculously low pay for a fully qualified librarian at $15 an hour but I loved the school ethos – they really cared about their students – and of course, the kids were great to work with.

But then … the “eccentric” (i.e. batshit crazy) … library manager at the Public Library left, which led to my next big break.

As Library Manager in a regional library service – one main branch, one teeny-tiny little room in a very interested area known as the Gemfields – I had the responsibility of managing staff for the first time as well as being accountable for a substantial budget. Exciting, scary and very difficult at times but I loved every minute of it … ok, not the minutes I had to ‘have a talk’ with certain persons for upsetting the applecart every time they walked into the place … but the rest of it was great. Honestly, after the last manager’s crazy antics and passive-aggressive management style, I did not have to do much to look fantastic – and I thank her for that, wherever she is.

Then Peter Beatty did his thing and ruined my perfect little life in more ways than one. This career sidetrack led me straight up Poop Creek and onto Poop city …

That’s not how you flip an entire state the bird, Pete.

After March 15 2008 (yep, I still remember the date), the council I was working for was amalgamated with three other surrounding shires into one giant mega-council. It covered an area of roughly 60,000 sq. kilometres with offices spread out at roughly one-hour-drive intervals from each other. That and the fact each office had its own unique culture made it seriously dysfunctional Due to the necessary restructure, I was offered the role of Manager Community Services. To this day, I’m not sure why. I guess I’d proved myself capable of management to a degree in the previous 8 months as Library Manager.

Just managing the shenanigans of the library service growing from 2 branches to 10 would have been enough challenge. But instead I had to take on Community Services, a portfolio which included libraries, pools (dear god, I shudder just thinking about pools), halls, art galleries, aged care facilities, youth facilities and – best of all – community groups. I want to say it was THE WORST decision I ever made but circumstances being what they were at the time, I felt I had no choice but to accept. Nine months later, I had what you could nicely refer to as “a spiritual awakening” but what most people would call a nervous breakdown. Even though my heart knew I really shouldn’t have taken that job, the advantage of hindsight shows that I actually learnt a lot and grew so very much from that complete and utter personal and professional smackdown of an experience. Let’s just call it a Turning Point and leave it at that.

#Accurate

While I was recovering sufficiently to be able to deal with the stresses of a ‘normal life’ again, Lady Luck smiled upon me and I found myself working from home as a Freelance Proofreader for a friend, proofing advertising collateral for various big name companies. Not a huge amount but enough to give me ‘pin’ money and help my severely battered self-esteem compose itself. It also gave me a taste for the freelance life and I really liked it.

But life was about to deal a few shockers and I was going to need more regular work … (to be continued)

Time and Space for Creativity

Bottom half of a boho dreamcatcher with flowers and feathers
The last time I was really creative …

I haven’t posted an update for so long as its finally dawned on me that you need time and space to be creative. And I just don’t have it. Or at least what precious little I do have, I’m busy numbing myself to cope with the time and space I don’t have.

Let me explain …

I was going to actually total up all the time I spend working at a full time job plus the daily commute plus home duties (thankfully assisted greatly by NIH where Little Miss is concerned) then add in the night-time shenanigans of putting her back to bed from midnight til 3am on average but that is just too bloody depressing.

Let’s just say a full time job plus a toddler who doesn’t sleep leaves me with precious little mental ‘space’ for creativity.

I starting thinking about this post a few weeks ago – then the shit hit the proverbial with illness on the home front and whatever small space I was going to allow myself to try crafted a halfway intelligent post vanished.

So here I am (waiting for AA to come and reboot our car battery because life wasn’t finished being a complete and utter bitch obviously) trying to spew out what is *really* bothering me about not being creative for the last 6 months or so. And it all boils down to this: Joy.

Creativity brings you joy. And life at the moment feels rather bereft of it.

Work is a bit of a mess of three different role responsibilities that have me trying valiantly to make sure I don’t drop any balls whilst surviving on broken sleep for I can’t even fucking remember how long. I can see the mistakes popping up and it breaks my perfectionist little heart and I just pray that workmates don’t think I’m a complete idiot but in all honesty, I don’t know where I am or what I’m doing most days.

Home is fine except for the fact that a toddler is always going to be an emotional stretch … but I can feel the physical and spiritual effects of not sleeping an uninterrupted 8 hours – damn, I would settle for even a 6 hour block – for over 2 years taking its toll on me.

