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skiddingtowardsretirement

semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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Slow living

Rhythms

Life on our land follows a relaxed rhythm year in, year out.

In July, the lambs were born. Always cute and fun to watch, our relationship with them has been short and sweet this time round – indeed, six weeks after their birth, we wished them au revoir when they were moved with the flock to a neighbour’s piece of land with more grass.

A few weeks ago the man began to source wood from the block for next year’s supply. As I will be retired next winter, the fire place will be used more throughout the day so the woodpile will need to be a considerably bigger than in the past. Luckily, the man enjoys the process of collecting, cutting and stacking wood. It does help that he has great tools for the job with his trusty, newly-serviced chainsaw, and his bow saw, plus all the PPE.

Marmalade making has also begun. This year, I am freezing the fruit so I can make small batches throughout the year.* I have been making marmalade so long that I can make it by eye, rather than by following a recipe – I have come a long way since my first batch many years ago where I boiled it to the point that it had both the look and consistency of toffee. The young me proudly gave the man’s mum a jar or two which she politely thanked me for and never mentioned again!

The spring weather is inspiring us to make long-overdue changes to the orchard and garden. Two apple trees which are past their best are going to be removed, as is a persimmon which has inedible fruit (a mouthful of cotton wool, anyone?). Two other sad excuses for fruit trees will be taken out in the next few weeks. These non-performers are going to be replaced with new trees including the Wilson’s Early plum which we planted yesterday.

The gardens are also having work done on them. The vegetable garden which was all, but abandoned, is relocating to just beside the house. A sunny spot, this should be a more workable location. We will start off smaller than the original one, but will expand it if needed, The worm farm which has been a success from the get-go, will also move closer to the house – again it will be considerably more convenient in this new spot.

This only leaves the compost bin. To date, we have never sorted out how to compost properly. The intention is to move this closer to the house too, and use it as it should be used. Yes, getting a handle on composting is one of the many things on the retirement list.

Lastly: With eight pays to go until I retire, everything is falling into place. Savings are going to plan, and the things I wanted completed are being ticked off one at a time. This month we saved more than we had projected we would, and ticked the three-yearly septic tank clean off the list. I also started an audit on what we are paying for bills – but that is for another blog.

Early retirement: I can’t wait.

*Wash whole fruit, cut into quarters and freeze in batch lots

Ride-on Hassles

For the last few months, the man and our ride-on mower haven’t been getting on. We blame this entirely on the machine which mostly refused to start and when it did start, refused to run for long.

The man would then spend the next few hours coaxing it to go long enough to do our lawn. Our frustration levels, meanwhile, went through the roof and our tolerance plummeted. Wrangling with a recalcitrant ride-on was not how we envisaged life in the country, we both secretly thought.

Which is why we needed to do a rethink about this lawn mowing thing. So we did. And we came up with two options.

Option A was to purchase a brand new mower and continue to do the lawns. The price of a new machine was between $8,000 -$12000. In addition to this, there were the ongoing running costs of petrol, oil, and everyday maintenance to factor in. At some stage in the distant future, this new mower would no longer be new and we would be up for a replacement one too or be back to where we were now – fighting with the mower to get it going. We tucked this (awful) thought into the back of our minds.

Option B was to out-source the task to a lawn-mowing contractor with his own machine. The quote was $100 per cut. We did the math. We could get 80 – 120 cuts for the price of a new ride on. Factoring in the additional running costs of petrol, oil and the maintenance costs and hassles, it made even more sense. At a cut averaging once every 4 weeks, that would be a fair few years taken care of.

Needless to say the winner was Option B. It was way more cost effective, removed the hassle of maintaining a machine and gave us some time back which we can use more productively on the property. It is money well spent.

Meanwhile, we have gifted our old ride-on to a local mower mechanic. It is been used for parts in reconditioned ride-ons.

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.

Putting the house in order

Having publicly committed to retiring in the New Year, I am getting my house in order.

This means making decisions about what we need to do to make our retirement work well for us. I have therefore got a list and a budget – a true Virgo, right?

My list started off with many grand things including recarpeting the house, recurtaining the bedrooms, a new fridge and a tent for copious camping trips. I have subsequently rethought this and the list is no longer an absolute, rather it can now be described as ‘a work in progress’ with items being added, taken away or parked.

The changes I have made are sensible ones, I think. I have decided against recarpeting – the carpet is fine and I am just bored with it. I also want to replace it with wool (it is wool now) and that is not cheap. I will therefore do it in a few years when most of our retirement savings can be accessed. The curtains – well, I have washed them initially in a bit of bleach, followed by a rinse and two out of the three sets are perfect again. The other one? A sad story really that would bring a tear to any house proud person’s eyes – suffice to say, I will buy new ones!

The new fridge? Well, I have purchased one after much research (how big, what make, energy rating etc etc) and it is looking mighty fine in the kitchen. The power bill has also reduced which is an added bonus.

The tent for our NZ trips has been relegated to the ‘decision pending’list. I will keep the $$ aside for it in the budget.

New additions to the list include a cat door with a microchip so our kind neighbour can feed our moggies, rather than every cat in the neighbourhood when we are away adventuring. I have also factored in some maintenance including the three yearly septic tank clean and new glasses for me.

Meanwhile, I am saving hard for this early retirement lark, albeit I am fast coming to the conclusion that we will dip into our savings pot early if required so we can do the things we want to when we want to. Yes, life is short, and we don’t want to live with regrets.

Carpe diem, folks!

PS I have been told I can join the temp pool at the hospital where I work any time which is kind of nice, though at this stage this is not what I see in my future.

Tractor goes

This post could be called a fingers crossed post.

