semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living



New Life – New Year

New Year’s resolutions.

I admit I have occasionally given these a whirl. You know, stuff like I am going to adopt a junk-free life style.

The lifespan of my resolutions is about a week. Or until the first piece of chocolate is offered to me. Whichever is sooner.

So this New Year’s Eve, I didn’t even indulge in the charade.

Yeah, nah, I don’t need NY resolutions conjured up while slightly tipsy on cheap plonk to feel in control. Ditto: the man. Yes, 2018 is going to be a great year for us.

So what is it that will make 2018 a stellar year?

2017 may have been the year of change, but 2018 will definitely be the year of consolidation.

First and foremost is that we go into the new year incredibly happy and content with all aspects of our lives.

A great foundation to begin with, we think.

We won’t stand still though. We do have plans.

The man and I will continue to develop our property in our slow way.  There is no rush, we will focus on the journey.

The man intends to get a jobette. In part, this is for the social aspect. Working by yourself is isolating. And even more so when living in a new community. Of course, we would be lying if we said the money wasn’t welcome either, but it is very much a secondary consideration.

For me, 2017 saw me land a job in a new field and finally shut the door on a career that I had wanted to walk away from 10 years ago. Except I didn’t have the balls.

This career move has paid dividends. I now wake up every  morning looking forward to going to work, to being challenged, and learning something new.  And it gets even better, my bosses have plans for me. Career development. To this end, they have offered me the opportunity to upskill and study in 2018. This old girl said yes.

Travel plans this year are dedicated to catching up with friends and family. We intend to (finally) fit in a trip to Christchurch and Wanaka to see friends. Another trip to Melbourne to visit a sister is on the cards too, with, maybe, a bit of a side excursion thrown in. And the lovely Hawkes Bay also beckons. Like always, the main constraint to these plans will be time!

No doubt, like every year, things won’t necessarily pan out exactly as planned. There will be obstacles. We are, however, starting from a grand position.

2018. Bring it on!

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Hello Summer!


Today summer looks like it is here. This is not the first time it has arrived: on several other occasions over the last month or so it has showed its face, only to retreat the very next day. This time, however, I am convinced it is here to stay. Why? There is no particular reason, rather I just feel that it should do the decent thing and hang around now until at least April. Yes, I know in this part of the world, summer isn’t officially expected until 1 December, but in this case turning up early will be definitely viewed by the general populace as a brilliant idea, I think. We are, after all, more than ready for something new!

So what’s so great about summer? Firstly, unlike spring which is notoriously fickle weather wise, we know where we stand. In the morning, we dress for one season only, rather than all four. And dress, we do, in lighter, brighter attire with our limbs on display and toes peeping shyly out of sandals or jandals.

Summer brings with it an upturn in people making the most of the wonderful weather to get into shape after a winter of seriously stodgy meals. Walkers and runners are seen pounding the streets with fancy gadgets measuring pulse rates strapped on,  the gyms are overflowing with people working hard to get back the body they last saw when they were young and taut, fake tan is being sold by the bucketful, and strange diets that often are both scientifically dubious and bordering on sadistic are adopted. There is logic at play here: we have to look good in that lighter, brighter attire! New hair style anyone?

Summer is also the time of the outdoor meals, be it firing up the barbeque in the backyard, heading to the local park for a picnic tea, or to the beach for a dinner of fish and chips. More often than not, friends will be invited along and a simple meal will morph into a relaxed social occasion with great food, a couple of drinks and excellent conversation.

Now there are all sorts of other amazing things about summer in this part of the world e.g. swimming, camping, Christmas and New Year, but it also brings with it nights that are too hot to sleep, mosquitos and sandflies that like dining on homo sapiens, sunburn and food poisoning, if a person is not careful, and other challenges. Like everything, there is no such thing as perfect, but despite this, I think  we are more than ready for the new season to arrive.

I also know that by Autumn, I, for one, will be looking forward to the cooler weather, the glorious colours of the autumnal trees, the heavier clothes, different food and the opportunity to curl up by the fire with a book. A change can be so refreshing!

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.

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.

Falling over

I have a confession: my work life balance totally turned to custard the first week back at work. Not to put too fine a point on it, this was of great concern to me. Was this the end of my quest for a new lifestyle? Why had it happened and could it be sorted? I had some thinking to do.

