How we spend our summer holidays

During the summer holidays, we go walking a lot. To Kilmock Bush, for example, with friends visiting from Christchurch.

Or to Kew Bush which, by the way, is protected by QEII Open Space Covenant.

A thunderstorm rolled through, so we took shelter under a large tree whilst hail pelted down around us.

We continue going to playgrounds.

We demolish chimneys.

View from the rooftop

We spend time in the back yard.

A little courgette growing

And, also, spend time indoors doing stuff.

One is putting together a Lego car, the other a foam dinosaur

The kids got sweets as a Christmas present from the hardware shop and delighted in consuming them within a very short time, all at once. Well... it's Christmas, I guess :).

It was funny when a t-shirt that arrived as a present from Europe was identical (except, a size bigger) to the one The Kid was wearing that day already :)

The Kid practiced writing numbers to a hundred

Even the washing machine attempted to have a long summer holiday when it broke down a day after Christmas just as every serviceman closed their workshop. What it didn't know though, is that my workmate's fiancee is a man who knows how to fix a lot of things! It also didn't know that if I ordered a new washing machine pump through the pump would arrive at my doorstep in less than 24 hours!!

So, yeah: nice try, washing machine, but you only got 5 days off this summer ;)

Now if we could also find a plumber who could fix our hot water tank overflow which we also discovered just after Christmas when everyone's workshop is closed until 8 January.. Christmas, eh.

5 healthy habits

My family has a couple of healthy, sustainable habits that I'd like to share with you tonight.

1. Three-mouthful rule

When eating food, we do not force kids to finish the plate. Instead, we ask that whatever is put on the plate, have three mouthfuls. After that, they can get down from the table and if still hungry, get a piece of fruit. We always have a big bowl of fruit in the living room (bananas, apples, tangerines, kiwis etc) and children have access to it any time of the day.

Reason we have the three-mouthful rule is: taste is mostly acquired, and therefore we want our kids to have a very varied palate. Forcing them to finish a plateful is cruel because we do understand that not everyone likes everything all the time. At the same time, we also don't want them to be picky eaters - both for their benefit, but also ours. Eating a variety of food will enable them to have a variety of nutrients, and will make life easier long-term. Because of that, we expect that they at least try whatever is on the plate, three mouthfuls, which will almost guarantee that over time they get used to a wide variety of flavors.

How's it working? Pretty well, I think. Yes, every now and again we have battles - especially with The Girlie who simply likes pushing boundaries - but most of the time the kids now very well that it is a consistent rule we have in the house, and they stick to it. They are both very wide-taste'd eaters. Sometimes it makes me smile when they first look at a food and go, "Yuk!", but because of the three-mouthful rule they try it, and discover that it actually tastes very nice.

As to sweet treats, they can only have them if they finish all the food. We don't have dessert after every meal - but if we do, they need to finish everything on the plate to get access to it, and they know it. The reasoning is pretty obvious, I think: if you're hungry enough to want dessert, you're hungry enough to eat food first.

2. Shopping list IOS - If On Special

We don't have set shopping times - rather, we buy food when we're running low enough that it makes sense to go shopping. (Usually it is every 4 days.) We always have a piece of paper attached to the fridge, our shopping list, and a pencil nearby so we can add things to it. When going shopping, we bring the piece along with us.

On the list we, basically, have two types of items: 1) some that need to be bought no-matter-what - stuff like milk, apples etc. Food that we get through a lot and that goes off quickly. And then there's the other type: 2) staple pantry items which we have at home all the time, but! we only buy them when they are on sale for a cheaper price. Beans, tinned tomatoes, brown sugar, tea etc. That way, over time we are able to cut down on their price, and because they are long-lasting then it doesn't matter if we only see them on sale every 3-4 weeks - because when we do, we buy a whole lot of them!

On the shopping list we put a three-letter abbreviation next to them: IOS. It stands for If On Special.

cherries IOS
peppermint tea IOS
wraps IOS

3. Bedsheets pulled back

I know some families have rules around beds having to be made in the morning: sheets pulled up, blankets pulled up, beds looking "nice". In our family, it's the other way around: I ask that everyone pulls their sheets down in the morning, exposing the bedsheets so they can "breathe" and dry.

