Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Reflective Practice

As part of my Financial Counselling studies, I will be making about ten posts on assigned questions over the next month or so.  So you may find me making a couple of posts a day as I work through assignments, rather than my usual haphazard posting!

Life experience seems to have developed the skill of reflection in me.  How much is positive - considering how I can improve the next time - versus how much is beating myself over the head repeatedly with a (perceived) error in judgement, is however a line-ball call. 

And in some instances, I really don't want a 'next time' at which I can improve.  Such as remembering to expressly ask to be informed of what's learned from the procedure as I'm authorising a medical autopsy on my dead husband. 

As I progress to practice as a financial counsellor, being able to reflect on how I've worked with a client, the options I've identified for them, how I've presented those options and the lines of enquiry I've missed will help me improve my practice as I gain more experience.  Knowing I have a tendency to beat myself up for errors, the missed lines of enquiry will be a key area for learning through reflection.

I remember being surprised in a past job when I walked into the kitchen and found a senior executive washing the coffee cups after a meeting.  I asked him why - surely there were tasks and outcomes from the meeting he needed to work on.  He told me that doing the dishes was the time where he processed - ie reflected on - the meeting.  I found he also headed to the kitchen when stuck with a curly problem.  He simply took the opportunity to put his brain in neutral, and let the solution fall out.

In the modern work age, it's really hard to 'switch off' when you come home.  I think a lot of reflection will occur in times where you put your brain in neutral, and that's more likely to happen at home than the workplace where simple output can often equal productivity, not the quality of output. 

So, being able to put my brain in neutral regularly in the workplace will both help with further developing reflective practice, and with the issue of bringing work home with me - intended or not.  At least I can see that as one advantage of the community services sector over more commercial enterprises - stepping up and doing some of those mundane office management tasks is likely to be appreciated, if not outright expected.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Bridget Jones - Critisisms and Lessons

Having seen the spoilers, out of curiosity I read the new Bridget Jones' Diary instalment. 

My curiosity was how was someone who may not know the widow experience*, write about the widow experience?  Honestly, pretty well, taking into account it is Bridget Jones we're talking about, and she is 5 years into the journey & I'm 18 months.  At least in part, her experience is familiar to me.  Particularly being left on your own to raise young children. 

The widowhood experience is something that is very, very difficult to comprehend until you've been there.  I had not concept before it happened, and the reviews I've read seem to support that; I don't feel there is a widow amongst the critics I've read.  So the book is generally being panned.

Firstly, it was never going to be a contender for the Man Booker - it's chick-lit people.  Take it as such.

One comment that crops up is she's again a singleton/cougar, therefore reverting to type.

Firstly, she's still Bridget. And the singleton/dating scenario is the premise of her character - it's what the first two books were about, why wouldn't the third? 

And I hate to break the 'happy happy joy joy' view that spouses don't up and die on you until you've reached a ripe old age, but we widows are out there. In large numbers. You'll be surprised how many younger widows (and widowers) there are from accidents, suicide, cancer and other medical conditions and illnesses.  And some do want to re-partner down the track, so the fact Bridget's looking (and frankly, only starts at the 5 year mark, with the pressure of her friends - without that she may not have), is also a reality.  This doesn't even cover those divorcees who also find themselves single again in their 30's, 40's and 50's.

Another critique is that she's still a social klutz.  Again, she's still Bridget.  Mark's influence may well have reduced some of those tendencies through her marriage, but the stress and trauma of widowhood may well have brought them out in force again. Widowhood does change your world view and may change your personality in part, but it's not necessarily a complete personality transplant, which one critic I read seemed to expect.  In fact, that she was a social klutz to start with it's not surprising, she remains one. "Widow brain" (that I've heard a lot of long-timers talk about still experiencing, and may be a PTSD manifestation), is likely to amplify rather than dull this trait of Bridget's. The descriptor of 'foundering' by another character actually describes the experience pretty well; floundering is also apt.

Some raise a timing issue of Bridget being 51, with her youngest child a 5 year old.  This rankled with me initially too, but on reflection, we don't know if both kids were the result of a long effort of assisted reproduction (ART), or even egg donor.  It's possible for the 5 year old to be from a Frozen Embryo Transfer.  And it's her contemporaneous diary, there's no real reason for her to mention it (except for back-story, and Fielding chose not to cover it in back story).  That it's automatically assumed that both are natural pregnancies also shouts to the lack of familiarity in the broader world with the infertility experience. Heck, I did it and I HAVE the IF experience!