Money is real tight, thanks to having a mortgage back home still to pay while we hope and pray the house will finally sell. Rent here is much higher than Australia and pay rates are so much lower so that puts us even more behind the 8-ball. I mean, we still manage to pay our bills on time and buy groceries and have leftover cash for a breakfast out each weekend so it’s not completely dire … it’s just extra stress on top of an already stressed-out mind.

Whatever time and space I do have, I play puzzle games on my phone.

I know, right?

I was trying to figure out why I do that the other day and something Brene Brown said in her Netflix appearance helped me understand. (Yes, I have become a convert. Yes, I have downloaded and listened to her book “Daring Greatly”, which I think is why I’m doing all this self-analysis again. Yes, I am probably going to mention her frequently from here on out.)

She was talking about how her first TED talk went viral and she found it so hard to handle that she spent a day at home with the peanut butter jar and a spoon, watching the complete series of “Downton Abbey” (if I didn’t love her for making sense of courage and vulnerability, I would have loved her for that alone). And after it was over, she started googling facts and figures from that era and hit on Teddy Roosevelt’s famous speech about the man in the arena and the rest, as they say, is history.

She asked the audience something along the lines of :

“Who-all [cause she’s from Texas] has done that?”

“You’re numbing yourself with a show or a movie and you’re not ready to step back into the real world when it’s over so you start searching for related stuff on the internet?”

Ahh.

I play the games to numb myself. To just switch off and ignore the stresses in my life – of which I do acknowledge there could be far more and perhaps I’m just tired and a tad whiny today. Someone should put me to bed.

And because of the numbing plus the stresses, I just don’t have the time/space/energy to be creative anymore.

If I really want some more joy in my life, I think this needs to stop.

The Flop Factor

I know it’s smart to start getting regular mammograms done once you turn 45 but what with getting teenage boys over the finish line to adulthood, getting remarried, getting IVF, getting pregnant then having a baby (what seemed like) permanently attached to the ‘girls’ for 18 months, I found it hard to find the time … until last Friday.

Despite having a close friend who had a brush with breast cancer and knowing all the stats, I didn’t actively seek out a mammogram once all my excuses had dried up (so to speak). However, a simple throat infection and a visit to the doctor about a month ago saw me put firmly on the Breast Screening list and lined up for an appointment.

Now I’d heard a few reviews regarding mammograms, particularly with the words “extreme discomfort” and “mashed boobs” featuring regularly so I was prepared for a bit of pain. Imagine my surprise when it was all over bar the shouting in a few minutes with the only discomfort coming from trying to hold my breath AND my stomach in at the same time.

Which has me wondering … is there a Flop Factor at play here? I can imagine if your fun bags are nice and firm and well adhered to your chest area that it might be a little harder to get them in between the two panels and the pressure may be more easily felt than say if your boobs, once let loose of their wire-reinforced hammocks, kinda oozed onto the bottom panel and obligingly made squishy under the top one so the radiologist could snap a clear shot with ease.

Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve experienced REAL breast-related pain – those first few weeks of breastfeeding where I truly feared my nipples would just drop off due to struggles with latching then the last few weeks of breastfeeding where I truly feared my nipples would be clean bitten off due to an overzealous, teething toddler.

After that, a little clamping between two plates is more like a walk in the park … just with your shirt off.

End of an era

For the first time in almost 2 years, I wore a non-maternity bra to work today.

It feels a little sad …

She’s not happy about it but the fact of the matter is the stress of working full time and feeding less during the day has taken its toll and no amount of night time snacking is going to fix that.

Add to that a diet change and voila – what little milk supply was there has pretty much gone.

She’s nearly 17 months. It’s the longest I’ve breastfed a baby for.

We’ve had a good innings but I can see the end in sight and whilst part of me rejoices at having my body back (and part of NIH rejoices at the prospect of having HIS particular area of amusement back), part of me weeps.

It’s truly the end of an era.

And now for something completely different …

I have a thing for circles lately. I don’t know if there’s a hidden message in it. Maybe I’m subconsciously thinking I’m back at square one in the circle of life (possibly a mixed metaphor there but whatever).

Once again,¬† I have a small baby which means I’ve pretty much lost my independence for a while – at least until she’s weaned.¬†¬†But it’s not so much the constant demands on my time, sleep and body that troubles me.

It’s money.

