semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living


August 2015

Taking stock

The Man’s Shed

It is nudging on two months since the man and I decided that within two years, the way we lived our lives would be different: ergo less work, more balance.* At the time, we had some abstract ideas about what we thought the new life might contain, but nothing was set in concrete. So has anything happened or has it been a case of empty words? Actually, I should say has anything further happened, as a month ago I chatted about the decisions and changes to that point.** Anyway, I am pleased to report that yes, there has been more movement in the right direction.

The biggest thing to occur since beginning this exercise has been an increased awareness of what we want.  OK, I can hear you saying, what exactly does she mean by that? The answer is that by declaring via  the blogosphere that we wanted more balance, we now find that we are defaulting to choices that do fit in with this goal.

We are deliberately slowing down to enjoy the moment more. We are recognising what makes us happy. Some changes are so tiny, they could be considered irrelevant, but believe me, they do make a positive difference to feelings of wellbeing. For me, it is as simple as using a nice tablecloth and having flowers on the table. This was the stuff of special occasions in the past, but not anymore, it is for everyday now. The Danes with their concept of hygge would understand and approve, I think.***

The man and I are making better use of our leisure time. Bike riding is on the agenda again – nothing too big to date, but using the bikes nonetheless.**** The cars are being used less and less, instead we are choosing foot power for errands close to home. And we are walking the prettiest routes, not the quickest!   I am making time for my duolingo French lessons, which is bonne.

Pottering around in the garden is giving us a lot of pleasure. We are in the throes of planting vegetables and fruit trees to complement the beds and trees already there.There is something primal and therapeutic to be derived from growing flowers or food for your own table and others.

We are catching up with friends. I, in particular, had become quite a hermit outside of work and would see few people, bar family, at the weekend. I should say in my defence that my job entails working with people all day, so by the weekend I often relished time by myself. However, this was a huge indicator that my life was out of whack and I knew it. Friends are priceless…so pleased to be back in touch!

The decluttering process is continuing. I have sorted out the books – they had been in boxes since we moved in December last year.They have been divided into a ‘to keep’ pile and another to give away. So easy. Why did I procrastinate over it?

My secondment at work finishes at the end of September and I return to my home library. I have made a choice not to seek any promotions; one of which was the management role at this site. I now have a new boss who has been in libraries years less than I have! I am embarrassed to admit that the old, ambitious me was slightly put out by this turn of events – this was not what I anticipated happening.  Silly of me, right? However, I’ve put my adult hat on and firmly reminded myself that climbing off the hamster wheel is what I need to do to achieve my goal of a better work/life balance.***** So all is as it should be. Sweet.

The boat is on track to go on the market mid September**. This is a wee bit weather dependent as there is some painting to be done on the outside, so we are hoping that the rain gods will behave themselves in the next few weeks. Once sold, our goal of reducing hours in paid work is a go. Fingers crossed, it sells quickly.

In my first post*,  I mentioned that the man wanted a shed. I am pleased to report that this too has been achieved. If you remember, I said he had done work for Opus Libero ( In one of life’s serendipitous moments, the owner of this company rang the man with the news that there was a shed near him up for lease, the boat builder owner having decided to retire. If the man took it on, Opus Libero had work for him. Of course, it was a yes. The man is ecstatic: he has a shed, some bread and butter work and an opportunity to do other jobs for his own clients.

The last thing that has happened is that I am back on track with pursuing my passion. It has the potential to become my income, but, actually, I don’t care whether it does or doesn’t, it feeds my soul and that is enough.

Returning to work next week after a holiday will alter things again. It  has been easy to live a better work life balance when you don’t have to factor in a 40 hour working week.  Our break has confirmed how we want to live: less paid work, more life balance. We remain committed to achieving this lofty goal within a two year period. Two months in, we are on the way. How good is that?

