Monday, 22 May 2017

Retirement - New Emerging Thoughts

Honey, soy and chili silken tofu - delicious

Retirement - such a long way off.....oh wait! I'm 50 this October, so it is time to rethink this topic pretty fast.

I replanted my aloe vera as it had so many 'babies' cramped into
one little pot previously.

Here are some random thoughts and realisations that I have had about retirement that have emerged since I posted about our "plans for the future" recently.

  1.   Retirement would be just hell-on-earth unless we are healthy.
  2.   Superannuation is a minefield of hidden fees, charges and ambiguity.
  3.   I actually might not want to ever stop some type of work outside the home.
  4.   Mrs HM and I need other factors in our life besides just each other.
  5.   'Typical' retirement is obviously now a myth of the past.
  6.   Many of the happiest and healthiest older folk I personally know have not fully retired in the conventional sense.
  7.   I do not want to be a boring, narrow-minded, shallow, annoying, judgmental old git - I feel myself automatically drifting this way ever so slightly and so I urgently need to put the brakes on that drift real fast. (I've scared myself a bit recently on this matter)
  8.   I need to keep up with meaningful technology - as much as I love simple living and frugality, being a Luddite is not a virtue. I see too many older folk allowing legitimate and life-enhancing technology to pass them by.

I still indulge in a latte when I visit my Sydney office once
per week. 

So some conclusions and goals from the above list would be:

1st and foremost - overhaul our health and mindfully plan and take action immediately so as to be active and self reliant for at least another 40 years (I hope I pass away with my boots on actually).  I have been losing weight steadily over the past few months but can now see that this is just a drop in the bucket compared to what I need to do to ensure another 40 years of meaningful life. My relationship with food still needs to be significantly overhauled as does my relationship with exercise. Mental health is also a huge consideration and I need to purposefully and mindfully heal myself in this regard too otherwise the next 40 years is going to be a struggle that ends with a bag full of regrets. 

2ndly - bite the bullet and understand Superannuation thoroughly and only use it for it's proven benefits. Other types of prudent investments need to be secured outside of Superannuation's highly regulated and fee-riddled, government-meddled-with, goal-post-changing, maze-and-mirrors scheme. Whilst the tax benefits inside Superannuation for most Australian folk are excellent, the fees pre AND post retirement are horrendous as is the limited ability to influence the investment outcomes with most Superannuation companies. My current Superannuation company (which I changed to a few years ago based on some positive initial research) is no longer as good as I previously thought.  Now that I am ready to go into using the option to choose my own stocks within my Super scheme, I was deeply shocked at the tiny handful of stocks that I was allowed to trade and the also the horrendous fees attached to doing so.  I am now wading knee-deep through copious amounts of Product Disclosure Statements from various Superannuation schemes to find which one has the lowest fees coupled with the greatest stock trading flexibility and choice so I can at least intelligently invest all that money that is mine but am not allowed to access till I am 60!  (Grrr).  Look, I too used to be a set-and-forget conspiracy-theorist when it came to Superannuation, but now that I am taking the time to educate myself and get the magnifying glass out on the ins-and-outs of Superannuation. I am no longer prepared to set-and-forget because that equates to oodles of my money out the window....I do still hold dark conspiracy theories about Superannuation - especially what it will be like when I am ready (allowed!) to access it. Nevertheless, I am determined to find who moved my cheese and to reclaim it as well as finding other sources of cheese! I intend to have some fun in the process too.

Crispy skin salmon with stir-fried Asian vegetables.
Succulent and nutritious 

3rdly - Work: working outside the home is something I actually enjoy under the right circumstances. True, I would love nothing more than to click the gate closed on my home and not emerge for at least two millennia (!), but it is not good for me and I am noticing this the older I get. External stimuli is the thing that will stop my brain aging and prevent me from willingly falling victim to my all-consuming introversion.  Also, having another small source of income is prudent even if it is a day or two a week or a month or two a year.

