semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living


October 2015

Jumping off


I have discovered that this blog does at times clarify options, not only for me but for others too. Who would have thought?

Yes, my ramblings have played a part in a reader deciding to sell her house, and rid herself of the mortgage. Now this sounds great, except she had no concrete plans about what she would do once she had sold and certainly no idea where she would live. There was, therefore, the distinct possibility that she would end up homeless. Ironically, she didn’t view me as someone who had unduly influenced her in a time of weakness; rather this calm woman appeared quite appreciative that my half-baked ideas had provided her with the impetus to kick the inertia into touch and make the changes to her lifestyle that she wanted. I should say ‘start to make the changes to the lifestyle’ – doing away with the mortgage was just the beginning; this woman had other grand schemes percolating away!

Now anyone who is friendly with me knows that I am a cautious soul. There would be no way I would do something as radical as she has done, rather I’d have analysed the idea of selling to death. Should I or shouldn’t I? Where would I live? Could I afford to make the move?  What if it doesn’t work out?  And another gazillion questions of similar ilk that would require answering before I’d even contemplate lifting the receiver to arrange for the real estate agent to give an appraisal, let alone actually list the property.

My reader is a different beast from me. She has absolute faith that she is doing the right thing and it will work out just fine for her. Thank you.

Although I shudder at her stepping off the cliff approach to change, I do admire her. There is never a perfect time to make changes, and overanalysing the what-ifs can just stop it in its tracks. Jumping off into the unknown (in my case ALWAYS with a parachute) is sometimes the best, indeed, only way forward.

As for my reader, I  wish her the best of luck in finding that new house and lifestyle. In the meantime, I have offered to let her camp in my back yard for as long as she needs. I felt this was the least I could do in the circumstances.

Keeping perspective

Looking back towards cliff between Browns Bay and Waiake

OK, so I am the first to admit that I will never win any accolades or awards as a photographer, especially using a very cheap smart phone, however the walk to work was so spectacular with the tide in earlier this week, I just couldn’t resist taking a quick snap shot or two to share with you!

Looking out towards Rangitoto Island from Browns Bay Beach
Rangitoto Island from Browns Bay Beach

The day  was overcast, but the sea was flat calm, and if you squint your eyes and use your imagination, you can see two dots halfway to Rangitoto which are stand up paddle boarders making the most of the mill pond conditions.

Unsurprisingly, the combination of the walk and views does set me up for the day. How good is that?

Carpe Diem

Muriwai Beach
Muriwai Beach

Muriwai is a wild beach with stunning and dramatic scenery on Auckland’s west coast. This rugged area is a favourite spot for the outdoorsy types, be they surfers, swimmers, fishermen, land yachties, or trampers, to name but a few.

Muriwai Surf Club

Last weekend the man and I made a trip to this spot for a very different purpose. We were there to attend the wedding reception of our son and new daughter in law. The function was held at the local surf club, a spectacular structure situated just back from the beach. As befitting a joyous celebration, the sounds of  laughter and music filled the air late into the night.

A mere four weeks earlier, the noises that pierced the silence here were quite a different affair. Sadly, it was a cacophony of sirens, rotor blades and, no doubt, distressed and emotional people, which disturbed the quiet of the twilight back then.

You see Muriwai Beach, which is 60 kilometres long, is a designated road. On that Sunday afternoon, four young men from other parts of the world decided to make the most of the lovely weather and take a four wheel drive along the beach.

In conditions considered to be perfect for the outing, the vehicle rolled. Eye witnesses’ accounts said that the vehicle flipped multiple times, throwing all but one of the occupants out. Three of the men were reported to be deceased by the time the rescue teams arrived, and despite the best efforts of the emergency services, the fourth passed away at the scene shortly afterwards. The news that New Zealanders sat down to watch that night showed images of the surf club as this was the building the dead were airlifted to that fateful night.

As I walked through the expansive premises of this facility last week, I thought of the four young men whose day out having fun had ended so tragically for them. They were a similar age to our son. I also thought of their nearest and dearest. To them, Muriwai will always be remembered as the place where their beloved sons’ and brothers’ lives ended.  In contrast, the man and my memories’ of this beautiful west coast beach are ones of happiness.

It is neither appropriate or important for me to second guess why the accident occurred.  I hope, however, that despite the tragic ending, the families recognise and take solace in the fact that the young men were out there having fun and embracing life that day.

A death, particularly one that is unexpected, is always a salutary reminder that there are no guarantees in life. The only option we have is to make the most of each day we have on this earth and live our life to the full.

Carpe diem.

Cash positive

Mr_Dollar: a trip of nostalgia for those of us old enough to remember the introduction of Decimal currency in NZ

Blogging, I have found, can often drift into areas which in normal circumstances wouldn’t be aired publicly. Writing honestly brings with it some risks; there is often very little context and misconceptions could easily result.

