For the love of Coldplay

My kids think spending Saturday morning watching Coldplay videos is a Saturday morning well spent.

Must've done something right as a parent!


Packing for four

Not buying kids presents for Christmas

We decided not to buy presents for our kids this Christmas - several reasons, but most importantly because we didn't want any more 'stuff'.

Me and my husband had several conversations about it leading up to Christmas. "Look," I said to him, "I don't want to buy them stuff just for the sake of buying stuff. I'm happy buying something they'd really benefit from. But can you think of anything they actually need? Because I can't." My husband agreed. Our kids have everything we need or use - sports equipment, craft supplies, books, toys.

We didn't go entirely without though. On Christmas morning both kids had stockings hanging on a chair, with a variety of treats and chocolates in them. They each had a bag of toys they had chosen from a second-hand shop to be unwrapped on Christmas morning.

But still, the next day, my eldest asked me with a sad look in his eyes, "Mom, why did you guys not buy us presents for Christmas?"

Ehh... here we go.

We talked for a couple of minutes. I explained that mommy and daddy thought about it for a long time, and decided that we didn't want to buy things just for the sake of buying things. We were happy to buy things that were useful to us, but we couldn't think of anything useful, so we didn't buy anything large. "Can you think of anything?" I asked him. He uhmm-ed and ahmm-ed for a while, unable to come up with an answer. I said to him, "I think you are struggling to come up with an answer for the same reason that I couldn't think of anything to buy for you - we already have things we need. Don't you think?" He nodded.

"And besides," I reminded him, "you did get some stuff, didn't you? There were treats in the stockings. A bag of toys you picked from the shop." We talked about the bicycle he and his dad had bought a couple of weeks ago, how there were tickets to the excavator park we had ready, and how we had most toys and board games available to us through the toy library. We both knew that grandparents had mailed a large box of Lego to us for Christmas, and it was going to be here soon. He kept nodding, and listening.

It helped that it wasn't the first conversation about consumption - we regularly talk about not wasting food, about composting, about why we try to buy stuff without packaging, and why we try to repair things rather than buy anew. We have a stretch of road alongside the riverbank we have "adopted" and pick up rubbish from; we help our school's second hand uniform programme; we volunteer at the toy library. My kids are relatively accustomed to thinking and talking about rubbish, and plastic especially; about making the best use of what's already available.

To my youngest, however, I don't think this Christmas registered as a problem at all. That kid can create enthusiasm from... the littlest things, really. (If she wants to. Haha!)

The worst thing about it is - the people who caused my child to feel any sadness over this Christmas period at all, I think, were the shopkeepers, receptionists, passersby (and anyone else we came across) this December who kept throwing a barrage of questions and comments towards my children along the lines of:

"So, are you ready for Santa?"
"You been a good boy this year? Santa gonna bring you lots of presents?"
"Are there presents under the Christmas tree already?"
"I hope you get a lot of presents!"

Geesh! I built up such resentment over it. Towards the end of December I felt that every time I was anywhere with my kids, there was going to be this presents!-presents!-presents! conversation to be got over. In my head, I was thinking, oh would you please stop doing this bloody presents craze! Jesus, people, come on! What the heck!?

But I didn't argue. I didn't confirm what they were saying, either - tried to smile politely and left them to it. Because... what else is there to do about it? Have a conversation with every cashier / receptionist / pharmacist who puts my kids into this presents!-spotlight?

Going low-consumerism during Christmas - or, rather, continuing our low-consumerism into Christmas - has been a challenge for us because of how different our approach is in the society we are living in. But I have told myself that, most importantly, my kids need consistency from me - and as long as they understand what we are doing, why we are doing it and they think it is fair, it is okay.

And for the moment, I think it is. Okay.

My kids know - or at least I bloody well hope they know! - that they have a lot, a lot of stuff going for them. The things they get to do, the things they get to have - it's a lot of things. Rather than 'piling' things into Christmas which, to me or my husband, doesn't mean anything rather than being some sort of a crazed international 'buying event' anyway, we mark the holiday with a token acknowledgement and... continue doing our own stuff.

A good book: "Babel" by Gaston Dorren

Page 332: "But there's nothing direct or democratic about the English language per se. Any real-life interaction in English requires a knowledge of linguistic etiquette. In many languages, you can simply ask people what they want, but in English, you have to ask what "they would like" or "would prefer", what "you cn get them", whether "you may help them" or some such convoluted formula. Ordering a pint by saing "I want a beer" is no less rude than saying tu to a French waiter."

