Holy heck that's cool

When The Girlie asks to hear Taylor Swift's "Shake it off" again, and I put it on Youtube, and then I click on the side column recommendation of this:


Like... wow.

I didn't get travel insurance. Instead, I got a credit card.

Maybe some of you read this and think, "Duh, Maria! We've known about this for a long time already! Can't believe you didn't know it worked like that."

And if you do, I suggest you don't read any further :)

But if you don't - the way I didn't, up until I started booking our European plane tickets this week - then read on. Knowing it may come in handy.

So: this week I went through the rigmarole of booking Christchurch-London-Christchurch plane tickets for our family of four. The undertaking was... massive.

I mean, seriously: I've booked a fair amount of flights during my years of being single or at least childless, and never did I think that doing it for a whole family would be so different.

One: we are travelling on two separate planes - The Man takes one kid, I take another.
Two: between us we have three different citizenships.
Three: both me and The Kid have a list of medical conditions which puts our travel and health insurances at a premium.
Four: we are going with an early, early, early bird fares to a point that some airlines haven't even RELEASED tickets to as far as we are booking them into (so the airline is basically giving us an option of buying tickets now and then, without charge, changing them to a later date once the later date is released).

But nevertheless: we've done it. This morning $6,734 left our bank account and we have, officially, booked tickets to go to Europe next year!

But there's a nifty little trick I learned in the process, and that is, namely, that some credit cards come with complimentary (international) travel insurance, which means that on this occasion we 1) did not get (separate) travel insurance and, instead, got a 2) credit card which will provide us with just that.

And it's cheaper.


It's been eight years since I've last had a credit card. I had one when I first came to New Zealand because it allowed me access to significant "emergency funds", but since I paid that off in 2010 I haven't had one.

Me and The Man don't use credit cards. We have an agreed-upon amount of money sitting in our bank account each day and whenever we manage to save above that amount, the excess gets squirreled away into a savings account. The upside is that savings account earns us interest - but downside is, whenever we have a large purchase looming we need to plan ahead and ask the bank to release funds from our savings account, because savings accounts have notice periods.

Which means that normally, we don't have enough money to just go and, you know, buy plane tickets to Europe!

Which is where the credit card comes into play.

Last week I noticed that Flight Centre was holding a sale for Christchurch-London-Christchurch tickets at $1,799. It's a... pretty good deal, especially given that it's a combination of Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand, both high-quality customer service airlines, with short layovers only in Auckland and then Shanghai.

But we didn't have money to just go and buy the tickets outright, and we didn't have time to wait.

So we looked into getting a credit card temporarily, so we could buy the tickets and then pay the credit card off again. I was on the phone to Kiwibank planning to get one of their low-fee cards when the man on the phone said that the most expensive one, what they call Airpoints Platinum comes with travel insurance and I was, like, "Wait, what? Comes with travel insurance? As in, for free?"


"Travel insurance. What kind?"

The man started explaining and at that point my two-hour back-to-back phone marathon with our bank, our insurance company and our travel company started, the result of which is that I now have plane tickets and insurance at a price that is better than if I'd gone for just travel insurance on its own.


The story is, basically, pretty simple. Every holder of a Kiwibank Airpoints Platinum credit card gets 40 days of travel insurance coverage for free and therefore the cost on our end was the annual fee of the credit card itself, $180.

Paying with a credit card did mean that we had to pay a 2% credit card fee (so the tickets cost us $6,734 instead of $6,602) but even with the $132 credit card fee the total was still cheaper than getting travel insurance on its own: $180+$132=$312 compared to $434 which was our independent travel insurance quote.

Flight Centre did caution me to check what the terms and conditions were exactly, because apparently there have been cases where "credit card insurance" kicks in only 3 days before departure and therefore, if one of us broke their leg and was hospitalised, unable to fly, we wouldn't be insured if it happened more than 3 days prior to departure.

But no - in our case all was well. The company who offers insurance through Kiwibank is Tower Insurance and their coverage kicks in from the moment I use the credit card, so buying the plane tickets started our insurance coverage. And it isn't some sort of a skinned back, "light" version of insurance, either - it's standard terms and conditions.

