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skiddingtowardsretirement

semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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New Zealand

Lockdown

New Zealand went into lockdown on Tuesday last week. The last time I was in lockdown was for five or so weeks last March/April 2020.

It is weird living in lockdown – almost other worldly. Where we live the traffic is always light; it is now even lighter. Working from home, mask wearing, social distancing, bubbles and sanitizing are the words of the day.

In spite of its challenges, this lockdown has completely removed any doubts I have been harbouring about retiring early. Indeed, it has categorically demonstrated that it is the right thing for us.

The fact is my enthusiasm and self-motivation levels have increased significantly this last week while at home, even though I am working remotely. I guess rolling out of bed at 7.30 instead of 5.45, and the no travel means I am not exhausted by the end of each working day.

Certainly this weekend, besides the never-ending cleaning and washing, I had the energy to finally start stripping the wallpaper in the kitchen, a job that I have put on the back burner for months. I also made bread, baked a slice, went for a walk, and spent quality time with the grandchildren in our bubble. I also managed to finish my book, and start on a new one. Bliss!

Bread – didn’t know if was going to be successful as yeast was old!
Wallpaper stripping – an OK job when you get into swing of it

The garden beckoned too – truthfully, I have ignored it since I started back full time 21 months ago , but this weekend, I rediscovered the itch to get my hands dirty working in it. Pity I ran out of time, but I now know that when I am no longer time poor, I will be out there getting it back into shape. Hallelujah!

Early retirement will mean we have to watch our dollars a bit more, but the man and I have no doubt whatsoever that the pluses of a more satisfying and balanced lifestyle makes this sacrifice absolutely worth it.

Roll on retirement.

Time to hang around the fire pit and toast marshmallows. The teenage grandson camped in the tent.

Foraging – Part 2

Content warning: this post is continuing the foraging theme I began in my blog about blackberries so if you didn’t enjoy that, stop now!

For my readers brave enough, or foolish enough to not heed the content warning, read on.

During the ten weeks I was working from home this year, the man and I would break up the day – and yeah, work the lockdown eating off – by walking up and down the length of the road we live on.

Often we would see the herd manager working on the farm across the road and stop to have a yarn with him. Yes, we discussed the lofty subjects of the weather, the lockdown, and, you know, just general stuff about putting the world to right.

It was during one of these talks that he told us that mushrooms were growing wild in the fields. My ears pricked up: I love mushrooms. The man? Not at all!

Except I didn’t follow up and go picking wild mushrooms. Why? There are lots of types of fungi growing around here, and I wasn’t confident enough to determine what were safe-to-eat mushrooms and which were their deadly doppelgangers . Foraging is not for the feint-hearted.

Next year. Well, next year, I will go picking with someone who knows what’s what mushroom-wise. And to be doubly sure they know their stuff, I will let them eat them first too.

Covid permitting, of course

Food for thought

Driving home from work I saw two women busy picking watercress growing by the side of the road.

Although I have never picked watercress, I have picked blackberries that grew wild beside rural roads in New Zealand. This was back in the day – blackberries growing beside rural roads is as rare as rocking horse poo now as the plant is removed by local councils when spotted.

This could be the end of the story. The end of making blackberry jam. The end of baking blackberry and apple pies. The end of eating the odd juicy blackberry while picking.

Except it isn’t. Blackberries are both grown commercially and by the home gardener in NZ. And these blackberries taste almost as good.

Almost as good? Yes, there was something extra special about eating blackberries foraged from the side of a dusty, rural road. They tasted nicer.

And as I passed those two women busy picking watercress at the side of the road, I knew their watercress would taste nicer too.

Competing for the ladies

We have sheep on our land.

When we first arrived here the paddocks had not had stock on them for a while and the fields were covered in knee high carrot weed.

This was a bit of a surprise as the former owner had offered to mow it for us, but this had not transpired.

To city refugees, such as ourselves, how we were going to get the paddocks sorted and what to do with them was quite a headache. Yes, we had no idea. Luckily, new neighbours put us right, ” Just put a sign up that says grazing available, and whomever takes the land on will sort it,” they said.

And that is exactly what happened. A local herd manager took it on: hay was made and sheep were delivered. Three years on and this arrangement is going well.

And us? We are quite the pros. No longer do we run around like headless chooks when a lamb breaches the fence. We know it won’t stray far from its mum. And we can get it back into the paddock with (limited) drama.

