Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Joys of Underspending

One of the good things about being a minimalist these days is it's pretty trendy.  OK, there are still plenty of people who think you're weird for not wanting to own much stuff, or 'going without' (in their opinion) but at least more people realise now that it's actually quite a good idea to try and avoid getting into masses of debt, or at least try and be a bit smarter about a) stretching your dollars and b) trying to hang on to them as well.  Lord only knows what people would have thought even a decade ago of a couple who chose to get rid of all their possessions and opt for a van over a house!  In the earlier days of Simple Savings, it was a real struggle to get the media to take us seriously, or think of us in any way but odd.  They just did not understand why on earth anyone would want to go out of their way NOT to spend.  I mean, why would you choose to make your life harder by making your own cleaning products instead of spending ten times as much on a bottle of Easy Off Bam?  Why would you waste 15 minutes of your time making your own lunchbox snacks at home when you could spend twice as long getting in your car, driving to the supermarket and queuing up at the counter to buy a packet of muesli bars?

We have the media to thank for making us write the $21 Challenge book!

Nothing used to annoy me more than taking the time to explain the benefits of simple living to what sounded like an understanding journalist, only to read it described as 'quirky' or ' quaint' in print a few days later.  On occasion, Simple Savings, with its thousands of followers was even likened by some reporters to a religion, or cult!  On the positive side, if it hadn't been for this innacurate portrayal, the $21 Challenge book would quite probably never have come about; such were the lengths we had to go to in order to dispel the myths created by the media swirl and ensure people 'got it', rather than completely missing the point of what we were trying to do, which was simply to help people!

Fast forward ten years or so and these days people are clamouring to learn how they can get themselves out of the financial poo.  You're not considered weird any more if you want to save money;  in fact you're daft if you don't.  Better yet, it doesn't matter any more how you do it either, as long as you do.  People are achieving amazing things with, and on, very little and celebrities like George Clarke are opening everyone's eyes to the fact that tiny houses are a very cool idea.  Not only that, the concept of only living with the stuff you really need is actually quite sensible.  You don't even need to be a hippy or a hermit to live in one!  Who would have thunk it?

Yes, the frugal lifestyle is becoming more and more acceptable.  So I was really quite miffed to see an article a few days ago called 'Excessive frugality can be as bad as over-spending'.  In fact it really got my back up, enough to drop my friend Rob Stock at Stuff a line.  As it turns out, the headline was a little misleading.  Rob explained that a lot of financial advisors, which the author Liz Koh is one of, have aged clients who are so worried about running out of money that they go through life without ever living a little.  As a result they literally have millions of dollars stashed away, without having a hope in heck of being able to spend even a tiny part of it before they leave this earth.  OK, so that I get!  But the headline was a tad misleading to say the least, and instantly transported me back a decade to when I felt I constantly had to justify the way I lived.

My cleaning cupboard and medical cabinet are one and the same!

These days I no longer have to do that; and I'm comfortable enough within myself that I wouldn't care anyway.   But if nothing else, that article made me grateful all over again for being the way I am, and knowing the stuff I know.  Without Simple Savings I'm not sure I would be doing what I'm doing now as I doubt I would have had the confidence, let alone the knowledge.  Being a Simple Saver in a van is just the same as being one in a house, even more so I guess and the article made me think of all the things I enjoy about it.  I still make all my cleaning products rather than buy them; you can take care of most jobs with a bottle of tea tree, or eucalyptus, or lavender essential oil and they're what we use most when it comes to first aid too!  For some reason I really enjoy washing laundry by hand (except on frosty mornings, holy bejaysus I can't feel my hands!) and I really love not being reliant on power. I would love to know what our power bill would be now, if we lived in a house and were charged for our current next-to-no-usage!  I love the fact that even though we live in a van we still walk everywhere as much as possible, even if it means walking several kilometres to the supermarket and coming back with both of us carrying heaving backpacks and still more in our hands.  I love not being tempted or ripped off by advertising; mainly because I don't see it but even if I did, I wouldn't be swayed anyway.  Besides, you can't be going and buying too much stuff when your whole house is only a few metres long!

Whilst I think you can become frugal overnight if you really have the mindset and the drive, I think it takes longer than that to work towards being a minimalist.  Before we left the house, I had been whittling down our possessions gradually for two or three years.  OK, so I had no idea back then that I was going to wind up living in a van, but I just couldn't bear having things around me which I didn't need - especially if not having them around was also going to make me a bob or two.  The clothes dryer was the first thing to go (much to Liam's disgust when he came home for his first uni holidays and realised he had to wait for his clothes to dry overnight!)  After that was the TV and then bit by bit all other non-essentials followed.  By the time the house went on the market, it was already pretty much just a shell!  Hence the transition into van life was incredibly easy for both of us.  The only thing I was sad to pack away were family photos, but even they seem so out of date now, the boys have grown so much since any of them were taken.  I'd rather have one photo I can carry with me of the young men they are now than a wall full of images of the kids they no longer are.

If some of you are reading this and have started following our travels within the past year, you may well be thinking 'Simple Savings?  Who or what the heck is that?!' It's an Australian-based website which teaches people to save money on pretty much everything you can possibly think of.  I consider myself extremely lucky to be a part of it and wouldn't be where I am without it, in many ways.  As a result, I'm rather passionate about it and its philosophy, as you can no doubt tell!

Ohh roast beef, where have you been these past seven months!!

We're still camping out in the kitchen and have got used to it now.  Bevin insisted that we should leave the van as long to air out as possible in the hope of getting rid of all traces of paint fumes before we move back in, so will most likely be here until the end of the week.  It actually really shocked me how daunting and upsetting I found it, adjusting to a bigger space but I'm growing accustomed to it.  Even so, if I lived in a room no bigger than this for the rest of my life it would be quite big enough now, thank you!  It's a bit like being on school camp, it's quite fun!  One definite 'highlight' was at the weekend when we cooked ourselves a full roast dinner using one of our three current ovens.  Oh my goodness, after so many months not having one it was absolute heaven.  I have a feeling we will quite probably treat ourselves to another before moving back into the van!