I then even spent an hour on the phone with Tower Insurance's medical team clearing the list of mine and The Kid's medical conditions. For $50 each, both me and The Kid are covered to the full extent, so that if something happens that is, say, connected to my epilepsy - I am still going to be covered. It's not excluded from the insurance contract.


And then the last thing, the credit card earns us Air New Zealand airpoints which we can put towards getting our plane tickets from Invercargill to Christchurch later in the year.

This $6,734 purchase, for example, earned us an equivalent of $90 that we can put towards Invercargill plane tickets. (In addition to the fact that our 'usual' bank card is already connected to airpoints so that buying groceries, for example, is also slowly earning us airpoints.)


And that is, basically, how we ended up getting a credit card instead of travel insurance.

PS. Did you know of this option previously?

Fits, doesn't it

The floor in the laundry room is uneven, which is why The Man has taken to referring to our washing machine as 'the loud jumping machine'.

It's happening

Wow this is labour-intensive...

I have spent two hours on the phone. It's like a spiderweb of contracts, terms and conditions: travel insurance, coverage, whether they're complimentary or not, payment fees, flight details, customs gates and layover timings, pre-existing medical conditions, credit card charges...

Jesus. Setting up travel for a family of four - between us we have three different citizenships! - and especially with me and The Kid having a list of medical conditions to be provided to insurers, it's, like...

Jesus. I have three different papers in front of me just to keep track of who wants what and when.

Let's just say it was way easier to travel when I was single and childless!

By next week I will probably know when we're coming to Europe for a visit. Fingers crossed!

Learning to draw: The Girlie and The Kid

The Girlie

The Kid


The Girlie

The Kid


When The Kid was 3 years old he went through this stage of doing really intricate colouring, like this:

Now The Girlie, also 3, is doing this:

PS. Look at these two, chillin' out at a playground.

Worth watching and listening

Yesterday I listened to Kim Hill's interview with Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere and if you guys have access to the content (do you? Especially guys reading this from Estonia and Europe - have you got access to Kim Hill's interviews on Radio NZ National?), I suggest it.


Yesterday I watched How to Die in Oregon and... I recommend it. It's available for free on internet, try googling.

I've written before about the reasons I support legalising of euthanasia, and have followed closely the discussion surrounding the case of Lecretia Seales. I hope - and believe - that it'll be available to me when - and if - I ever need it.

I don't now, but if I ever do, I hope it'll be there; just like I hope that if people close to me are ever in the unfortunate position to have to need it, it'll be there for them.

It's about compassion and understanding.


PS. Air NZ has a sale on for Christchurch-London-Christchurch tickets at $1,799 NZD.

Looks like we're hunting down dates for next year.


Overheard at a swimming pool family change room cubicle

Dad to his son:

"Oy, mate! Come on, let's go. Stop playing with it. It'll grow on its own!"

- "Huh?"

- "It'll grow on its own. Come on!"


The problem with creating space when there's no space to create space

We're in a peculiar situation with our house renovation in that, although we have several spaces we would like - and are intending - to re-do, we are struggling to get them started due to lack of space to work in.

Here, let me explain.

We live in a 1925 brick house which, at the moment, has 3 bedrooms but the layout has slightly changed over the years, so it's not the original floorplan.

(Please note: it's an approximation and IT IS NOT TO SCALE! so I've, literally, just sketched it within two minutes just now.)

The main entrance is through the large hall in front of the house, between bedrooms 2 and 3; and the back door goes out the laundry room hallway in the back of the house.

A few photos to give you an idea of where things are: bed 1 is where me and The Man sleep.

Bed 2 is what kids share.

Bed 3 is our storage room...

...because the garage is in such a poor state that it, really, is not suitable for storing (expensive) tools in. (We do keep timber and a wheelbarrow and garden tools and such in the garage, but... it's more of a large shed at this stage, rather than a garage.)

And herein lies the problem.

Whilst we do have several (large) projects in mind to bring the house to comfortable, much-loved standard, at the moment we are struggling to get started due to a lack of space to work in, because we can't decide what we're gonna do first.