Some may argue that Bridget talks about Mark's death, why not any (potential) ART?  Having also been through both, you tend to focus on and re-visit the loss of your husband, not what it took to have your child(ren).  And the loss of a spouse is something that hums away in the background and then intensifies to crippling clarity at the drop of a hat.  It's something I've learned to expect to be life-long.

Early in the book it's mentioned that Mark left her a wealthy woman - this is another of the criticisms; that she's rich so it's not reality. First, they were wealthy to start with, and rich people die, too.  Plus he had made sure everything was in place, just in case - as is stated in the book.

Although really just a passing comment, this is the biggest lesson I see to the general readership of the book.  Mark had made sure that his family would be secure.  Mr Trifectagirl and I had not gotten around to getting things in place even though we'd planned to, but our superannuation system meant I've at least been left with a secure roof over J and I's head.   I've encountered a number of widows both on and off line that are not so secure. There was no insurance, or no ability to get insurance, or limited superannuation. They have no choice but to work, and/or they loose their homes when they're still in the depths of grief.  Making sure both partners are adequately insured to keep the family secure is a great lesson from the book.

The upshot is there were moments that cut close to the bone, but it was an overall enjoyable, easy chick-lit read giving an insight into the widow experience through the lens of Bridget Jones.

*in checking, no Helen Fielding has not experienced widowhood. She's obviously done some good research in writing this book. 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


My mum and step-father used to make their own laundry detergent, known in the family as 'gloop'.

After the large supply of commercial powder that Mr Trifectagirl was finished some 12 months after he got sick - he'd bought a lot - I started making gloop again as a budget measure.


1 cake of pure soap
1 cup washing soda
1 tsp eucalyptus oil

20 or 10 litre plastic container, old cheese grater, old saucepan (4 litre a good idea)

Time to make: about one cycle of my washing machine - probably about half an hour, but I really haven't watched the clock.

Heat 2 litres of water in the saucepan.

While the water is heating, grate the soap (this is a PITA job - I can't wait until J is old enough to help).

Add the grated soap to the saucepan and bring to the boil - watch it as this has the ability to over boil like milk.  I upgraded to a large stock pan that I found at a second-hand store for this batch after getting jack of cleaning over flows up, and I still had a mess to clean up.

I usually add the extra water to my bucket at this time (see quantity below).

Add the soda and stir until melted.  Forewarning - the soda will cause a reaction that could result in an over-flow if your pan is too small (my old over flow problem).

Pour the mix into your plastic container, and add the eucalyptus oil, and stir to mix.

For a 20 litre container, add 9 litres of hot water and 8 litres of cold water - this results in a claggy mix and use 2-4 cups per load.

I use a 10 litre container and add 3.5 litres of hot water and 4 litres of cold water.  This mix sets pretty solid and I use about 2 cups per load. 

I find this mix lasts a month or so, and at a rough, back of the envelop calculation costs $2 per bucket to make using higher quality ingredients.

 And the best thing about the new pot - all my bits and bobs for making gloop fit in it.  I can put on the lid and put it away until next time.

I've included this post in the Homemade Mondays link party over at Frugal by Choice, Cheap by Necessity.

Monday, 23 September 2013


In two days I have surgery, and I'm apprehensive about it.  I now have a sharpened perspective of what 'one in one thousand'  odds of something bad looks like.

Since Mr Trifectagirl died, each month I get sinus infections, and until recently off I'd go to the doctor for a script for antibiotics.  I've just taken so many now that some have stopped agreeing with me, and we need to keep a couple available for future use. 

A bit of investigating a number of months ago, including a CT scan, showed that I have quite compact sinuses, so anatomically they're more prone to infection than the average person.  As such, surgery to open them up was put on the table. 

Not liking the idea of surgery, I looked at alternatives and found acupuncture sessions every two weeks kept the infections in check. Then my acupuncturist went on holidays and BANG, hello sinus infection. 

That was enough to indicate that I should probably have the surgery.  It won't stop me getting sick with colds and such, but has a very high probability of stopping something like a common cold developing to a sinus infection as well.

One up-side to surgery, a night in hospital with someone else cooking, cleaning & no small person taking up half the bed. 

