• Family

    Life Update

    Gosh, it’s been a while since my last post! Not planned, but life has been busy.

    I’m enjoying my job managing social media and marketing for a local church. The work lets me unleash my creativity, and I have almost total autonomy, which is how I love to work. It’s a high-trust environment – if only all workplaces could be like that!

    I find myself baffled that it is September already. Covid-19 has interrupted the yearly flow of life. I have not done half the things I wanted to, nor caught up with all the people I want to see. My brain still struggles to comprehend the pandemic. The fear, the masks, the social distancing, families separated. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I’d like to just take a nap until all this is over!

    On our way to catch the bus – Level 2 style

    I was on a retreat by myself in Kerikeri when it was suddenly announced that NZ had moved back into Level 2. My ‘break’ turned into a very stressful time as my flight home was cancelled…then put back on but with no guarantee it would go ahead…

    As you can see, my retreat wasn’t all bad!

    I made it home just fine. And eventually I got to relax, just not in Kerikeri!

    So far this year has been spent in lots of pain, thanks to the injuries from my car crash. My knee is mostly better though, and I’m able to get around without noticing it now. I have seen the surgeon who thinks my spine and knee require surgery, but I am awaiting more scans before he can proceed. I find out in three weeks.

    The pain has made me tired and irritable and not very social. So if you’re one of the people on my list to visit with, sorry. I will get to you eventually.

    All four of us have spent most of the winter catching everything that’s going around. This is normal for us the first year we move somewhere new! Different bugs I guess. Rev G has been very rundown, and has been dealing with coming to grips with his new job, and dealing with settling estates for his father and aunt, and now is in the process of selling two houses! We’re praying for a quieter year in 2021.

    But having said that, I’ve met lots of new people through church and the two Bible/Prayer groups I’m part of. My faith has grown tremendously this year, and I’m about to start a discipleship programme that I’m really excited about. More to come on that in the future.

    We are enjoying our new church, we feel like we relate well to this congregation, and it’s been a good fit. I’m enjoying the wide variety of theology they embody and the things they are passionate about. I have many ideas of things I’d like to do there, but they are shelved until after I have surgery.

    Our church
    Matariki decorations at church

    Rev G and I have taken great comfort in our old friendships. It’s nice to just be Donald and Angela, and not the Minister or the Minister’s Wife to our mates. I was reflecting the other day how I find life in Wellington is much more stressful than I remember! I guess I prefer life in smaller places where the traffic isn’t so mental and most amenities are all in one spot. But here we are as a family nonetheless, and I trust that it’s for good reason.

    Miss E and Master D are thriving at their new school. Master D went through a phase of not wanting to go to school, after they returned in Level 2, and I was worried that perhaps the Montessori method didn’t suit him. But he got over that, and is happy as Larry now. Miss E has a BFF (her Mum runs an after-school forest playgroup, yes!), while Master D’s teacher says he’s friends with half the school (he’s very, very extroverted). He is now a sophisticated six-year old and likes to leave me little notes saying “Mum you I love.” and “poo”. Poo is hilarious when you’re six.

  • Faith,  Family,  Parenting

    Level 3: Day 2

    I wake up at 3am in a panic. What was that noise?

    I have visions of burglars coming to steal our supplies. I have watched far too many apocalyptic movies…

    The strange noises I hear turn out to be a rainstorm lashing the house.

    How very apt, I think. Even the weather is in sympathy with the mood of our nation.

    I lie awake trying not to think about how long it will take before people stop buying up like madmen. What if I can’t feed my babies? I tell myself off for being so ridiculous, but cannot shake the feeling of panic. Again, why do I love dystopian fiction so much? Why am I cursed with a vivid imagination?

    At 5am I wake my slumbering husband and demand his reassuring cuddles before I eventually drift off to sleep.

    I sleep in so long I miss an online prayer meeting with my home group and an online trivia game with a friend.

    The storm has passed, it is a beautiful, sunny autumnal day.

    My children are super excited for ‘home school’, and I have an outline for the day. I think I will stick to it because my children like routine. By routine, I mean we will do P.E. first, then read, then go for a walk etc, not a 9:00-9:10 am: Multiplication and fractions sort of schedule.

    I plan to do nothing more than read with the kids, and have them write cards to their friends and relatives. We will make crafts, movies, bake etc. We will garden, and dance to Koo Koo Kangaroo. Simple stuff. I really couldn’t give a toss about actual schoolwork. My children are small and schoolwork is not important right now. I am gratified to hear some of my favourite NZ psych/parenting gurus say the same. Focus on being calm, focus on making them feel safe, focus on doing things together. Be patient as they process their emotions in this scary time.

    On cue, my son has a huge meltdown after breakfast. I’m expecting lots of this behaviour. But actually, he ends up being fine for the rest of the day. Doing P.E. is a highlight for him.

    Doing P.E. with Joe Wicks (who is basically Russell Brand’s well-fit younger brother)

    We spend most of the morning outside. I can’t garden right now except for the odd bit of pruning, so I hobble through the garden, noticing all the flowers that are blooming. I am grateful that a previous owner of our house loved flowers so much.

    The kids make ‘training’ videos, obviously inspired by Joe Wicks, although I suspect Joe doesn’t do ‘the butt dance’ in his videos.

    Miss E is especially kind and helpful today. She helps me hang out the washing, and tidies up a mess left by her brother after he did an impromptu craft.

    Rev G goes into church to get all the things he will need to put online services together. I’m resentful that his mind is mostly on work, and not on his family and make him watch a great clip on Seven Sharp where a psychologist talks about the importance of parents sharing the mental load. I feel like I am the only parent who cares about how our kids are coping with the most stressful event of their short lives.

    But Rev G has been madly running around getting things we need before the lockdown too. He does care. He goes past a supermarket and finds it not busy. He calls me to say it is ‘almost normal’, so he is able to get our usual groceries after all. The huge weight in my chest lifts. My primal brain relaxes again – my babies will not starve (not that they were ever in any danger of that!).