For example: the deck.

We want to add a deck in the back of the house to create an outdoor area we can use without having to don gumboots and jackets - a place where, when the sun is out, it's nice to just step out and have a cup of tea, or play puzzles. Part of it would be covered with clear plastic sheets on the roof and down the side because it would give me a place to hang up washing when it rains, and get it mostly dry before I bring it back in again - and besides, it's nice to have a place to sit outside even when it rains.

Oh, and I should probably explain what these hand-drawn sketches are: when The Kid attends conductive education classes in the afternoons and I watch the boys have fun...

... I often sit down with a sketchbook and work on things. Mostly I sketch visuals of our house, because it's fun, but sometimes I sketch things just to advance my skills - it'll help me with schoolwork next year.

And so all these hand-drawn sketches I've scanned directly from that sketchbook.

Seeing it laid out on paper like that makes it easier to think about things, and discuss with The Man.

But back to the deck:

Although building a deck is a mostly outdoor project and a certain amount of rain/wind is part of the getting the job done, it really helps to have at least some of the work done undercover, if for nothing else then at least for storing the tools and cutting timber.

Because here, let me remind you:

The deck will go in the upper (inside) corner between living room and kitchen. But as it stands, there isn't a good place for working on it. Bedroom 3, our de facto storage room, is not practical because 1) it can't be used in the evening when the kids are in bed due to noise, 2) the garage can only be used if we take all the tools there when we start, and then bring everything back in when we finish, and 3) laundry hallway isn't big enough.

So it would really help to, first, build a toolshed in the yard (probably very similar to this) so that timber can be stored there, and some tools, and create a working space, but then the same problem: where to work on building a toolshed - a covered deck would be a good place, but we haven't got a deck ;)

(And before anyone asks: no, we do not want to spend money on buying a new garage.)

In the end, I think we are simply going to wait 2-3 months until days get longer again, and then we can hunt down a good patch of sunny weather and get the deck up within 3-4 evenings. Maybe ask if any of The Man's workmates will help us for a bit of extra cash.

And then once the deck is up, we can build a toolshed. And once the toolshed is up... OMG, the possibilities then!

Or here's another example: indoors, we are struggling to create storage space. There are several good places for building storage solutions, but all of them involve major demolition work - which cannot be done until bedroom 3, storage room, is empty.

Bedroom 1, our main bedroom has this beautiful large wall where we could make a row of built-in shelves, wardrobes, storage cupboards and drawers - designed precisely for what we want to store in them, and how we like storing them. (Imagine the place I could have for all our hiking gear!)

At the moment we have simply hung a metal rod for hanging clothes, and some timber slats above for shelving.

And yes, it's a real estate sign that's been covering the open fireplace for years now. Don't even ask...

But to do that, we would first have to take down the chimney stack: the house currently has 3 brick chimney stacks - one in each bedroom - which are all an earthquake hazard and need to come down to at least ceiling height. But if we take them down to ceiling height... why not take them down all the way? They're useless. We will never use them for anything, and they take up space.

But for that we need to empty the storage room so we have somewhere to move into whilst the demolition work is in progress.

Same with the kids' bedroom, bedroom 2: if we're going to do it, we need to move them out of there, and have somewhere to move them into.

Another thing with the kids' bedroom - and also the storage room, bedroom 3 - is that the wall covering is the original scrim. It's a fire hazard, and we're lucky enough that our insurance company was even willing to cover us, because that's the only reason we were even able to buy the house. (Most insurance companies won't cover scrim, and therefore houses with scrim walls don't sell to people who need a mortgage for them - they go to "cash buyers" who have money at the ready for them.)

When we start renovating, we need to strip the walls entirely, re-gib them and whilst we're at it, it makes sense lower the ceilings from their current 3.1 metre height (yay for 1920's buildings, huh!) to a more manageable 2.4 metres, or even 2.2 if we decide to really go for European standard thermal savings.

Because at the moment we are heating these massive spaces up under the ceiling that no human ever spends time in, unless they're 3 metres tall.

But for that, we need the storage room sorted first, so we can move kids somewhere during demolition and renovation.


