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skiddingtowardsretirement

semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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New Life – shaping up

There is a saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I can certainly relate to this!

When we arrived on this property the paddocks were covered in carrot weed and the gardens around the house needed some work.

Six months in and we have made some great headway – often with the help of people who know far more than we do! Yes, Kayel, our tame farm manager, did an awesome job with his hay making and his sheep to bring the paddocks back to something respectable. He actually increased the number of sheep on the property while we were away by another two to nine*. This has made a huge difference to getting the paddocks under control.

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We still have a couple of patches that need work – one where the old piggery was requires some fencing repairs before we let the sheep lose to eat it back into shape – we have learned the hard way that sheep leave Houdini in the shadows when it comes to escaping!

The second bit that needs some final work is the front paddock which was used to grow bulbs by a former owner. This requires some irrigation and a gravel base to be removed before some re-grassing can take place.

There is also a dam in this same paddock which needs a bit of TLC in the way of some bamboo removed  (who in their right mind ever plants bamboo?), and the dam cleaned out. When we arrived there was a bent and broken windmill beside this waterway. We had it taken away, but the man and I fancy getting a new one to pump the water up to one of the tanks we have.  Eventually. These things cost money and although nice to have, it is not a priority at the moment.

Meanwhile we are continuing to put the  gardens in. Today I planted parsley, thyme, mint, marjoram, chives and sage beside the rosemary I put in last week. I have located this in a sunny spot a few steps away from the kitchen. Nothing like convenience!

I also have started dealing to the overgrown garden where the son found the potatoes growing. This is a mass of horrible weeds so it will take me a while to whip this into shape.

The marmalade making is continuing at pace. This week’s batch contained more lemons than the last lot and I made it less chunky by cutting the pieces a lot smaller. It set a treat – maybe it was the smallness of the pieces or perhaps it was the obligatory whiskey I threw in? Regardless, I have the mystique of marmalade making totally sorted now!

I also cleaned my stove.

No, don’t roll your eyes!

I have always been interested in using other ways to clean than the normal commercial products. I have found oven cleaners and their caustic chemicals get into the back of my throat and are unpleasant, so I decided to give a baking soda and vinegar recipe a shot.

Mr Google provided several such recipes – many of which used hydrogen peroxide too.  I decided I wanted to avoid the hydrogen peroxide so found a recipe that used only a paste of baking soda and water, a bit of elbow grease and a final clean with vinegar. It worked a treat. Goodbye store bought products – I will use baking soda and vinegar from now on.

Lastly I have had my catch up with my tame gardening guru over pruning and spraying. She has given me some sound advice which I will put into practice next week – hopefully I will end up with some amazingly shapely trees which are full of fruit!

Country life – never dull!

*There were actually 11 at their peak, but 2 ended up in the freezer.  We now have 8 pregnant ewes and 1 ram.

Week 8 – New Life – 2 months in

Last night I realised the man and I have almost achieved what we set out to do when I started my blog. Yes, we are now living the lifestyle we were aiming for: the one with a better work life balance.

To do this we have spent the last 18 months actively reducing and/or eliminating debt so we could afford to work less. Of course, the aim was to ensure an excellent standard of living now and in retirement* –  this was never an exercise in subsistence living!

So how did we achieve it?

We paid off the credit card and cut it up, never to be used again! Now I know people use the 55 days free credit to their advantage, however it sat better with us to just get rid of it altogether.

We sold the rental which had a mortgage on it.

We sold the family home which did not have a mortgage on it too, as we wanted to live in a quieter place. We did give thought to renting it out, but we have had two nightmare tenants  -different reasons, but equally as unpleasant to deal with –  and decided it was not worth the grief!**

After deciding what we wanted, we searched for 6 months for the ‘perfect property’.*** We moved here in January. Moving here meant our outgoings went down substantially with a 50% reduction in land rates (not on mains for sewerage), no water rates (we are on tank and spring-fed dam water), no rental for a shed and no transport costs for the man to get to work.

In winter there will be further savings as our heating will be provided by a log burner. This makes sense as our land will provide the firewood.  At the moment there is not a wetback facility functioning, but the hot water cylinder is all set up for it and our intention is to get it up and running again in the near future.