    Master D amazes me by writing himself a ‘worksheet’. They don’t do those at his Montessori school, so I’ve no idea where he came up with that, but I notice his writing has come on so much. I also notice him colouring quietly when he’s not doing stuff with me or his sister. Master D of a year ago was incapable of doing anything quietly for more than a few minutes. Incredible the difference a year makes.

    I notice that I am noticing things more – if that makes sense! I am grateful for so many things: the sun in my face, the Scholastic books that arrived on the last day of school, Zoom catch-ups with friends. I almost never watch terrestrial TV anymore, but I watch the news again, and keep on watching. Jeremy Wells is hysterically funny on Seven Sharp, and then cute puppies being trained as rescue/police/guide dogs etc comes on. I am grateful for the laughs and distraction.

  • Faith,  Family,  Parenting

    Level 3: Day 1

    I started blogging years ago mostly as a way of keeping in touch with my friends and family who – thanks to my somewhat nomadic life – are scattered all over the globe.

    I suck at keeping in touch with people. I’m not great at email, I despise talking on the telephone, and I have a select group of people that I do video calls with. And I’m an extrovert!

    For the next few weeks, this will be a ‘lock down diary’ – so feel free to ignore my posts until normal transmission resumes some day in the future – after all, most of you will be living your own lock down lives too.

    I want to record this event for myself, and particularly for my children. My son is only 5.5 years, and I doubt he will remember any of it when he grows up. What is happening around the world, and to us in New Zealand is of a magnitude I’ve never experience in my life time – and I pray I never do again.

    On Friday I hugged my cousin S and my friend J, as they left our wee dinner party, for we didn’t know when we might see each other again. It was a surreal moment.

    After a moving church service on Sunday, attended by 13 of us, the consensus was that we would continue to meet until directed otherwise by the government or the church. I was quite surprised by this choice, but every single person there was frazzled. Our brains were overloaded with all things COVID-19, and the situation that was unfolding daily. Many of the people at my church work for the government, several of them heavily involved in the crisis response. One person’s job was to run the numbers on the amount of deaths in her field. Can you imagine?

    Monday morning is my usual grocery-shop day. Only I am on week two of mandatory rest to help heal damaged tendons in my knee, so I can’t go. Rev G decides he’ll do the shopping on Tuesday. I think this is fine, because I don’t think we’ll go into Level 3 in New Zealand until later in the week.

    We manage to get a phone consult for Miss E with a doctor, as Miss E still has a cough which has gone on for over seven days. We are sure it isn’t the ‘rona, but are concerned she may need medicine to shift the cough. She’s already had a week off school. I’d like to send her if I could, as she is totally fine except for the odd bit of coughing. She’s been totally fine for about five days at this point. The only reason I want to send her is because she is new at the school, and just starting to settle and make friends.

    The doctor diagnoses a virus – that is not COVID-19 – and says, “Normally I’d tell you to send her to school, but there’s other people’s anxiety to consider at the moment.”

    The Doctor is of course, totally correct. Miss E stays home.

    As Miss E is quite perky, I sit her down and tell her I don’t think she’ll be able to return to school before lock down begins. She flips through our craft books and marks which crafts she wants to do.

    Deciding to save Rev G yet another trip out, I order over the internet the craft supplies we need, plus some Easter Eggs, that we can stash away. I am predicting a sombre Easter.

    I go online to check what fresh horrors await me today, to discover I have just caught the tail end of the government deciding to move us from Level Two to Three, and then Level Four at 11:59 on Wednesday.

    I immediately call Rev G because I know he won’t have heard the news, and tell him to quickly check how crazy the supermarket is. We have plenty of emergency food, but not a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables since today was our normal stock-up day. I’m concerned it may take days for panic-buying to calm down, and curse my knee.

    The shopocalypse is taking place as he drives by, and we decide we can wait!

    I thank God for what we do have.

    I talk to my children about what’s happening. Miss E (7) watched the news with me on Saturday, so she understands that Level Four means no school. In the last few days I have needed to watch the news, something I have rarely done for over a decade; it’s always far too depressing.

    I think I have explained the ‘stay at home’ situation to them. Five minutes later my son asks Rev G to buy him something from the shops. Yeah, he doesn’t get it.

    We watch the news together as a family for the first time ever; I’m hoping that it will help the children understand what it all means. That we can’t pop to the shops. We can’t go to the playground. We can’t see their friends. A snippet on the panic buying helps my son to understand why we don’t want to go to the supermarket right now. Even though they have iceblocks.

    I immediately start conserving food despite the fact that I know the supermarkets will be open throughout. Our portions are slightly smaller, and we explain to the children that waste just won’t be tolerated. They take it pretty well, and eat dinner with little complaint for a change. My husband and I think COVID-19 may be a game changer for their picky palettes.

    Even though we are normally pretty good at using up our food, I suddenly notice outrageous waste. I quickly throw the dregs of a 2-day old cooked chicken and some starting-to-get-manky veg into a pot to make soup. If getting veggies in the shopocalypse turns out to be difficult, this will provide good nutrients. This is my way of panicking.

    I have invited my parents and my brother to a Zoom meeting, although we use most of the time getting it set up properly for my mother. I thank God I have a tech-savvy husband who can do that. We have a lot of fun singing songs and generally being silly, and end with a prayer.

    Rev G had the hymn Jerusalem stuck in his head as he prepared his sermon. The line, “I shall not cease from mental fight” stands out to me.

    I haven’t yet met anyone who is blase about having to stay put for a month. It’s a huge ask to give up our normal lives, but it is absolutely the right decisions. I tell my kids that they are lifesavers.

    I am mostly worried about the mental side of being cooped up this long. I am a sensation-seeking extrovert – a person who loves new, novel things. Where ever I live, I can tell you all the things to do in my area, because you can bet I’ve done most of them. Even though I’m a stay-at-home parent, I’m rarely home for a couple of days at a time, unless I’m unwell. I’m not wired that way.

    My children are not wired that way either. My son is like me – he needs to get out. He is very, very social, and quickly gets irritated and naughty towards his sister if cooped up with just her for company. Rev G and I have just come off the back of having the kids for over seven weeks when we were between homes, and it was exhausting. We had friends and places to go then too!