And if I'm doing this beast of a house-renovation post anyway, how about I just go nuts and write more, huh?



At the moment it's, let's put it this way... un-impressive.

Behind it are a small hallway, a large laundry (with the original concrete sink!) and the toilet.

The original kitchen wall has been moved 1 metre towards the laundry to create space for fridge and storage shelves (which are so unfortunately placed I've already got one concussion from them due to top shelves overhanging the bottom ones)...

... and at the top of our to-do list is to get a functional cold water tap (notice that we still haven't got cold water there, and only have one hot water tap? It's because the house hasn't got a single water valve - apart from turning off the entire house on the street and then draining the hot water cylinder to even get access to repairing taps) and a range hood and new electrical wiring.

But the problem with those is, we kind of... don't want to spend money and time putting up a range hood and new wiring in places where they are at the moment, because the way they are at the moment, they're not practical. The whole kitchen needs to be moved in order to not have doors opening into it and taking out people standing in front of the sink washing dishes, and being able to cut something on the chopping board whilst someone else is stirring porridge on the stovetop...

Which brings me to this:

On the left is the current layout - on the right, what we've discussed with The Man.

New Zealand building code requires that between toilet and kitchen there are at least 2 doors, so just taking out the wall in the kitchen is not a legally practical solution - it would open a toilet directly into the kitchen, which is not good.

And that's why we've started discussing what we want to do with the kitchen down the line, because then we can see if we can maybe update the electrical wires in the current kitchen in a way that would make them practical for when we renovate it down the line.

Left: a couple of kitchen layouts I've 'played' with. (Bottom one is better.) Right: a couple of laundry room layouts I've 'played' with. (The bottom right is the best.)

Which would mean that the total floor plan would turn into something like this:

It's not an ideal solution. Far from it - there are no, what I think, 'ideal' solutions as such, in old houses.

But! It looks doable, and workable, and something we can do bit-by-bit, as time and finances allow, and what makes sense to us in a way that we use this house.

And although this house is far from something that would end up on Pinterest - I'm hoping it never will, to be honest - the bottom line is, we feel lucky and grateful and relieved to call it our home.

Rough-looking, it is nevertheless a much-cherished part of a family who are hard-working and handy, and although we know that buying a couple of cans of light-coloured paint and painting the walls would make the rooms instantly brighter and more likable, we don't want to deal with superficial questions of paint until we've tackled the underlying structural issues behind the walls.

One day the rooms will be lighter, and more beautiful, and more practical.

But for the moment, it'll do.

...though I'm still looking forward to getting something started, so we can then get other things started! :)

PS. Jesus, I've just spent two hours writing a blog post.

I think I'm nuts.

On length of days, and warmth

Yesterday was the winter solstice, meaning, it was the shortest day of the year. In Auckland up North the sun rose at 7:35 in the morning, down in Invercargill it rose at 8:31.


Me and The Man talked about it, and how although it's winter solstice, it doesn't actually feel that bad this year. Previous years I remember really taking notice, and looking forward to days getting longer again.

But not this year.

And The Man asked, "Do you think it's to do with having a warm house?"

And I looked at him, and a 'lightbulb' went off in my head.

Yeah, I think that's it.

This is the first winter in New Zealand where we've been able to wear t-shirts in the house in the evening. The log burner's cracking and we strip layers off, relaxing. The 'winter blanket' we've used in all our houses so far, we haven't taken it out once. It's folded away, sitting idly.

The house never gets cold enough for us to need it.

I can only imagine what it'll be like after a heat pump gets installed next Wednesday, and then underfloor insulation the Friday after that.

Even the kids have now done a month straight without colds. It may not sound like much, but we've had pretty rough winters so far, so even if we're burning through over $250 worth of firewood a month in a house that has leaky joinery and substandard insulation - compacted in the ceiling, none underfloor - I think it's a price I am willing to pay to have us warm and healthy.

To think of it, $250 is equivalent to having two days off, sick, a month.

And I can only imagine how, gradually, as we fix the house up, it'll stay warmer for less. Our heating bills will become smaller, our indoor temperature consistently higher, the joinery less drafty.

