Discovering the things that matter more than other things

Also, please, please, please, universe - I really want to go to climbing gym again. Please.

In the last 3 months, every week it's been one of my most looked forward to events of the week, and having lost access to the climbing gym and the people there due to coronavirus, it... It bothers me. Bothers me more than I thought it would.

I used to get 2-3 hours "off" from my brain there, very much in the same way that skydiving used to "shut off" my brain whilst freefalling (though the constant brain-chatter always re-started as soon as the parachute opened). I mean, I didn't even expect that I would ever find anything that worked like that since stopping skydiving. I'd resigned myself to living with neverending brain-chatter for the rest of my life.

But then I discovered that intense climbing worked the same way - that as bad as I am on the wall, as long as I am trying to do a move that I absolutely do not know how to do, the focus on both the physical challenge and the mental challenge of trying to figure out how to use my body, it just shuts everything else off. That no matter how sh*t the day had been at work, or what else was going on - for those few minutes on the wall, I forgot about everything except being in the moment and trying to get across to that next hold.

Which meant that twice each week, I got to rest my brain.

Which meant that very quickly, I became addicted to going.

And now that the climbing wall is closed, I've tried being very "nah it's all good" about it, but actually, it bothers me. I have become addicted to getting my brain to rest and now that I can't do it any more, I feel pissed off that I can't do it.

Please, please, universe - I really want to go climbing again.

Working from home. Well, trying, anyway.

As I am working from home, trying to do what I can - which, at times, is not a lot (given the circumstances, given the isolation, given my limited experience having only just graduated a couple of months ago), I am burning through hours of music on Youtube to help me cope. The usual list: Alicia Keys, Sam Smith, John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, Hozier, James Blunt.

It occurred to me: a lot of these artists have retreated into privacy after spending years in limelight. And I can't blame them. But I am also wondering: did they reach that limelight, in the first place, because of working to the point of disregarding their private lives? At the expense of their private lives?

Has anyone ever reached the top of the world with a healthy balance between work and private life? Has anyone ever reached the top of their game without burning themselves out to the point of needing to then take time off to rest and repair what's left of their social life?

Is this the price to pay? In order to become good at something, needing to choose between being good and being a parent / partner / friend of some reasonable, unspecified standard? Is that what people do?

Have I only just now, at 34, noticed that most brilliant minds I look up to, do not have healthy private lives or functioning families?

Or am I making this up?

It's a first world problem but, f*ck, working like I am trying to do now, from a table set up in my bedroom, whilst I am not sure where this job is headed and where I am headed, is hard. It's doing my head in.

There are upsides

I am not a fan of working from home. However, I get to work to the tune of this:

I've been playing this song for hours, literally. It's been on constant loop on Youtube. So good!

Music helps me get through stuff that is hard. Especially with tedious tasks, which paper-based measurement can be, and anxious times, which being stuck between two jobs at a time on nationwide quarantine and global recession can be - having music in the background makes it easier to power through. It sets the scene to which I can nod my head, and move my chair, and hum.

I am not easy on songs. Usually, when I find a song that fits with where my life is, I play it until I wring it out like a pile of washing - squeeze out every bit of moisture until there is nothing left, and then hang it up to dry. Very rarely, a song can "come" to me twice, but usually, once I have loved a song intensely and without moderation, and then finished loving it, it is done.

I have songs which are so intensely tied to certain life events that listening to them (even after a long time) brings back vivid memories of what it used to feel like to listen to them the first time. Hozier's "Almost" will, in all likelyhood, remain the song of changeover for me: of trying to work from home, whilst knowing that had this pandemic arrived 2 weeks later, I probably would've been part of another team, but now I am not quite here, but not quite there, either. Kids are loud. The climbing wall is closed. I am not sute what day of the week it is. Saturday? Maybe. It will be many more days until clarity arrives about anything and I am intending to be gentle on myself. If I can.

Women and hot showers

When me and my husband take a shower together, he, literally, cannot tolerate water at the same temperature as I would normally have it on. He's tried, but he ends up screaming because it's too hot for him. I turn it down for him. Or he does. Either way, he's not getting in until someone has turned it down :D

I said to him today how I would love a physicist or a doctor or someone to explain to me why that is. Why can I tolerate hot water, and he can't?

You know what my husband said to that? "What you really need is someone from NASA to examine your skin and use it to design heat shields for their spacecraft."

Well said, sir. Well said.