    I’m chomping at the bit to go for a walk, to exercise, like all the experts are cautioning us to do. Only I can’t right now because of my injury. Hopefully my knee will continue to improve so I can at least get out into the walking track near my house.

    I go to bed exhausted from the day’s events.

  • Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living

    Dollar Diet: Reflections on privilege and COVID-19

    Posting my usual updates on how the Dollar Diet is going just doesn’t feel right to me at the moment. COVID-19 is dominating the news, our shopping habits and our thoughts. Many of my friends around the globe are in self-isolation already, and I believe it will only be a matter of time before New Zealand takes that step as well.

    I was musing on the enormous privilege that I have as I watched a batch of my made-from-scratch pasta sauce thicken and boil away merrily on the stove top. Does pasta sauce do that to you?

    I am very privileged.

    I guess I’ve been thinking about this stuff because I am intrigued by what makes my society tick. There’s been a lot of shaming language relating to COVID-19 being flung about, at least here in New Zealand. People are ‘panic-buying’. People are being ‘selfish’. People are ‘overreacting’. People are ‘underreacting’. People are ‘not taking it seriously’. Where is the moral line that separates ‘panic-buying’ from ‘being prepared to stay at home for two weeks’?

    Having worked with people on the margins, I am deeply worried about how they will be affected in the weeks and months to come. Those of us who are privileged have a duty of care for them. Indeed, there are many people among us who we also need to check in on. Let me explain.

    I am not out there panic-buying because we already have plenty of pantry items due to having a fully-kitted-out emergency supply of food and water. We live in New Zealand. We have earthquakes. Sometimes really bad earthquakes. I was told that this is why New Zealand supplies are faring better than in Australia, because New Zealanders tend to have emergency supplies as a matter of course.

    The way I shop and meal plan means we normally have a decent supply of food in our pantry. We have four people to feed. Several friends who live alone have said to me that they needed to stock up in case they had to self-isolate, because they shop almost daily due to only needing food for one. When you live alone, it’s very easy for things to spoil before you can get around to eating it, so I know plenty of single people who shop this way. I used to when I lived alone! So before judging someone for stuffing their trolley, just remember it could be someone in this situation who normally has very little in their cupboards.

    The Dollar Diet means I’m able to take advantage of items on special and can afford to buy a few discounted items at a time. It’s not uncommon for us to have several boxes of crackers and soy milk, jars of peanut butter and gluten free pasta in our pantry, because when our frequently used items are on special, I snap them up! I am privileged to be able to do this. Many families and individuals aren’t able to shop like this because there is no extra money. An extra tin here and there is an impossible ask. It’s more important than ever to donate to food banks, soup kitchens and shelters, and to be generous with people in your community. We’re not even in self-isolation yet, but my local Facebook group is full of people offering to help. People are beautiful.

    Should the shopocalypse get any worse (although currently my local supermarket is fine…), I am confident in my ability to make what food we have stretch for quite some time. I am a pretty decent cook (having learned the art from my friend R), and know how to use up what we have. This is privilege (not to mention that having a home with a kitchen, electricity, pots, pans etc is a huge privilege in itself…). I know loads of people who might look at their cupboards in despair, wondering what to do with that tin of chickpeas lurking at the back of the shelf, a manky zucchini and half a tomato, and a past-its-used-by-date box of Chinese Five Spice. Many people don’t know how to cook, and are dependant on takeaways and eating out. They don’t have the basic skills, let alone knowing the skills of how to stretch a meal or making things from scratch. If you know someone like that, check in on them.

    I am currently housebound – not because of COVID-19, but due to damaged tendons in my knee (probably a knock on of last year’s car crash). I am under strict instructions to rest my knee for at least two weeks. I live with my supportive husband who can get groceries and do housework, and with two children who are capable of getting themselves dressed, fed and passing me the remote control etc. I’ve had friends drop meals around, been inundated with books to read and DVDs to watch. I have people who care and who are praying for me (healing is going well, by the way!). My community is a privilege. There may be sick or immune-compromised people where you are who live alone, and who have no one to ask for help. Again, please reach out to your neighbours and friends – particularly those who are elderly or live alone.

    The idea of self-isolating doesn’t fill me with dread. I have a family to interact with. My children are very entertaining, and I’m sure we can fill the time quite happily. But again, many people live alone. Not everyone has a wide circle of friends and a close family. Loneliness is a real problem. Check in with your single friends, with any elderly relatives. Maybe have regular phone calls, texts or Skype etc with those who are particularly vulnerable. Organise a online group with friends to chat and keep your spirits up. Make sure you include your more introverted friends who wouldn’t normally instigate something like that!

    Please stay safe and connected, my friends. Think of others, reach out. Be the village.

  • Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living

    Dollar Diet Week Two: Panic stations?

    Our budget has taken quite a beating as we settle into our life in Wellington. School and stationery fees, building up pantry supplies, items for the new house or garden etc. This is just the reality of moving – it’s expensive.

    Not only are groceries in Wellington way more expensive than our previous home of Pleasant Point, but we’ve had to spend considerable moolah just building up a supply of basic pantry items and cleaning supplies. Because we were required to put our things in storage for several weeks between houses, we had to run down our pantry supplies before the move; as movers will not move and store pantry and cleaning supplies that are open. For obvious reasons like vermin and spills.

    We have also usually kept a supply of items to last us several days in case of an emergency – most usually earthquakes here in New Zealand. You can find my previous post about putting together a kid-friendly survival kit here. I get a few days worth of non-perishable items that will make nutritious meals, water for drinking and cooking, plus a few treats and things like colouring books for the kids – because I imagine it’s pretty damn traumatic to be in a natural disaster.

    I said to Mr G a couple of Fridays ago, “We need to get our earthquake kit together. Should we get a bit extra in case Covid-19 gets here?” We weren’t panicking, but it seemed like a wise idea in case schools get shut. Later that day, after we’d finished putting our kit together, it was announced that the first case of Covid-19 had come to New Zealand.