Monday, 12 June 2017

There's No Place Like Ken!

Have got a very different change of scenery today!  Am writing this from a commercial kitchen approximately six times bigger than Ken.  It's our current refuge for a few days whilst we continue our mission to rid the van of mould and we are extremely grateful for it as I honestly don't know what we would do without it at the moment.  If you haven't seen the Facebook page over the past few days, we discovered last week that despite our best efforts to combat the damp, our sleeping area was worse than ever and the mould was growing at an alarming rate.  Black mould in the corners, grey fluffy mould over the wheel hubs, white mould behind our heads and some nice green stuff for good measure.

This is what we sleep on every night.  Despite drilling a multitude of holes only
a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to increase air flow, it's still not done enough :(

That sneaky mould just gets everywhere!  Like behind your headboard...

Yet more mould, with a bit of rust thrown in for good measure.  All the rust 
has appeared in the past couple of weeks and is caused by the condensation dripping
down and pooling at the bottom, where unfortunately our stuff is stored

It didn't put us in the best of moods I can tell you, in fact it was pretty darn soul destroying.  We had no choice but to resign ourselves to the fact that we were going to have to strip everything out of the van and paint the untreated timber.  That way, while it may not fully stop the damp or mould, at least it would stop it being able to work its way in to the timber and clean up would be as easy as a quick wipe over.  Sounds simple in theory but there were two major problems with this - one, it is currently winter and the air is bloody cold and damp.  You can hang your washing outside for days at the moment but it won't dry and it's the same with trying to dry paint.  This was a bed we were painting here, the only bed we had and the pressure was really going to be on to get it dry enough to be able to sleep on every night.  The other problem, which is just as serious if not more so, is trying to get the paint not just dry but aired enough to be safe enough for us to sleep in.  I haven't suffered from asthma in a long time but it can still be triggered off by random things such as wool, feathers and paint.  Still, we didn't really have a choice, we had to try.

Anti-mould stuff that doesn't smell of anything and seems to work, woohoo!

This is our under-bed storage with the lids taken off.  The mould and damp has
got in to all of these, so we had to spray them all before we could paint 

We traipsed off to Mitre 10 and spent almost a month's worth of campground fees on anti-mould treatments, paint and supplies.  A small price to pay to get the van up to scratch but it was still $270 I would much rather not have had to spend! The forecast for the next day was dry and sunny so we got to work.  I hate chemical treatments and we had tried clove oil several times with great results on the windows but not much success with the timber.  Fortunately we managed to find a pretty benign spray treatment which was harmless to both pets and plants so we sprayed all the timber with it and left it to dry before applying our first coat of undercoat.  We knew that we were cutting it fine with the drying time, even with the sun and brisk Southland wind but we had to make the most of the weather so had to keep pushing along.  You can't really leave anything outside later than 4pm here as the air starts getting too cold and everything will get damp again but luckily by the time 4pm came round the paint felt dry to the touch and we were able to put the bed back together.  That was an interesting exercise.  Despite being outside for less than eight hours, the three sheets of timber which made up the top of our bed frame had all managed to bow at both ends and we couldn't slot them back together!  Still, we couldn't do anything about it at that stage in the day so we made it up as usual and hoped that the weight of lying on it would help to flatten it.

Our wonky bed boards after their spray treatment! 

We were lucky enough to have been invited out for dinner that night so we left the van airing with the windows open and vacated for a few hours to let the air flow through.  When we returned later that evening, all seemed well and we couldn't really smell anything at all.  Great!  It was bloody cold however so we turned the heater on to take the chill off and tucked ourselves into bed.  It was around 1.30am when I awoke and realised I couldn't breathe.  It was a very frightening feeling!  I leapt out of bed, turned off the heater and literally hung out of the door in the cold night air, desperately trying to get my breath.  What the hell was I going to do?  I couldn't sit outside all night, for starters it was raining!  But how was I going to get through the next few hours in the van?  Fortunately the rain meant it wasn't as cold as usual and we were able to slide open our insect screens fully.  This made breathing more easy but when it was time to get up the next morning my throat was so swollen I could barely talk and my eyes had puffed up so much I looked as though I had gone half a dozen rounds with Mike Tyson.  Fortunately we had half a cucumber in the fridge to help cool them down! Bear in mind, this was only the undercoat - we still had two more top coats to go! The only good part was, that every time I was out of the van I immediately felt better - but it rained all day the next day and as we were forced to spend more time in the van, things got progressively worse.

OK so I wasn't QUITE as bad as Jocelyn Wildenstein - but it wasn't far off!

After three days and nights in the van we could take no more.  I could barely function and it seemed that we were just going to have to stop our renovations and put up with the mould instead; anything was better than this.  Fortunately for us, Bevin the caretaker took one look at the state of me sitting outside gasping for air and came up with an alternative.  He said he would open up a room in the pavilion for us and we could set up our bed on the floor.  That way I could keep working during the day while Gareth finished the painting and we would have somewhere to sleep at night for as long as we needed until the van was fully aired and safe enough for us to go back to.  There was just one condition - I wasn't allowed to set so much as a big toe in the van until he and Gareth said I could do so!

I was sad to leave our little van behind but so very relieved at the same time.  The only alternative we would have had other than to stop painting was to put Minnie in boarding kennels and go and stay in a motel for the duration of our renovations and both of these would have cost a fortune.  Being the amazing bloke he is, we have also managed to save heaps by being able to borrow some of his tools to take care of several jobs, rather than having to buy them, as well as have all the space we need to do all the necessary work.  He has even given us a free lockable shed space for Ken so that Gareth can finish all the painting under cover and get it done and aired quicker!  Seriously, he deserves a medal.

