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skiddingtowardsretirement

semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

New Life – Family ties.

One of the things that appealed to the man and me about moving to Whangarei was its proximity to our family in Auckland.*

We wanted to be close enough to visit them and them to visit us. Easily.

So how has it worked out? The answer is exactly as we envisaged. The trip there and back can be completed comfortably in a day.

Having said this, we do tend to make it an overnight excursion. We have a lot to talk about when we meet! And we have got a wee granddaughter to keep close.

Family is important

Which brings me to the topic of family past.

We had a family mystery.  Sharing my great- grandparents’, Annie (d. Sep 1941) and John Downing’s (d. April 1941) grave in London Road Cemetery, Coventry, were three other people.**

Two of these people were buried on the same day in 1952: a male, Percy, and a female, Dorothy. They didn’t share the surname of my great-grandparents, or of each other. The third person was a female, another Annie, buried 1969, and she shared the same surname as Percy.

Logically, there must be a connection. And, logically, the two who were buried on the same day probably died on the same day, you’d think?

Well, this is the premise I worked on.

Close to a year ago, I tried to solve it. I  spent an inordinate amount of time going round and round in circles searching the online databases so beloved of family historians. I also tried to find the Coventry newspapers covering the relevant dates, but to no avail.

I gave up.

Last month I decided to give it another go. Within ten minutes of beginning my search, I had found the digitised  copies of the Coventry Evening Telegraph covering the dates I needed, and the death notice of Percy and Dorothy.

And just like that, the mystery started unravelling.

Percy and Dorothy did not die on the same day. They died a day apart, and, their deaths were not connected. At all. Percy’s death was after a long illness. Dorothy died suddenly.

Dorothy was Percy’s sister-in-law.

Percy’s wife, Annie, turned out to be the third female in the grave.

And Dorothy and Annie (junior) were sisters

Their mother, was my great-grandmother, Annie Downing, nee Jones.

Their father, was my great-grandfather, John  Downing.

Dorothy and Annie (junior) were, therefore, my  great-aunts, and Percy, my great-uncle, through marriage.

Of course, I have never met any of these people. They all died, barring Annie, years before I was even born.

So does it even matter?

I think so.

After all, they are family, and, as such, are very much part of who I am.

*Being close to our Auckland friends was important too.

**Up Beat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Life – Growing pains

 

It is Easter weekend and we are almost a month into the Southern Hemisphere’s autumn.

The summer crops in the vegetable garden are almost at an end. A week or two ago, I pulled the tomatoes and courgette plants out. I left the cucumber, chillis and capsicum in as they are still producing, but the end is in sight for them too. Not so with the spinach and rhubarb which are continuing to thrive.

All these crops were a success. The garlic and the corn too. The failures were the lettuce which I never have any luck with, and the beetroot which produced wizened up things the size of a fingernail.

And the chillis. Yes, they were prolific but they were also far too hot for our palates.  I ended up giving most of them to my daughter in law who is a hot chilli fan, and making the rest into sweet chilli sauce, hoping that the other ingredients would ameliorate the fiery experience!

Regardless, most of our meals now have our produce in it. The other major thing that has happened is that we have changed from meat and three veg to at least half our evening meals being meatless. This was not a conscious choice, it just happened and we are both enjoying it.* Go figure?

Quite a lot of the produce we grew I ended up preserving. With the cucumber I made a couple of jars of bread and butter pickles and the next couple, I will use in a mustard pickle recipe I make. Both these pickles go well with cheese, of which I am a great fan.

I also made some tomato sauce. For one lot, I used the recipe of my grandmother’s which incorporated apples and onions. The other recipe I used was essentially an unadulterated tomato sauce recipe I found in a booklet put out by the NZ Gardener magazine.

So what changes have I in mind for next summer? Firstly,  I need to increase the size of my garden, realistically I  probably will  triple  its dimensions (presently 5 metres x 3.5 metres). I see this as being three beds, but maybe it will be four (gardening is addictive).  I want one bed to be for potatoes, another for onions and garlic. I will plant more tomato plants  than I did this year – this year I had 8 heirloom varieties.  I intend to use most of the crop next year for tomato sauces and pasta sauces. I also have promised myself I will be way more on to it dealing with the laterals. My plants weren’t pretty!