Everyone sweats at night - it's a simple fact of biology. It may not be heavy sweating, but nevertheless it's residual moisture hanging inside the bedsheets which, over time, encourages dust mites to settle inside mattresses.

Because of that, in our house when we get up in the morning, we don't make beds. We flap the blankets and sheets back so that most of the bed is exposed during the day, and I think once my kids are teenagers they are going to appreciate the fact that they are unlikely to ever be berated for not having made the beds in the morning. Just as long as they leave the blankets down, I'm good.

4. Budgets

We keep a close eye on our finances, but we don't have set budgets as such. We don't plan on what we're going to spend. Rather, because we know we are consistent in how we spend money (we only buy things when we actually need to, most of the time), then I keep track of our spending in hindsight.

The system is very basic: a notebook. I've stuck to the same format for 4 years already.

Every two weeks I write down what expenses we've had in the last fortnight, and what we've earned. I calculate how much we've saved overall (most of the time) or by how much we were in a minus (happens sometimes, usually if there have been large expenses such as computers etc). Expenses are grouped by category.

IN: $... + $... + $... + $... = $...

house, life, contents insurance
council rates
preschool fees
= $...

= $...

Car & petrol:
car insurance
mechanical repairs
= $...

everything else: cinema visits, second-hand shop purchases, The Man's tools, house repairs, swimming pool cards etc
= $...

OUT: = $...
Save = $...

About once a year, if I feel like it, I may run the totals to see how much, on average, we spend and earn each fortnight. For example, I know that our average fortnightly groceries bill is $472, and I find the same numbers for our car, our bills, our totals. It gives me an overview of what our spending patterns are. Whenever there is a question "why aren't we saving a lot at the moment?" or something else along those lines, I can quickly whip out the notebook and track it down with my finger.

5. Escape bag

It's a New Zealand reality that Civil Defence asks every household to have 3 days forth of emergency supplies in case of an earthquake, tsunami or some other adverse weather event.

In our case it is a 90-litre storage bin in the bottom of our wardrobe in the hallway - by the front door - and it has 24 litres of water, variety of non-perishable food items (tins, noodles, nut bars, tuna etc), water filtration device, first aid and medical kit (including a supply of "regular" medicines such as my thyroid pills in case I cannot get a prescription for several weeks, children's liquid paracetamol etc), wind-up light, camping cooker and fuel, dog food, rubbish bags etc. Civil Defence has them listed on a website

It's the sort of a kit which, in case there is a large earthquake and roads get damaged and shops close, we know we can stay home for several days and have enough safe drinking water. It also means that if there is an event which prompts us to leave (a tsunami, for example), we can lift the whole storage box in the back of a car and go.

A good documentary to watch with the kids

The gifts we gave / received this Christmas

We are pretty low-key on Christmas in this house, for several reasons. None of us are religious - there's no Christ-is-born paraphernalia in it for us. We are also reasonably modest consumers - the commonplace BUY ALL THE THINGS! consumerism that goes alongside Christmas does not cut it for us. To us, if the presents are made at all, they should be wanted, useful and scarce in a sense that... we don't do presents just for presents' sake. Because neither me nor The Man wanted anything, as in, we didn't need any items as presents - then we didn't get any presents.

Our kids, on the other hand, got bombarded with a lot of "presents!" talk from the outsiders, so they were looking forward to presents. "Oohh, Santa's coming soon! Are you looking forward to Santa?", "Have you written a letter to Santa yet to tell him what you want for Christmas?" (oh, that was my 'favorite', wasn't it: I said no and the lady started insisting that The Kid really should write a letter to Santa so he'd get the right presents. If only my eyebrows could slap people, they would've.) Even the tree we got, I think, because the kids were just constantly getting asked by entirely random people if they'd put the tree up yet, and so the kids started asking for a tree, and we got it.

So, our kids got three presents each.

1) A bag of sweets. The hardware store we bought a load of building material from gave them a wrapped present each - we didn't know what was inside. The kids opened them on Christmas morning and finding a packet of gummy bears inside, spent the next hour consuming that obscene amount of sugar which, under normal circumstances, is not part of our everyday life. The kids thought it was awesome :)

2) A bucket of felt-tip pens. We bought a large bucket and split them in half before wrapping them, so both kids got about half each. When starting to use the pens, they combined them into a shared dish again so now it's one bucket again. Such a gift brought them a lot of joy because the pens are high-quality and plentiful, and they are what's called 'Connector Pens'. They can be 'clicked' together not just for drawing, but for making shapes and towers with.