4thly and finally:  We still plan to caravan and tour extensively around Australia as well as have a cheaper property as a home base, however, I can see we need to be totally flexible with this general plan.  It is actually a bit of a selfish plan and I need to find a meaningful way to contribute positively to society as well.  I'm on the look-out for what that type of contribution may be and which can happily capture the last 40 years of my life....hmmm, let me see.

View looking down from my office window - so utterly different
 to the view in my mind's eye

Take care folks and stay nice out there.

Mr HM  (Phil)

Friday, 5 May 2017

What Kate Did - Episode 2

Winter and summer men's hats - my nod to a braver yesteryear.

Continued from here

Kate was snapped out of her inner turmoil of thoughts at the distant sound of horses hooves accompanied by the unmistakable crunching of steel wheels against gravel. She looked up and saw four black horses in the far distance pulling an unmistakable black stagecoach with dust billowing out the back. Kate instantly recognised her father’s mail stagecoach. He was returning from the twelve week royal mail run from Gulgong to Sydney and back of which he had won the tender earlier in the year. 

He was a few minutes off yet as he had only just come over the hill that led down to their house and Kate fondly reflected in her own mind about her father. Johannes Peters was the son of a German mother and a Danish father, a grand love affair by all accounts, who ensured he was well educated. Johannes spoke several languages fluently and was educated in accountancy and investment banking. (There was also some talk of him and his parents once being perhaps Anabaptists or Waldensers  …..  but he never mentioned the past anymore). Johannes had not married during his younger years in Europe but was lured out to Australia in his late 30’s in one of the many gold rushes that had occurred over the last 50 years. Johannes quickly established that there was little chance of striking it rich in gold once he saw and experienced the goldfields first hand and instead set up an accountancy practice in Gulgong NSW assisting the increasing numbers of graziers and coal mine owners in the area. He also regularly won the royal mail contract between Gulgong and Sydney which recently was their only source of steady income. It was good pay but a dangerous undertaking.  Johannes was a gentleman in comparison to most Australians at the time and was respected in the area due to his education and fluency in financial matters and also his direct links with Europe. In his early 40’s he married Mary Chandler who was barely 18 years old and they raised six children, five daughters and the youngest a son. Kate was the middle child of this unlikely brood.

Kate suddenly realised as she sat there watching the stage coach grow bigger and bigger as it galloped closer, that her father Johannes would also had certainly known of the family’s scandalous secret, yet clearly he loved her mother regardless and was a hard and diligent provider for Mary and the children. Kate reflected that her upbringing was both strangely typical yet also unique to many in Australia at the time. She loved her father. She loved his quiet courage and his unruffled drive for achievement in all he turned his hand too. Kate’s mother Mary was a hard worker and always busy – maybe that’s what he valued in her.

As the stage coach drew closer, Kate squinted to see her father in the driver’s box.  It was hard to place his normally upright figure. She continued to try and focus and also noticed that the horses were running quite fast, almost unguided and were in a lather as the coach drew closer. Kate stood up, uncertain. She placed her hand across her eyebrows to shade them from the glare of the western sun in an attempt to get a clearer picture.  Then she saw it.  She could now clearly see her father slumped over in the driver’s bench above the stage coach and the horses frightened and driving themselves towards the house.  Kate snatched up her long skirts and started running towards the oncoming stagecoach screaming out at the top of her lungs as she ran “Mother! Nene! Bertie! Pearlie! Willy! Come quickly! It is Papa – something is wrong! HURRY!”

Kate ran as fast as her skirts and stays would allow till she reached the on-coming horses.  The horses slowed up when they recognised her and she snatched up the closest linked bridles and mustered all her strength to stay connected and try and bring them to a stop. “Whoa! Boys Whoooa” she called. The four horses responded to her voice, slowed some more and eventually stopped, confused and exhausted. Her mother and sisters appeared closely behind her and her mother leapt up into the driver’s bench and lent over the slumped body of her husband.  “What is it mother? What’s wrong?” called Kate.  “He’s fair burning up girls” their mother called down. “An evil fever – lawkes!” . Their mother turned and snatched up the reigns and drove deftly toward the house, the girls running on behind the carriage.