New Zealand is to start a nation-wide lockdown

This afternoon New Zealand's prime minister gave a public address. I am going by memory, but in a nutshell: New Zealand is to start a nation-wide lockdown (for at least 4 weeks) in 48 hours' time. Schools closed this afternoon. Only "essential services" can remain open - everyone else is to close. (What's "essential services"? Medicine, food, power supply, communication etc). There are 102 confirmed Covid-19 cases in New Zealand as of today and no deaths yet.

After I heard the prime minister's address, I packed my office paraphenalia into a box and came home. My children and my husband were already home. For the next 4 weeks, we'll spend time with each other and see what happens.

I don't expect that I will be able to continue working. I have a little bit to do - clear the email, answer some enquiries, calculate a couple of construction projects which were already in the estimation stage. But once that is done, it's probably... into the same bucket that a lot of other people are already in: see if work returns, if not then look for new work and... see what happens.

Observing the world

A busy morning in the supermarket. Walking down the aisle, a young man is humming to the tune of REM's "It's the end of the world as we know it."


Returning home from a walk with a friend I say to my husband, "[Our friend] said police were called to Pak'n'Save yesterday. Apparently a fight had broken out in one of the aisles."

My husband: "I bet it was over toilet paper."

Positives and negatives

Positive thing is that I managed to do a climb I had not been able to do before. I had to "smear" - put my foot directly on the wall, without any holds, so I could get across to the next hold above me.

Negative thing is that I damaged my toe again. I kind of thought I would - but I also thought, f*ck it, it's worth a try.

I am now sitting at home, with a little bag of frozen strawberries inside my sock, to cool the foot down. One of the instructors at the gym said it's worth a try - it might make it better a little sooner.

Positive thing is that, in about 5 minutes, I am going to have strawberry dessert because my warm foot is very effective at defrosting the strawberries.

Learning to put my foot forward

It's a long story, and I am not going into all the details, but I am looking for a new job. (Fortunately, I am doing it with my current employer's encouragement and blessing so, hey!, it could be worse.)

But anyway: tonight I was sitting in front of a computer, reading through employment ads.

Nah, haven't quite got all the things they're requiring.
Nah, they've said at least 5+ years of experience.
Nah, that's not quite it...

And then I thought, hang on, Maria. Haven't you read through boatloads of articles and research which say, pretty much, this exact same thing? Women tend to, predominantly, read through an employment ad and only apply if they have 90+ percent of the role requirements. Whereas men tend to, predominantly, kind of go, f*ck it, apply, and hope for the best.

Some people even argue that this, amongst other things, is what holds women back in employment.

I paused, thought for a while and then... went back to the first ad and thought, f*ck it. They can decide whether I'm good enough on their end.

And I clicked "Apply" and put my CV forward. On all three vacancies.

We'll see what happens.

The man who found the lizards

It's very cool when my favorite magazine - New Zealand Geographic - publishes a long feature story about my favorite Invercargill family. Okay, maybe not the whole family - just the dad - but nevertheless.

I consider them our closest friends. To have discovered each other in this deep South, I feel very fortunate. And grateful.

And to see Tony's article finally published, also very proud :)

Things I learn and think about

When my daughter is tired, lifting her from our bed into her own bed in the evening is like carrying spaghetti: very floppy, very heavy spaghetti.

Not beach weather

I may be on the beach, and it may be sunny, but this is so totally not beach weather.

On the sense of loss of control

For me, one the main challenges that has come with the onset of parenthood, is a profound sense of loss of control.

Sometimes, it is the most mundane things: going to bed by 10 pm and expecting to be able to sleep until 6 am, but instead being woken up by 4:30. Expecting kids to be in bed - and asleep - by 7 pm so some work can be done afterwards, but instead finding myself arguing with a 5-year-old at 8:30 pm over whether it's safe to bring plastic beads to bed, and not getting any work done at all. Expecting that a drive will take 1.5 hours, but instead it takes 2.5.

Thinking that a meal will be eaten by everyone, but instead a major fuss is put up by the youngest members of the household. Expecting that, surely, if we start heading out the door at 8:20 am, we'll at least (!) be out the door by 8:30 am, but we're not. Some of the simplest things, which pre-kids I would not have given a second thought, become major projects. Things I expect to have some control over, turns out, I don't.

It's not unlike what I've seen people who've been struck down by illness or disability, describe their journey to adjusting. I understand, by the way, that it may sound very insulting that I compare becoming a parent to, say, having a leg chopped off in an industrial accident.

But there are some genuine parallels. It's the realisation that something which, pre-change, seemed easy and straightforward - like a 5-centimetre door threshold which, once a wheelchair is involved, becomes very difficult to cross, whilst on foot it often doesn't even register it's there.

Photos of late

Have you heard a term "trophy wife"? I think it's when someone has a wife they get to brag about.