Minnie is as bemused as we are at having so much space - 
but she's made herself at home anyway

And so here we are!  It feels very, very weird being in such a big space and is taking some getting used to.  For starters it is incredibly cold and despite having three heaters and a dehumidifier just for the one room, none of them make any difference whatsoever as it's so big.  Compared to how easy it is to keep our little van warm, this is easily the coldest we have been since living on the road.  As I write this, I'm tucked up in bed in the middle of the day, fully clothed complete with snow jacket, beanie, thermal vest and two pairs of socks and I'm still freezing.  Unfortunately I can't type in gloves or I'd have those on too!  In comparison when we're in the van we're usually in t-shirts or a singlet!  I had completely forgotten how hard it is to heat a normal size living space.

I also used a regular stove yesterday for the first time since February.  It's funny how you forget things like what element settings to use and suchlike, I couldn't get over how quickly my rice came up to the boil yesterday!  I'm also not used to being able to wash my hands in the sink rather than have to use hand sanitiser or baby wipes and keep going to grab those instead.  At least I know I'm not alone doing things like that; Bevin confessed yesterday that after travelling around in his motor home for a while he got so used to having to make a cup of tea by having to boil the kettle on the gas hob that when he went to visit one of his children he went to do the same with their expensive $120 electric jug and melted both the base of the jug and made a mess of the ceramic cooktop!

We also have a microwave in here, which I'm about to go and try to remember how the hell to use to heat up my lunch instead of using a saucepan on the stove top.  It's really nice to have a little basin to clean my teeth too!  We have a sink in Ken that we can use but normally I go off to the public bathroom so we don't fill up our grey water tank so fast.  Minnie finds it very exciting being able to toddle off and get her own drink whenever she wants rather than having to go out and get one, or us bringing her one!  And making the bed is a hell of a lot easier when you don't have to climb all over it to do it.

But incredibly grateful as we are, that's where the novelty ends.  I miss Ken terribly and can't wait until we are able to go back to our little home again!  I actually find having so much space rather daunting, it's far too big and not cosy like Ken.  It's also amazing how much more stressful I find being in a bigger place.  From the moment we moved our stuff in I felt compelled to rush around and play house, finding a place for everything, but even with all our worldly goods inside it doesn't even take up a quarter of the room.  I also feel as though I constantly have to clean because in a bigger space you make more mess and use more things.  In Ken we can't really have any mess because there isn't the room, every bit of rubbish we make is constantly being removed and our little benchtops are always tidy because they have to be if you want to have room to do anything.  I imagine it must feel downright bizarre to most people reading this, I mean who on earth would rather have LESS space and LESS things?  As it turns out, we do.

What a view to wake up to!  We get to enjoy scenes like this all the time

I'm sure I will discover even more differences as the days go on, we're only on Day 2 after all!  But one more thing I have noticed that I miss is being closer to the weather - the weather of all things! When we're in Ken we always know what the weather is doing and when it's nice you always want to spend as much time as possible being outside, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.  In here however we have no idea what it's doing through the frosted windows.  It rained all night last night and we didn't hear a thing; we were amazed to get up this morning and find the road was flooded outside! There's nothing better than being able to spot an amazing sunrise or sunset from Ken's window and jumping outside to really be able to experience it.  It makes me sad to think how many I missed all those years living in a house while I was too busy cleaning or watching My Kitchen Rules.

We love you Ken!  Hope to be back with you again soon <3

Over the years I have owned four houses and have downsized with every one I have bought.  Even so, I never dreamed I would get so attached to living in a van!  I guess at the end of the day, home is where - and what you make it!

Friday, 2 June 2017

Real People, Real Life

I remember some time ago having a conversation with Ali, back when we were living in the house. He would have been about 17 and I can't remember how it came about but I said something typically placating and really-wise-and-adulty along the lines of that other people's opinions didn't matter, particularly on the likes of Facebook.  'Opinions are just that - opinions', I told him.  'People can think what they like!  Doesn't mean they are right, or that you have to care'.  Heaven knows it took me well into adulthood to learn that, with plenty of heartbreak along the way; the least I could do was help my beloved offspring to learn it earlier.  His response however really shocked me. 'No Mum, you're wrong,' he said.  'Social media determines your social status, your physical status, your emotional status - everything!'  This was no nonchalant statement either; those words were said with genuine belief and passion.  For once in my life I was absolutely lost for words.  Call me biased but Ali is one of the most intelligent kids I have ever met.  His perception and depth of thought is mind blowing.  Is that really how it is for young people these days? It's no wonder depression is so horrendously common.  How is anyone supposed to live up to their own, or everyone else's idea of perfection? How is anyone supposed to see the beauty in the world and in themselves, when they're constantly bombarded with negativity and being told via a screen what they should and shouldn't be doing, what they are lacking and being forced to compare themselves with others?  It made me incredibly sad to think they live with so much pressure.

Real life - get out and experience it!

It goes without saying that we're a different breed, us road dwellers, travellers and nomads.  We're different in so many ways I can't even begin to count them all.  For starters we are not bogged down by so many of the things the rest of society considers important or stresses about.  We don't know a lot of so-called celebrities these days; we don't know their names or faces, their songs or their TV shows.  We don't know what scandals we're 'missing out' on, who is sleeping with who, what sort of clothes we should be wearing this season or which 'must-have' things we're supposed to want.  We're so busy just living life plain and simple that we are simply unaware.  I wish that everyone had the chance - or should I say - I wish they gave themselves the chance to live this way.

Sunrise and gypsy caravans - a wonderful sight to wake up to!

A little while back there was a Gypsy Fair in town and a whole bunch of them came to stay at our campground.  I loved having them around, with their beautiful, ornate wagons and exotic clothing.  A lot of people don't, however.  'You'll be glad to see the back of them, won't you?' someone asked Bevin the caretaker when they had gone.  'Did they give you any trouble?'  'Trouble?  Hell no! They're the best kind of campers you could ask for!'  Bevin replied.  'They take nothing for granted, they appreciate everything they have and they know the real value of a dollar'.  And that, I think sums up most of us travellers perfectly.  I appreciate things so much more now because I only buy or am given have the things I need.  I appreciate people so much more too, because I have more time and opportunities to interact with them and see their kindness.