    I am not freaked out about the virus, as it seems unlikely it will give my family and I more than a bad cold. However I do have a propensity to developing pneumonia – my last bout was only 18 months ago, and it took me three months to recover – so I’d say I am a bit more worried about it than my peers.

    I’m not sure why people are stocking up on toilet paper like it’s Armageddon. If Covid-19 was a gastro bug, I could totally understand! I do think it’s prudent to have two weeks worth of food in your cupboards, especially if workplaces or schools are closed down. If that doesn’t happen, then you’ve got a disaster kit at the ready.

    Two weeks worth is a lot of food, but Covid-19 seems to stay present for several days after symptoms have gone, and is why the recommended period for self-isolation is so long. You don’t have to rush out immediately and get two weeks worth at once, but you might want to pop a few extra items in your trolley, if you can afford it. And if you are able, think about donating non-perishable items to food banks, as for many people on low incomes buying ‘extra’ is impossible.

    My tip is to mark on your calendar to start using those supplies six months from now, so nothing goes to waste. We have done this for years and this system works well. Just remember to buy a few days worth of food to replace your emergency kit – at least three days is recommended. I would rather feel a bit silly for ‘overreacting’ (I’m finding the language and shaming around this pandemic very interesting!), than be stuck at home for two weeks with hungry and bored kids.

    Anyway, that was a long ramble just to say we went over our usual grocery budget.

    Here are some things I did to be frugal this week:

    • Started packing Rev G’s lunch for him. That sounds absolutely vomitous, seeing it written down. I swear I’m not Suzy Homemaker, with my apron and coiffed hair, kissing Rev G on the cheek as he goes to work. I currently pack lunch for everyone as my family seriously struggle with getting out the door in the morning (I’m sure we’re not alone in this!). Whilst totally capable of making his own lunch, this simple act has reduced his time pressure in the morning, and means no one is late to school or work. Rev G has taken a packed lunch for work for years, but me making his lunch has reduced the times he’s had to pop to a cafe for lunch because he forgot to make it/ran out of time. There are many times that frugality requires teamwork. And I like that.
    • Batched my errands to minimise car use.
    • Relied on free entertainment: books, catching up with friends, hobbies (most of my free time has been taken up with writing a small-group Lent study based on The Two Popes).
    • Meal planned and was diligent about using leftovers and things lurking at the back of the fridge.

    Anyway, wishing you a safe and healthy week!

  • Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living,  Parenting

    It’s back! Dollar Diet 2020

    That’s right folks, the Dollar Diet is back!

    For my newer readers, I first embarked on a Dollar Diet back in 2015. Several years before that, I was quite the spender – now that feels like a lifetime ago! I am now a frugal living pro, and I love the freedom, creativity and fun it brings to my life.

    There isn’t just more than one reason that I choose to embrace frugal living, but my reasons include:

    • wanting to get my shit together and live like an adult!
    • eliminating the stress of living paycheck to paycheck
    • necessity, as we switched from two high-incomes to one high income (as I became a stay-at-home parent), and then to one medium income (as Rev G became a minister for the Presbyterian church).
    • saving for emergencies, holidays, housing, retirement etc.
    • being a good steward of the resources I have…which leads into…
    • living ethically when we are in the midst of a climate crisis, and millions of people around the world live in poverty. Compared to how most of the world lives, I live in luxury, and I never want to lose sight of that. We commit to reducing, reusing and recycling whenever possible.
    • and finally…spending less means we can give more. I can’t tell you how good it feels to have the money to help out people with emergencies, or to help support the work of the agencies we donate to.

    Despite getting myself more financially literate, and changing my spending habits over the course of a few years, Rev G and I seemed unable to save much, despite a good income.  We needed to plug the holes in our budget – and that’s where the Dollar Diet came in.

    The Dollar Diet is simple.  Buy what you NEED.  Think long and hard before buying what you WANT.  Is it necessary?  Can you do without it?  Can you borrow it instead?  Save up for it?  Even NEEDS can be slimmed down by growing your own fruit and veg, or bartering and borrowing when possible.

    My 2020 list of needs has changed since 2015 to reflect our new living situation, and the fact that our children are both at school:

    • Rent* (This is a nominal figure, as the church pays most of our accommodation. Yes, that’s a sweet deal, and reflects the unique calling of the profession. It also reflects the fact that were ministers and their families charged market rent, most could not afford to live in places like Wellington, Auckland etc as the cost of accommodation is too high).
    • Groceries (since beginning the Dollar Diet I seldom go over budget!)
    • Electricity
    • Gas
    • Internet/phone
    • Netflix 
    • Insurances
    • Petrol, vehicle maintenance
    • Rates (for the house we own in another city)
    • Tithing, sponsorship, church activities
    • University money for kids
    • Doctor’s visits & prescriptions, dentist visits
    • School fees and donations (we pay a fee for our kids to attend a Montessori unit at their school)
    • Performing arts class – Miss E
    • Gymnastics class – Master D
    • Gifts (making what I possibly can myself)
    • Haircuts (we both only get our hair cut 2 or 3 times a year)
    • Moisturizer, the odd bit of makeup, sunscreen and bug spray (mozzies LOVE me), undies – A
    • A few invention gizmos – Rev G
    • Rubbish & recycling collection
    • Garden maintenance
    • Shoes, clothing and underwear. This budget line is pretty low. We make do with what we have, mending when needed, accepting hand-me-downs, going to clothing swaps, using second-hand clothing whenever possible. This line used to be zero, but then I got real about my love of charity shops. I must add that I am very good at hunting out bargains, and about 80% of my wardrobe is secondhand.
    • Holidays (free or low-cost accommodation where possible.)
    • A fun budget: to fund the odd meal out/takeaway/family outing

    * We do get a small income in rent from the house we own (freehold) in another city.

    Our list of needs will doubtless look different to yours.  