Next year the variety of chilli I plant will be less potent. My peppers will be the sweeter red variety, as opposed to this year’s green variety. My two courgette plants worked out well, as did the perpetual spinach and rhubarb so I will stick with these. I will plant more corn. I will persevere with beetroot and lettuce and I will win (maybe). I will also plant pumpkin and rock melon. Maybe the garden needs to be five times its present size?

Meanwhile I am planting my winter crops. I have planted broccoli, cauliflower, and more spinach plants. I am also trying leek and carrots sown into the garden straight from seed.  Hopefully, this won’t end badly. Fingers crossed!

The self-sufficiency goal continues with the introduction of a worm farm and compost system. It took a while for me to sort out how to approach this, but a conversation with my friendly garden guru at Mitre 10 put me on the right track.  Two weeks ago, I purchased all the components for a worm farm and a plastic compost bin too. Most of my vegetable scraps, egg shells and even the inner of toilet rolls go into the worm farm. It is amazing what it takes and if I am in doubt, I resort to Mr Google.

The compost bin which has chicken wire underneath to stop rodents taking up residence is where the garden waste such as tree clippings goes. Rubbish going into the council bag is now significantly reduced (maybe two bread bags full a week?)

I know I haven’t discussed our fruit trees .. .next time! Ooh, and I have discovered we have an avocado tree, a  large, slightly butchered avocado tree, but there is hope apparently, although I may have to buy it a mate!

The fun continues.

*We do buy vegetables in, of course.

** Alexa Johnson’s ‘Ladies a plate: Jams and preserves’  The sweet chilli sauce, Mrs Paykel’s mustard pickle and the Bread and Butter Pickle recipes came from this book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Life – Family Traditions

Mahurangi Regatta – a harbour full of boats, many of which are traditional and a day of old fashioned picnic fun with three legged races, sand castle contests, sack races, swimming races and …. for young and old

The Saturday of Anniversary Weekend means only one thing to the man and me – come hell or high water, the day will be spent at the Mahurangi Regatta.

And it’s been this way since our kids were littlies. It’s a family tradition, you see.

In the early days, more often than not, the two grandmothers would join us. Sadly, the years have passed and both Hilda and Dorothy are no longer with us.

But our family picnic group has not diminished in size, it has grown. Firstly, each of our three children introduced a partner to the mix; one brought with them our delightful step-grandson. Then, last year, our daughter and son in law introduced their three month old daughter to the tradition. This year our granddaughter was joined by her seven month old cousin. Our  picnic group now stands at 11, with, no doubt, a few more additions still to come.

The thing that the man and I find most gratifying about all this is that the children choose to come. They have continued the family tradition with no prompting from us. We, therefore, think it is here to stay.

Having said this, change is inevitable. Always.

The man is coming to terms with this at the moment. Let me explain. For those who don’t know, the man is a mad keen sea kayaker and has been since he discovered the sport as a 30 or so year old lad in the early nineties.

At the same time he discovered kayaking was the sport for him, he also found out that he was very competitive.  Go figure? Yes, the Stone family travelled up and down NZ so the man could take part in many a kayak race. And by the medals clanging around in his drawer, he was pretty successful – not in the league of MacDonald and Ferg*, of course, but successful all the same.

Now each year since about 1993 the man has taken part in the Mahurangi Regatta kayak race.  Most years the man has taken out first place. Except in 2015 and 2016, he didn’t. Those years he had to settle for second.

In 2018 this changed again. Yesterday he came third.  A close third, but third nonetheless.

So yes, third’s not bad. Except there were only three competitors.

The man, to put it mildly, was far from thrilled. I view it differently though: he should be pleased.  You see, the reality is my almost 62 year old partner can paddle way longer and faster than most of the general population.

So instead of him feeling disappointed with himself for being beaten by some younger bucks, which they were,  I have convinced him to continue competing.

Grant’s cedar Albatross sea kayak. This was designed and built by him. For those who don’t know we manufactured these in kevlar and fibreglass.