* In ‘Direction rethink’

** In ‘Round up’

*** In ‘Simply present’

**** In ‘Balancing Act’

***** In ‘Work out’

Giving back

The Elms Mission House; originally called Te Papa

The man and I have been away on a short break to the Bay of Plenty. We have visited the place often. The man spent the first seven years of his life here and has the finely tuned instincts of a homing pigeon. Fortunately, I enjoy the area too.

This time round we stayed at Omokoroa, a laid back beach community, which is about 14 kilometres from downtown Tauranga.  Like all good holidays, the days were spent doing what we wanted, when we wanted. Perfect.

As part of this trip, the man and I decided to visit the The Elms in Tauranga. It was our first to this home and we were mightily impressed. Originally called Te Papa Mission House, it was built for the Church Missionary Society (CMS) over an eight year period.  On its completion in 1847, Archdeacon Alfred Nesbit Brown, his wife, Charlotte, and their two children, Alfred Grant and Marianne Celia, swapped years of living in a basic raupo dwelling for life in this substantial kauri residence, considered by many to be New Zealand’s finest late Georgian house.

In 1873 the Archdeacon and his second wife, Christina, purchased the home, various outbuildings and 17 acres from the CMS and renamed it  ‘The Elms’. Alfred predeceased his wife and on her death, the property bypassed the Archdeacon’s only living child, Marianne Celia*, being left instead to Christina’s nieces. Unusually, the house remained in this family until 1999, when it was sold to the Elms Foundation, a charitable trust.

On the day we visited, the grounds were stunning. Now considerably smaller than the original 17 acres, it is planted with old fashioned English flower beds, beautiful English trees and New Zealand natives in sympathy with the age of the house.

After wandering around the garden and looking through the windows of an assortment of outbuildings including the library, which is reputed to be the oldest in New Zealand, bake house, dairy, and a rebuilt chapel, we opted for a guided tour. The man and I consider this well spent money: a good guide we have found will add breadth and depth to a visitor’s experience far in excess of either the most comprehensive guide book or audio tour. In this case, the tour was on demand – yes, folks, the man and I had our own escort and she knew her history.

By using both pictorial records and expert input, the house is being faithfully restored to original by the trust. Unlike many historic homes, the furniture in situ belonged to the family – this is thanks, in part, to the cavernous cellar under the house, which although designed as a hideaway for the occupants in case of attack became a default storage facility for the family’s discarded chattels in later years.

dining room
The dining room at the Mission House where the officers came the night before the Gate Pa battle, some ate at this table and some others found a space around the room as it was crowded.

The room that brought the history of the place alive to the man and me was the dining room. Sporting a huge, sectional, mahogany table which had been brought out from England by the Archdeacon, this was the room where the English officers who were to engage in the Battle of Gate Pa the following day (29 April 1864) dined with Brown and his family. Christina played the piano, prayers were said, and, according to records, a jolly good night was had by all. By nightfall the following day, all the military men who had been present at the dinner had lost their lives in the conflict, bar one.**

The Mission graveyard is a short walk away from The Elms and buried between the graves of Brown, his family, and other civilians are the mortal remains of all the soldiers and sailors who died in the Battle of Gate Pa, and in the later skirmish at Te Ranga. This is also the final resting place for some of the Maori warriors who perished in the same conflicts. ***

Like all good tours, we left feeling that we had gained an understanding of life at that time in history and a need for further information. To this end, we drove to Gate Pa. One hundred and fifty odd years later, there is little evidence of a bloody encounter being fought here. Dotted along the concrete path, however, are storyboards of the battle. One board mentions that in the tree filled gully bordering the site the remains of fallen warriors killed that day lie in unmarked graves. A poignant reminder that a ‘to the death’ fight had taken place in this now tranquil park.

During the drive back to Omokoroa, the man and I discussed The Elms and Gate Pa. We had enjoyed dipping our toes into the history of the area. The guide had done a superb job: she had told the story of the house and the times. She had whetted our appetite for more information. She had also, unknowingly, provided us both with a kernel of an idea.