    For D and I, holidays are vital to our sanity, and for me they are the main reason I save money.  In fact, I will probably post later on in the year about why holidays are particularly essential to my well-being. We spent a lot on travel last year – for various reasons – but will be reining this in over 2020.

    image via Pexels

    It’s the things that aren’t on the list that save you money.  Walking or taking public transport when possible. Meal plan to slash your grocery budget and eliminate food waste. Pack your lunch everyday.  Say no to takeaway coffees each morning.  No splurging $300 on a pair of shoes that are almost the same as the pair you already own.  No mindless following of ‘fashion’.  Learn to make ‘fakeaways’.  Get rid of any subscription that you don’t use.  Don’t buy books or movies (that’s why libraries were invented) or pretty tchotchkes from K Mart for your home.  Avoid lavish gifts, and recipes requiring pricey ingredients.  Try a staycation, or camping.  Meet friends for a walk instead of brunch at an expensive cafe.  Learn to sit with FOMO by saying no to costly plays, concerts, exhibitions. Let go of extravagant hobbies like golf or skiing (unless your hobbies make you money or saves your sanity). Limit the amount of activities your children engage in.

    The fun and the challenge comes from trying to find free or frugal alternatives to keep living the good life.  Instead of going out for brunch, host a pancake breakfast for your friends.  Exercise for free by taking up running or using You Tube workouts instead of paying for the gym.  Pack your own lunch and your coffee for work.  Have a meal or two in the freezer for the nights when you are too tired to cook.  You get the picture.

    Frugality unleashes creativity

    I must advise that the biggest learning I have had from the Dollar Diet is the importance of having a fun budget.  Skimping and saving can get relentlessly grim without a few bright spots to look forward to.  These things don’t have to be extravagant, but small treats that feed your soul most definitely have a place in the Dollar Diet.

    For example…

    Me, I love this incredible brand of peanut butter. Rev G likes the odd beer, or a gadget from Ali Express. I love to go to shows, concerts, exhibitions and basically anything cultural – but I look for free or inexpensive events. My Christmas gift from Rev G was a ‘friends’ membership to Te Papa (a wonderful museum here in Wellington), as it offers me discounted entry into exhibitions, and free or heavily discounted entry to the various talks and workshops Te Papa runs throughout the year. Membership is not expensive, and I get to learn, be inspired and be a culture vulture all year long.

    We were so grateful to be gifted a family pass to Zealandia by our new church. Zealandia is a bird and wildlife eco-sanctuary not far from our new home, with beautiful walking tracks, and a great education programme that runs most of the year. Our pass gives us unlimited entry for the year and invitations to special events. I plan to ‘go bush’ at Zealandia a lot this year!

    Our savings goals for 2020 are pretty simple: have a good cushion for emergencies, enough money for a wee holiday or two, and to give more generously to our church and the various charities we support – and to anyone we know in need. Last year we gave several hundred dollars to a friend in a terrible crisis, without blinking. The Dollar Diet enables us to live generously.

    I plan to post regularly about my Dollar Diet attempts, triumphs and failures this year, so come along for the ride.

    Caveat: I can never post about the Dollar Diet without first acknowledging that I come from a position of enormous privilege.  I am a white, well-educated, happily married, middle-class, heterosexual female.  We have no debt and some of this is due to the privilege that Rev G and I were born into, and the opportunities given to us.
  • Faith,  Family

    Wellingtonians, again

    It feels like a year’s worth of living has been crammed into the last two months since we left Pleasant Point.

    I’d like to say it’s been a swell time, but the truth is it has been an exhausting ride to get to our new home in Wellington. I hung in there by the skin of my teeth, often counting the hours and minutes until the children started their new school.

    Farewell, manse carpet!

    Mr G left Pleasant Point a week before the children and I, to finish his last block course for his studies. We had a riotous celebration the day he handed in his last assignment. I simultaneously wanted to leap for joy and burn all of his textbooks, as he has been beavering away at assignments and essays for the last EIGHT years! Not having the spectre of assignments looming large over Mr G and our time as a family, feels like an enormous burden has been lifted.

    We decided to depart as soon as Mr G’s internship had finished, despite there being two more weeks of school, Christmas etc – because it was imperative that Mr G got a decent break between jobs. Having your father pass away, your wife be in a serious car crash, plus a workload of several assignments does not make for a fun time. But he got through it, with his usual grace, grit and humour, and earned that holiday.

    In his absence, I readied the house for moving. The movers packed everything, but I still had a list a mile long of things I needed to do before the moving trucks arrived.

    We bade a tearful farewell to our friends in Pleasant Point. In the weeks leading up to our departure, the stress and anxiety started to show up in the children’s behaviour. Miss E, kept saying things like “I just got a bit of that plant in my mouth, will I die?” I don’t know why, but that’s just how her anxiety manifested.

    Master D was even more argumentative and tantrumy than he usually is (he’s very strong-willed, …like his mama). He also stopped eating very much. He’s a very slender child, so it was a worry! My MiL is very wise and remembered not eating as a child herself in response to stress in her life, and I think that is true for Master D as well. Both my children are out-going extroverts who handle change pretty well, but there’s no getting around the fact that moving towns as a child is just blimmin’ hard and stressful.

    We spent two weeks on the road – seeing Mr G graduate from his studies, visiting friends and seeing some of the beautiful South Island. There was a major weather event (which we missed!) that closed several main roads, and meant we had to change our route. It was disappointing, but I know we will be back that way one day.

    Pit stop at Oamaru
    Getting to be part of the Christmas play at our friends’ church
    Toasting marshmallows at our friends’ farm
    Lupins at Lake Manapouri
    Rocking out at Lake Manapouri
    Kepler Track, Te Anau
    Queenstown
    Arrowtown

    Our road trip was a good one – our kids are good travellers, who are unphased by sleeping in different places. They had a wonderful time playing with the five children of our friends who farm near Gore. It was a beautiful thing to watch my two happily join in a triathlon that the other children were doing, and for them to experience life on a farm. Animals galore! Quad bikes! Marshmallow roasting! What’s not to like?

    We spent several days chilling out at Lake Manapouri, which is just as beautiful, but less touristy and expensive than Lake Te Anau. We stayed right on the lake front, and spent most of our time outside walking and enjoying the incredible scenery. We spent a night in Queenstown. I loved nearby Arrowtown, which has retained many of its heritage buildings from New Zealand’s gold mining era.