I have a fear that I may have come across as being a worrywart, or horror of horrors, preoccupied with money.  By way of explanation, to achieve our dreams of reducing our working week, while ensuring the man and I enjoy a decent lifestyle, requires judicious planning, hence the need to get the monetary side in order.

Now this shouldn’t be too onerous for us – we’ve had years of practice in this field. This is due, in part, to the fact that neither boat builders or librarians would ever make the Rich List on their earnings!  Call it a personality failing if you will, but we do, therefore, prefer to live within our means. This means keeping debt to a minimum and ideally borrowing only for assets that appreciate in value. I would be lying if I said we have always done this – no, we have definitely made our fair share of fiscal errors in the past.

For example, we did have a credit card which we swiped when we ‘needed’ to. And yes, I know that using the facility to the best advantage means paying the balance off in full each month. This is great in principle, but despite the best of intentions, we often found it didn’t pan out that way and for various reasons, we’d not pay the outstanding amount off completely. With double figure interest charges, the bank was definitely the winner and we were the losers! Therefore, it was a no brainer to get rid of the facility and use a debit card instead. As an aside, the credit card companies take the cancelling of a visa card quite personally. Go figure!

I think one of the most important ways we have controlled our finances is to understand what sort of consumers we are and buy accordingly.  We are pretty conservative spenders and  purchase only what we need.  We do our best to ensure that our hard earned cash is spent on products that are well made – nothing galls us more than something lasting 5 minutes and falling to bits. A waste of money, not to mention resources!  My modus operandi is that even if I had a wardrobe full of shoes,  I’d only wear two or three of my favourites. It has taken me a while to recognise this foible and to adjust my purchasing to suit. And what about the man? Well, he has similar consumer habits as moi.

With plans afoot to semi-retire from paid employment within two years, we have used the website  to establish a budget for now and for then. This is nothing new – throughout our married life we have always managed our finances this way. The man and I do acknowledge, however, that the forecasting of expenses is more akin to crystal ball reading than science (I defy anyone to work out how much the dentist is going to cost each year!).  It does however raise awareness of how much is being spent and where, as well as identifying areas where we can rein in costs.

There was never any intention on our part to work less if it is going to be to the detriment of the retirement fund. Living in penury in our dotage has no appeal whatsoever. Our aspirations have always been for a comfortable lifestyle. Actually, I think I should elaborate here: working less has always being about working less for someone else. It is not about avoiding working per se, rather it is about allowing the man and I more time to explore other ideas and passions; some of which could potentially generate some money. In an Utopian world, we will make enough from our passions for them to become our income – in reality this may or may not come to pass!

The man is some way along this path already. He has his shed and is busy following his dreams. Having said this, life can throw curved balls and this is what has happened to him. He has been presented with a proposition. I hasten to add that this is of the business kind!  Some context is needed here: the man is the designer of a well regarded sea kayak, the Albatross. This boat was made in fibreglass and kevlar by our company, Deep Creek Kayaks. After an inquiry from an overseas retailer, a local kayak manufacturer has approached us regarding making the Albatross in plastic. There is also the idea that the man will continue to design for them.

Big decisions! If it works out like we think it might, it will definitely provide some of the income required for the reduced working week to kick in.  More thought is needed, but as I write, we think this is an opportunity we cannot walk away from.

Regardless of the upshot of this venture, the man and I will continue to cut our cloth to suit our means. This sits well with us and will help us achieve our aim of the shorter working week within our stated time frame. Twenty months to go!

Up Beat

Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s Coventry Blitz Civilian Memorial, London Road Cemetery, Coventry

Sometimes a week is a stellar one.

And this is exactly what the last seven days have been for the man and me. Here are the highlights:

My work days are beginning brilliantly;  I am walking to work via the clifftop path and down past the beach. Yes, the views are amazing, but there is the other big plus, it allows me time to just be. This enjoyable stroll (no speed records here) sets me up for the day.*

Being back at my home site has also confirmed for me that I made the right decision to return and not seek any further promotions. The job is an excellent fit for where I am in life and I enjoy it. I will therefore happily stay in it until I am in a position to reduce my working hours as planned.

The second thing that has happened is that I have discovered the whereabouts of my paternal great grandfather’s grave.

The cousins in Coventry,  England, contacted me after reading my posts about graveyards. They were looking for the final resting place of our great grandfather to no avail. Could I help? .

For those readers who don’t know, Coventry was a major player in the English engineering industry, making  among other things bicycles, motor cars, and aeroplane engines. During World War Two, its manufacturing base tooled up to produce machinery for war. These included being a big player in the making of parts for British war planes, and armoured cars. It was therefore a no brainer that the German Air Force included this city on its bombing schedule.*

Coventry Cathdral after bombing
Coventry Cathedral after bombing

Seventeen small raids took place here during the Battle of Britain (August and October 1940). However, it was on the night of 14/15 November 1940 that 449 Luftwaffe bombers executed the  biggest assault on the city. Understandably, my father, who was 11 years old at the time,  remembered it vividly.  Called Operation Moonlight Sonata, the bombs hit numerous factories, surrounding houses, and the 14th century Coventry Cathedral.  Approximately 568 people died that night, including the baby sister of a friend of my father’s who was lying in her pram when the air strike happened. In addition to the deaths, there were another 863 badly injured and 393 people who sustained lesser injuries ( )

Among the wounded was my 80 year old great grandfather, John George Downing. For five months he fought for his life in the No.1 Canadian General Hospital at Marston Green, near Birmingham; a battle he finally lost on 17 April 1941.