I'm blown away all the time by how lovely people are.  Like the day a few weeks back when a woman we had never seen before shyly came and knocked on our door.  She is the sister of one of our dear friends from back in Te Kauwhata and took the trouble to drive around Gore and track us down so she could invite us round to dinner with her and her husband at their home.  We hadn't had a proper home cooked meal in a house for almost four months!  Not only did we enjoy a wonderful evening of warm hospitality (as well as some of our favourite foods that we're not able to cook ourselves such as roast potatoes!), we made some lovely and much-valued new friends who we will continue to keep in touch with.

My free herb garden.  This photo was taken on the first day, it's
grown so much already!

Sometimes the people we meet are little more than a fleeting encounter but they leave a lasting impression, such as a lady I met the other day when she was hanging out washing and I lent her some of my clothespegs.  Later on that afternoon I noticed someone had dumped a pot of parsley by the refuse station.  I figured nobody must want it but didn't want to simply take without asking so plucked up courage to ask the lady if she had put it there and if so, could I possibly have it?  'Yes, of course!' she replied.  'Would you like some mint and rosemary as well?'  I was delighted enough to have the parsley - after all, Gareth and I had first met when I was buying parsley and we were both heartily miffed when a possum dug up our special plant at the start of our travels in Warkworth!  Still, I didn't want to say no, so followed the lady back to her bus for what I thought were some cuttings. Imagine my surprise when she insisted I take two enormous tubs of mint, rosemary and thyme back to the van!  'Are you sure you don't want them?!' I asked in disbelief.  'No, I've carted them all over the country this past year and am going back home to Cromwell now, I'd love to find them a new home', she insisted.  I was over the moon - I don't even know this lady's name but she gave me a garden!  The plants are all doing great too, I hope one day I'll run into her again and be able to show her.

One of the things I love best about the people we meet on the road is that age or nationality or background is no barrier to friendship.  When you live in a regular house, living a regular life, you tend to only mix with people who are the same sort of age and have similar interests, or social circle, or life experience to you.  Living on the road, people couldn't be more different.  We chat, we smile, we swap stories, it doesn't matter who you are.  We were walking back from town recently when we got chatting to an elderly couple walking into the grounds at the same time.  The woman was a Gore resident and was off to her spinning class - by that I mean wool spinning, not the exercise!  She asked us how we were enjoying Gore and other general niceties when she said 'Hang on, are you the lovely couple with the dog?  I thought I recognised you!'  It turned out we had indeed met them before a week or so earlier.  They were walking past with their disabled adult daughter Jane, pushing her in her wheelchair when she spotted Minnie.  Jane was so excited to see our dog that Gareth took Minnie over to see her and Minnie, who normally isn't particularly co-operative when it comes to meeting strangers, sat patiently and let everyone make a fuss of her.  Jane has Rett's Syndrome, which is sort of a cross between autism and cerebral palsy and she is one of only 30 people in NZ who has it.  They were so touched that Gareth took the time to go over and say hello, they gave us their address and invited us to pop in and have lunch with them any time.

One way or another, we meet so many wonderful people I don't think we'll ever go hungry!  Just a few days ago we were supposed to be going to a pot luck dinner to welcome all the incoming campers for the Gold Guitars festival this long weekend.  Unfortunately we were both feeling under the weather and had to pass on our contribution to the caretaker to take along with him, as well as our apologies to everyone for not being able to make it.  We thought we had missed out - but far from it! Still feeling none too special I dragged myself up the next morning to make us both a huge pot of chicken soup when there was a knock at the door and there was Bevin bearing an enormous amount of food.  'Couldn't have you two missing out!' he grinned and promptly presented us with a huge stock pot FULL of roast meat and roast potatoes, pumpkin and kumara (this alone turned out to be enough for four meals for the two of us!) plus two different salads, chocolate cake, berry crumble, lemon meringue pie and a big bottle of cream!  What amazing warm hearted people we have had the pleasure to meet - although I couldn't help but wonder to myself if the 40 or so motor homers who had provided the glorious spread hadn't insisted they 'give it to the poor homeless couple in the wee van!'  I'm sure many people don't realise that we live this way by choice!

Us, no doubt covered in mud and in need of a shower as usual
but ridiculously happy anyway!

To me, these are real people, this is real life.  Genuine good people, who ask for nothing more than your company and are not interested in what you can give or do for them in return.  Life is so much more beautiful when you're living it for real, rather than vicariously through a screen. The people we meet are so much happier and more relaxed, and so are we.  I don't know if I've changed all that much these seven months but I truly believe that living this way has made me a better person.  Some of you may remember me talking recently about a lovely young couple from Ireland called Jake and Tasha, who adopted a puppy on their travels which grew into an enormous, boisterous and very lovable dog.  They have been travelling almost four years and the three of them live very happily crammed into their 4x4, with no desire to change.  Like us, they know that not everyone 'gets' how we live but that's fine, nobody else has to.  I think the proof was in the pudding when Jake and Tasha went back to Ireland last year and not one single person or family member said 'God you guys look terrible, you need to stop doing what you're doing'.  Quite the opposite, nobody could believe how well and happy they looked and encouraged them to keep on living just the way they were.  I hope when we see our families again they will say the same about us!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Van Damp Mk 2 - and a Physics Lesson...

Apologies for not blogging much lately!  We've been struggling with Van Damp again over the past week.  Ugh, it's such a pain!  We spent a couple of days last week getting everything out of the van again and drilling a heap of ventilation holes to allow air to circulate in our underbed storage.  Whilst our clothes and possessions hadn't gone mouldy - yet - they were damp to the point of being wet and the metal over the wheel arches were running with water and covered in mould.  The four containers of 'Damp Rid' that we had put in each corner hadn't done a darn thing, except become mouldy on the outside themselves!

Winter has arrived early in Gore!