Well, I have a "trophy husband", because I brag about the cool stuff my husband makes.


Our office dog Tui.


Home dog.


A cicada I found in the back yard. According to a rather knowledgeable friend, it's a yet un-named species.

"It's a cicada belonging to the genus Kikihia. From what I can find out its probably a member of one of several yet-unnamed local species, and most likely the one being tentatively referred to as Kikihia 'murihikua' (which is not yet a formally validated name, but is just what the researchers are intending to call it), which ranges from Stewart Island to Mt Cook, mainly in shrublands and grasslands including gardens."


A cake that was made for our family for helping someone.


You guys should be grateful I am not an engineer who designs actual railway junctions. Because if I were... Geesh.

Sharing = at least two

Last year, I joined the New Zealand Greens. As in, I became an actual member of a political party, for the first time ever.

Mostly, I wanted to see how the organisation worked, and how its policy was made. I'd been seeing it from the outside for a while, and was already a Greens voter, but I wanted to see what it looked like from the "inside", so I paid the $30 membership fee, filled a form, stuck a little sticker on our mailbox and... sat back to watch.

And whilst it feels weird to say it... I like them from the inside even more than I did from the outside.

The most important discovery for me was, every single position in the party is filled by two people. From the bottom up (rural groups) all the way to the top levels (party leadership), every position is filled by two co-conveners. Male and female. Old and young. Pakeha and Pasifika. Straight and gay. Each position is filled with two different people to bring in diversity, to reduce power of single voice and to almost... "force" people to make decisions together. Always having to share and cooperate.

I was, like, holy heck.

It may not look like much, but it is so fundamentally... ideology of sharing. Understanding that it's a shared planet, shared environment, shared space, shared food, shared resource, shared... everything. That no matter the decision, it will always have an impact on at least something/someone else outside of the decision-maker, so the fact that the Greens have woven this so deeply into their organisational structure, I was kind of blown away by it, to be honest

Kids are insane

Since starting school two weeks ago, kids have been complaining that they don't get enough time to play in the mornings.

So do you know what they did today? THEY GOT UP BEFORE 4 AM.

I kid you not. I woke up at what I'd sensibly call "in the middle of the night", hearing noises that sounded very much like Duplo being played with, but I thought, surely not. So I went back to sleep.

Then at 4:30 am I woke up again and it was definitely the sound of Duplo being played with. I walked in the living room, looked at my kids - both on the floor of the living room, Duplo everywhere - I looked at the clock (4:31 am) and then I... went back in bed.

As I climbed into bed, I said to my husband, "Your kids are insane." He replied with, "Yes, I know, but why do you say it now?" - "Because they've been up since before 4 am playing with Duplo in the living room." - "Oh dear gods..." my husband replied.

Whilst I don't know for sure who the instigator of such a project was, I can make a rather "well educated" guess going by experience and past observations.

Also, it's going to be an "awesome" evening when kids will have been up for over 12 hours. Can't wait.


My son has been saving up his pocket money so he can buy a Lego set. On Saturday we finally ordered it on Internet.

My son asked me, "Mom, when will it arrive?" - "In about a week, I think," I replied.

The next morning I discovered that someone had crossed out a whole week's worth of days on the calendar in the kitchen. At first I was puzzled. Who would do this? And, most importantly, why? It was my husband who figured it out. He looked at my son with a cheeky grin: "Did you cross out the days on the calendar?" My son looked all sheepish.

Then my husband started laughing. "You do know that the Lego is not gonna come here sooner if you cross out days on the calendar!"

Then I started laughing, too.

Painful toes when rockclimbing - advice needed

Guys, I need some advice. I know some of you do rock climbing - can you help me with something here, please?

My big toe has started hurting a lot when climbing. I've tried finding a solution, but so far I haven't had any luck. Given that I only have about 4 more ideas left (1. buy bigger shoes, 2. see a doctor, 3. suck it up or 4. give up putting weight on my toe), I am wondering if any of you can offer some advice or at least a viable explanation on what the hell is happening to my toe.

So: I have started climbing again after a 10+ year break (!). I am wearing the same shoes I did in 2008: La Sportiva Mythos. I have always thought they are too narrow for me in the toes: I have wide toes, so most women's shoes (not just climbing shoes, but shoes in general) are too narrow for me in the toes. However, I don't remember having problems in 2008.

Now, however...

The first time I put them on in December, I thought, wtf!? They, literally, felt like 2 sizes too small - almost too small to put on. It then occurred to me that my feet were probably swollen pre-period. I tried them on again a couple of days later: they fit a bit better. I then wore them into a hot shower and walked around the house for 30 minutes to stretch them out further, and they became reasonably comfortable.