3) A book each. Both books have magnetic shapes and pages they can be attached to, so as we read a bedtime story, the kids can move their characters around the pages.

The joy they got from the presents was palpable - the felt-tip pens especially.  And, by the way, I am not a Christmas Scrooge: our kids didn't think there was too little stuff. To them, Christmas was awesome!

I am entirely of the opinion that having an overwhelming variety of presents - especially if some of them are not wanted - is not good for anyone. So in terms of giving presents, to a close friend, for example, we gave cafe vouchers for a local cafe called The Batch. (It makes amazing food!) She will probably use them to have a lovely meal with her daughter who's in town to visit, and it alleviates the financial pressure of having such a special meal.

To family in Europe we are about to send (once this postal madness is over) kids' artwork, school photos, calendars - stuff that financially doesn't mean a lot, but emotionally probably will. Another friend with a broken phone some money goes towards a phone - with a bunch of other people who are pitching in.

It goes with my general attitude towards consumerism that... I don't know where my lifestyle sits on the world scale, but I assume I'm just above the median. That if every person in the world consumed the resources I am consuming to live my life, the Earth wouldn't have enough resources to sustain us all. I am consuming more than my share.

Having said that, in terms of the 'developed world', I am a low consumer. And that's the scary thing: so much of the humankind uses such obscene (!) amounts of resources.

It's hard for me to write on this topic without sounding judgemental, because I am. I see people taking photos of their incredible mountains of presents and I think, geesh, guys. I make an effort not to say anything - the change comes through actions other than trying to putting someone down with harsh words.

But my own family's Christmas is definitely not part of that pattern. We value time shared together, and joyful experiences, and having fun, and being honest, and appreciating each other. Christmas is still a joyful holiday time for us - but it won't be because of a mountain of presents, because the joy we give each other comes differently than that.

Okay, end of rant. Sorry :).

What do you think?!? :)

The dark blue would be for the house. The lighter colours would be to create a colorful mosaic on the wooden shingles of the gable end - the area immediately above the samples on the photo, currently dark green in colour, below the roof.

We've already painted the mailbox blue to try it out. And how cool is that sneaky pink interior of the mailbox! Painted with a little wink towards my daughter ;), who loves receiving mail as much as she loves pink.

Terry Jones' Barbarians, an alternative Roman history

I can tell when The Man is reading a really good book. He'll be sitting on the sofa and suddenly exclaim, "Ahh! Gaules [modern day France] prior to Roman invasion had invented something really similar to a combine harvester! They call them barbarians..."

And then he'll just continue reading.

Going by the number of exclamations The Man has done so far, I think it's fair to say it's a book worth reading.

Old friends

It's Christmas morning today. The kids are drawing with the new felt-tip pens they got as presents, The Dog is spread out on the floor after devouring her present - a pig ear! - and on the computer John Mayer's 'Daughters' is filling the living room with music.

I listen to him sing and think about my own father.

I don't know if it's because a father was largely missing from my life from about age 10 onwards, but I get along really well with old men. Always have.

They make great friends. We make great friends! I've never had sexual relationships with any of them, or relationships as such - but we've made great friends. Estonia, Alaska, New Zealand - there always has been at least one great friend in the form of an old man.

Just this morning I talked on the phone with a friend from Fox glacier, an old glacier guide. He was my flatmate when I interned at Fox glacier's guiding company. We used to have long conversations deep into the night, and he used to cook food for me in his little kitchen. During the days, we worked on the ice. Man I loved the experience!

We became friends there - and have stayed friends since.

Before I had kids we tramped together: Brewster track in midwinter.

After kids, meetings became more sedentary: a christmas in Twizel.

We've had little catch-ups here and there: Wanaka, Christchurch, Twizel. It's always depended on who's where, but the friendship's stayed.

Now, this morning, we discussed tramping the Gillespie Pass together during the Christmas holidays if we can make our days off work.

Whether friends like that have replaced not having a dad in my life, I don't know, but I'm grateful they exist. And besides, Gillespie Pass! Looking forward to that! :)