It transpired that my work life balance had been compromised by two things; the eight hour working day being the first. This is of course a misnomer; with travel and lunch factored in, it is for me the 10 hour  day.  This scenario is repeated 5 days per week.  In many respects, I am lucky as my travelling time is only half an hour driving each way to my temporary site*. Indeed, I have had commutes in the past that have totalled two to three hours per day. And these times are the best case scenarios; if the roads are gridlocked for whatever reason, the travelling time can be pushed out even further. I have had two experiences of one hour journeys turning into three hour marathons as the result of accidents. These were years ago, but the not so fond memories linger.

Now I do reside in New Zealand’s biggest city with its notoriously poor transport links and I have been known to live on one side of the city and work on the other. I should say at this stage that I am not trying to elicit sympathy, rather there is personal responsibility at play here and living and working at opposite ends of the city is a choice I made (uninformed perhaps, but my choice nonetheless!)**

The point is that working a 40 hour working week with travelling and lunch breaks added in becomes a 50 to 60 hour weekly commitment without too much trouble.  When I get home from work and dinner is made and eaten, there are two to three hours remaining before bed beckons.  (I am a person who needs 8 hours a night sleep).

Now in theory two to three hours should be enough time to introduce at least some balance, but I have found that there is a direct  correlation with what happens at work and what I am capable of doing when I get home.The reality is a full on working day at the coal face means I am tired at the end of the day, so it is not unknown for me to sometimes default to the ‘zone out in front of the TV’ leisure option. Yes, complete with the dress code of unattractive, but incredibly comfortable pyjamas, and slippers that have seen better days.  I am the first to admit that TV watching is not a productive use of my day, especially when I have other more important things to achieve like a healthy work life balance, but the fact is it happens and happen it did last week.

Which brings me to the second reason my work life balance was derailed when I returned to work.** It transpired I was not just tired, I was fighting off an illness. It won. Sadly, it presented itself as the ‘just well enough to go to work, but once home, go straight to bed’  variety of sickness, rather than the ‘stay at home tucked up warmly with a good book’ type. This resulted in there being work in my day, but zip anything else.

This week I am pleased to report I am better. I have energy and am back to using my three hours per night to live a more balanced life. Having said this, it is still a far cry from the lifestyle that the man and I think is optimal for us. We therefore remain committed to our goal of working less to live more within two years (21 months to go!). In the meantime, I have made the following note to self:

  1. The commute to work cannot be at the expense of slow living – remember this when choosing the 3 day per week job.
  2. Watch TV selectively and turn it off at end of programme.
  3. Treading water, even going backwards, when making changes will happen. This is OK.
  4. Wearing comfortable pyjamas and scruffy slippers*** is always de rigueur for the over 50s.

* Public transport is a very convoluted affair: 2 buses and 2 hours more travelling time added to my day.

** Commuting across town was for a great job.

*** Scruffy slippers were too awful to photograph!

Deadly earnest

I have a thing about cemeteries: I like visiting them. I would hasten to add this is not because I have either a macabre fetish for the dead or an interest in connecting with the spirit world. I think it is probably wise for me to add a disclaimer here: I have never met a ghost.  Having said this, I have some very sensible friends who swear that they have had encounters with our dearly departed, so I am not totally dismissive of the idea either.

Anyway, back to the visiting graves bit. The reason I include them on my must do list, particularly when I visit a new place, is that the cemetery gives me a bit of information regarding the history of the area. For the granny hunters reading this, you will know exactly what I mean. A graveyard provides details about the families that lived in the locale.

I wasn’t always a cemetery fan. As a small child, I found anything to do with death disturbing. The first graveyard I have memories of visiting was with my parents while holidaying when  I was about 6 or 7. I think it was near Ngunguru. Situated on a headland, the headstones were scattered among large trees.  My recollection is that the graves dated back to the late 19th century and were predominantly those of European settlers. There was an over-representation of children who had succumbed to illnesses. There was also a lot of drowning victims, both children and adults. This is hardly surprising; losing your life in a water mishap, particularly rivers, was so common in this part of the world, it was referred to as the New Zealand death.*

In adulthood, I have no concerns about being among the dead, indeed I find it a peaceful experience.  Last Sunday I decided a trip to Purewa Cemetery was in order. For those of you who read my post ‘Grave Matters’, I mentioned that I had discovered my maternal grandmother’s ashes were interred in her parents’ grave and that I would visit. I convinced the man that a trip there was the best idea. He agreed. In addition to seeing where my grandmother’s mortal remains lay, I also wanted to see my great great granddad’s headstone which I had visited in the early nineties with my mother.