On my first "full" climbing session I was up and down the wall for 1.5 hours. No pain anywhere. (Plus, I always took my shoes off when I was belaying someone else, so my feet could rest.)

Next climbing session (5 days later) I put the shoes on - felt good. Started climbing - still felt good. But then I put my weight on my big toe... Holy crap! It was a nerve-like pain shooting up my leg. I came down and took my shoes off to investigate. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, the toe had full flexibility, it didn't feel painful to touch. 

I climbed again. Same thing: ouch! The toe is fine when it takes body weight on the sole, but as soon as I get up on "tippy toes", en pointe, like a ballerina, pain shoots through my toe up into my leg.

I climbed down and investigated again. Maybe I've left a corner of toenail unclipped and it's "digging" into a toe? I clipped my toenails when I got back home. Then tried climbing again: same thing, sharp pain up the leg when putting weight on a toe head-on, into the tip.

I now have this thing where my toe gets "pins and needles" even when I'm not climbing. I am looking into buying a pair of shoes that's bigger. However, I don't like that there is something "going on" with my toe that I don't understand and I also don't want to create further damage to it.

Any thoughts?

For reference: this is my feet compared to the length of the shoe

And this is another angle, showing the width of my feet compared to the shoes

On Ally Willen

Somehow, this quote rings with me:

“I have to be young and stupid before I become old and wise.”


I came across it because of... internet, really. I clicked on something, then clicked on the next thing, the next thing.

I read news stories about the two people who drowned in the Makarora last week. Then I read about a third person who is currently still missing near Brewster track - which, I've said many times, is my favorite place in New Zealand. That lead me to read Backcountry Accidents on Wilderlife, and in particular a sad story of Ally Willen who died on Gillespie Pass track in 2015.

I'd never heard of Ally before, but now her story rings with me, too.

Her family have set up a foundation in Ally's name: Live Like Ally Foundation. On their website, that's where I found that quote; where I read about her 3-year correspondence with a prisoner in Texas; and her description of the tattoo that is now a logo of the Live Like Ally Foundation. As I read the words with which her family have described Ally, I can feel their love for her, and that she was an old person in a young body, really.

Memories of the Makarora river

As I am reading the news of the two people who drowned in Makarora river whilst tramping the Gillespie Pass last week, I think of many things, but mostly... I think of my own story. I think back to January 2019 when I watched my friend float downstream on the Makarora river and how I stood there, alone in the river channel, thinking, "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck".

We, luckily, came out alright. The two people who drowned last week, didn't. And whilst I know that people have drowned on the Makarora before, and will in all likelihood drown again - somehow, because of my own experience tumbling down that river, I cannot hear these news stories without an aching chest, an elevated heart rate and a series of vivid flashbacks in my mind.

To mark a year since what was a spectacular, but also a traumatising experience tramping the Gillespie Pass, I wrote an article for New Zealand's Backcountry Magazine. It will be accompanied by commentary by Backcountry's own accidents' column writers.

When the article is published, I'll try to post a link to it.

For the moment though, just this little excerpt:

"Then it happened. 

I still don't know why my friend went down. Maybe a rock rolled out from under his feet? Maybe that bloody Nor’wester pushed him off balance? Either way, suddenly and without warning, my friend leaned back with a sort of a grouning sound and the next moment, both of us were under water. 

I don't have a clear recollection of what happened next. I only remember a couple of fleeting moments: reaching up with an open mouth to gasp air, then going under again. The water felt very cold against my face. I could not tell which way was up. Almost instinctively, I started yanking on my arm, trying to free myself from my friend’s backpack. I know (some) river crossing manuals say, stay linked for as long as possible, even if swept off feet. But in a moment where I could hardly tell which way was up in a tangle of bodies, walking poles and river stones bashing on my legs, the only way to get anywhere, it felt, was to get out from my friend’s backpack - and so I started yanking. Yank! Yank! 

The next thing I remember, I was standing upright in the river, clutching my friend's chest-strap (he had not unclipped it prior to crossing) and he was laid out in front of me, horizontally and chest down, whilst the river was forcefully trying to pull him away from me. (My legs came up in a variety of painful bruises later, so I must've put up a good fight to get upright.) I watched my friend get washed in the face with the cold, glacial water whilst taking big gulps of air between going face-down again. I could not pull him up. 

"I don't know how to get you up!" Gasps of air. "How do I get you up!" Gasps of air. Then silence. And then... 

"Let go!" he shouted. 
"Let go!" he shouted again. 