In addition to this, we took the opportunity to review insurance cover, electricity, and internet and mobile companies charges. We changed some of our insurance policies, although we stayed with the same company. The house replacement cost went up (bigger house), but everything else went down a couple of dollars reflecting the area we live in apparently.

With regards to electricity, we also stayed with the same company, figuring out the $12 a year saving that the ‘What’s my number’ website predicted was not worth the hassle of swapping. We did change our internet and mobile phone providers though and went with a bundled offer from Slingshot. This saved us $40 per month or 2.75 weeks groceries which the parsimonious part of me applauds!

There are other savings living outside the big smoke too: doctors, dentists, tradesmen are all considerably cheaper. Petrol is cheaper.

Having said this, wages are often less too, but for us that is not an issue. I still think we will be on the winning side financially. And as for living the lifestyle the man and I were after – we are absolute winners!

What didn’t work out? There was only one thing we intended to do which has not panned out: go down to one car.

Yes, we still have two cars. Why? Simply because I will be heading back into part-time work and we live rurally and do not have public transport option. Two cars, therefore, makes sense. We will review this once I retire.

There are also two things that still need to be sorted. The first is my income and the second is selling the boat.

For those who remember, after 39 years in the same profession,  I said adios to my job in September.  Phew! My intention is to work part time and in a different field if at all possible. I also have an idea for a small business. This will all happen after June.

Why? Because a long-planned six week trip to Canada and UK has made me unemployable! I mean who in their right mind is going to employ someone who is going on a long overseas jaunt a month after I start?

Now the boat. We have used it once this summer. Meanwhile it is growing all sorts of life forms on its hull. Sadly, we can’t see this pattern altering. Our lives have changed. We are busy doing other things.

It now makes absolute sense to sell it to someone else who will use it as it should be used. We have priced it accordingly. We hope it sells fast.

So has anything changed since moving here?

Yep. My attitude to eating the livestock in our fields. I am a meat eater. It is time for me to be honest about where it comes from. I bought a freezer last week. Karl, our farm manager will organise everything. I do think I may be out when the homekill truck rocks up for the first time though – forgive me for this bit of denial!

So where to from now in relationship to the blog?

I think for the remainder of the year, a monthly update is in order. After that I think the man and I should be completely settled in our new work/life balance. Mission accomplished and all that!

I also think I might have sorted out the use of commas by then correctly… miracle, right?

* Financially we are well set up for  retirement. We were in Auckland too, but our outgoings are cheaper here which is always a win.

**a small lifestyle block with a shed and a nice house with 3 bedrooms, and a fireplace preferably, which was located near the water in Whangarei

*** Most tenants we have had have been exemplary people.

New Life – Week 7 – Going down the gurgler

Using the washing machine or dishwasher, taking a shower, or flushing the loo* are things that most of us take for granted. And this is exactly what the man and I did until very recently when things went awry.

The first sign of things going pear-shaped was a strange smell. At first we thought it was the particularly fragrant aroma of the septic tank, but further detective work found the stench was water in the kitchen gully trap that had not drained away in a timely fashion.

We decided we’d have to be more careful with what went down the sink, so instituted the  sieve regime. Everything that was being rinsed under the kitchen tap had a large, fine sieve strategically positioned to catch every skerrick of food. Yes, there would be no more scraps clogging our fragile septic tank system!

This worked well. Or at least it worked well until we had multitudinous guests to stay one weekend. Water consumption rocketed.  And eventually, we had an overflow onto the lawn (no pictures provided – use your imagination!). Luckily, it was fairly minor, and the spillage was easily cleaned up.

The man and I then rang a septic tank cleaning company to come ASAP. ASAP turned out to be the following day.  In the meantime, we texted the former owners inquiring when the septic tank had last been emptied. They replied promptly and said it had been dealt to within the last year or so.

Odd, we thought, a septic should not need emptying yearly. Our grey matters spun into action: perhaps it was a blockage in the drain rather than septic tank brimming to overflowing then? We did an internet search. This latest idea was a match to the symptoms our drains were exhibiting.

The man and I cancelled the septic cleaning company. We then followed the advice on the internet and into our drain poured copious amounts of Draino, a potion that bubbled a bit like a mini witch’s cauldron as it worked its magic on blockages.

And low and behold, the drain was sorted. Emergency over!