Page 336: "I wouldn't be surprised if, at some point, certain grammatical exceptions fall by the wayside: the past tense of swim may well become swimmed, the plural of sheep may become sheeps. These may sound like atrocities to you... /.../ But such changes happen all the time!"

Evening at Waituna lagoon

Flock of Canada geese flying overhead noisily

My footprint in the fine beach stones

Dual citizenship for six countries

After so many of you asked me about Estonia allowing dual citizenship for 6 countries and asking where did I get my information from :), I went and did some googling.

And turns out: I am wrong! The amendment was proposed in Parliament, but it was not passed by Parliament. For some reason I thought it had already passed though.

The amendment I am talking about is this:

My thoughts at 9:30 pm

"How many socks can one family have!?" I think to myself as I am standing under a washing line, hanging up what feels like a 300th sock from the washing basket. The sun has already set. What endless hours I have spent in this spot.

The more kids you have = the more washing you'll deal with. Just sayin'.

My big dream: to ride the entirety of Trans-Siberian and live a year in Europe

It's an idea I've "marinated in" for several years.

Back when Estonia did not yet recognise dual citizenship - because up until recently, it didn't - I lived in the knowledge that my kids needed to decide which citizenship they were going to keep by the time they were 18. It gave me a sense of urgency, so to speak: I knew there was a "deadline" of sorts, so I wondered if any of our decisions needed to be affected by it.

I kept coming back to the thought that I really wanted my kids to have experienced living in Europe - because for all the beauty that New Zealand has to offer, and for all the benefits that come with living here, New Zealanders tend to be a little... insular.

It's not hard to see why: from here, going almost anywhere that is not New Zealand is a massive undertaking. Flying is, really, the single viable option - and even when you do fly, the places within a 3-4 hour flight radius are not that dissimilar to where you came from to begin with.

A lot of New Zealanders don't even have - or keep current - their passport. It's one of the challenges, I've found, of applying for a New Zealand passport: in order to apply for citizenship (or to renew a passport), you need to find a person who 1) is not your family, 2) has known you for at least 12 months AND 3) who has a current New Zealand passport to certify your application. And having all three... does not seem to be very common, I don't think :D

The last two times I've needed to fill a passport application, I've needed to ask around quite a few people before tracking down a person who had all three. Often people said, "Sure, I have a New Zealand passport!" only to realise the next day that, "Oh, actually, it's expired."

I wanted my kids to have lived somewhere where people lived in apartments, rather than houses; where it was relatively easy to get by with public transport - or cycling!; where store-bought milk expired in 3 days, rather than 9. It's a romantic notion I have that refers back to my own upbringing: I felt my kids were going to be better off for having experienced life outside South Pacific. I didn't want to move them away from New Zealand, but I did want them to live outside New Zealand for a while - just so that they knew what it was like.

And so I came up with this idea that, maybe, we could go live in Europe for a year when my kids became teenagers. Given the abundance of English-speaking international schools -and the prevalence of English in the world in general - I really didn't think it was such a hard thing to achieve, to go off for a year.

Now that Estonia has changed its stance on dual citizenship and it actually allows dual citizenship - for six countries, anyway, New Zealand being one of them - the legal urgency of having to "make" that trip before they get 18 has waned. The wish to go abroad, however, hasn't.


Like many other great ideas which wax and wane, gradually rolling ashore like waves during a growing tide, I've carried this "year in Europe" thought with me for... I don't know, two years now. Three? I still don't know what I'd actually do in Europe, as in, for work - but that's somewhat irrelevant to me at the moment because at the end of the day... work is work. And besides, if this idea comes to fruition, it is still many years from now - by which point, I may have skills I do not possess yet. For the moment I am simply reveling in the "believability" of the scenario that it'll happen at all and leaving the practical "plannability" to... some other time. Not today, haha!


Which leads me to the other part of this dream - the Trans-Siberian railway.

I've ridden the Trans-Siberian before. Several times, in fact. But I've never gone more than a day's trip East from Moscow - I've always stepped off in the vicinity of a city named Kazan which, in the grand scale that is Russia, is... spider's farts.

So sometime this year as I was wondering about my dream of wanting to live in Europe, and considering how f*ckin' carbon-intensive it is to fly 4 people there, I thought... wait, but what about taking a train?