I haven't got a photo like that from evening-time, but if you imagine the same scene without daylight streaming in through a window - curtains closed, lights on - then this is what 19:10 looks like in our house, usually. Boys in their t-shirts, reading their books. The Kid is his pyjamas, of course :)

Man how I love we're able to do that.

It's okay to say it

The Man, "Why do you think you're in such a good mood today?"

Me, "I had a good sleep. Kids slept through, I didn't have to get up in the middle of a night to empty my bladder..."

The Man, "Do you think it also helps that you're starting to catch up on schoolwork?"

Me, "Oh, definitely." ...and then, after a little pause, "But I've also got an ovulation coming up in the next couple of days, so I'm, you know, the nature designed me to be cheerful and sociable during this time."

The Man grins and makes a comment how, if he'd said that to me, that would've come across a bit offensive, probably, but because I myself made the comment then everyone's good :)

Flexible, huh

I thought babies were meant to lose their flexibility, but The Girlie is 3 and she can still scratch her head with her toes.

Invercargill Licensing Trust

Invercargill has this peculiar thing - in New Zealand terms, anyway - that's called Invercargill Licensing Trust and it occurred to me that it may be interesting for you to learn about it.

It's an organisation that, for all intents and purposes, could be described as rather Nordic in its thinking. It is basically a council-run agency which is set up to 1) manage and 2) tax alcohol (and its "related" activities such as accommodation/restaurants/bars/etc) and the proceeds are channelled back into the community.

So, for example: if buying a case of beer from an alcohol store in Invercargill, the place is run by Invercargill Licensing Trust, ILT, and the price of beer is more than it would be in Christchurch or Dunedin or whatever. Or if going to a restaurant where wine is served, the same thing: it's taxed.

Think of it kind of like Sweden or Finland: alcohol is more expensive, because it's taxed.

But then profits from alcohol go back into community development, so for example, off the top of my head: if a neighborhood gets together and decides that they want to upgrade the playground their children go to, they apply to ILT for funding and will probably get a grant to do (or at least help with) the work. If a sports team wants to attend a competition in Auckland, they apply to ILT to help with the cost and will probably be (at least partially) funded.

The list of grants they have given out over the years is up on their website, and the latest recipients of their grants are listed here.

It's almost like taxes on lotteries and gaming - proceeds go back to community development.

But because New Zealand as a whole doesn't have such taxation on alcohol/etc in general - like it does on lotteries and gaming - then Invercargill has created an agency just for this purpose within its city limits.

It does mean that right outside the city boundary there is an "independent" alcohol store where people can buy their case of beer for $2 cheaper :), so some people do take the 5 km drive to go there - but overall, ILT has done a lot of good for this little town down South which, if it weren't for ILT, wouldn't have nearly as many things for people to do than it does now.

Because it continues to amaze me, it really does, how much Invercargill has to offer considering how small the population is. The fact that there is a large stadium, in indoor cycling arena, a large swimming centre, dog parks, skate parks... the variety is amazing. Heck, a large part of my study is funded by ILT, and grants of $1,000 are available to many full-time students.

And I continue to think, well done, guys.

Well done.

He's doing well

By the way, to those of you interested: The Kid is doing well in his new school. Well and thriving!

We've had no problems with anyone/anything. The teachers are good, the principal understanding and accommodating, the school well-resourced and The Kid happy. He is patient, focussed, respectful and hard-working. The teachers say he is their fastest puzzle-solver.

And I am very, very relieved. After the experience we had with the first school, to now see everything working so well reaffirms my belief that it wasn't just me being some sort of an overbearing, protective parent - that there, genuinely, was a problem with the school.

It does mean that we now make several trips with the car every day - the school is not walkable from where we live - but at least The Kid is doing well, and that means a lot to us all.

He is happy and thriving.

PS. Haha, makes me smile to see that even on these photos it's obvious from which direction the Southwesterly wind is blowing - look at all the trees "bending". Welcome to Southland!

This child..

This morning I found The Girlie inside a backpack that was hanging on a hook in the hallway.