Why?  Well, the old bugger loves it. And hey, there is something to be said about not giving up, not to mention being the oldest competitor taking part each year.

So I have no doubt that as long as he is able to crawl into his lovely kayak, he will continue racing at the Mahurangi Regatta.

And  as long as he is racing, the kids, their kids and I will be standing there cheering him on!

*Ian and Paul paddled Olympic class kayaks in the K1s, K2s and K4s competitions – sea kayaks are quite different!

New Life – New Year

New Year’s resolutions.

I admit I have occasionally given these a whirl. You know, stuff like I am going to adopt a junk-free life style.

The lifespan of my resolutions is about a week. Or until the first piece of chocolate is offered to me. Whichever is sooner.

So this New Year’s Eve, I didn’t even indulge in the charade.

Yeah, nah, I don’t need NY resolutions conjured up while slightly tipsy on cheap plonk to feel in control. Ditto: the man. Yes, 2018 is going to be a great year for us.

So what is it that will make 2018 a stellar year?

2017 may have been the year of change, but 2018 will definitely be the year of consolidation.

First and foremost is that we go into the new year incredibly happy and content with all aspects of our lives.

A great foundation to begin with, we think.

We won’t stand still though. We do have plans.

The man and I will continue to develop our property in our slow way.  There is no rush, we will focus on the journey.

The man intends to get a jobette. In part, this is for the social aspect. Working by yourself is isolating. And even more so when living in a new community. Of course, we would be lying if we said the money wasn’t welcome either, but it is very much a secondary consideration.

For me, 2017 saw me land a job in a new field and finally shut the door on a career that I had wanted to walk away from 10 years ago. Except I didn’t have the balls.

This career move has paid dividends. I now wake up every  morning looking forward to going to work, to being challenged, and learning something new.  And it gets even better, my bosses have plans for me. Career development. To this end, they have offered me the opportunity to upskill and study in 2018. This old girl said yes.

Travel plans this year are dedicated to catching up with friends and family. We intend to (finally) fit in a trip to Christchurch and Wanaka to see friends. Another trip to Melbourne to visit a sister is on the cards too, with, maybe, a bit of a side excursion thrown in. And the lovely Hawkes Bay also beckons. Like always, the main constraint to these plans will be time!

No doubt, like every year, things won’t necessarily pan out exactly as planned. There will be obstacles. We are, however, starting from a grand position.

2018. Bring it on!

New Life – Harvest time

vege garden

Today it is exactly a calendar year since we moved into our new-to- us home in Pataua South, Whangarei.

This means we have experienced four seasons. As a general comment, we think Whangarei is a good 2 degrees hotter than Auckland.  We are also now very attuned to rainfall, or lack of it, as we rely on tank water (again). Strangely, living out on the Heads  seems to mean  the Rain Gods often give us a miss. It will be bucketing down at work, but often when I get home I will find that not one drop has fallen out here.

Needless to say, it is always when we need it the most too. Like in the height of summer when the vege garden could do with a good drenching. Or the time when the man inadvertently filled the troughs but forgot to turn the tap off. In the latter case, Murphy’s Law came into play and the ballcock failed us too.  Yes, it was good bye to more litres of precious water than we care to admit!

But let’s swing back to the state of the vege garden. I am pleased to report that it is doing well, or most things are. We did lose the last lot of lettuce I planted to the slugs. And it was touch and go with the corn and the tomatoes  when a ferocious wind came through about 10 or so days ago and flattened them. Luckily, the corn and tomatoes were able to be saved and are flourishing again!

The crops that are doing well beside the corn and the tomatoes are the garlic, the capsicums, courgettes, lettuce, rhubarb and chillis. These are all down one end of the

scare crow

garden.

The other end has the beetroot, beans, cucumber, and spinach.  These are growing, but unlike the other veges, are not thriving.  The soil here seems to not be as friable, so I figure I need do some research to correct this – maybe add some compost to it or other magic potions? Not sure, but I guess I’ll figure it out.

Which brings me to compost. At the moment I haven’t got a bin. I was slightly put off the idea of compost when a friend told me she had opened hers and found herself eyeball to eyeball with a humongous rat. The pits, right?