Their young brother William (Will) was nowhere to be found to help them carry their father down off the stage coach and bring him inside. Will would no doubt be behind the barn or down hiding in the river bank with his whisky no doubt. So between themselves all the girls managed to struggle their father off the stage coach and into the house by themselves. Kate ran back out to the stage coach and the horses to unhitch them, pull up water from the well for them, rub them down thoroughly with straw and then feed them. As she led the horses into the slab stables she noticed in passing that the stage coach was still full of mail and parcels yet to be delivered to the Gulgong post office.  She just wanted to be inside and seeing how her father was, but as Will was not around she naturally took responsibility of the horses and coach herself – it would draw less attention to Will once things had calmed down and her mother noticed his absence at a time that he was needed most. Kate was always covering for Will even in significant events like this.

Later that evening the Doctor emerged from their parents’ bedroom and looked around over the top of his spectacles at the girls and their mother who were waiting impatiently in the sitting room. “Pleurisy” he stated flatly “Both lungs infected. Very serious case ladies, very serious, hrumph, hmmm. I suggest you prepare for the worst”.  He shuffled and coughed a little. “I’ll speak to your mother alone now” and he waved his hands at the girls as a gesture for them to leave the room.  “No Sir.” Kate spoke up “We all need to hear it Sir” …and her blue eyes held steady at his glare. Kate was like that. She knew a crisis when she saw it and saw no point in beating around the bush and would call it like it was. Kate was always polite, but naturally took control.

After the doctor had left with the instructions that pleurisy would surely end their father’s life, Kate silently took action. The facts were that unless that royal mail contract was honoured they would all become penniless in a very short space of time. Whilst the others were crying, fussing and stunned, Kate on the other hand stood up, smoothed her skirt, lit the kerosene lamp, snatched her shawl off the peg at the back door and strode out to the stables without a word. 

Kate knew exactly what she needed to do.......

to be continued

Hopefully this story is still up to your expectations folks.

Mr HM  

Thursday, 4 May 2017

What The Calculations Are Telling Me

Plump hens a-baking. Nothing beats the taste of home-baked chicken.

Hi folks

Most of you know that we have moved house at least 26 times in about 25 years ..... actually it probably is more times than that but we have actually lost count to be truthful.  Most of these moves across the years were for deeply dubious reasons, however in the last couple of years the last two moves have been for very strategic reasons that have honoured the principles of sound budgeting, frugality and self reliance (or at least in part).

So recently, after finishing my two years project in Sydney I am now back in a local role with a different income that required me to completely rejig the budget.....such fun! (Actually it was a very satisfying task this time to be honest). Due to this, my mind has been resharpened to finding obvious waste in our lifestyle and budget.  Also, now that the HM daughters have finished school and are at their various universities, colleges and placement sites, our current suburb which originally was within a very short commute to the HM daughter's school and my Sydney-bound train station is now 100% irrelevant.

We live on the lower west side of Lake Macquarie yet now everything the family does is on the opposite side of the lake.  As much as I now hate moving house and crave to just 'stay-put' I think there may be some compelling reasons to move again.  I have made some conservative calculations on what our commute is costing us. In these following calculations I have been careful only to measure excess distances and times and not total distances and times to be truly conservative.

Hot hens resting before being carved up for dinner and hopefully
some left over for lunches tomorrow.

The Calculations

Daily we travel an unnecessary full hour by car per person as a minimum.
Daily we travel an unnecessary 72 kms (45 miles) as a minimum.
Weekly we travel a minimum of 500 unnecessary kms (311 miles).
Weekly we spend a minimum of 7 hours unnecessarily commuting per person.

Yearly that equates to:

  •   336 hours of unnecessary excessive travel time per person (that's over 2000 hours collectively as a family!)
  •    24000 km (1500 miles) of unnecessary excessive km 
  •    $3120.00 in petrol conservatively.
I have not calculated the wear and tear cost on the car doing an extra 24000 km yearly. I have also assumed us all only using one car to do this extra unnecessary travel - in actual fact it would be probably closed to 1.5 cars doing these kms.  I have not calculated the cost of 336 wasted hours per person (how do you calculate wasted pay rate or perhaps time robbed of available time at a personal level? Dunno.). I also have not calculated the cost of disconnection from the communities that we spend the best part of days in by living so far away from or daily activities.  I'm sure there are other costs both social, physical (sitting in a car) and psychological too, but I do not know how to measure these.