The Girlie: "MOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!"
Me: "What's up?"
- "My thumb is hurting!!!!!!!"
- "Oh no, how did that happen?"
- "A crocodile bite me!"
- "A crocodile bit you..."
- "Yes! I went to monster school and I saw crocodile and crocodile bite me!"

(proceeds to throw herself on the floor, wailing)

Moments like this, I just kind of stand there and grin.

When insulation acts as a fire accelerant

It's a fitting coincidence that just as newspapers around the world are reporting the London apartment block fire, I am sitting behind the table writing out a school assignment on the fire hazard of spray-on foam insulation.

Some excerpts:

"Rigid polyurethane and polyisocyanurate spray-foams will, when ignited, burn rapidly and produce intense heat, and will act as fire accelerants. That leads them to sometimes being referred to as “solid gasoline”."

"In addition to being of such chemical composition that it acts as fire accelerant, a problem with foam spray-on insulation is the fact that it envelopes building structures in a continuous manner, making it prone to a quickly moving fire."

"To eliminate fire risk around foam insulation is not possible, so for the moment preventative measures are centred around creating a thermal barrier around the foam (such as GIB, cellulose, Portland cement etc) in an attempt to extend the time at which the foam would reach its auto ignition temperature should a fire originate from other sources."


It's, like... yeah.

On writing

One of the people I follow on Instagram is Jon Krakauer who... let's just put it shortly: I look up to him. A lot.

He continues writing, and I continue learning from him.


This Sunday I am giving a public talk in the Invercargill library as a guest speaker of the Dan Davin writers' hub. It'll be about travelling and writing.

If any of you were in Invercargill, I'd say, come along and have a listen! but... yeah, none of you are, as far as I'm aware, so... yeah ;)

A book about New Zealand is in process, by the way.

Curious and bold

If you wonder why everything's frozen in the fridge then it's because The Girlie has gone and reset the thermostat.

That's one reason to study in New Zealand...

It is fascinating to see the different reasons people come to study at Invercargill - or New Zealand in general.

A young man on my course, for example: he is gay, but his parents don't know that; and the reason he's studying in New Zealand is kind of just that - him trying to get away from his parents so he can live his life in a way that allows him to have meaningful relationships with people he's actually attracted to.

He has said that if his parents found out he's gay, they'd probably disown him. Not just in terms of funding his studies at SIT, but the whole deal - disown him - and he does not want that.

And so to disguise the fact that he's gay (which, in itself, has been a big thing for him to come public with because in New Zealand, amongst other people his age, he can do so without fearing rejection - he's free to live his life, feeling accepted and encouraged) he uses every opportunity he gets to take selfies with women, which he posts on his Facebook page, which his parents then follow.

The women are friends, classmates, people he meets at parties, at gym - but his parents don't necessarily know that, because the aim is to keep his parents convinced that he's straight.

It's sad, but I'm also glad that he's had the opportunity to come here.

Kind of like I'm glad that Invercargill exists, and funds my studies, because if it weren't for Invercargill and SIT, I wouldn't have the opportunity to study quantity surveying the way I am doing at the moment. If I did it in Christchurch, I'd be overworked and broke.

Here, I can actually live my life in a way that works for my family. And I'm very, very grateful for that.

Celebrate kids

Me, whilst handing kids ice cubes from the freezer: "Okay, so you remember the deal, yeah?"

Kids: "Yeah!"

Me: "I give you ice cubes, but it means you need to stop eating ice outside. No licking the car in the morning!"

Kids: "Yeah!"

The Man, meanwhile, looks at us and grins.

On the floor of a kitchen

Yeah, sure - just before you plan to spend an evening doing school work, go knock your head on a pantry shelf (stupid design!) and spend the evening on the sofa feeling nauseous instead.

How a yard transforms, slowly

How a yard goes from this...

... to this:

... to this:

... to stuff piled high:

... to skip-full taken away:

... to now, this morning:

It does look like my boss a little: after months of wearing a beard he clean-shaved his face and looked so... naked and vulnerable to me - like this yard, with stuff trimmed back and cut off and mowed down - but no worries, because soon enough, it is going to be an awesome place to spend time in.