Worst of all however was the underside of the mattresses.  Foam is notorious for holding moisture and although we were snug and warm at night, every time we went to flip the mattresses over we just about had kittens at how soaking wet they were on the undersides.  Not only that, the moisture in turn sits on the top of the timber bed frame and in turn that was becoming wet and mouldy.  It's not all bad; the bubble wrap on the windows has done a sterling job at keeping condensation at bay, and the best thing we ever did was get the foil windscreen visors to go on top of these.  You wouldn't believe what a difference they make at keeping us warm and dry!  If only we could say the same for the window sills, which are already becoming covered in rust spots after only a couple of weeks of colder weather.

As an extra preventative measure we packed all our clothing and belongings into large sealable storage bags from the Warehouse, a steal at just $4 each!  We were really hopeful that the new ventilation holes would go a long way in stopping both them and our mattress from going damp any further, helped along nicely by the dehumidifier.  So we were far from happy when we flipped everything over yesterday and found that all our efforts had made little or no difference.  In fact we were really, really pissed off.  At least we knew we weren't alone.  Pretty much every traveller, whether in a 12 metre bus or large motorhome or a van like ours has problems with damp at some stage through the year.  At least Ken didn't have any leaks, which a lot of the motor homers we come across have issues with.  And we didn't have freezing cold water dripping on our heads while we slept from having no insulation, like a lovely young English couple from Devon we met a few days earlier had been struggling with.  In comparison to a lot of people, we lived in relative luxury!

The ever-changing sky here is beautiful no matter how bleak!

Disheartened as we were, one thing was for certain - we were NOT giving up.  We love Southland, we love van life and we love the people.  No way was this setback going to force us out!  Besides, it doesn't matter where you are in NZ over winter, if you live in a van you will still get damp.  Gore might get a tad chilly but according to the many locals we have spoken to, we don't get anywhere near the rain here that a lot of other, warmer areas do.  Speaking from experience so far we'll take the cold over the wet any time!  Even so, what were we going to do in order to make things more bearable?

By now Bevin the caretaker and our fellow campers Brian and Evelyn were used to seeing us turf everything out of the van on a regular basis in a vain attempt to try and air it.  'It won't make any difference now, the air outside is just too cold at this time of year, nothing dries', said Evelyn.  She was right, we knew it was a futile exercise.  We had already blown up a cheap hairdryer in two minutes flat the week before from trying to use it to dry the mattress!  'You need a heater', said Brian.  'Yep, you've got to have a heater', agreed Evelyn.  We already had a dehumidifier but it obviously wasn't enough, not to mention the fact that it automatically cut off when the temperature hit below zero degrees, which was pretty much daily now.  Having already spent the past two years living in their bus in Gore, we trusted their judgement and traipsed off to town to get a heater.

Off to town to get a heater.  Am dressed from head to toe in kids' clothes,
saving myself over $70 on getting decked out for winter!

Fortunately this wasn't a big expense; oil column heaters are pretty cheap to buy these days and it's not as though we needed a large one.  But did we really need to run both a dehumidifier AND a heater in such a small space?  I said no, Gareth said yes.  Being the physicist out of the two of us and having the most logical mind by far, I Googled to see what was the best option and found the answer was very surprising.  Gareth was indeed right; to get the best results at combating damp you need to run both a heater and a dehumidifier hand in hand, preferably at opposite ends of the room to one another.  But get this - a dehumidifier is designed to operate AT ABOVE 20ºC.  By the time a room gets down to 15ºC they do a pretty shoddy job and at 10ºC they are downright awful.  One of the main reasons for this is as the temperature drops, the dehumidifier has to turn the water into ice in order to remove it from the air.

At least we're prepared for the great outdoors!

But wait, there's more!  According to statistics, the average bedroom temperature in NZ is 10ºC.  Yet manufacturers only test dehumidifier capacity down to a temperature of 18.3ºC.  Over a quarter of NZ homes run a dehumidifier, yet most people run them without a heater because they think (like I did) that drying the air out is enough.  However if you do not also run a heater to bring the air up to temperature for the dehumidifier to do its job properly, you're basically throwing money away by running it.  Especially if you live in Otago or Southland, according to Otago University's head physicist.  When I think of all the years I ran a dehumidifier in all the bedrooms, thinking they were doing the job of both heating and drying the atmosphere I want to slap myself!  Honestly though, considering around 45,000 dehumidifiers are sold to NZ consumers every winter, don't you think it would be nice if manufacturers also informed people that they should be used in conjunction with a heater, rather than as a single magic solution to cold and damp problems?  I'll get off my soapbox now but it was a very interesting lesson and we now run both appliances together.  It's too early to say how much of a difference it is making, we can only hope; however we woke up for the first time this morning with a dry wall behind us and neither of us slept with blankets on last night despite it being -2ºC outside!

Somehow this couple of hippy metal heads have wound up in
NZ's country music capital!

Damp problems aside, it's been a good week and we've met some lovely people.  They deserve a blog of their own so will tell you all about them next time, however I imagine by then there will be a lot more to tell you about too!  This weekend marks the annual Gold Guitars festival and awards in Gore. It's the biggest event the town hosts and our campground is no exception.  Instead of it just being us and Brian and Evelyn, another 50 - 80 motor homes are about to arrive in our backyard for the long weekend, eek!  It's the nearest we have been to a motor home convention and it starts this evening with a pot luck dinner.  Our visitors all have another thing in common as well as owning homes on wheels; they are all country music fans, which is what the Gold Guitars festival is all about.  Gareth and I on the other hand are most definitely NOT country music fans!  But we are big fans of meeting other travellers, no matter their taste in music.  Should be a very interesting few days!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Golden Rules of Van Life

There's snow in them thar hills!

I'm a bit of a pain in that, if you tell me that I won't be able to do something, I'll try my darnedest to prove you wrong.  Like surviving Southland in sub-zero temperatures.  Well as of yesterday, we already did!  And it was the most brilliant, exhilarating day.  For me it was reminiscent of Christmas in England and I absolutely loved every minute.  To wake up and see snow outside my window for the first time in over 25 years was indescribable.  I can't remember the last time I was so excited to get out of bed!  I couldn't wait to show Minnie either.  She's never seen snow in her whole life and the look on her face as her paws hit the frozen, crunchy ground was priceless.  After the initial shock she decided that it was fabulous stuff and couldn't get enough of exploring in it, tiny tail wagging madly, although despite trying to eat it several times proved largely fruitless.