We'll miss our lovely deck
if we move.

The two huge down-sides if we were to move is that we leave the eldest HM daughter behind - that's pretty tough and also a very good family friend that lives in our current neighborhood too (good friends that are family-by-choice are rare as you know).  Less important down-sides are the possibilities of not being able to take the chickens with us and not living in a beautiful, peaceful, semi rural environment.

None of us are in the mood to move house (it is the elephant in the room at the moment) but cognitively know and often comment we probably should. Maybe we are overreacting.

Would you move based on this empirical evidence? Is it enough reason to make the move?

Take care folks and stay nice.

Mr HM (Phil)

Monday, 1 May 2017

Unused University Degrees

A mini pumpkin pie - warm and ready to eat with double cream

 Hi folks

I work with so many people who are not using or have never used their university degrees and working in totally unrelated fields - was is that?!

After some long contemplation about the 'whys and wherefores' of this phenomenon, the penny dropped. Consumerism.  Over the last ten years there seems to be a massive shift in education, its aims and curriculum. It is pretty easy to see it is now a huge money spinner.

Pumpkin biscuits

I am lucky enough that two of the HM daughters are finishing their nursing degrees which have a specific end result, yet the pathways the other three HM daughters have chosen at university may well become blurred and unclear if due diligence and career determination is not applied. An unused degree is a big waste of $30K plus when our children walk out of university (college) at 22 years of age.

Folk returning to university as matured-aged students usually have a more focused outcome but even then, I have highly qualified friends who earn less than me and struggle to find and keep satisfying careers. Go figure.

Just about everyone has the chance to go to university nowadays and many do, some jumping from course to course and racking up almighty education debts with no outcome at all.  I hear all too often "Oh, don't worry, we don't need to pay for it till we are earning $30k a year" (or whatever the figure is). Hello! It is still a debt that is legally payable, and whilst not charged interest, is certainly CPI adjusted year on year. I shudder at the thought of so many young folk having $30K plus debt before even being employed.

Baked quiche made from fresh eggs
from our hens.

Don't worry - I am a big advocate of being as well educated as we can or need to be, but I am not a big advocate of racking up a debt with some education provider based on scant pre-thought about the tangible return on our education investment dollar. I have heavily encouraged my five HM daughters to get degrees and forge careers for themselves so they can be self-reliant in this new and uncharted society that we all live in. However, I have insisted that they study something that they can use and build on in the future and are passionate about. Nevertheless, they will still need to play hard for a position in their chosen fields post graduation.  University is no longer a ticket to a better pay packet or a better life like it once was....from what I observe.

Pre-baked quiche base ready to pour the egg mixture
over the top and bake in the oven.

I look around and see trades people with better incomes and happier lives than many university educated folk.  I also see people who are courageous enough to put their hand up to take on the unlovely jobs within a corporation doing better than those sticking to their chosen disciplines.  There might be a lesson or two in that.

Pie anyone? Pumpkin pie and Autumn
go hand in hand.
(It is Autumn here in Australia)

I see many educational providers with profit as a huge driver of their institutions rather than the quality of their courses and development of their students. So many courses are offered when universities know there are simply no jobs at the end of these degrees - its is a marked shift in approach. Maybe it has always been like this and I am only noticing it now with five daughters currently in the 'system'.

Moussaka being layered up.....

I know there are many exceptions to what I have written today - but I am just saying what I see.  I guess I directy benefit from 80% of my staff being highly qualified and certainly over-qualified for what I employ them to do. My gain, their loss and disappointment. I could not imagine having a double degree in some discipline and having a job sitting answering phones in a call centre all day long....and yet that reality is rife.

Sweet potato - a new hero in our kitchen these days.

Lots to think about.......anyway -

Take care folks and stay nice


P.S. Oops...lots of food pictures again.

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