Pity it's only an overnight stay.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

End of an Era

This week, Mr Trifectagirl's mother passed away unexpectedly, aged 81.  She had been in hospital for treatment related to diabetes, which had been going ok, but must have taken a very sudden turn.  The doctors told me there was no expectation or warning of her death.  The nurses checked her, all ok.  Doctors did their rounds within half an hour or so, and she was gone.  The doctor who had to make the call sounded in dis-belief at the situation. 

We were not expecting her to last long due to grief after Mr Trifectagirl died, but she surprised us all in surviving a year.  I had money on her living another 10 - she was a pretty strong willed woman, and although restricted to bed or a wheelchair, still fairly independent getting out and about to lunches with friends and to church nearly every week.   In the end, she made it to 15 months.

She revelled in having J in her life.  She regularly told me that he's just like his father was at the same age.  I suspect J is what kept her going this long.

Nanna being gone means that here, J has no family from his father's side.  There are relatives in the UK, but not here.  I'm conscious of that potential gap in him forming his identity as he grows up. 

I am now in the process of organising a funeral, and yet again have a carport full of belongings that need to be sorted out.  All at a crunch time for University assessments, too*.

And dealing with the compounding of the grief that my mother in law's passing has added to the loss of Mr Trifectagirl.

* I don't recommend trying to do on-line accounting assessments the day you hear your mother in law has died.  You fail.  Spectacularly.   Thankfully it was only a small section of an overall assessment, but the full thing is due by 5pm Tuesday.  I'm now not expecting a brilliant final result.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Budgeting Strategy - Menu Planning

I've been menu planning for a number of years, and it's a great way of controlling the grocery budget.

Many blogs I read post menu plans for the week on Mondays, and it's a good source of tested recipes, rather than something someone's pinned thinking 'ooh that looks interesting' and not tried it.

Planning for me happens generally on a Thursday, to run Friday to Thursday.  This helps finalise my shopping list for the week.  I build my list during the week as items run out, add what I need for the menu and do my weekly shop on Fridays.

One thing I make use of is my big freezer.  It's one of the first things I bought when I moved in.  I grab meat in bulk or when on sale (or even better - both!) and freeze up into meal portions.  I also blanch and freeze excess veggies from the garden. 

This week's plan - 23 to 29 August:

Friday:  The plan was for a beef curry, however once made (from a packet spice mix) this was too hot for J, so that got passed on to the parents, while we added toppings to a frozen pizza kept for just these occasions.

Saturday:  Was going to be soup from the freezer, but I used the rice I'd cooked for the curry and made a fried rice with bits and pieces in the fridge/freezer.

Sunday:  A pasta with a rose chicken sauce with mushrooms and spinach from the garden.  The chicken used was left-over shredded chicken in the freezer.

Monday:  Tonight will be yiros using left-over roast lamb. 

Tuesday: This is family dinner night at the 'rents with my sister and her little boy. 

Wednesday:  Roast lamb rack with veggies.  I managed to pick up a few mini racks that were just enough for J and I on sale, and put them aside in the freezer.

Thursday:  Hunt the freezer night - I will often cook extra and put them aside for some nights.  I then need to schedule freezer nights.  If it gets too out of hand, it's freezer weeks to ensure turn-over.

I'll sometimes juggle when things don't go to plan - such as passing on the curry. The pasta and yiros were meant to be on opposite nights, but I swapped them over based on how the day panned out (Read: I forgot to get the meat out the freezer early enough...).  But the menu for the week basically is as planned.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Goodbye Murphy

I'm a big fan of the personal financial management practices, particularly the baby steps, advocated by Dave Ramsey.  It reminds me very much of how my grandmother managed her finances.

Before Mr Trifectagirl got sick, I was starting to get the baby steps moving.  Particularly the emergency fund.  Dave calls this 'Murphy Proofing'.  You know Murphy, the dude that makes anything that can go wrong, go wrong.

Having 3 close relatives die on me in 4 years, I have been able to clear all my debt.  Mr Trifectagirl would be pleased he's been able to put a secure roof over J and I's head.  My Mum and step-dad pleased they've paid off my education debt.  This is something I very much appreciate how lucky I am (ironic since it took my husband dying, which isn't exactly 'lucky').

I have also been able to set up a fully funded emergency fund of 6 months expenses with the residual.

Which means when my car got broken into and the window was smashed last Monday, I was able to access the funds to get it fixed with out batting an eyelid. 

Then when my computer went belly-up the next day (I kid you not), I was able to head out and get a new one to keep ticking with my current studies.

So maybe based on the last week or so, Murphy will still show up, but he doesn't cause the stress and anxiety that he used to.