    After two weeks we were glad to put down temporary roots in our previous hometown of Whanganui. On the ferry from the South Island to the North Island, we were informed the church had rented us a house in Wellington and we could move in mid-January!

    We spent several weeks in Whanganui staying at a property our friends own, which is right next to their home. Our children are a similar age, and so the five kids had the kind of nostalgic summers one only reads about. Long hours of playing with friends, uninterrupted by adults. Coming home only for food and drink and to reapply sunscreen. Friends just a fence climb away.

    It was especially neat to see a firm friendship develop between my son D (5.5) and their son Z (4.5), as D went through a terrible bullying phase as a toddler. The usual object of his toddler rage was poor Z! But now they are great buds. Within three days of being back in Whanganui, among his old friends and his grandparents, I’m happy to say D resumed his normal eating patterns. E’s anxiety tapered off.

    One one of the rare summer days!
    Miss E with J, good buddies est. 2013

    We all got sick at some point during our time in Whanganui – which is typical for us when we are exposed to different bugs in new places. I got glutened twice, which took me quite a while to recover from. I didn’t get t see everyone I wanted to – but we don’t live far away now, so there will be other opportunities!

    Miss E turned 7 during our stay, and celebrated with a high tea party.

    Miss E, with K (2)
    We played old-fashioned games
    D, with his snazzy bow tie

    Mr G and I spent two nights away doing something fun and relaxing…jokes, we UNPACKED OUR ENTIRE HOUSE. I’m not sure how it’s possible considering all the stuff I sled/gave away/got rid of before we moved, but unpacking a house seems to get more tiring each time I do it! We wanted the children to be able to arrive at their new home with everything unpacked and ready for them.

    My original plan was to return to Whanganui, where we had playdates, friends and family on tap, and stay on there for the duration of the summer holidays with E and D. Whereas many of our friends in Wellington either don’t have children, or were away or busy working/at holiday programmes. But once Mr G left so he could start his new ministry job, E’s anxiety came back. After a few days she tearfully admitted to me, “I know Daddy is okay, but my brain keeps telling me he’s dead.”

    We left for our new home in Wellington the next day.

    Once we were all together in our new house, she came right again. She was definitely anxious about her first day at school, but she’s had a fantastic first week there, and seems to love it. Long may that continue!

    We did a few fun things before school went back (like the Weta Workshops tour, so cool!), but mostly we were just weary, worn out, cranky and tired. Living out of a suitcase for two months wasn’t much fun, and we are grateful to be settled in to our new home, and into life in Wellington. Being back in Wellington is a bit like putting on my favourite cardi that I gleefully pull out each winter – it is comforting, warm and familiar.

    Thunderbirds are go!

    We received a heartfelt welcome from our new congregation. I’m sure it won’t all be unicorns and rainbows over the next few years, but I like them very much already. Mr G’s ordination ceremony was a fun occasion and he is now fully-fledged Reverend. It was a fitting conclusion to all his years of hard work.

    Rev and Master D

    As for me? I am taking it easy for a while. I need to have back surgery (due to my car crash), so I won’t be looking for work until that’s done. The only trouble with being back in Wellington is that I want to do ALL.THE.THINGS! There are so many shows, workshops, lectures, exhibitions, talks etc on my doorstep, that ‘taking it easy’ might be harder than it seems! I am also helping out at church, so there is plenty to keep me occupied.

    Anyway, here’s to life as a Wellingtonian, again.

  • Faith,  Family,  Parenting

    Advent with kids: on the road edition

    Longtime readers will know that I LOVE all things Christmas. Advent is my favourite time of year. I enjoy all the things that this time of year brings, like carols and driving around to see the lights, nativity plays, going to church on Christmas Eve; all of it. My tree goes up on December 1st, and you might (okay, you will definitely) see me singing along to all those annoying Christmas songs that stores start pumping out in November.

    As a Christian, it is also a very meaningful time of year. I try to take time out each day to do a devotional, to re-read Luke’s gospel, to reflect on the gift that is Jesus.

    This year will be a Christmas like no other for my family.

    In less than two weeks, our belongings will be packed up, shipped to Wellington and put into storage. We don’t know how long for, because Mr G’s new job still has to find us a house to rent! We’re very fortunate that we can stay with friends in my hometown for as long as we need to.

    We are taking a much needed holiday between jobs – a break that includes a two week road trip around the gorgeous sights of the South Island, and catching up with friends who we’ve not seen in ages. So, for much of Advent, we will be on the road.

    It feels somewhat flat to not have a Christmas tree, the end-year-parties to attend, and no plans to make gifts for my loved ones (normally by now we are knee deep in ginger beer and other goody-makings). The advent calendar I made several years ago, will be gathering dust in storage. The nativity books we read each year will be boxed up.

    This year I have been super organised with getting my Christmas cards out and gifts for my December birthday friends, but I’m not making a single thing this year. Moving is stressful enough without adding a long road trip and Christmas to it, and I don’t want to add crafting or baking madly on Dec 23rd into the mix because of some self-imposed idea of what I should or should not gift at Christmas.

    As my kids get older, the more they are exposed to the world. Santa is everywhere. Gimme, gimme, gimme is everywhere. So I plan to keep on observing Advent on the road to help my children (and me) focus on the ‘reason for the season’.