Except it wasn’t. The minute we had extra folk staying again, our septic system reverted to form: it backed up and water threateningly lapped the top of  the gully traps.

Today we booked in the septic tank cleaning company.**If it works in sorting out the issue, we think it will be the best $395 we have ever spent.

If not, back to square one!

*  I read today that the term ‘toilet’ is not used by the Royal Family,  instead loo is the acceptable term in politer circles, so loo it is from now on!

** The Bog Doc says that they cleaned our tank almost 2 years ago. 2 years between emptying would be about right, depending on how many people lived in the house (the more people, the more often a tank needs emptying). We have fingers crossed that the former owners gave us the wrong answer and didn’t just use another company to do the deed last year. If it was done last year, there is every possibility that there is a blockage somewhere between the house and the actual tank.

New Life – Week 5 – Getting there

Yes, I know I am late putting this post up and I apologize, but life has been busy. Actually, there is so much I have to update you on since the last post, there is a real danger that I will exceed a sensible amount of words. Don’t worry though, I’ve worked out a way around this problem: in the name of succinctness, I’ll opt for the list solution!

  1. We have sorted out how the water works here. Jim, who farms 500 acres across the other side of the main road, came around the other day to drop a ram off (another story) and it transpired that he had owned our property for 10 years, so, of course, we cornered him and asked him a shedload of questions. And, of course, he answered them in his quiet, laconic, farmer- type of way. As Kev, our logging truckie neighbour, had told us the week before, water had, indeed, come from the dam. But not now, and it never provided the drinking water to the house (outside house taps, yes). Phew!  In the old days, before someone wreaked havoc on the system, a windmill pumped water from the spring-fed dam to a settling pond (the round concrete thing we thought might be a well or a bore) and this supplied water to a dedicated tank that filled the troughs. The house supply came off the shed and the house into a separate tank. Presently, the two tanks get fed from the shed and the house: one tank with the filter supplies the house, the other tank supplies the troughs.*
  2. We finally had that catch up with the neighbours, John and Marie, after meeting John again at the kiwi release in McLeod’s Bay and getting invited back for the promised drink. Just briefly, the Whangarei Heads area is an area where through the efforts of Backyard Kiwi, supported by a very dedicated community, kiwi  numbers have increased from around 80 in the early 90s to between 800-1000 now.**
  3. Karl, our tenant farmer, arrived 10 days or so ago with 6 sheep. These sheep are doing a sterling job of knocking the paddocks into shape. I guess this is hardly surprising as they seem to eat most of the day. sheep.jpg
  4. The ram arrived two days ago. This is a magnificent creature whose job it is to cosy up to the girls and father as many lambs as possible. Unfortunately, he has gone slightly lame, so is ‘off his game’. Don’t worry though, Karl is on the case and has some medicine which will help the lameness and encourage aforementioned ram to get on with the job he was put on Earth to do!
  5. The man and I are proud owners of a ride-on mower and a rotary hoe. Needless to say, mowing the lawn is now novel and fun. Long may it last.ride on mower.jpg
  6. Lastly, we have managed to get the scrap metal that was around the place picked up. This includes the seriously munted windmill by the dam*, an old cattle trap, a huge cylinder that was probably used as a smoker in a past life, a metal gate that Jim told us had not survived a frisky bull, and some iron fencing that was part of an old piggery.

Week 5 and we are feeling we are getting somewhere as we slowly sort the land and systems out, and become part of this tight-knit community. Awesome, right?

* We will replace the windmill when time and dollars permit.

** Predator numbers are now extremely low in the Heads as a result of the work of Backyard Kiwi and the local community.

New Life – Week 4 – Water rights

Last night it rained. This morning it rained. 6 days ago a drought was declared up here, so these showers will be welcomed by the farmers, and also by those folk on tank water who are running short.

The man and I are on tank water too, so logically we should have been low on water too, except we weren’t. The water level in our two connected tanks (we have a third, unconnected tank too) has remained consistently at just over 3/4 full since we arrived a month ago.  And therein lies the mystery – with no rain topping them up, how come the level hasn’t gone down?

Now we are not new to this tank water lark, having lived with it for most of the last fifteen years. But we confess, we are flummoxed.

We do know that the tanks are fed by rain from the shed roof, but from what we can see, the house roof is not supplying.

