I am feeling a bit as if every second friend on Facebook has been posting about what an awful year they had in 2015, and how they are hoping for a better one in 2016. I find Christmas, and especially New Year’s Eve, creates so much pressure. NYE is another night, 1 January is another day. But not JUST another day. It is pause for me to reflect on the miracle of life, the miracle of creation, the miracle of the stars in the sky, of the sun coming up in the morning, of spectacular sunsets of an evening.
Still, every NYE the sorrowful sounds of ABBA’s not so happy song creep into my ear and don’t go away:
Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbour is a friend
Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die
You and I
It doesn’t help that it is played over and over on the radio.
I had a quiet evening last night. I invited two sets of neighbours over for a BBQ. Inbetween the men cooking (halal) spicy chicken and lamb sausages, six kids ran around and the women chatted while preparing salads and drinking my homemade lemon cordial. There was more than enough food and I will be living on leftovers for days.
After I got my hyped up kids to bed, I laid down on my deck and gazed up into the sky to watch shooting stars and satellites. It was a quiet and beautiful time for thinking. Sadly I don’t skygaze nearly as often as I would like to, a product of my frenetic modern lifestyle. It gave me pause to think about the year just gone, and the year to come. Here are some of my thoughts.
- I have new clearer purpose and focus. I began to see life coach Nicole Leddicoate in March 2015. My sessions with her have helped changed my life (in a good way), and resulted in a new blogging identity. This time last year I had a vague idea of my central purpose. Well, actually I had so MANY ideas that I was unable to focus. With her encouragement I have now renamed this blog Ms Frugal Ears, and am leaning into sharing my passion for mindful frugality. Last year I started a $5 Friday blog post series of low cost meals. In 2016 I will start Money Monday posts about personal finance. Nicole is encouraging me to think big (she never laughs) and is giving me practical ideas on how to achieve my goals, including putting some lesser goals on hold for a while.
- I am a writer. I AM A WRITER. Also inspired by Nicole’s encouragement, this fairly obvious pronouncement is more significant than it might seem. I was part of the ACT Writers Centre’s amazing HARDCOPY program for developing nonfiction writers, through which have improved my writing, learnt more about the publishing industry and actually met and received feedback from real live publishers and literary agents. I also attended Problogger and Eat Drink Blog. I am more honest and authentic with my writing, and have written about my Australian-Chinese identity, explored why I am frugal and made good headway on my manuscript about Chinese post-baby confinement. I recently started writing food reviews for RiotACT, won second prize in the YWCA Canberra’s The Frugal Feast fiction writing contest and have been involved in some fun blogging events with the Canberra Humans such as behind the scenes IKEA trips and visits to the Canberra Theatre Centre. What a year for writing.
- I followed the Richest Man in Babylon’s technique. Every year I re-read ‘the Richest Man in Babylon’ over the Christmas/New Year break. I am yet to reread it this year, but I am listening to an audio re-enactment by the Napoleon Hill Foundation. The book is a series of stories designed to encourage saving. It is more exciting and motivating than you might think. Basic principle? I tenth of all you earn is yours to keep. That simple. Think of all the bills you pay to other people: utilities bills, rates, mobile phone plans, internet, petrol, groceries etc etc. But do you pay YOURSELF? I didn’t reach my financial goal of having $20,000 in my Vanguard index account, but I did pay a nominated amount every fortnight. Some fortnights as I struggled to pay divorce-related legal bills and childcare it was difficult but strangely I always found a way – without needing to own a credit card. Doing this has given me confidence I will reach a larger goal of paying off my mortgage, and my ultimate goal of becoming a billionaire.
- Life gave me lemons and I made lemon cordial. I leant into my interest in food and recipe creation. I became interested in promoting food security and showing how to eat and drink cheaply and sustainably. I started a $5 Friday blog post series about low cost meals. I started exploring how to forage and incorporate edible weeds into my diet. I reduced our family food costs to $13 a day (including nappies, cleaning products and non food groceries). And I still have a cupboard bulging with food supplies.
- I had a mostly stylish year. Well, I didn’t win the fashion award at Melbourne Cup (that went to my elegant bestie at work), but I did make a conscious decisions to channel a bit of glamour. I had fun wearing my stylish 1950s style felt hat in winter, went to a ball and had fun dressing up for some nights out at the theatre. My local op shops did well from me. I slumped a bit mid-year in winter when I ate too much, but I recovered well towards the end of the year.
- I didn’t let paperwork and frustrations get me down. Two mortgage refinances, two property sales, security revalidation at work, new bank accounts, getting a new mobile phone number, resetting bank account and MyGov passwords with new number, tax returns, family court applications, National Disability Insurance Scheme paperwork, job applications, learning how to do a new job, online training modules, book proposals, Relationships Australia mediation, lawyer round table mediation, Family Court appearances and affidavits, Magistrates appearances and meditations, two and a half months to get a refund for a broken TV under warranty, installing a new modem, changing names on utilities bills, before school care forms, enrolling Big A into school … the list could go on. There was a lot of stuff to get through. Some I haven’t quite got to, but the important bits have been done.