'What the heck is this weird stuff under my feet?!'  Minnie becomes frozen
(quite literally!) at her new discovery

'Hmm, doesn't taste all that flash either'...

The only thing which dampened our excitement was that Gareth was unwell.  Such rotten timing! Still, at least he was nice and warm in the van.  Despite my fear that the impending freezing temperatures were going to be unbearable, we actually didn't notice a thing, it was no worse than usual and we slept snug and warm.  Mind you, when you live in a small space it's pretty easy to heat and hot water bottles are truly wonderful things.  It was down to me to walk into town to pick up supplies of a necessary wintry and medical nature and I didn't need any encouragement, I couldn't wait to get out there!

Looking the picture of class in my kids' snowboots.  So glad I got these just in time!

The walk in to town was lovely.  The sun shone and the hills were a picture, all covered in snow. Everyone was rugged up just like me and the supermarket was crazy busy.  It seemed we were all buying the same things, winter vegies and stuff to make soup!  Everybody was in good spirits though. So was I, until it was time to begin the long walk home with my six shopping bags.  Despite trying to shop carefully so as not to weigh myself down too much, it wasn't long before I was pushed to my physical limit.  However I couldn't believe the number of offers of help I had on the journey home. At least three people stopped to ask if I would like a ride to wherever I was going, and a couple more on foot.  Even a young boy asked if I would like him to help by carrying my bags on his bike.  I was truly touched - but this is Gore.  This is how people are here.  We grow to love this place more every day.

After getting through Friday night, and the days leading up to it with the rain, thunder and bitter cold, I'm feeling a bit more confident that we'll be fine.  Cold is actually not a problem, we don't mind the cold because we're prepared for it and it's beautiful when the sun shines. It's rain which makes things the most challenging.  It really, really sucks when everything is wet - you're wet, everything you're wearing is wet, every towel you own is wet, you're trying not to get the bedding wet and you don't have any way of getting anything dry.  But such is life when you live in a van.  At the end of the day you still get to tuck up in a warm bed and be happy and content.

My secret to good health.  I hope!

The main thing when you live on the road is to always remember the Golden Rules.  The first rule is that you need to stay healthy, especially during the colder months.  It's absolutely vital that you take good care of yourself.  I've taken to drinking a large concoction every morning consisting of lemon juice, honey and organic apple cider vinegar dissolved in a large glass of hot(tish) water.  I never in a million years thought I would be drinking this stuff, I always hated honey and cider vinegar for starters!  But it's amazing what you get used to and I have really noticed the difference.  I have so much more energy now!  It will be interesting to see how much difference it makes to my immune system, which is notoriously rubbish.

Our diet has also had a big overhaul the last couple of months.  I think when you live in a van, or on the road, you think at first that you can't do things.  You think that you are constrained by your limitations.  In our case, this meant food.  Despite being two people who could cook perfectly well and had always cooked from scratch, rather than processed foods, we soon found ourselves living out of tins, packets and jars.  Neither of us felt good about it but it was the way we felt it had to be.  What happened after a few months was that we felt absolutely awful.  Sluggish, no energy, our digestive systems didn't feel good - you name it.  We decided that we had to introduce more fresh vegetables back into our diet and start eating decent meat.  We felt the improvement from day one and would never go back to eating rubbish again!

There's no excuse for not eating right, no matter how small the kitchen!

We also invested in a tiny crockpot for $25 from the Warehouse.  This thing is great!  It enables us to cook so many delicious and nutritious meals, as well as so many things you wouldn't think you would be able to cook in a crockpot.  As another bonus it also saves on dishes but there's no nicer feeling on a freezing cold or wet day to know that you can just relax and dinner is taken care of.  We've just polished off the last of yesterday's chicken and vegetable soup for lunch and are looking forward to beef casserole for dinner with baby potatoes.  Too easy!

Golden Rule No.2 is that you HAVE to keep moving.  This was a surprise and something that we would never have thought of but of course it makes perfect sense.  Still, you would not believe the aches and pains you get from living in a confined space.  I swear to God, some days you feel like you're 100!  It was never an issue in the summer and autumn months but now the weather is worse and we are confined to the van more, it's very noticeable and can be a real problem if you let it. The longer you sit in one position, the more likely you are to seize up.  Knees, elbows, neck and shoulders...  There's only one thing you can do to avoid it and that's to keep moving as much as possible, so that's what I do.  That's why even though we have a vehicle, we leave it behind and walk everywhere as much as possible; it's really important that we do.

Home made Beef Stroganoff - 
washed down with a nice glass of Golden Rule No.3!

As for Golden Rule No.3?  We learned this from some of the first travellers we met - a couple named Colin and Mara, back in December.  They've been living on the road more than five years now and we learned heaps from them.  Their motto is 'Never Run Out of Wine' and as time has gone by, we have discovered they are right!  No matter how much we love our life on the road, we do go without many luxuries compared to the average person living in a normal house.  A lot of the things people take for granted, we simply don't or can't have.  Whilst we don't miss any of those things, everybody needs something to wind down and we're no different.  It's a simple pleasure at the end of the day to be able to enjoy a drink together.  Or three.

Before I go, I must share a happy update on Miss Minnie!  You may remember a few weeks ago she was far from well; in fact we were close to losing her.  Fortunately we happened upon the most excellent emergency vet in Cassie from VetSouth Tapanui.  After suffering from ill health for more than half her life, Cassie picked up that Minnie had an underactive thyroid, which tests later confirmed.  She has been on her medication for almost two weeks now and the difference in her is incredible.  Our little sloth of a spaniel appears to have been replaced by the Energizer bunny!  Rather than persuading her to come out for painfully slow walks which she really struggled with, these days she doesn't want to stop.  She's the one dragging me out for a couple of hours a day!  It's wonderful to see and we are so grateful to Cassie that she picked up what no other vet has ever done all these years.  We can't wait to show her the difference.  I just wish we had met her earlier on in our travels!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Secret to Happiness

Happiness is playing in the Autumn leaves!