We also know that in a former life, the property was part of a farm, and in another life, calla lilies were grown here commercially. Each of these operations would have required a serious water supply way beyond what a roof or two can provide: the black alkathene pipes which zigzag across our paddocks in a haphazard way from the taps nailed onto fence posts to the troughs, or to form the  regimented lines of a very sophisticated irrigation system are testament to this.*

So where did this water come from? And is it still supplying us?

On Sunday, Kevin, the next door neighbour, popped in to introduce himself. Over a beer, we mentioned our magic never-ending water supply and Kev said it was sourced from our pond; except we think he is wrong. Actually, we hope he is wrong. You see after he left we visited the pond and there are no pipes, pumps or other paraphernalia down at the pond to make this possible. Also the pond was full-on disgusting and if we’ve been drinking that water, the man and I are convinced we would be dead, or soon to be dead.**

Which makes the man and I think that our water supply is something to do with a strange small round concrete bunker thing which sits besides the tanks. It is always full of clear water, although it is not connected to the roof. We think that it might be something to do with a spring or a bore. Both of which would explain our omni-present water supply.

Fortunately for us, the original builder of our house lives about 500 metres away; one day we’ll pop in and ask him.

*sadly, pipes and irrigation have been cut and left in quite a random fashion, rather than kept in good nick or removed. This makes it a bit like solving a jigsaw puzzle as we try and work out which troughs and irrigation pipes are still connected to water supplies.

** our tenant farmer is going to clean out the stagnant pond.

New life – Week 2

Twice now I’ve walked to the letter box only to have a swamp harrier hawk take flight from about ten feet away from me. And yes, it’s been most disconcerting each time it has happened, although I’ve seen the bird in the sky around the house numerous times, so logically I should have figured out that we had a hawk residing at our place too!

I didn’t know a lot about them, so I had a quick look on the internet and apparently they build their nest in overgrown grass among other things, so that figures as the area beside the drive is exactly that.

They also are a farmer’s sort of friend preying on mice etc and clearing up road kill. The ‘sort of’ bit is that they can be a bit indiscriminate with their killing and have been known to have a go at newborn lambs and chooks!  From what I can gather, harriers that get involved in this malarkey are fair game and the normal protection afforded them can be waivered, so our bird better behave itself when the sheep and chooks arrive!

Which segues nicely into the next thing that has happened – the man’s rather dodgy sign has worked! We have got someone to graze sheep on our land. So here is the low down on it: our tenant farmer is a young farm manager, Karl, who looks after two farms on our road and the main road (1000 acres in total – one owner). The deal is that he looks after the land and fences and grazes his sheep for free. If we want to take it over, we can buy the sheep from him.

Now our 5 paddocks have been let go, so our keen young farm manager has been here the last two nights with a huge tractor cutting the fields (two different flash blades) in preparation for making hay.

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Karl doing the first mow of the paddock closest to the road.

Once the hay is made, he will clean out the pond with a digger and fix up a water supply to one trough (the rest of the troughs are fine) and then the sheep arrive. We think this will be in the next week.

Meanwhile the man and I are slowly working in the garden. There is an overgrown vegetable patch which we will reinstate and expand come next spring. We are so committed to this that we have signed up to buy a pre-loved rotary hoe with a myriad of amazing ‘must have’ attachments from the fellow we bought our ride on from. I have got a funny feeling that we are going to be suckers for a lot of machinery!

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The drive looking towards the barn. On the left of the drive is the overgrown vegetable patch which borders the orchard.  The harrier hawk lives on the left (not in picture) further towards the road.

Two weeks in and life is amazing! We have made sterling progress with the house, shed and now the land is well on the way to getting sorted. I am getting prepared to start on the sequel to book 1, and the man is busy designing a small boat.

The same can’t be said for landing the perfect jobette.. that still remains a work in progress, although I’m not losing any sleep over it. To be honest, I am not sure how I am going to fit it in!

Marmalade days

In 7 days the furniture truck will arrive to pick up our stuff to take to our new home in Whangarei.

At the moment, the man and I are too caught up with cleaning out cupboards and sorting final readings and new connections to give much thought to this new life north of Auckland.