You see, in our reconstructed life, the man and I want to give back. I should say give back again – we have been involved with volunteering before, but we got too busy and forgot to factor it into our lives anymore.

The problem we were facing was we didn’t know where we wanted to put our energies. Volunteering in a historic home is, we think, the answer. I can see myself being a guide. The man fancies helping with maintenance. It is doable.

By giving back, we are contributing something worthwhile to society. For us, it is an important part of living a balanced lifestyle. It will go on the list.

*Marianne Celia Brown, known as Celia by family, married Rev Dr. John Kinder.


*** pssion-cemetery

Well grounded

For the next three weeks, I am on annual leave. I couldn’t be more pleased. I am not going to sit on my hands though. No, sirree, this girl has things to do and places to go; many of which are in the pursuit of the new work life balance regime.

The first thing happening is that I am spending time in the garden. Why do this when you are on holiday, you may ask?  The answer is it is part of the plan. The house we are living in is new to the man and me. We know it well, it was my mother’s home and is directly behind the house  we lived in for close to twenty years of our married life. In December we purchased it and after twelve years living in other places moved back to the area where we raised our children. We have a connection here. It’s nice.

The garden, however, needs work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice garden with flowers and well established trees, but we want to have fruit trees and vegetables too.  Our intention is to plant plums, apples, peaches, pears, lemons, passionfruit and saville oranges. We will put in a good sized vege patch too.

Now I know some of you will be thinking fruit and vegetables are inexpensive to buy, so why bother?  And you are completely correct; they are cheap. If you did a cost analysis, I suspect store bought may even be cheaper than home grown ones, especially when in season.

This is not a budgeting exercise however, rather quality of life is the driver here. Working in the garden, be it plunging hands into soil, watering seedlings or picking the ripened produce, is primal and therapeutic. There is no hurrying: nature is the boss and she sets the pace.

The time, labour, and patience involved is well worth it. The product is more often than not sensational: sink your teeth into a tomato from the garden and taste the freshness and flavour. It is a different beast altogether from its counterpart found in the supermarket aisle*

Plum jam and homegrown tomato via our little garden at our last house.

There is also the personal satisfaction element.  I derive immense pleasure from preserving produce I have grown or being gifted – no bought fare here. And, let’s be honest, there is nothing more rewarding than toiling over a hot stove in the height of summer making jam or chutney!*  I have done it often. The house we moved from had two magnificent plum trees. On hot days, I would be in the kitchen  happily whipping up plum jam, plum sauce and indeed plum anything I could think of to make use of the crop. The six or so jars that had taken two hours to make made for a feeling of satisfaction, even a wee bit of unbecoming smugness! The product is quite different from commercially produced preserves; it tastes nicer.

As a pastime, the growing and cooking of produce to share with family or friends at the table or as a gift is a caring, comforting pursuit. So, if it’s not cost effective – who cares? Some things can’t be measured by price. I am pretty sure that the Danes with their concept of hygge would approve.***

So these holidays, we have factored in a fruit tree buying expedition to Wairere Nursery . Meanwhile, most days I put my gumboots on and in a slow living kind of way saunter into the garden to get it ready.

*We don’t have a farmer’s market nearby. We are a great fan of these and think that although they are commercial, they are a great alternative to the supermarket.

**My favourite preserving book is “Ladies, A plate: Jams & Preserves” by Alexa Johnston

*** See post Simply Present

Deadly earnest

I have a thing about cemeteries: I like visiting them. I would hasten to add this is not because I have either a macabre fetish for the dead or an interest in connecting with the spirit world. I think it is probably wise for me to add a disclaimer here: I have never met a ghost.  Having said this, I have some very sensible friends who swear that they have had encounters with our dearly departed, so I am not totally dismissive of the idea either.

