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skiddingtowardsretirement

semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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New Zealand

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

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.

New Life – 3 months in

It’s three months ago today that the man and I closed the door on life in the Big Smoke and headed North to a quieter existence.

Since we have been here we may be living a quieter life, but we are way busier. A contradiction, I know, but let me explain. It is quieter because not only do we not have constant traffic 24/7 assaulting our senses, we have the luxury of being able to pace ourselves. You see, each day we choose what we do, rather than follow the regime that comes with working an 8 to 5 job.

Today for example we are having a burn off, but not before our new-to-us Massey Ferguson tractor hauls a few branches from a fallen tree to add to the fire pile. Son Number 1 has volunteered to do this job because although it’s work, it’s fun and he knows he’ll have a blast.

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After the logs have been added to the pile,  we will move the sheep from that paddock  before lighting the fire. Transferring the sheep should be straight forward. Except sometimes it isn’t and we are slightly wary of the exercise: the last time we moved the sheep, one bugger made a break for it and managed to get herself through the fence into the neighbouring farm.

This was beyond us. We rung Karl who owns the sheep. Is it a lamb, he asked? No, we replied, it’s a sheep. Well, you won’t catch it as they are bloody fast, he said. I’ll ring the other farmer and let him know our sheep is in his paddock. And he hung up.

Remember this is Whangarei time – nothing happens fast. Ever. For the next week, we watched the rogue sheep shadowing her mates in our paddock, occasionally giving a plaintive bleat to remind us she was lost.

One day we came home to find we were back to full quota in our paddocks. The sheep had returned.  Turns out the neighbouring farmer had rounded her up into a pen (think dogs and quad bikes here). Once this was done, all  Karl had to do was to get her from the pen back into our paddock. Easy as, right? Actually no. The sheep made one more bid for freedom, but this time round she had met her match. Farmer 1, sheep 0.

Anyway today there were no escaping sheep. They did exactly as we wanted. The MF has done its job and I can smell the smoke of the fire pile. In the background the chainsaw can be heard as the man and son No. 1 get stuck into some more fallen branches which will be destined for the wood pile or burn off.

As for me, once I have finished this blog, I’ve a house to clean up and some baking to do as we have guests this weekend.  In fact, most weekends we have family or friends pop by.

Life in the country. It’s beaut.

Not sure how I am going to fit that paying jobette in though?

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.

 

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.

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