Yes, we have a vague idea of how we want it to be: a better work/life balance, but, to be honest, the finer detail as to what that is going to look like is still missing at the moment.  We do know our income is going to be derived from several streams: the man’s business, my part time paid work, an AirBnB and perhaps some sort of payment from the land.

The property we have bought is 3 acres (just over 1 hectare for those readers who work in metric measurements) with a house,  the big shed for the man and his business plus several other outbuildings. The majority of the land is presently in pasture, although in a former life part of it was used for growing calla lilies commercially (obviously not on a huge scale).

The big question is what do we do  with the land? After some thought, we have realised that we aren’t interested in running stock for our meat supply so we have closed the door on that idea. We also don’t fancy mowing it, even though the ride on mower is going to have novelty value. At least in the beginning. So after thinking on it a while, the man and I have decided that planting some sort of crop might well be the go.

Now this is where I default to the librarian part of me. Sigh.  I have started researching options and although NZ green may be the crop of choice in the north, I have decided that we won’t be going down this track, rather Seville oranges might be where the man and I put our money.

Now for those of you who don’t know, Seville oranges are the traditional oranges used in marmalade, are quite sought after and freight well. And even better, from my reading to date, I think the land and climate we have will lend itself to Sevilles. So here’s the cunning plan: plant a trial crop of half an acre in the first eighteen months on the land and see how it goes.

If our calculated punt is right and they grow and they sell, we plant more. And maybe at that stage, we investigate the feasibility of putting in a small commercial kitchen to do the value added bit by making preserves (now those who know me well will know I like preserving so I kind of fancy this!). Regardless, if it works out and the fruit grows well, it will be magic, if not we will look at other options for our small part of God’s own.

And in the meantime, we’ll have a heap of fun doing it.

Opening doors

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The Shepherd’s hut made for a client by the man. We will have one on our land  as an airbnb.

Aaah, you thought I had disappeared again, didn’t you? No such luck…I have been busy. Sort of.

And because I am busy still- sort of – this is going to be a very quick update.  You know ‘life for Heather and the man in a nutshell’, if you like.

So here goes:

The man and I became grandparents to Amelie Matilda. Now, we do have a delightful step grandchild who came into our lives when he was 5, but this is the first baby we have had in our family since our babies, so we are enjoying having lots of cuddles.

Our house is still waiting for that buyer to come through the door. Yep, it is languishing on the market in spite of it being in a desirable location and in good nick. I feel like I have an orphan and part of me is quite affronted. And yes, the market has changed and we have adjusted our price… no doubt it will sell, but I wish it would hurry up.

Meanwhile, we have bought at auction. No, don’t shake your heads .. we haven’t lost our marbles. Quite. .. ok, maybe a bit! Anyway, we have a long term settlement and will rent our present home if we can’t sell in time, but I do have faith that everything will fall into place and we will be sweet.

So let me tell you about our new home. It is in Whangarei Heads between Parua Bay and Pataua South. It is 1.19 hectares (3 acres, thereabouts) and has the ubiquitous shed for the man’s business, a shed for the tractor and ride on, a nice house (not flash – we don’t do flash) with 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 2 toilets and a study for me.

The garden contains an orchard and there are big trees on the boundary for firewood which is a bonus as we do have a log burner in the house.

The property is situated a  5 mins drive from Parua Bay shopping centre which has the well-known Parua Bay pub with restaurant over the water in it, a large community centre and a doctors’ surgery ($18 a visit in Whangarei, by the way, for all adults – at these prices,  I may just go and see the doctor for a social chat!). A further 5 mins drive on is Onerahi which is a bigger shopping centre with the library in it (very important for us bookworm types) and a supermarket. Whangarei proper is a further 10 minutes or so on (20 minute drive from the house with the wind behind). But most importantly, our new home is 5 mins drive from a host of glorious, pristine beaches.

Our plans for the land include putting a shepherd’s hut on for holiday accommodation.

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In a past life, the property did have calla lilies growing commercially on part of it, so we are giving consideration to putting some flowers in for a bit of income. We will also run a few livestock and have hens. Very exciting… I can’t wait!

I have also started looking for part time work again up north. Working will serve two purposes: the most important being providing social contact and integrating me into our new community. The second thing is supplementing the coffers, although we are fine as we are for a while.

Yes, we are on track.

Life is good.

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