Anyway, back to the visiting graves bit. The reason I include them on my must do list, particularly when I visit a new place, is that the cemetery gives me a bit of information regarding the history of the area. For the granny hunters reading this, you will know exactly what I mean. A graveyard provides details about the families that lived in the locale.

I wasn’t always a cemetery fan. As a small child, I found anything to do with death disturbing. The first graveyard I have memories of visiting was with my parents while holidaying when  I was about 6 or 7. I think it was near Ngunguru. Situated on a headland, the headstones were scattered among large trees.  My recollection is that the graves dated back to the late 19th century and were predominantly those of European settlers. There was an over-representation of children who had succumbed to illnesses. There was also a lot of drowning victims, both children and adults. This is hardly surprising; losing your life in a water mishap, particularly rivers, was so common in this part of the world, it was referred to as the New Zealand death.*

In adulthood, I have no concerns about being among the dead, indeed I find it a peaceful experience.  Last Sunday I decided a trip to Purewa Cemetery was in order. For those of you who read my post ‘Grave Matters’, I mentioned that I had discovered my maternal grandmother’s ashes were interred in her parents’ grave and that I would visit. I convinced the man that a trip there was the best idea. He agreed. In addition to seeing where my grandmother’s mortal remains lay, I also wanted to see my great great granddad’s headstone which I had visited in the early nineties with my mother.

Through using the Purewa cemetery online search (, I had the location of my forebears’ earthly remains sorted.   Now Purewa is big, a lot bigger than I remembered, but as the weather looked settled and we weren’t in any particular hurry, we parked the car and headed off on foot. As my great great grandfather is buried in the A section, it was logical to start looking for his headstone first.

James Biddick's headstone, Purewa
James Biddick and his wife, Emily’s, headstone, Purewa (other family members’ graves on left and right of James and Emily’s)

Purewa provides signposts with maps at regular intervals. Within the actual graves, however, there are very few markings (we saw one) telling you which row is which.  Add to this the fact that the graves are a bit higgledy-piggledy and what should have been straightforward became difficult. Twice we had to return to the board to reposition ourselves with the ‘You are here’  and then set off again. The sun gave way to hail.  Eventually we located  the headstone of James and his wife, Emily. Unexpectedly, there were two other family headstones there. A nice bonus.

Emily Elizabeth Wilcox (my grandmother) ashes are interred here with her parents

The next headstone on the list   was my grandmother’s parents. Locating this was an absolute nightmare, taking over an hour to find. It rained steadily. Our shoes leaked (truly).  We persevered. The grave when we finally discovered it  was a simple plaque with my great grandparents’ names on it, but sadly  no mention of my grandmother. I think this  needs some thought.

This week we are driving to Tauranga. We will pass the Waihi cemetery where my mother’s paternal grandfather and coincidentally the man’s great grandfather are both buried. Needless to say, we will pop in to say hi.

  • * I received this reply to an email I sent re Ngunguru cemetery (often referred to as Cape Horn cemetery) this morning.  I am really grateful for the information provided, as well as the photos that Whangarei District Council sent through. I can see why I was very scared of this place when I was little!
  • Good Morning Heather. Thank you for your enquiry. Yes this Cemetery is all that you described in your email.It is on a hill with large pine trees and has a mixture of Maori, young children and drowned sailors, as well as people from the surrounding area.I have attached a few pictures for you to look at.Kind regards  Stephen Jenkins. WDC         Cemetery ngunguru
  •  cemetery ngunguru 2

Making connections

Waiake – the local beach

We are fortunate to live a five minutes stroll from a pretty beach. From this bay, clifftop paths run in either direction taking the walker to other beaches nestled along the coastline. Sometimes on a Sunday morning, we will take advantage of what is on our doorstep and follow breakfast with a coastal walk.

Clifftop walkway looking south towards Browns Bay

Last weekend we did just that, turning south at the beach onto the track that would take us over to the next bay. The journey takes about twenty minutes and as you wend your way down the path, you are treated to spectacular views along the coastline and out to sea. In summer, the pohutukawas clinging to the cliff are ablaze with their crimson flowers, making the walk even more special.