It is June now. The ewes are pregnant. We know this as we have been party to Mr Ram’s amorous attempts to have his way with his ladies in February/March.

This year he had a keen as adolescent ram to contend with. That young ram didn’t get a look in.

But his jealousy wasn’t just reserved for the young ram.

The man dared to wander into the paddock. The ram charged, stopping short a few inches from the man. His message loud and clear ‘Nobody, but nobody, comes near my ladies!’.

He is forgiven. In a month or two, we will have his lambs playing in our fields. And they are gorgeous.

Winter fires

Outside the wind is raging and the rain is falling. Thunder and lightning are forecast later today. Regardless, we are pleased. The drought which has been our constant companion since late last year is over. The grass is greening up and our water tanks are filling up nicely.

I am sitting at the dining table writing this. A fire* is roaring in the hearth warming our home, and I can hear the kettle whistling in the kitchen. It is a good life.

This fire was in situ when we bought the house, and is our only source of heating*.* Throughout the year any (unusable) scrap of wood from the man’s workshop gets added to the woodshed to be used through the coming winter.

Over a couple of weekends each year the man will don his chainsaw chaps, ear muffs, and eye googles and spend each day chainsawing branches and felling surplus trees on our property. The trees are a mix of gum, cypress, and manuka. This serves a dual purpose of cleaning up the block and providing fire wood.

At day’s end the tractor will be used to bring the wood up to the shed. Here the man cuts it into sizes suitable for the fire. This wood needs to dry, so will be stored in a separate pile until it is ready to be used the following year.

The man is in his element and we are sorted wood-wise for the coming winter and beyond.

Come the cold weather, the man will light the fire every day we are home.

Hunkering down in front of a roaring fire? Nothing comes close!

  • *Fires have featured in most of our homes. These have included models which you can cook on and have wetbacks which make them very cost effective. These type are our ideal. . And we recently discovered these beauties of fireplace that do everything which are manufactured just down the road —– homewoodstoves. co.nz. With regards to energy cost, bearing in mind our firewood is free, our winter power bills are $125 per month. In summer when the rate is cheaper, they are $90 per month. This includes running the workshop.
  • **A heat transfer system combined with this fire would heat our home more efficiently. It is on the wish list.

Blogging, R Day and mice

Two years ago I mothballed my blog. The man and I had made the changes we needed to have the life we wanted. On achieving this lofty goal, it was time to put my musings to bed, and let my readers get on with their own lives.

I did miss you though. And I did miss writing.

Two years on our life is (slightly) different from where it was then. I will explain later in this blog. There is also a major reset on the horizon, so it is time to blog again.

So what has happened since we left you? The man and I are still living on our plot of land. Three and half years into this life, we are still in love with our lifestyle; indeed, in truth, even more so. It has turned out to be the perfect fit for who we are and how we want to live our life. Even if we had an uninvited guest living with us over the last week!

Flatmate

Income wise, things have changed for both of us.

I had a back to the future moment. In October last year I landed a job at the local district health board library. To do this, I swapped my dream working part time scenario to being a 40 hour per week employee. It was a big decision, but the job is a fixed term contract of 18 months and it felt right. And it is right.

In summer we opened our bottom paddock to self-contained camper vans. We can have two on our property at a time and at $20 per night per vehicle, we view it as a chance to meet people as opposed to a cash making venture.

The man has also pivoted his woodworking business. Three Fish Woodworks now has an event hire division. This summer season it took off. Well, until that crazy killer virus hit! Over the period of a week, New Zealand went in fast forward through the Alert Levels into Lockdown, and we went from a healthy number of advanced event bookings to zip! Zero. Nil. It is what it is.

So what is the reset I am talking about? As I previously mentioned, my job is a fixed term. It finishes in May 2021.* Two months before this, the man becomes eligible for superannuation.

At the end of this contract I will join him in retirement (R day!). It is our time to do as we want. The man will get superannuation. I won’t. We don’t want to go into our retirement savings.

We will have to be clever to achieve this goal. Our cunning plan is to do this two ways : streamline our spending from now on to save as much as possible before R day, and put things in place to be more self-sufficient when we retire.

Our intention is that this journey to R day and beyond will be fun. We will explore options and experiment. And we won’t compromise the quality of our lifestyle. Please join us as we play with ideas and put everything in place for a great retirement.

  • My planning hinges on the fixed term contract coming to an end. If an extension was offered and in a post-Covid world, I don’t think this is likely, I would only want to work 16 hours per week. Work/life balance is all.

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!

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