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semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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New Zealand

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 – 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 – that Spring feeling

In the last week the weather has turned the corner and it is feeling considerably warmer up here.  Indeed, some days it’s been so hot that I have found myself abandoning my jumper in favour of a short-sleeved tee shirt.

We are, of course, on the cusp of spring  and this is code for ‘unreliable weather’, so I know there will be some days when the barometer plummets and winter woollies will be required day wear, there will be frost on the ground to greet us on waking in the morning, and the need for a fire in the evening will be non-negotiable.

But this is a small price to pay for the arrival of spring the man and I think. Yes, we now have lambs in the paddocks, with more to be born. Having said this, we did have a stillborn lamb. Perfectly formed, it arrived on a very stormy night a couple of weeks ago and was still covered in its membrane when we found it dead the next morning. Nature.

The garden is giving us lots of pleasure. It is sprouting flowers that we never knew we had: freesias, daffodils and other bulbs in hiding since we came in January are pushing through the ground.

The fruit trees have been whipped into order and I’ve started my spraying programme – codling moths: be gone!  In the vegetable garden, the garlic shoots are now visible* and the rest of the garden is being slowly prepared for further plants when my go-to book tells me it is time.

Today I planted the heirloom tomato seeds I got from the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust. Once they have grown into seedlings, I will transfer them into the garden, meanwhile they are sitting in pots on a sunny window sill in my study.

I also have put in the first of the potatoes in the garden, after leaving them in sunlight for the required 7-10 days to sprout. My go-to book says that potatoes can be successfully grown in tyres, and strangely enough I found a couple behind the shed today, so I think I will give that a go too. Or maybe, I should make delightful tyre swan planters out of them? The perfect Christmas gift for a friend or two perhaps?

We are also thinking about putting a couple of hives in. One of our neighbours has bees so we went to see them. It turns out our neighbours are actually hosts, rather than the owners of the hives. For the use of their land, they get paid in honey – more than enough for their needs apparently. This may work perfectly for us, so we will do some investigation.

Meanwhile, the man and I are spending a lot of our days working hard on a new product. Yes, we think it may be the answer to getting the income part of the equation sorted. The man is busy perfecting prototypes and streamlining the process while I am spending a good swag of time sourcing materials at the best possible price from suppliers.  It is very exciting, but the best part is that we are really proud of the product as it is beautifully made and fits in exactly with our buy local philosophy. Watch this space!

Yes, life up north continues to be enjoyable and we remain optimistic!

* The garlic shoots look remarkably like kikuyu grass – a trap for the unwary!

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.

New Life – Change challenges

 

Six months after moving from the big smoke to our rural idyll in Northland, the man and I can now say we feel we are home.

So everything has worked out well, you are saying. Another successful change story, right?

Well, yes and no. Lots of stuff has turned out smashing – we love our lifestyle block: the quietness and privacy, the orchard, the shed, and the animals make for our perfect life.

We love our new community too. Parua Bay is a place where everyone, regardless of whether you know them or not, waves as they pass on the road, and the shop keepers have time to have a yarn. And the beaches are amazing!  Nice.

There is only one fly in the ointment: the income side remains a work in progress.

As I’ve said before, we have a business idea or two which may or may not become our source of income – in fact, I have started experimenting with one idea, but if the drain keeps on blocking due to an inefficient ‘Heather’ manufacturing process, any profit will  just disappear into the wallet of the drainlayer!  No one said this working for yourself lark was going to be easy.

Meanwhile, I am attempting to land a part time job to refill the coffers. This has not been at all successful to date. I think this is for multiple reasons.

  1. As I want a career change, I am applying for things outside my area of expertise – but the fact is convincing someone that one’s skills are transferable is not easy.
  2. I am also at a certain age i.e. although I am fit and able, I am no longer a spring chicken.
  3. I know I don’t interview well – I am not good at talking myself up and tend to be quite self-effacing.
  4. As we were going overseas for almost 6 weeks, I mentioned this in cover letters. Honest me, right? Actually, it was job suicide! The interviews dried up. Completely.

Am I crushed by all this rejection? Well, I was on one occasion as I really, really, really wanted the job, so I cried when I got the ‘lovely to meet you, but, sorry, we have given the position to someone else’ phone call.

But on the whole, I am pretty philosophical about the length of time it is taking. You see, the man and I knew when we instigated this great lifestyle change that the chances were  it wouldn’t be plain sailing, and there would be some rough patches as we sorted out our new way of life.