From the information available on Family Researcher, it appeared that his final resting place was in the Meriden Rural District. My cousins had, however, visited the St Laurence churchyard, the local cemetery there, but  could not find his grave. It was at this point they emailed me.

After four weeks of trying every avenue I could, including obtaining his death certificate, using the expertise of the family history librarian and trawling through databases, I resorted to using a process of elimination  i.e. writing to every likely cemetery authority I could find. This rather tedious process provided the answer: he was buried in the London Road Cemetery in Coventry. It is a fitting place for his final resting place as this was where the mass funerals took place in the days after the raid. It is also where the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Civilian Memorial is situated remembering those who perished in this air strike.

One of the mass funerals in days following November 1940 raids
One of the mass funerals in days following November 1940 raids

The cousins will visit the grave shortly and we will in August 2016, which is a nice segue into the next momentous thing that happened this week.

The man turns 60 next year. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, he wanted to go to Alaska. This week we purchased airline tickets to Canada and the UK. Details are a work in progress for this six week trip. The sojourn to England will include catching up with family, both dead and alive,  and friends (all breathing).

Now confession time: we have totally lost the plot regarding getting the yacht ready to sell. Weather has played a part in this, but the main reason it has taken a back seat is we have been busy doing other things including taking moulds off the Albatross, the man’s sea kayak design. This is for a collaborative business venture, but that is another story.

We are  also getting ready for a family wedding for which we both needed new shoes: the man has held true to our commitment to buy NZ made, and is now the proud owner of a pair of McKinlays. And as for me? Well, I spotted some shoes that met my brief. Two pairs only left, with one in my size. They will look corker on my feet at the wedding. It was meant to be.

Life is good. The man and I are making the most of it. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

*From next week, with changes in hours, I’ll walk home most evenings too.

***There was further bombing of the city in over the nights of 8/9 April 1941. This resulted in 451 dead and 700 seriously injured. The final bombing was  3 August 1942, in which 6 people perished.

Sensibly restrained

‘Bungalow: From heritage to contemporary.’ The tour we went on was led by Nicole Stock, editor of this book.

Last weekend the daughter and I went poking around four houses belonging to people we didn’t know. No, we weren’t visiting open homes looking for tragically overpriced Auckland real estate; it was, dare I say it, a more ‘cultured’ affair than that. Our slightly voyeuristic snooping was, in fact, a legitimate part of the Auckland Heritage Festival.

A delightful way to spend an afternoon, the houses we toured were 1920s or 30s bungalows which sported recent additions. These renovations managed to achieve the fine balance of incorporating the best of present day design, while preserving the integrity of the original dwelling.

Now I know this architectural style intimately: my maternal grandparents’ home was a bungalow built about 1923 for them at 40 Greenlane Road*. As a child, I have fond memories of visiting their residence most weekends and staying over during the school holidays. This was the 60s and the house still boasted the features unique to its pedigree: asymmetrical composition, shallow pitched gable roof with wide eaves, leadlights, central hallway with wooden panelling, bay windows complete with shingles, and deep porches.

It also had the original 40 year old or so kitchen complete with terrazzo bench, wooden cabinetry, and safe. The only things in this room which weren’t original were the gas stove which sat in an alcove where the coal range would have been when the dwelling was first built, and a 1948 MacDonald refrigerator**, complete with a small ice box. Everything was in superb condition.

In this kitchen, which today would be considered basic, my grandmother whipped up a storm producing meals for the multitudes, laying down preserves, and baking. All was of the highest quality. To this day, she remains one of the best cooks I have come across.

The houses the daughter and I visited last weekend all had replaced the original kitchen with a modern one positioned in the new addition. Interestingly, without exception, the new iteration was neither big or conspicuously flash; rather they were practical, almost understated affairs. This was the situation even in the home of the chef, albeit his knives were definitely of the serious, professional kind.

I am sure the food produced in these homes has not suffered for this restraint. After all, as my grandmother proved, a skilled cook can turn out wonderful fare in the most basic of kitchens.

This premise holds true, I think, for so much in life.

Note to self: Replace knackered stove with one that meets my needs. Do not be seduced by the four oven range that comes in an amazing array of colours that the consumer in me covets. It is simply not necessary!

* The house is still there. It looks the same from the front, but has been added to at the rear.
** The fridge became the beer fridge at the Auckland Harbour Board where my Dad worked. It was still going strong when he retired in 1989.

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