    Here’s how we’re doing advent on the road:

    • I’ve bought a couple of chocolate advent calendars. One has Marvel superheroes and one has Toy Story 4. Because nothing says ‘Christmas’ quite like Hulk Smash, am I right? Actually, they did have ONE solitary nativity chocolate advent calendar but it looked of very dubious origin and I don’t want to give my kids radioactive chocolate. Anyway, Buzz, Woody and Hulk Smash etc are light, and way more robust than the family advent calendar I created a few years ago. Hopefully the two calendars will make it to Dec 24 after being battered around in the car.
    • We’re still going to celebrate St Nicholas’ Day (Dec 5 or 6, depending on what country you live in). We don’t do Santa, but we do celebrate the actual saint who inspired the Santa myth. We’ll read a story about him (I must write my own because, trust me, there is quite a gap in the market for a well-written book on St Nick), and the kids will find some coins in their shoes when they wake up.
    • We’re going to ‘follow the star’. In a similar vein to Elf on the Shelf (which I despise, so I’m kinda ashamed to realise I’m doing something similar), I am taking the star from our Christmas tree with us. It’s light and doesn’t take up much space. Where ever we are, the kids can wake up to find the star hiding in plain sight, and follow it, like the Wise Men. We’re going to be staying in a dazzling array of places, but that twinkling, comforting star will be there too.
    • We’ve got a carols playlist. As I mentioned, I have zero shame belting out carols way before December, so why should the confines of my car be any different? For the record, O, Holy Night is my favourite.
    • We’ll read a bit of the Christmas story from the Bible each day. I also have a small advent journey game I picked up last year, for when we’re looking for something to do while we’re travelling.
    • I’m bringing the kid’s Christmas sacks with me, because familiar things are comforting.

    And that’s plenty. Now I see it in a list it seems like a lot, but they are all very simple things. Calendar, story, songs.

    We will be in my hometown for Christmas, and I’m looking forward to seeing our church family there, and their annual Christmas Eve family service. This will be our last Christmas where we are free to do what we want and go where we want, as Mr G will be pretty darn busy as a minister in Christmases to come.

    As our time in Pleasant Point comes to an end, I am mostly feeling surprisingly chill about the move. I’ve whizzed through my to-do list, and have only got fun things like farewell parties, and not-so-fun things like defrosting the fridge left to do.

    May your own journey towards Christmas be a joyful and peaceful one.

    x Angela

  • Faith,  Family

    Waiting

    People, we have seven weeks left here in Pleasant Point. Seven!

    Mr G’s two year internship has simultaneously dragged and whizzed by. I’m not entirely sure how that’s even possible, but it’s definitely how the two years have seemed to me. Perhaps there’s a time/space vortex just down the road from me, that the local council really should do something about? Don’t believe me?

    My baby started school today. My baby is FIVE and is at SCHOOL.

    He had a wonderful first day, and is so blase about the whole thing. If he were a teenager he’d be rolling his eyes, saying ‘Chill mum, I start school, like ALL the time!’ He’s not a teenager, so he just lays out the info like most children. In other words, school was ‘good’, and his teacher was ‘nice’ and he ‘played’. Can’t ask for much more! Well, there’s no getting any more out of him…

    Now D is at school, I find myself with seven glorious weeks before we pack up our stuff and move to Wellington. My oh-my-Lord-I-have-all-this-time-to-myself-for-the-first-time-in-forever list is ambitious, like always. Daily walks, dusting off my beginners French, writing, painting (a desk, not art), getting our things ready for the move. Bliss.

    I find myself in a familiar place.

    Limbo.

    That waiting-for-my-life-to-start-in-our-new-place feeling. I have moved so many times (I think I’m up to move 29), that once I know I am on the move (especially cross-country), I find it tempting to shed my ‘old life’ and am usually impatient to just get on with it and get to the ‘new’ place. I distance myself from friends in my old place as saying goodbye hurts. I stop trying as hard at work and elsewhere because ‘I’m leaving so it doesn’t matter’. I am eager to get to the ‘new’.

    But this time, I find myself strangely enjoying limbo. The old is comfortable and familiar. I am in no rush.

    Perhaps it is because this time our move is a little bit like going home? Mr G will soon be the Minister for Wadestown Presbyterian Church. Wellington is his hometown, and I have lived there for 15 years, on and off. We have good, old friends there who just know us as “DnA”, not as the minister and his wife. We have family there too (who we are looking forward to seeing more often!). I used to live a few suburbs over from where we will be based, and know the area well.

    Wadestown is a very affluent suburb, and not somewhere we’d ever visualised ending up as a ministry family. But God has been in each step of the process and we feel confident that we are going right where He wants us to be. I know it won’t be all unicorns and kittens and rainbows because church can be a difficult and messy thing at times, but I also know that God sure knows what he’s doing.

    Our two years in Pleasant Point hasn’t been easy. Many times Mr G and I have been on our knees, asking God why He brought us here, or why we needed such tough life lessons! Mr G has borne the brunt of it, of course, but has been moulded into a blimmin’ good preacher, if I do say so myself. It has been and still is, a troubling time for our small parish here, who are facing an uncertain future. But I have confidence that we were sent here for a reason, even though I may never know what that was or see the fruit of it. And I know that God is with our parish here.

    We have met some beautiful people, who I will really miss. I will miss the jaw-dropping scenery. Being able to walk anywhere in town in five minutes. The slow pace of life. The lack of traffic.

    I will not miss the parochialism that is rife here. The ‘oh, your family hasn’t been here for 150 years’ attitude which I find bizarre, not being the sort of person who actually cares about that kind of thing. I hear it gets worse the further south you go, but it’s not like there’s any scientific data to back that up so let’s chalk it up to a cultural experience?

    Anyway, as I’m going to take a leaf out of my kid’s books and live in the moment more over these seven weeks. Because I actually can. Seven weeks to myself. Wow.

    Be like Miss E, and savour the moment!
  • Faith,  Family

    Death, near-death, and life.

    image via Pexels

    It was the worst June ever.

    I was only a few days into a 10-day South Island road trip with my American friends who came all this way to see me, when we got the news that my lovely father-in-law was dying.

    It wasn’t a shock, as he’d almost died back in April, due to heart, liver and kidney issues. We knew he was on borrowed time. He’d been back in hospital for two weeks while the doctors tried to get to the bottom of the problem. Mr G and I had even discussed what we’d do if the worst happened while I was away on holiday with my friends.

    The worst did happen.

    At first we were told he was dying, this was really it. I was in Omarama with my friends. Fortunately we were only two hours out of Queenstown, travelling on a familiar road. There was a flight out to Wellington (where my FIL lived) if we left in a hurry.

    As I was driving my husband called with the news that his dad had passed away.

    There is such a huge difference between knowing something sad and painful will happen, and it actually happening.