Regardless, the changes that we chose to make have definitely been worthwhile and delivered exactly what the doctor ordered, even if there is still the odd challenge ahead! Having said this, we do feel we are totally in control of our destiny and that is an amazing place to be, we reckon.*

*I have been in a position where major change was ‘done’ to me. I found this really hard to cope with and went through a whole range of emotions often associated with grief. This response is apparently normal and healthy.

 

New Life – Jet setting

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Floating houses, Victoria, Vancouver Island.- perhaps Auckland needs to consider these?

It’s been over six weeks since I blogged, and I apologize, but I’ve been away with the man exploring the world. Or parts thereof, to be precise.

Yes, we left our rural idyll to hop on a plane which took us to the Northern Hemisphere. And as it wasn’t first class, or business class, or, even, premium economy,  voyaging to the other side of the world with our knees around our ears for hours on end required both fortitude and dedication. But we managed it and found ourselves (a very long) thirteen hours later in Vancouver.

From here, we spent 3.5 weeks making our way across Canada to the eastern seaboard. We visited Vancouver Island, Toronto and Niagara (don’t bother)*, Quebec, Halifax, Baddeck, Charlottetown, Lunenburg and many places in-between. We then backtracked to the very French, very edgy and very cool Montreal to catch a plane across the Atlantic to Heathrow.

During the ten days we were in Old Blighty,  we caught up with friends and family, plus saw some sights (Cutty Sark, Kenilworth and Warwick Castle, Stratford-on Avon) and explored Coventry where my Dad was born and his forebears lived. I also did some family history, but that is another story.

Now they say travelling is good for you. It opens your mind apparently. And it did. It also plays havoc with your budget, because travelling always costs trillions more than you think it will. But it is worth every penny.

Why? Because we have caught up with family and friends, met a host of (other) awesome people and saw amazing sights, and we will remember all of these things for the rest of our lives.

We have also returned invigorated and ready to face the world.  Or we will be, providing the jetlag abates!

We have a confession to make though.  Despite loving the travelling, we did look forward to coming back. You see this is our home and our life and we love it.

Brilliant, right?

PS Now we are back, we are going to focus on getting the income sorted. We think it is the adult thing to do!

PSS And yes, we are planning the next trip, but that will be a while away!

*Toronto was the only city in Canada we didn’t like, and Niagara Falls is OK, but the town itself is basically a very tacky theme park.

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 6 – Life and death

It is 8 o’clock in the evening and I am writing this blog. In the background I can hear a quad bike,  the neighbouring farmer shouting, his working dogs barking and cows occasionally mooing as they are moved from one paddock to another. Life in the country – it’s beaut.

This blog is another farm story: a story with a happy ending for everything, except, maybe, a few possums. Last post I mentioned that the man and I had a ram on our property to service the ewes. I was very excited about this because this would mean there would be lambs frolicking – OK, initially staggering in a drunken fashion – across our land by late August, and let’s face it, newborn lambs are up there on the cuteness scale.

Except our ram had a sore leg and had no interest in fathering anything. Now Karl, our tame farm manager, had pinned his hopes on the ram recovering with drugs – this is, of course, the North, but let me reassure you, we are talking legal prescription drugs here.

Unfortunately, the drugs did not do their job and by Tuesday evening, we noticed that the ram could not even weight bear on that leg. We gave Karl a bell, and the news wasn’t good. He’d checked the animal that day, and not only was the ram going to be relieved of impregnation responsibilities, he was destined to be dog tucker. Sad, right?

Today  Jim,  farmer and ram owner, turned up with the replacement, and to pick up the injured animal. He stayed for a while and yarned about what we were doing with the land. All of us studiously avoided the subject of what he intended to do with the lame ram. Finally, Jim swung into action and did what we thought was a very tricky ram swap out using our cattle race, the stock trailer and his dog.

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One of Jim’s working dogs

 

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Jim in action sorting the ram.

I couldn’t look the injured ram in the eye. Dog tucker!

This segues nicely into the topic of possums. We have heard one. Once. Now we know that because kiwis are released near us, predator numbers are kept low. However, one possum is still one possum too many. And let’s face facts, it may well have moved its extended family in. And a friend or two. The man and I talked to Jim about dealing to them.  He suggested a trap.   I suggested shooting. That’s OK too,  apparently. If we do get a possum, we can sell it to a local possum buyer. They process possums for dog tucker. Get the irony?

After Jim left, I raised the sad fate of the ram with the man. The man told me there had been a change of plan. The problem is footrot. Jim is sure he can sort it. The ram will live.

Possums though? Yeah, nah. They will become dog tucker.

 

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