However, I have moved past my fear and decided I do want one. In fact, I need one to be Ms Efficient Gardener, so I am going to get one! Actually I am going to twist the man’s arm and get him to make me a wooden affair with three bins in it.  This is going to be one of his summer projects, as is starting on the hens’ accommodation and enclosure.

As for the orchard – well, I pruned in my haphazard learner’s way and started a spray programme a few months back. Yes, this woman had high hopes for bumper crops of plums, apples, nectarines, and peaches.

To date only the plums are ripe. And in spite of having two and a half trees (a past owner cut one tree down which I am now letting regenerate), we have had a miserly crop. I did have concerns that any possum within cooee would have taken up residence in the orchard and feasted on our produce, but there is absolutely no evidence that they are the culprit. No, the sad fact is that our trees have not yielded much at all. So little that I very much doubt that there will be any plum jam made this year.

The apples are another sad story. Last year, the trees were full of codling moth (note Dear Reader, I was going to put an expletive in front of the word ‘codling’ but refrained). This year I was determined to deal to the blighters. I purchased sticky things to pop in a state-of-the-art plastic green thing that a former owner had positioned in one of the apple trees. This sticky pad attracts and traps the male. Once the males start arriving, this then signals to me that I need to swing into action to dissuade the females  from moving into the apple crop. I also sprayed around the two apple trees with Neem oil as this apparently deals to the female before they start to wreck havoc with the fruit.

All well and good right? Well, yes and no. The plan failed miserably because the former owner had the green plastic thing hanging in the wrong tree. They had it on a plum tree, not an apple tree. I therefore had sprayed Neem oil around the base of the wrong tree. By the time I realised my error, the wretched female codling moth had started her quest to damage my fruit.

Of course, I have done some remedial work to try and save some of the produce, but realistically it is touch and go. Next year though, I will win the codling moth war.

I am now pinning all my hopes on the peach and nectarine trees delivering!

Meanwhile in the land of pretend farmers, we are getting ready to say sayonara to two of the lambs. Kayel turned up yesterday and said it was time.  Not so long ago, I struggled with this concept. Now? Well, not so much.

The man and I have grown here. Definitely.

 

 

 

New Life – Merry Christmas

christmas tree

This is the first Christmas in our new house.

Pinned to our door is a Christmas Wreath.

We have  two Christmas cards sitting on our dining table besides a figure of an angel, a home made Christmas cake sitting waiting to be iced and eaten (the recipe is from Alexa Johnston’s Ladies, a plate),  and a Christmas tree we cut from our land. It is not a beautiful Christmas tree, but perfection is over-rated, right?

Our decorations on the tree are interesting, to say the least. Many would say they are non-traditional. I prefer the term ‘eclectic mix.’ It sounds more upmarket.

We have an assortment of Tudor kings and Queens  –  all with their heads, even though many ended their lives without them.  We bought them in the UK when we visited two of our children and other family there.

I have a decoration which is a plaster Bloomingdale shopping bag. Our daughter sent it to her grandmother, my mother, one Christmas when she (the daughter) was domiciled in New York. The decoration lives on, even though my mother has passed.

Our tree has a small Fimo fisherman in a yellow sou-wester hat and matching raincoat and gumboots. He came from a small shop in Charlotte Town, PEI (Prince Edward Island), Canada, and was hand made by a local. We bought three of these. Two are now sitting on friends’ trees.

Years ago we saw a community post that someone wanted a bird bath. We had one so gifted it to the cause. The recipients gave us a pohutukawa decoration to thank us. We hang it on a branch every year.

We have lights on our tree too. These flash on and off.  If you can get past the slightly tacky strip-joint look about them, they are pretty. Especially after a wine or two.

Ditto: the tinsel.

At the top of the tree we have an Angel.  There are no personal memories here. We bought her simply because it’s Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Life – Eternally Grateful

As it is coming up to a year since we moved from Auckland, I thought it was the right time to  say a thank you to all the people who have made the last year one of the best years ever for the man and me.

In no particular order, here we go!