Even though I’ve been doing a little bit of work here and there, it hasn’t been regular and has equated to little more coffee money (once upon a time they called it pin money – but who needs that many pins?).

It certainly hasn’t been anything that could cover some expenses while I’m on maternity leave. Fortunately I go back to work in a few months – and I say fortunately because I can’t stand not bringing money into the house.

Money is such a touchy subject for me. In my first marriage, I felt incredibly guilty about not working for the first six years, even though the main reason was that we had three kidlets under the age of five and could not have afforded the childcare costs.  At that stage, I only had the qualifications to be a check-out chick Рso I would have basically just handed over my wage each week. Add to that the fact we were in the Army and moved on average once a year and my prospects were really poor.

Even though it seemed the logical choice to wait until they went to school – I ended up getting permanent part-time work when the youngest was 12 months old – I was made to feel that I was a burden because I didn’t earn money. And it wasn’t my imagination either – he said those very words to me years later.¬† It may have just been the divorce talking but it still stabs me right in the heart to recall it.

Nowadays there are so many articles highlighting the ability of stay-at-home mums to improve the lifestyle of a regular household. After all, they cook, they clean, they mind your child … if dad plays his cards right, he may get some “personal time” …

To pay for all that (and I don’t actually think they included ‘personal time’ in their sums) calculates to some ridiculous six-figure amount.¬† Even though it seems a terrible shame to put a price on motherhood, at least it gives us a measuring stick in terms that modern society can understand.

So I work hard to enjoy these precious 10 months or so that I have with Little Miss before we all get thrust back into the fast-running stream of work, daycare, home, chores, bed, repeat. I budget whilst making sure we still have a bit of fun. I do what work I can from home to bring in a little extra.

But even though it’s a totally different situation with a totally different partner who I know doesn’t have the same viewpoint, I still can’t seem to shut up those niggling inner demons about being perceived as a burden and not pulling my weight.

Getting back into it

I’ve been feeling restless lately so I challenged myself to get back into drawing again.

I could have a big whinge-fest about my motivations: the highs and lows of motherhood; the wanting to feel like I’m achieving something every day; the desire to maintain and build on skills … but firstly, there’s so many other bloggers out there who can do it better than me and secondly, I couldn’t be arsed.

So instead I’ll just show you the picture I drew yesterday. I want to say “I challenged myself to do one drawing every day for [insert appropriate timeframe here]. Here’s Day One.” but why set myself up for failure?

I might do one every day … I might not. You’ll just have to wait and see.

Taking notes

I can’t really put my finger on why I feel compelled to blog. Just like that option about relationships on Facebook, it’s complicated.

I do like to think of myself as a storyteller and if I can get a few laughs along the way, all the better.

Perhaps Mr Morley, my 6th Grade teacher, is part of it. Even since he kindly but succinctly critiqued my attempt at a retelling of “Goldilocks & The Three Bears” – Michelle, I appreciate your hard work but your writing is verbose – I’ve felt the need to hone my writing skills.

Maybe it’s a way of quieting the voices in my head. I find putting thoughts into words on a page brings clarity and some sense of order.

My love affair with blogging actually started about eight years ago. I was going through (what I hope will be) the most disastrous time in my life. I had the trifecta – career; family; marriage – all in the shitter. There’s no nicer way to put it. Everything was crappy.

I was suffering deep anxiety and depression at the time (of course, had no idea that’s what it was) and I credit taking up writing in a journal for helping me through those really tough days. ¬†I committed to writing one page per day, last thing at night.

At first, it was so very, very trite. My entries read like that nasty classic “What I did in my holidays”. It was just a recount of what I’d done for the day.

At the same time, I discovered you could actually do this on the internet and I started my own blog – The Blah-Blah. Nothing controversial. No deep inner revelations. No dark secrets. It was just like my journal – dull and boring and nothing at all of the real me in there.

Some time later I re-read both the early days of my journal and my blog, knowing full well what was really going on, and I could see how much of a liar I was. There was no hint of any distress at all. They were positively dripping with sweetness and ‘hail-fellow-well-met”.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

Then the shit really hit the fan. My dad died. And all the crap came spilling out as life as I knew it exploded around me.

Finally, my journal did what it was supposed to do. It released all the pent-up angst, all the hurt, all the sorrow. Some nights I struggled to condense it all onto just one page.