Through using the Purewa cemetery online search (, I had the location of my forebears’ earthly remains sorted.   Now Purewa is big, a lot bigger than I remembered, but as the weather looked settled and we weren’t in any particular hurry, we parked the car and headed off on foot. As my great great grandfather is buried in the A section, it was logical to start looking for his headstone first.

James Biddick's headstone, Purewa
James Biddick and his wife, Emily’s, headstone, Purewa (other family members’ graves on left and right of James and Emily’s)

Purewa provides signposts with maps at regular intervals. Within the actual graves, however, there are very few markings (we saw one) telling you which row is which.  Add to this the fact that the graves are a bit higgledy-piggledy and what should have been straightforward became difficult. Twice we had to return to the board to reposition ourselves with the ‘You are here’  and then set off again. The sun gave way to hail.  Eventually we located  the headstone of James and his wife, Emily. Unexpectedly, there were two other family headstones there. A nice bonus.

Emily Elizabeth Wilcox (my grandmother) ashes are interred here with her parents

The next headstone on the list   was my grandmother’s parents. Locating this was an absolute nightmare, taking over an hour to find. It rained steadily. Our shoes leaked (truly).  We persevered. The grave when we finally discovered it  was a simple plaque with my great grandparents’ names on it, but sadly  no mention of my grandmother. I think this  needs some thought.

This week we are driving to Tauranga. We will pass the Waihi cemetery where my mother’s paternal grandfather and coincidentally the man’s great grandfather are both buried. Needless to say, we will pop in to say hi.

  • * I received this reply to an email I sent re Ngunguru cemetery (often referred to as Cape Horn cemetery) this morning.  I am really grateful for the information provided, as well as the photos that Whangarei District Council sent through. I can see why I was very scared of this place when I was little!
  • Good Morning Heather. Thank you for your enquiry. Yes this Cemetery is all that you described in your email.It is on a hill with large pine trees and has a mixture of Maori, young children and drowned sailors, as well as people from the surrounding area.I have attached a few pictures for you to look at.Kind regards  Stephen Jenkins. WDC         Cemetery ngunguru
  •  cemetery ngunguru 2

Making connections

Waiake – the local beach

We are fortunate to live a five minutes stroll from a pretty beach. From this bay, clifftop paths run in either direction taking the walker to other beaches nestled along the coastline. Sometimes on a Sunday morning, we will take advantage of what is on our doorstep and follow breakfast with a coastal walk.

Clifftop walkway looking south towards Browns Bay

Last weekend we did just that, turning south at the beach onto the track that would take us over to the next bay. The journey takes about twenty minutes and as you wend your way down the path, you are treated to spectacular views along the coastline and out to sea. In summer, the pohutukawas clinging to the cliff are ablaze with their crimson flowers, making the walk even more special.

Our little bit of France in Browns Bay (taken in winter)
Our little bit of France in Browns Bay (taken in winter)

In the bay, the man and I visited the supermarket before heading to the library to get our week’s reading. Our last stop before beginning the stroll back home was a café.

One of three we frequent, our choice that day was La Tropezienne. Owned by French baker, Louis Bouquet, it is a little slice of France in Browns Bay with its tarts, strong coffee and music. I love it.

A few years ago, I went to France with my sister in law and daughter. Here, we visited cafés with the same tartes, un café and musique that are found at Monsieur Bouquet’s.  The only difference was the language conversed in: French. Spoken fast.

The daughter’s school girl French did us proud;  she would start by explaining that we were from New Zealand, before launching into the conversation. This would inevitably result in a smile. Kiwis are well thought of in this part of the world and a Kiwi speaking a little French even more so.

It was in a café  that a Frenchman struck up a conversation with us. It transpired that he had been part of the French rugby tour to New Zealand in 1979.  The only test the man and I have been to was the Auckland one of that tour. Through my translator, I told the Frenchman I had been on the terraces at the Eden Park game. He was delighted. A stilted conversation followed. Conducted in both French and English, supplemented by a wee bit of gesticulating and some laughter when words failed us, we ‘discussed’ the game.

I have a confession –  I had no recollection of the play at all.  I did however remember the bonhomie and good humour of the crowd that day; the atmosphere was simply magic. The French beat the All Blacks 24/19, the first time they had done so on New Zealand soil (thank you, Google). It was a fitting win for our visitors: it was Bastille Day.

Twenty eight years after that game, a French rugby player and a Kiwi spectator shared a bottle of wine in a small café on a back street in Paris.

Last Sunday, the man and I came across our neighbours sitting in the sun at our bit of France in the bay. We joined them for coffee and then slowly walked home together chatting.

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