Our little bit of France in Browns Bay (taken in winter)
Our little bit of France in Browns Bay (taken in winter)

In the bay, the man and I visited the supermarket before heading to the library to get our week’s reading. Our last stop before beginning the stroll back home was a café.

One of three we frequent, our choice that day was La Tropezienne. Owned by French baker, Louis Bouquet, it is a little slice of France in Browns Bay with its tarts, strong coffee and music. I love it.

A few years ago, I went to France with my sister in law and daughter. Here, we visited cafés with the same tartes, un café and musique that are found at Monsieur Bouquet’s.  The only difference was the language conversed in: French. Spoken fast.

The daughter’s school girl French did us proud;  she would start by explaining that we were from New Zealand, before launching into the conversation. This would inevitably result in a smile. Kiwis are well thought of in this part of the world and a Kiwi speaking a little French even more so.

It was in a café  that a Frenchman struck up a conversation with us. It transpired that he had been part of the French rugby tour to New Zealand in 1979.  The only test the man and I have been to was the Auckland one of that tour. Through my translator, I told the Frenchman I had been on the terraces at the Eden Park game. He was delighted. A stilted conversation followed. Conducted in both French and English, supplemented by a wee bit of gesticulating and some laughter when words failed us, we ‘discussed’ the game.

I have a confession –  I had no recollection of the play at all.  I did however remember the bonhomie and good humour of the crowd that day; the atmosphere was simply magic. The French beat the All Blacks 24/19, the first time they had done so on New Zealand soil (thank you, Google). It was a fitting win for our visitors: it was Bastille Day.

Twenty eight years after that game, a French rugby player and a Kiwi spectator shared a bottle of wine in a small café on a back street in Paris.

Last Sunday, the man and I came across our neighbours sitting in the sun at our bit of France in the bay. We joined them for coffee and then slowly walked home together chatting.

Simply present

A friend of mine, L, lives by herself. Every evening she sets the table for dinner and pours herself a small drink to accompany the meal. She completes the sense of occasion by lighting the candle on the table. Needless to say, regardless of whether it is a ‘proper’ dinner or simply a last minute effort of cheese on toast, the food and drink is consumed slowly.

Why go to all this effort, you may well be asking yourself?  My friend would reply that she gets enjoyment from it. Maybe she would offer more in explanation and say doing this ensures a time for her to just be.

While at work the other day, the book ‘Overwhelmed: work, love and play when no one has the time’* caught my eye. The title piqued my interest and as the cover was cool – believe me, this matters – I took it home to look at. Written by Brigid Schulte, a Washington Post journalist, this tome is a serious read which covers the topics of work life balance, especially the rise in the number of hours taken up by work and the impact this has had on leisure time over the years.  Although its focus is mainly on parents with dependent children, an area which no longer applies to me, I read it from start to finish.

While researching the book, Brigid went to Denmark; a country where mothers and fathers enjoy one of the largest amount of leisure time in the industrialized world. The Danes are also the happiest people on the planet according to a number of international surveys.** I will let you form your own thoughts about whether this is purely coincidental or if there is, in fact,  a correlation between the two.

It was during the author’s time in Denmark that she came across the Danish concept ‘hygge’ (pronounced hue-gah)

Although there is not a direct translation of the word ‘hygge’ in English, it loosely means coziness and is in simple terms, a feeling or mood that comes from taking pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary: it is flowers on the table or using the best china for an ordinary dinner.   It is the art of being present and enjoying the moment.***

Reading about hygge brought my friend, L, to mind. Through very little effort, she has made what is often a mundane meal into an occasion every night.

The ordinary can with ease become extraordinary. It is a way of living, I think, worth adopting.


** ‘Overwhelmed: work, love and play when no one has the time’ by Brigid Schulte

*** Happy Danes blog – Sharmi Albrechtsen

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