I have to chuckle to myself every time I see articles come up on news websites which encourage readers to click on them for 'The Key to a Blissful Life' or 'Three Secrets to Happiness'. Apparently taking up yoga is one of them - at least that's what they're saying this week but considering they churn stuff like this out every day there must be a hell of a lot of secrets to happiness.  It's just another way society puts pressure on people of course.  If you don't do what everyone else is doing (even though they're actually not), then you're not living your life right and you'll never find happiness.  I don't think there are any real secrets to happiness - I mean, surely they are different for everyone?  I read 'Eat Pray Love' and wanted to go and live with the monks.  I watched 'Under the Tuscan Sun' and wanted to go and buy a tumbledown villa in Italy.  But even if I had done any of those things, who is to say they would have made me as happy as Elizabeth Gilbert or Frances Mayes?  What makes one person happy can be downright hellish for another.  The secret to happiness is something you have to discover for yourself.

Six months stuck in a van with me!  This man deserves a medal

As it turns out, my own secret to happiness seems to be living on the road; Gareth's too.  We celebrated six months of travelling yesterday and as we sat on a wooden bench at the top of a hill in Croydon Bush looking out over Southland we both agreed that life is pretty darn brilliant.  I have learned more about people and about life this past six months than in the rest of my life put together. I think most of us go through life thinking that everyone lives in a basically similar way; in a normal house with a 9 to 5 job, which we work at to pay for the house and all the stuff we want to put in it. But our months on the road have shown us that for many people it's not like that at all.  There are thousands of motorhomers living on the road, I've mentioned that several times and motorhomes really are a home away from home.  They have many of the home comforts of a house, just smaller and they have the freedom to live wherever the heck they like.  Just like we do - isn't that awesome?

But then there are people like Tom and Michelle, the couple who are currently next to us.  They live in a Mitsubishi Pajero.  All the time.  Day after day, they sit in their car and if the weather is bad, they don't get out.  You would never know to look at them that they live in a car.  They're a good looking young couple, well presented, she always has her long blonde hair nicely brushed (which is more than I can say for me most of the time!) They've been staying here as long as we have and goodness knows how long they've been living in their car before that.  Then there's the middle aged man who was here for a couple of weeks who lives in his old saloon car.  He goes out to work every day and you always see him writing stuff on a clipboard.  We don't know how any of them do it - we sure as hell don't know how they sleep in there, along with all their worldly goods piled up to the ceiling and taking up every bit of available space but the saloon man always seems content, sitting outside reading his book.  He may not have much but life is simple I guess.  And Tom and Michelle always seem happy, chattering away to one another and walking everywhere hand in hand, just like Gareth and me.  Couples on the road always seem extra happy, even those in their seventies like Brian and Mrs Brian (whose name we have finally learned is Evelyn).  Makes sense considering we have all the time in the world for one another and get to see and enjoy so much.

Ken, our beloved home on wheels.  Quite a lot bigger than a Pajero
and a heck of a lot smaller than a bus.  But he's perfect for us!

As all these people show, there is no right or wrong way to travel.  Your home on wheels can be as big or small as you like, it doesn't matter as long as it works for you. I think a lot of people think you have to fork out thousands of dollars for a motor home to be able to hit the road and see the country but you really don't.  Getting out there and doing it - that's the main thing!  We're living proof that you don't need to go big to be happy.  I've also learned - both from other travellers and from staying put - that just because you live on the road permanently you don't need to be travelling constantly. It's OK to stop! A lot of people travel for a few months and then park up for a few months; others have a few weeks on and a few weeks off.  It's another one of the many joys of having no fixed abode, you get to choose where you live and for how long.  When we first realised we were going to be staying in Gore for a while I felt like a failure as a traveller.  I've since learned from the many people I've encountered here that in fact it's what most of them do.  Besides, it's nice to feel part of the community and have familiar faces in the shops asking us how Minnie is doing or how our insulation is working out!

Walk your own path.  Particularly if there might be whisky at the end of it

The biggest thing I have learned however from the past amazing six months, is that it's OK to walk your own path.  There are no rules in the invisible book of life which state that you have to live a certain way, follow the same timeline or do what everyone else is doing.  And the most important thing I have learned is not to waste a single minute of life chasing meaningless stuff.  No matter how much we strive to own in our time on this earth, no matter how successful we may think it makes us, we all leave this world with nothing, in the same wooden box.  Better to spend our days harnessing moments, gathering experiences and committing breathtaking views and feelings to memory than collecting possessions, because at the end of the day, those are all we have.

Our spectacular Southland view

Gareth at Poppelwell's Lookout

So with this in mind, we spent the most perfect day yesterday doing just that.  We went to Dolamore Park just out of Gore and spent the afternoon walking Whisky Creek, the Fantail Track and the Croydon Bush trail. Whisky Creek was named after the moonshiners who used to hide their stills in the area and we soon realised how Fantail Track got its name from all the dear little chaps who kept us company on the walk, merrily squeaking away to us and catching insects we helpfully disturbed for them with our footsteps.  The weather was perfect, warm and sunny and we climbed higher and higher for over an hour until eventually we reached the top of Poppelwell's Lookout.  Puffed as we were, it was well worth the hike to see the panoramic view of Southland laid out before us.  On a clear day you can see the landmark hill in Bluff almost 100 kilometres away and Stewart Island out to sea beyond that.  I still don't know what the secret to happiness is, but there was a whole lot of it in our little world yesterday.  We couldn't have chosen a better way to mark our half a year on the road!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The rules are... there are no rules!

We have lots of interesting conversations, Gareth and me.  We've got plenty of time to I suppose! Before we met, he spent a few months travelling around Canada.  Too busy having a good time in the early days, he soon found himself out of money and at times unsure of where his next meal was coming from.  Sleeping on the street was a very real and fearful possibility.  Fortunately it never came to that, but despite all the hard times and challenges, despite having next to nothing to call his own, those times were some of the happiest of his life.