For about 10 minutes I googled. From where can you fly to Vladivostok? Korea. China. Japan. How much does it cost to take the Trans-Siberian from Vladivostok to Moscow? More than flying. Way more than flying.

I broached the topic with my husband. He thought it was, let's put it this way... unusual to want to sit on a train for over a week and spend more money than it would cost to take a 30-hour trip by plane. But he didn't put it down outright, and at this point it really is more of a theoretical exercise rather than anything else, and he did agree with me on one thing: if we do take this trip, chances are my father-in-law who is a bit of a train aficionado, will probably want to come with us.

So, yeah, we'll see. We'll see where life takes us.

A Kiwi family

My husband said, if UK goes forth with Brexit, he is getting a New Zealand citizenship.

So now I am printing out a New Zealand citizenship application for him. The printer is, literally, pushing pages out now.

The Aotearoa History Show - educational videos

RNZ have a series of interesting videos up on their website.

The Aotearoa History Show

Suitable for school-agead children, I think - with parental guidance.

An apple does not fall far...

My kids' end of year school reports came home today.

My daughter's reads: "[name] is a very independent and strong minded little girl, who is confident to question if she doesn't agree."

The news of the gardening variety

Today I planted little alpine (woodland) strawberries I bought from a Ukrainian lady.

Her story resembled so much of my own: having just established a garden in her rental home, she has had to move because the property was put up for sale. She dug up the strawberries and sold them on to me - the rest, she had to leave behind because the plants were too big to move.

Currants. Gooseberries. Raspberries. 

Inside the bag of strawberry plants she put a little jar of homemade jam. She can't eat it anymore, she said, because she has developed diabetes.

I enjoyed talking to her in Russian, and even using the very few Ukrainian words I remember from my grandmother. "Do babachini" - goodbye.


Invercargill has A LOT of Russians, by the way. A LOT.

I would love to see official statistics on what the numbers are. I wouldn't be surprised if it's above 200 now - which, considering that it's a regional town with a population of 50,000, is actually quite a large number.

I am seriously developing my fluency in Russian again. Okay, fluency is probably not a good word - but I am getting remarkably better than I was 2 years ago. Even one of the Russian ladies I hadn't seen for a couple of months, she said to me, "Maria, have you got better in speaking Russian? I don't remember you speaking like that last time..."

Not joking: I am speaking Russian on a weekly basis now.


I am 3 weeks into my new job. It is exciting.

My husband is 3 weeks into being a home-parent. He, too, is excited.

I said to him yesterday that it is starting to feel normal, this life - eating breakfast together, having time to pack lunches, play with the kids a little before heading off to our respective destinations; they to school, me to work. It doesn't feel as weird any more as it did two weeks ago.

My work is more and more involving me in Passive Houses - and I am loving it.


The wooden posts are about to go up on the woodshed - the concrete foundation is poured, the steel brackets are in.

Would you like to see how it has developed, gradually? From the latest to the oldest:

So far this thing has cost us (not that anyone's interested - or are you?):

$410 steel post and bearer brackets
$36 steel reinforcement rods 
$618 concrete
$1,880 timber
$170 bolts and screws

I even did something resembling quantity surveying when trying to decide where to buy all the timber from :)


Meanwhile, we were about to pour a concrete pad to install our rainwater collection tank (it's been sitting in the yard for almost a year, waiting on us to get the concrete done) - when we realised that, sh£t me, there is a stormwater drain straight underneath it.


Somehow in all the planning and thinking we've done, all of us somehow overlooked that we have a downpipe next to our front door, pictured on the right. And, as all downpipes go, there has to be a stormwater drain that goes somewhere - which, in this case, snakes around the front of our house, underneath the rubbish bins and joins the main stormwater drain on the left of the photo, above.

Which means that although we would've loved to put a rainwater tank just to the left of the yellow bin, it ain't gonna work.

So we've totally reconfigured our backyard ideas :D to incorporate rainwater collection elsewhere. Coincidentally, I think the end result is actually better, but we did go through a couple of arguments to get there...


My work is too far to walk / cycle / public transport efficiently, so we've - unfortunately - needed to buy another car. It is not an electric vehicle - the bank refused to give us a loan given that we are in the process of switching jobs, and we refused to take a loan from a financing company because, duh!, 12% interest.

So we've bought a little petrol car.

It is, seriously, almost the same colour as our house. It's hilarious.