I let go. Immediately, the river pulled him downstream towards a darker blue 'outside' bend, where the channel is deeper, and I remained standing upright in the current, watching him go, thinking, "Now what?" 

I stood there for, maybe, ten seconds, contemplating my options. (“Contemplating” - yeah, right. More like going “fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck”.) I briefly wondered about throwing myself in the water and letting the river take me downstream - follow my friend and hope for the best - but decided against it. I started talking to myself loudly. “Breathe, Maria. You can’t help him from here. Try to get out of this river. Breathe.” I turned towards the shore and readied myself against the current again."

Finding a solution

Oh. My. God.

I think I may have found a solution!

Foamed glass aggregate.
Limecrete floor on top.

*sitting in front of computer, wide-eyed*

If we put this in front rooms of our house, it will:
1) insulate the underfloor
2) drain away moisture
3) provide a "breathable" floor thus negating the need for damp-proof membranes







Okay, yes, I understand that I still have to figure out where to get foamed glass aggregate in New Zealand (!) because things that are common in Europe are sometimes not even available in this beautiful, somewhat construction-backwards country but... hey, one step at a time.

Tramping with a 5-year-old

I don't know why they're considered "essential", but the little tramper packs along to a daytrip:

* stuffed toy,
* plastic birds,
* doll.

At least she carries them herself in her own backpack so...

Exploring Omaui hill

So many times we've been up Omaui hill with kids - but never past the "official" viewing point up top.

Until today. With the babysitter booked for the evening, me and my husband headed up for a date night: wanting to follow the fenceline atop Omaui and see how far we can get.

The answer is: not far. Eventually you end up against a farm fence. Neither me nor my husband are really the trespassing kind of people.

But it was fun.

Down the fenceline along a trapline.

Then back into bush.

Then out in the open again.

Up against a farm track.

Lots of sticky plants on clothes.

At some point I started taking photos of... spider nests.

Then back down Omaui track again.

My face when a comment I write on social media is liked by Jon Krakauer.

News of the housework variety

Building the fire pit ended up way harder than I had expected. 

I thought, sitting down, setting bricks into ground, it shouldn't be that hard, should it? But turns out: IT WAS. After spending a day crouching, bent over something at ground level, ferrying bricks and mortar backwards and forwards, I was sore and stiff all over!

But it's done and it's good enough.

It's a job that's been "sitting there" for about a year. The bottom ring got put in place a year ago, so we've been successfully using it for grilling. Because it sort of worked, I didn't feel pressured to finish it - not with everything else that was going on.

But this weekend, it finally got done.

Eventually, the soil level with become higher all around that area (we have a lot of soil to move once we start digging the foundation of the workshop, and we'll set the soil down around the fire pit). But for the moment, I've built up a "ring of soil" around the pit to support the bricks, and it'll do.


The currants are ripening. It's so lovely that berry bushes that we planted 2.5 years ago have come of age!


The woodshed is ready for floor joists.

Good blogs & podcasts about sustainable living and architecture

In no particular order:

House Planning Help podcast

House Planning Help is a podcast where, in a nutshell, Ben Adam-Smith either interviews all sorts of interesting people on the topics of sustainable building, or shares his own journey of building a Passive House home. I've been listening to it for about a year, gradually "working" my way through episodes (not even close to done yet!).

It's a good listen, and very educational. Probably half the content is either 1) about Passive Houses or 2) mentions Passive Houses; but there is a whole heap of other stuff in there, too.


Passive House Weekly newsletter

Once a week, Passive House Accelerator sends out a newsletter where they round up approximately 20-30 interesting articles that are to do with sustainable living. Rather than only producing the content themselves, they also link to all sorts of interesting content produced by others.

Again, very educational!


Sustainable Engineering newsletter

Sustainable Engineering is a New Zealand based company run by Jason Quinn. He does not send out newsletters often, but when he does, they are well worth a read!

Jason has also published a book called Passive House for New Zealand. It is free to download at


Kath Irvine's Edible Backyard blog

Kath Irvine has a wonderful veggie garden in her home on the North Island. She writes about composting, pruning, planting, harvesting, pickling, chickens... everything garden, really!


Elrond Burrell's blog


On Instagram I follow:

Sanctuary Magazine

NZ Green Building Council

The International Passive House Association

Green Building Store

Boffa Miskell

Green Gorilla

Ethos Homes

Passive House Accelerator

Passive House Canada

Michael Tolhurst

Gruen Eco Design

eHaus NZ

Environmental Defence Society

Passive House Plus Magazine

Passive House Australia

Passive House School

VIA Arch

Busy bees at Anderson Park, Invercargill

The new camera is definitely a lot of fun!