    I felt so awful for Mr G, who had a warm and loving relationship with his dad. I was gutted for our children, who will never get to appreciate the vibrant wit and spirit of their Granddad – let alone the loss of a man who was just crazy about them, and thought everything they did was wonderful and marvellous. And there was my own grief, for the loss of a man who I loved and cared for.

    I also felt anger and grief at losing precious time with my friends. We were going to explore part of the South Island I had never been to before. I was so enjoying their company, after not seeing each other for over six years. My friend J and I have been friends for over 25 years, first meeting in journalism class in a Kansas high school where I was an exchange student. J and her mom are so, so special to me. It felt cruel to have to leave them to continue the journey on their own. I still feel angry at losing this time with them, even though it is absolutely no one’s fault. But it is still there, all the same.

    The next few days were a blur; organising all the things that need to be done when someone passes away. My FiL’s affairs were in a right mess, but we experienced the love and care of many, many people in our village.

    Friends had our children over for playdates. Relatives looked after our children so we could concentrate on organising the funeral. We got so many messages of support from all sorts of people. The minister from our old church – where Mr G and I met – took the funeral service. A friend from that church took time off work to be on the sound desk for the funeral. Many of our church friends came to the service. A good friend of mine, who barely knew my FiL showed up to the funeral just to support Mr G and I.

    My FiL died without a will, and it’s been such a headache to sort out, resulting in Mr G being on the phone to family members most evenings.

    Two weeks after the funeral we got the news that Mr G’s terminally-ill aunt was on her way out. Fortunately she pulled through and is still with us. Then two days later I had a spectacular car crash.

    I was on my way to Christchurch, planning to spend the day hitting a couple of shops, before going to the museum and art gallery. My idea of a great day. Mr G had been away for his ministry training and I was going to pick him up in the evening. Then we were off for a few child-free nights to stay in beautiful Akaroa.

    I took the back roads because they are safer….I was singing along to music when suddenly the steering wheel jerked out of my grasp. It took me several seconds to register what had happened – the car had hit a patch of black ice. There was no visible frost anywhere – it was mid-morning on a very sunny day – so ice was the last thing I was expecting. I was on a long, straight road, going around 90kph.

    As the car lost traction, there was nothing I could do.

    My first thought was ‘I’m going to die!” followed by ‘this is really going to hurt!”

    The car spun over to the other lane, hit a concrete race on the side of the road, spun again, hit another race, and then came to a stop on the side of the road.

    When the car came to a stop, I was stunned to find myself alive, and relatively unhurt (or so I thought). I’d given my knee a huge whack on the steering column, and my seat had twisted so it was almost facing sideways, but I was okay. Luckily no cars had been coming the other way otherwise it might have been a different story.

    “NOT TODAY SATAN!”, I yelled. Plus some swear words.

    A lady travelling behind me witnessed the whole thing and called an ambulance, and came to check on me. She told me she thought I might be dead after seeing the accident. She couldn’t believe it when I told her I was mostly okay.

    I decided to stay put in the car because I wasn’t sure if my leg was broken or not. I thought not, but decided to play it safe.

    Another couple who lived nearby stopped and stayed with me until the emergency services arrived, saying that the particular stretch of road I was on was notorious for black ice. And I’d gone that road because it was safer…

    I had a first responder (volunteer) turn up, followed by the fire service and police. The policeman was livid – not at me, but at the local council as he’d told them to grit that part of the road the day before! He assured me the accident was not my fault.

    I was treated for possible spinal injuries which meant the ignominy of being strapped to a board and lifted out through the back of the car.

    An ambulance had arrived, and by the time I was put in it, I realised that my chest and ribs were not okay. Apparently shock does that – you focus on the bit that hurts the most, and just don’t notice everything else!

    The rest was like something out of a movie.

    Being put in the ambulance, loaded up with painkillers, seeing the hospital only by its ceiling tiles (I was not allowed to move, and was strapped to a board for hours), having an MRI, being poked with myriad needles as my veins weren’t cooperating. The nice doctor apologising for all the needle marks. The nurse who stroked my hand and told me how well I was doing. The hospital volunteer who texted people for me because I couldn’t move. The receptionist, who turned out to be a minister herself, inviting Mr G and I to stay with her.

    It was the most horrible day of my life. And I was alone – except for the amazing hospital staff, but you know what I mean. My Mil and my children were home in Pleasant Point. There was nothing they could do, and I didn’t want to worry the kids. Mr G couldn’t get to me until about 7:30pm that night – he’d had no choice but to stick to his original flight from Tauranga. His ministry school kindly organised a rental car for him.

    It wasn’t until Mr G arrived until I finally burst into tears. I had survived a high speed crash with only two fractured ribs, a prolapsed spinal disc, and several bumps and bruises.

    So many bruises

    I was determined to carry on to Akaroa, which turned out to be a good thing as I had three days without my children trying to jump on me.

    Akaroa harbour

    I had never been to the beautiful, french-influenced village of Akaroa before, and I loved it.

    Despite my injuries, and the painkillers making me sleepy, I made the short walk to Akaroa lighthouse. It was a warm, sunny day and I just felt so incredibly grateful to be alive.

    I said many prayers of praise and thanksgiving that day.

    The awful terror I’d had, where I honestly thought I was about to die stayed with me for several days. I am still very twitchy in cars as a passenger, and now I can drive again, I am naturally very paranoid about any roads that have trees shading them. I can’t wait for warmer weather to arrive so I can relax again!

    But several weeks on I am almost back to normal. My bruises are gone, and my ribs are almost mended. Life goes on.

    If you are one of the people who sent me a message of support or a card, or cooked us a meal, or prayed for me, I’d like to tell you just how much it means to me. Thank you so much.

    If you are a pray-er, would you please pray for Mr G? The poor man has had to look after an injured wife, whilst grieving for his father, trying to sort out the estate, plus working, study assignments, applying for a new job (his internship finishes at the end of the year)… It’s a heavy load to bear, although he’s doing it with his usual humour and grace. But prayers appreciated just the same.

    “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30