Mountains, forest, rocks and rivers make Gareth a happy chappy!

I can totally understand that.  It's a bit like where we are at now, except this time it's by choice!  We have never owned or got by with less, yet we are so much happier for it.  Life is just so much simpler when you're not encumbered by stuff.  Just like Gareth found in Canada, you don't waste your days feeling sorry for yourself and wishing for all the things you don't have.  You don't covet or envy anyone else what they have - quite the opposite.  It is what it is, you accept your limitations and are grateful for everything you do have.  In our case, it's about simply not having the space or facilities to be able to acquire anything more - but the feeling of happiness and freedom is still the same.  No matter how hard some days can be, no matter how chaotic, messy, rainy, muddy, leafy everything is or how much we trip over one another or knock things over, at the end of each day we snuggle up in our spaceship, warm and fed and everything is well in our little world.

My favourite book right now!

That's really what it boils down to you know, that's the important stuff.  The basic things you need to survive - food, warmth and shelter.  Everything else is just luxury really.  I've just finished reading a book by Miriam Lancewood called 'Woman in the Wilderness'.  As you might expect from the title, she and her partner have been living in the NZ bush for more than seven years.  I couldn't put the book down and most of all loved the fact that almost all the places they had called their wilderness home over the years were places we have visited ourselves in the past six months: Takaka, Matakitaki, Marlborough and Cape Reinga to name a few. Obviously like most people, I can't imagine what it must be like living in complete isolation the way Miriam and her husband did.  The rest of the world could literally end tomorrow and they would be completely oblivious.  I also can't imagine what it would be like to share a rat infested hut, survive on eating possums and having to wash my hair in my own wee to keep dandruff at bay!  But by the same token there are also a great deal of similarities between us.

Whilst we may not live in complete isolation, we do have a rather unique existence.  One thing Miriam found and struggled with was the slowing down of the mind.  When you live an every day life, in a house, with other people, or children, or a job, or hobbies, you have a million things to do. Correction, you MAKE a million things to do.  I did it too.  Modern society feels that we have to justify our existence by constantly being busy, constantly doing, making, being productive and if we don't?  We're a failure as human beings.  We're lazy good for nothings and we've wasted our day. Consequently we also spend a good part of our time beating ourselves up for all of the things we haven't done.  When you live on the road, that no longer happens.  You accept that you can only do so much.  It's taken probably this whole six months for me to adjust and be comfortable with that; 'that' being the fact that taking care of the basics each day is enough.  I think it's probably been necessary to stop for a while and be stuck in one place for that shift to happen.  Before then, when we were travelling we still constantly put ourselves under pressure.  Prior to setting out we always agreed we would never spend more than three hours a day driving, when in reality it would often turn out to be twice as long as that in our efforts to cover more ground, see more things.  Always gotta do more, always gotta see more.

These days, we are a lot more relaxed.  It's a bit like the old fashioned days I guess - when everything you do from dishes to washing clothes is done by hand, everything takes a good deal longer and before you know it half the day is gone just doing stuff like that.  It used to matter to me, I used to feel as though I had run out of time and hadn't done enough but now I just feel content.   I know I've achieved all I need to in the daylight hours I've been given and if not?  Well there's always tomorrow or the next day.

If I was any more laid back these days, I'd fall over!

Another great thing about living life away from the norm is that you are not constantly confronted with what everyone else is doing.  This was another area where I realised I was very like Miriam. Why is it, us humans have this obsessions with goals and invisible rules?  Why is it that we base our success on trying to achieve the same milestones as everyone else?  To be successful you need to go to uni when you leave school at 18.  To be successful you have to graduate by age 23, be married by 25, have kids by 30 and be a home owner by 40, preferably mortgage free.  I've known people who have slogged their guts out for years at degrees they have hated and gone on to work in a career they detest just because they 'didn't want to be a failure' by changing direction and doing what made them happy.  Good grief, where is the sense in that?  I haven't met anyone living on the road yet who is miserable or complains, 'God I wish my life wasn't this way!'  I guess it comes down to the old adage that money buys you happiness.  It's only when you get away from everyday life and live on the road or in the bush that you realise that you don't need money at all to be truly happy.  You may be reading this and thinking 'Yeah, but it helps!'  But that depends what it is you want.  Me?  I don't want anything more than what I have right now.  I really don't need it; the last six months have proved that.

This is the 'wardrobe' Gareth and I share.  It's 70cm long and we
have two compartments each.  This is literally all the clothes we need to get
by.  I guess you could call it a capsule wardrobe!

Saying that, it no doubt helps when you are not surrounded by people to compare yourself to.  I know, comparing yourself to others is never a good idea but it's human nature isn't it?  I've been comfortable with myself for a long time - at least, I thought I was - but it's only now I'm away from everything and everyone I realise that I truly am my own yardstick.  There's nobody else around for me to worry about whether they are thinner than me, fitter than me, prettier than me, smarter than me, a better cook than me - all of those things and a dozen more.  Why in God's name do we put this ridiculous pressure on ourselves?  It's crazy!

All that is left of our old house in storage - 
we've done without it for six months, can't even tell you what's
in it any more!

Living on the road there is no pressure apart from the need to stay fed, warm and dry.  That in itself can be a real battle when the weather gods are against you and that is enough.  I really struggled with selling my house.  Even though it was my choice and I don't miss it for a second I still felt like a failure.  However I've since realised that it's OK.  It's OK not to own a house.  In fact it's OK if you NEVER own a house!  Who knew?!  I mean sheesh, when I think about it I know heaps of friends - 'successful' people you would probably say; business owners, really smart people who I thought had it all.  I never imagined for a moment they didn't own their own home, I just assumed they did and found out only recently they didn't.  Unless they win the lottery they probably never will. Do I think less of them for not owning their own home?  Do I wonder how much they earned or what they did with all their money?  Hell no!  Yet I worried what people thought of me.  These days I own less than I have ever owned in my whole life and I don't give a stuff!