- My kids have grown in confidence. Over Christmas I got to see how my kids interacted with each other, with family and friends and with other kids, and I was proud of them. My kids have had to cope with a lot of change and transition in the last year and a half, and this time last year they were both a bit clingy and niggly. I still have parenting issues I am working through: how best to negotiate time with their Dad; differences in values at the two houses; therapy for Big A’s mild disability; how to prise Big A away from his addiction to Angry Birds and the IPad; Little A still having toilet training accidents after a year; staying calm when confronted by loud tantrum theatrics; nightmare nighttime bed routines; early morning procrastination; worries about progress at school etc etc. But the essentials are right: they are mostly well mannered, well behaved, thoughtful, independent and smart kids with inquiring minds. Mostly.
- I am independent and courageous, at times fiery. This time last year I was filled with a sense of love and wellbeing. I felt like I had mended bridges, that I was creating a new life and that I would be surrounded by love and happiness. Well, that did sort of happened in 2015. But right now I am feeling independent and learning to express that. Perhaps I am a little too self expressed – my feelings are kind of erupting out. No longer in the shadow of an unhappy marriage I am rediscovering myself, challenging myself constantly to discover what I want and if it is what I really want. I want my life to matter, not just for myself but for my kids. “It’s my life, it’s now or never” – as Bon Jovi says, and that is kind of my motto. Well, actually I prefer the line from ‘Now is Forever‘ by Taiwanese band Mayday: “Life is too short; don’t think, don’t fear, don’t back down. Right now is eternity.” Sitting with my neighbours on NYE I realised that I have a lot more confidence in living my life as a single woman than I ever thought I would have. Yet there is a burning impatience within me: I don’t want to wait for things to happen, I want them now. I have also been exposed more to social justice issues, and have formed strong friendships with people who I admire for their integrity yet have very different political beliefs from those that I grew up with. (That made for some fun Christmas lunch conversations, which I enjoyed creating tension about just a wee little bit.)
- Life loves me. As I pondered the universe under the stars just before midnight last night, it hit me that just as all the stars and galaxies are all unique, so too am I a unique individual and the universe loves and accepts me as I am. Just as I am. And my family does, too – despite my at times fiery temperament including over Christmas. I have been standing in front of a mirror daily and saying “live loves me” for months, following Robert Holden and Louise Hay’s method. It hasn’t always felt authentic, but last night with just me and the milky way it felt right. I don’t need to try, and unlike in the past, I no longer feel I have to try too hard to please people to win their love. I love people who are important to me, and eventually I will see my own love reflected back. Without having to try.
- Despite setbacks, romantic love does exist. Last Christmas I felt this powerful sense that I would meet my soulmate, and that I would be swept up in love. Recently separated from an unhappy marriage where I felt taken for granted and used, and a single mother to two young boys, this seemed impossible and unachievable. My life was absorbed in the drudgery of sweeping up mess, endless pegging out of washing and dealing with the exhaustive task of attending to young children who needed me and running constantly late from one thing to the next – I didn’t feel I had anything to give to anyone and that I hardly had any time to myself. On the last day of February, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, I started seeing someone amazing. I was swept into his strong arms, and like a teenager, couldn’t eat properly for weeks, couldn’t stop swooning. I thought he was quite unlike anyone I had ever met before: full of integrity, funny, caring, kind, with an unconscious and authentic writing style and soft vulnerability he was not scared to show to me. And I honestly thought he had feelings for me as well – certainly there was a strong physical attraction and we messaged and chatted all the time, day and night, about personal and private things and I thought we shared a mutual friendship. But I realise now that I gave too much of myself, that while he had a valid excuse, he used me carelessly and that he did not treat me with respect. I ought to have seen the signs, realized that he was self-absorbed and I was invisible to him other than as support, and I did eventually but too late. For much of 2015 I was sad, was probably depressed over winter, felt unappreciated, second best and struggled to regain my sense of self worth. Then over the last month or so I was angry. Now I am trying to forgive and remember the good bits. It will take time. It would be easy for me to be cynical about romantic love or to feel unworthy and unlovable – certainly I have been treated badly. Except for the fact that there ARE signs that love does exist. Over our NYE BBQ, my neighbour shared how he met his wife and how they fell in love when they were both 15. Married 48 years, they have four sons and nine grandchildren (and yes, he knows he is a lucky man and tells anyone who will listen). My other neighbours, recently arrived from Pakistan, are proud of the fact that they have a love union rather than an arranged marriage. It was so cute listening them banter with each other over who was the luckiest. And when I stopped to look around me, I realized that love and appreciation IS everywhere – hopefully I can learn to let myself accept it.
So, that’s my year in review. How was your year? Was it a year of growth and change, or of joy and happiness?