Unfortunately, my blog took a turn for the worse as well, diving into diatribe. I took a good look at it one day and deleted the whole thing. It had become nothing more than a moan about things that were either out of my control or of my own doing. I felt embarrassed to have all that out for public display.

I kept my journals (there ended up being 5 of them) buried in the back of my cupboard for a few years. I made NIH promise to find them and burn them if I died. He knew everything about me so I wasn’t worried about him reading them (it’s one of the reasons I love him dearly – he knows it all and loves me anyway) but I worried about anyone else finding them.

About three years ago I did a big spring clean. Life was relatively good Рthere was still that pesky little issue with infertility but apart from that, I loved who I had become and where I was in life.  I pulled the journals out of the cupboard and flicked through them all.

Oh, that me was so sad and lost. Even now, I get a lump in my throat thinking of her. She was a total mess.

So I ripped them apart and burnt all the pages, even those heart-wrenching entries just before and after my dad passed away. The journals had served their purpose and I didn’t need to hold onto all that pain anymore. It was past time to let it all go.

I started “Creative Midlife” as a way of discussing my journey from librarian to graphic designer. It was meant to be a showcase of my work whilst being an amusing little aside at my life – a token diary without too much angst.

I decided to be real but not offensive. I wanted to write stuff that might leave me vulnerable but at least be my truth. I didn’t want to be a liar anymore.

It’s interesting to see how the blog has evolved around my life – first as a foray into a vastly different career, then as an IVF war veteran, then an immigrant to a different country and now as a second-time-around mother. I’m so glad I have kept a written record of the highlights. Sure, it’s not been all wine and roses but still it’s been good.

I don’t think I’ll be deleting it any time soon.

Oh baby!

Damn!

I believe I’ve previously touted the amazing health system in New Zealand, focusing in particular on maternity and after-birth care. I’ve experienced the most amazing support from the time I realised at 8 weeks that perhaps I should actually go to a doctor and get checked out since I seemed to be ‘still pregnant’ (usually we’d make it to 7 weeks tops before miscarrying).

Australians are uniquely blessed to be considered ‘honorary kiwis’ if they decide to move to NZ and plan on staying more than two years. This includes cheap doctor visits; free antenatal care from a registered midwife up until six weeks after baby is born; free ongoing support from Plunket after baby arrives and being able to¬†get prescription medication for only $5 a pop.

Now, before I go on, perhaps I should do a shout-out to my older kids …

Hey guys!  Mummy is about to tell all about something that could be construed as embarrassing so feel free to look away! Look away now!

I’m going to talk about contraception … and in particular, the prescription I picked up from the chemist yesterday. You may have noticed the photo. That’s the ACTUAL BOX … or should I say “boxes” – all 12 of them.

Yep, 144 stolen moments of Confident Pleasure right there. And I say ‘stolen’ because that’s what happens when you have a small child that may wake up at any time and demand attention.

To be honest, when the midwife first brought up the topic of contraception post-baby, I scoffed. Firstly, the baby in question was only two weeks old and I was currently undergoing a stark reminder of the consequences of sex. Secondly, did she not realise how much of a miracle this little bundle was? The idea that we (and by that I mean ME) could actually conceive another child seemed ludicrous. And yet … lightning has been known to strike twice.

I don’t like chemical contraception (and all versions of it certainly doesn’t like me) so to alleviate their concern and show that I was moderately responsible, I opted for the good ol’ Love Glove.

Yep, I got a prescription from the midwife for 144 Frangers. One gross of Frenchies. French letters. Dingers. Rubbers. Sheaths. Raincoats. (Oh yes, I am loving googling all the slang terms for condoms but in the interests of my mum have kept it to the clean ones!).  And I got them all for the bargain price of $5.

Since life has settled down somewhat and the baby is now nine weeks and showing signs of sleeping longer through the night, sex may be a topic of conversation again. Even though I’m not sure we’ll even use them, I decided that perhaps I should get that prescription filled yesterday, if only to see what a years’ worth of condoms looks like.

I don’t know who was more flustered – the chemist handing over the ‘package’ or me trying to stuff the damn thing in the tray underneath the pram.

When I got them home, I¬†took a photo and sent it to NIH at work with the caption “DAMN!”. ¬†He was suitably impressed.

The instructions on the label say “USE when required”. I’ve checked the Use By date and fortunately we have until September 2021.

Thank god for that.