Thanks to our friends and family for understanding why we wanted to make the move  and encouraging us (mostly) to follow our dreams.

Thank you to these same friends for being solid and keeping in touch with us, even though we were at least two hours away from the nearest ones of you!

Thank you also to those friends who have made the trip up to see us. We have enjoyed seeing you and sharing our new life with you. Please continue to visit. And to the others who haven’t made it yet, there is always a bed!

The same goes for family..  thank you for letting us leave, and for keeping us close, even though we were a bit further away.

Thank you to our new neighbours for putting out the hand of friendship and making the move here way easier than it might have been. We will always be grateful to Marie and John for the early morning visit the day after we moved to welcome us to the neighbourhood, Angela for popping in with a cake and an invite to her weekly patchwork group, Kevin from next door for calling in to introduce himself, and Brian for inviting us to dinner to meet his family.

Forming connections within this close knit community was made so much easier by these kind people.

Thank you to our tame farm manager, Kayel for helping whip the land into shape by making hay and then putting sheep on it. We will always be grateful for  your (ongoing) patience and tender handling of us townies.  Yes, we know you don’t normally pick up a stillborn lamb and place her/him in a special box, but you did so for us. We also know that home kill means on the property,  but this would be far too much for us, so you made sure the deed was done somewhere else. You will be pleased to know that I no longer feel squeamish about eating the animals on our land – I figure they had a good life with us and it would be a crime for omnivorous me not to eat their meat. After all, they made the ultimate sacrifice.

There is one proviso though, Kayel –  Wendy the lamb whom you hand raised and is now causing mayhem on our property by being the biggest escape artist out  will live a long and good life here.  Why? Because she views herself as more human than sheep and answers to her name so, no, there will be no freezer in her future.

Thank you to Clements Contractors for giving me the opportunity to try something new in the employment field. I love every day here, and yes, although my pay is considerably less,  my job satisfaction is off the scale.

So what do I like about my new place? Besides loving the challenge of learning a new job, I love the diverseness of the people I work with, their unfailing humour,  realness (yes, you know when they have had a bad day.. they take no prisoners),  kindness, and approach to life.  Lastly, I also must mention the owners, Sandra and Murray.  The  caring culture they have created here is amazing, and I feel so very lucky to be part of this. Total respect, guys!

I would like to thank the person who built the house we live in and the people who planted the garden.  The house is so easy to live in and does everything it should sun wise. And we love having a fire again for winter.

As for the garden, whoever planted it did the most awesome job. Colour galore – as one lot of flowers fade, another lot come into bloom. All through the year. Spectacular.

The same for the fruit trees, as the last of our mandarins are on the tree, the earliest summer fruits are ready to pick. Plums, apples, peaches, nectarines and apricots – yum! When we say goodbye to these, it will be feijoas and guavas. Not to forget the olives and macadamias! And then the cycle will begin again.

Lastly a big thank you to our Auckland friends, Raewyn and Garry who moved up here first and convinced us on a visit to theirs that it was a pretty good place for us to move to. You were 100 % right. We feel totally at home here and can’t imagine ever leaving.

Change is never easy and it certainly pushed us out of our comfort zone. It was, however, the best thing we have done. It has opened our eyes to a new way of living, and energized us.

Not to put too fine a point on it, we think it has been the making of us!

We are happy and content and the only regret we have is that we didn’t do it sooner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Life – Change master

It’s been three weeks since I rejoined the work force. For two weeks of this, I was running tandem jobs i.e.  electoral returning officer for the Advance voting part of the election and my new role as Health and Safety Administrator. This means I have had three pay days to date since becoming a working girl again.  I have another full pay due this Wednesday coming too.  How does it feel? Well, simply fantastic – there will be no more dipping into capital to survive!

Moving without a job was the downside of the change process for me. I did have thoughts of working for myself and explored many business ideas, but the fact is  working for myself is not what I want. There, I’ve said it!

Yes, this girl likes working for someone else. I like the structure of it. I like the regular pay packet. I also like the social aspect. I didn’t want to return to working full time however – it would compromise the lifestyle I was aiming for too much. I, therefore, am happy to be working three to four days per week 9-5, with the occasional early start and later finish (note the change from my last post where my day was going to be 7.30-5… there’s been a rethink on the part of the boss… phew!)