Our tractor is now starting. It also sounds like something that would be at home on a battlefield.

We know, however, that with a bit of adjustment to the distributor (an nth of degree, apparently), it should/will be running sweetly again.

So how did the man get it sorted? The answer was through my last blog post ‘Tractor Woes’ which resulted in two readers who were mechanics shaking their heads in disbelief at our ‘replace likely stuffed parts until it goes’ approach. And not only did they shake their heads and roll their eyes, they decided to give us some advice on how to diagnose the problem a wee bit more efficiently!

And damn me, using these experts’ expertise was the key, and we now have a tractor that is showing signs of life!

Thank you, guys!

Tractor Woes

Our trusty Fergie has stopped working.

And we are are missing it. A tractor is, after all, a must- have item for townies new to country life, along with the ride on mower and a chainsaw.

The man and I did our research when we bought it – those new-fangled tractors looked just the ticket, but realistically they were for proper farming folks, not pretend ones like us. And besides, new heavy duty farm machinery was a tad overkill for our three acre block, not to mention the eye-watering price tag for those magnificent machines being way beyond our purse!

After much looking around, the man decided on a Massey Ferguson 35. Circa 1960, this model had a reputation for being a reliable machine and was perfectly priced for our budget – read cheap here.

We duly purchased one. It was the required red – the colour of most tractors in children’s picture books! It also had the ubiquitous PTO. It didn’t have the front end loader blade which the man had wanted, but he was willing to compromise and this one had a hydraulic tray which was a win too in his eyes.

Four years on, we can honestly say that the tractor has been an asset around the property. Sure, we don’t use it daily, but it is handy for all measures of lifestyle block requirements such as pulling out old tree stumps, shifting firewood, and towing old logs around, plus playing on (carefully) when our city friends visit.

Recently we made the decision to start looking around to buy a mower attachment for it. The reason being that we need to keep our paddocks in check, as there are no livestock grazing on the land at present.

So when the tractor failed to start, the man decided it must be fixed. Yes, he and Mr Google are on the case. They are taking a systematic approach to tractor repair- this involves systematically replacing pieces until it starts. So far and in no particular order, we have purchased new spark plugs, distributor cap, and high tension leads. Today we bought a new solenoid, and, still it doesn’t start!

Our tractor

The next thing on the list is an ignition switch. And maybe a Massey Ferguson 35 workshop manual, which could prove mighty handy at times like this.

I know this is a bit of a hit and miss approach to mechanics, but one day in the not too distant future, this approach will work and the tractor will splutter into life again and with all its new parts, it should be sweet for another few years!

Pumped up

With another summer of very little rain, our water is now down to under a quarter in our main 6000 gallons tank. Our second tank of 5000 gallons is sitting at about three quarters full.

Yesterday the man made the decision to take all our water from the back up tank. The man also thought that a bit of maintenance wouldn’t go amiss, so he decided to do a filter clean at the same time he did the swap over.

At about noon, I received a text from the man to say that all had gone well. He also mentioned in passing that the water pressure wasn’t crash hot. Now to those who have experienced the joy of showering at our home, you will realise the man’s comment about the pressure was worrying as it is terrible at its best! At this stage, I put on my Pollyanna hat and thought it would come right.

I was wrong. It went from bad to worse.

When I arrived home from work, the man greeted me with the words ‘We have no water to the house’. He followed this up with, ‘We will have to get the pump guys as I think the pump is …. (insert your own choice word here)

I knew in a trice that this was going to be a very expensive exercise; firstly, because it was going to attract an after hours call out fee, and, secondly, we would be in for hefty travel costs too as we live in the back of beyond. I was far from happy.

I also knew as I ran my fingers through my hair that desperately needed a wash that we had absolutely no alternative but to get it fixed as soon as possible.

And as I faced the realism of a huge budget blow out this week, I remembered that son No.1 was most of his way through his water reticulation qualification and knew a thing or two about water and pumps. So we did the sensible thing and called upon his services.

And low and behold, in an hour or so, son No 1 had fixed the issues and we had running water again. We also had a pump and water filter that had had their yearly maintenance. Oh, and the water pressure? Sadly, this is a blog, rather than a fairy tale, so it is still pathetic!

Steering ahead

One of the things the man and I have derived great enjoyment out of is the birth of the lambs in spring. The drought, however, put paid to this happening this year.

Yes, the ram had done his thing and the ewes were pregnant, but, sadly, the lack of rain meant that by August we were fast running out of grass, so our tame farm manager made the decision to move the flock to (another person’s) greener fields.

When we metaphorically waved goodbye to the sheep that day, we thought they would be back as soon as the grass had recovered. This didn’t happen, and instead the grass grew longer and longer, and, if that wasn’t enough, the blasted carrot weed decided to make an unwelcome reappearance too.

However, all was not lost. A couple of weeks ago, our tame farm manager turned up with two steers and a ram. These have settled into our paddocks well and are munching their way through the grass and carrot weed with dedicated enthusiasm.

Of course, the steers are nowhere near as cute as the lambs, but they also don’t escape through the fences at every opportunity either!

As for the ram, well, he is best mate’s with the steers – in fact, there is a good chance he thinks he is one!

Paying the price

One of the past owners of our land used to keep a house cow which he milked every day.

I think this is very impressive. I also think keeping a house cow is not for us, no matter how amazing the milk tastes.

All is not lost though as our local shop now sells Bella Vacca milk*. This product tastes and looks like milk did when I was a kid. It also is sold in recyclable glass bottles. A total win, right?

Yes, it is expensive, but the man and I think it is absolutely worth it.

*http://www.bellavacca.co.nz

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