So what is the man up to. He is working for himself and is happiest that way. A creative soul, he is just about to launch some lovely outdoor furniture with a retro twist to it.

Successful change means recognizing what you want, but it also means recognizing who you are and then shaping the change to fit those parameters. For me, it is not working for myself; for the man, it is.

Which brings me to another story. My Dad changed his life entirely. Born in 1929 in Coventry, he was the third son of Lilian, nee Timbs, and John Downing.

Unlike his two older brothers, he was too young to serve in World War Two. He did, however, join up in 1947 and head to Germany where he served in the occupational forces. After leaving the army, he became a merchant seaman.

At some point, he decided that he would make New Zealand his home. He subsequently failed to get back on his ship when it was due to leave Auckland.

He lived the rest of his days in New Zealand, visiting England only twice.

When my last remaining English uncle died, my cousin told me they had photos that Dad had sent his family of life in New Zealand and they would return them to me.

The photos duly arrived and I looked through them.

Dad had missed his vocation – he should have worked for the NZ Tourism Board. The photos portrayed his adopted country in the best possible light. They also portrayed the family in the best possible light. The classic one being of my mother in shorts and running shoes. On the back, Dad had written: Dorothy going for a run. My sister and I can tell you categorically that my mother NEVER EVER went for a run!

I never really understood why my father left his loving family to move to the other side of the world until I spent time in England.

My dad was a Depression baby of working class parents. As an 11 year old child he was in Coventry when the Germans bombed the hell of it. It destroyed his city. It also killed his grandfather and, possibly, grandmother too*. Hardly surprising, Smith Street where they lived had an ordnance factory in it.

Yes, I am picking that his childhood would have been hard. It also would have shaped him. Going on the ships around the world would have opened his eyes to the possibilities of a better life for him, so he jumped ship.

So was leaving his family at the other side of world the right thing for him? As he got older, he missed his English family more and more. He also loved England: its countryside and its history. So yes, he definitely had some regrets. I do think, however, that the life he lived here was unobtainable for him there and he knew that.

Change. It’s never perfect – there is always a price to pay.

 

 

New Life – new reality

Yesterday morning at 6.45 am, I jumped in my car to head to work. The journey to town is normally light traffic; at this time of the morning, it is even more so.  Most people are either asleep or have a later start to their morning, I guess.

But not everyone. As I turned from Addison Road into Pataua South Road, I could see a milking shed all lit up. If I thought a 7.30 am start was early, the cow cockies working there would have been grafting away for a good three hours longer than me!

Regardless, 7.30 am is not a start time I am used to, but it is now my new reality. Or it will be until 1st October. This is when the summer season comes into play and my hours will stretch out even more. Yes, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 7.00 am – 5.00 pm will be my normal working day. On Monday, it is even longer as there is a tool box meeting* after work. It was Monday yesterday. I got in my car to go home at 5.40 pm.

clements quarry.jpg

Am I worried about these hours? No, not at all. I have Tuesday off. And, unlike the rest of the office staff, there is no expectation that I work a regular Saturday morning shift in the weighbridge either.

So how am I finding it? The answer is great.

It might be early days, but I like the culture. I like the eclectic mix of quarry workers, truck drivers, mechanics, project managers, and office personnel. I also like the caring element of this firm – it feels like a family.

Its core values, which impressed me when I was interviewed for the job i.e. Safe -everybody home safe everyday; Trust – do what is right; Respect – treat it as your own; Accountable – stand up and own it; Friendly – great to deal with, and, the priceless, Clever – don’t do dumb shit, are not just written on paper, they are embraced.

I lay the responsibility for this firmly on the lovely owners. They walk the talk.

So in spite of the long days, safety clothing that falls short of elegant fashion, and the port-a-loo facilities masquerading as office toilets, this woman knows she has landed a great job with a great firm.

I have, therefore, cancelled the job alerts on TradeMe and Seek. I am here for the long-haul!

*Toolbox meetings are just another name for a staff meeting.

 

 

 

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