Sunday, 30 October 2016

Going Batty

Good grief it's just 10 days until we move, has life gone just a bit mental or what?  I can't believe how fast the time is going, I'm rushing around like a mad thing.  Unlike other house moves I've ever done previously, this time it's not just a question of packing things up in boxes to take to the next place. It's a question of packing up a bit of stuff for me but the basics such as washing machine, microwave and other essentials are all going to the boys for their respective flats.  Anything they don't want has been unearthed and listed on our local Buy and Sell Facebook page, which is a big job in itself as there is a surprising amount of stuff when you start emptying a house!  I'm sure the locals will be very glad when I'm gone and no longer swamping their Facebook news feeds but I am grateful to each and every person who has ever bought an item from me, no matter how small.  They made not realise it but they have not just been helping me declutter, but also helping me put food on the table and I honestly don't know what I would have done without them.

And there is still so much more to be done!  But I really wanted to stop packing for a moment so that I could at least introduce you to Batty.  Short for 'The Batmobile', Batty is not only our new vehicle but our new home for the next while at least.  She has been lovingly converted and certified fully self contained by her previous owner and she is beautiful.  We can't wait to start our adventures around NZ with her!  But I really wanted to share the story of how we came to find her - or perhaps she found us.

Looking for a vehicle was hard as you can imagine when we didn't have wheels ourselves to be able to go and check any out but nonetheless it didn't stop me from trawling the web endlessly for a suitable camper van.  Initially the plan was to go for a big motor home but once we realised that our plan to live permanently on the road had morphed into finding some land to build a tiny house, we decided that we would go for a camper van instead as it would enable us to invest more money into land and building rather than a vehicle. Most of the camper vans we saw were located at least two hours away or often half way down the country and it was getting a tad frustrating not being able to get to them. Just as I had almost given up hope of us being able to get sorted with anything, this gleaming black camper jumped out at me.  It looked perfect - and it was only 40 minutes away!  Already we really liked the look of this one, it looked exactly what we were after and so well cared for, with less than half the kilometres on the clock than any of the others we had seen.  As soon as the house went unconditional, we arranged to go and see the owners, who were selling on behalf of their daughter.

I'm a bit of a believer in signs, me, and from the start I rather liked the number plate, which was JAL.  'Jackie, Ali, Liam' I smiled to myself.  I also liked the owners straight away and as we checked out the interior I couldn't help but notice that the blinds at the windows had been beautifully handmade from the same material as our lounge curtains!  Even the squabs which made up the seats and mattress had been made by hand.  'Let's go for a test drive!' said the owner, Robin.  As we climbed in I noticed approvingly how spacious and comfortable it was.  'This will be perfect for me to work in', I smiled as we went along.  'What do you do?' asked Robin.  'I'm a writer', I replied somewhat shyly as I always feel that being a writer doesn't sound like a 'proper' job.  'Oh really? What sort of stuff do you write?' she asked.  'I work for a company in Australia, we teach people how to save money.  I also used to write for That's Life magazine', I explained.  I certainly didn't expect what came next.  'Are you Penny Wise?' Robin said, looking straight at me in surprise.  'Yes!  I am!' I said back, equally surprised.  'You've got the two little boys - well, big boys now!  I've read your stuff for years!' Robin laughed.  She even used to be a Simple Savings member!

We were still laughing when we got back to the house.  I'd already had a good feeling about the camper van but even more so now!  It really did seem as though it was meant for us.  Even so, as I went for one final walk around the outside I began feeling rather nervous.  This was it - I was about to exchange living in a house like a 'normal' person for living in this van.  Was it going to be big enough? Was I doing the right thing?  What the heck was I thinking?!' I was literally almost shaking. In the meantime, Gareth had thought of one more important thing we hadn't checked out yet.  'Does the stereo work any good?' he grinned.  'Yes, it goes great! See for yourself!' said Robin, switching it on.  And I almost fell backwards.

The song which blared out of the speakers was a song I hadn't heard in almost 20 years.  A song I hadn't been able to bring myself to listen to.  'Stranger on the Shore' by Acker Bilk was mine and my dad's special song.  When I was nine years old I learned to play the clarinet just so that I could play that song for him.  When I was 25 and half a world away when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer I played it endlessly as it brought me comfort and made me feel closer to him.  When he passed away a few months later, I put the song on a CD and sent it to the vicar in the UK so that he could play it at dad's funeral in the church I sang in as a kid, from me.  But from the day he died, I hadn't been able to listen to that song any more. Not since 1997.  For almost two decades I had been scared to listen to it as I couldn't bear the emotion it released and now here it was playing joyfully in front of Gareth and these people I had never met, who couldn't possibly know what it meant to me and I had to hold myself together.  But once I got over the shock I realised that hearing it wasn't making me sad.  It was making me happy!  It was as if Dad was saying 'Go for it Jack, it's going to be alright'.  If that wasn't a sign, I didn't know what was.

A few short days later, I met Robin and her husband half way and she handed me the keys.  As I sat behind the wheel of what we had affectionately named 'The Batmobile' it felt as though I had been driving her for ages!  We said our farewells and then Batty and I set off for our maiden voyage together along the windy mountain road in the sunshine.  Robin insisted I keep the CD with my special song on it and this time I had no reservations about listening to it; it just made me smile. Whilst neither Gareth or I profess to be mechanically minded, everyone who has seen Batty thinks she is a wonderful investment.  I love that she is so shiny and comfy but most of all I love the personal touches which make her extra special to us, such as the cushion and blanket Robin's daughter (Batty's previous owner) made for us and the black and white cat cushion given to us by our friend Victoria who runs the local cat rescue charity we volunteer for.  In just 10 days we will be not only passengers but inhabitants!  And we can't wait!

Thursday, 13 October 2016


Just five days until our house sale goes unconditional and I should really be packing and trying to work out how I'm going to fit our whole lives into a camper van but I don't want to jinx anything between now and next Wednesday.  When we reach the point of no going back, that's when I'll really swing into action.  For now, I'm just using this time as a quiet time of reflection.  A time for walking, a time for thinking.  Thinking about the past, thinking about the future, who I was and who I am.  I'm about to embark on a huge journey; but when I look back over the past few years I've actually been on one all along.

Tomorrow it will be six years to the day since I moved to Whangamata.  It's a funny old place, I love it and hate it at the same time.  It has been both my paradise and my prison.  It will always have a special place in my heart and I will miss it dreadfully - but I will also be glad to leave.  I never thought six years ago I would be saying that!  It doesn't matter how beautiful a place is though, if you are not happy there you might as well be anywhere.  This time I have no plans, no expectations.  My only wish is to live a peaceful life, a simple life.

Which is just as well because with each day that passes it occurs to me  what I am choosing to live without.  Every time I do the vacuuming or hang out an enormous load of washing from my 7kg washing machine I think to myself 'Wow, in a few weeks I'm never going to have to do this any more!'  I will no longer have to worry about mowing lawns, washing floors or a million other things I usually have to allocate my time to.  Instead I'm concerning myself more with things such as 'how am I going to get rid of all this stuff?', 'how many clothes should I pack?'  and 'will we have room for...?' It makes me happy, to be honest, the thought of not having much stuff any more.  It's very liberating.

When you're downsizing to the extent we are, you really do have to consider every little thing and the point of it, its use and its worth.  Even something as simple and mundane as a bottle of moisturiser has to be considered.  'Am I really going to need this?'  I ask myself.  'Yes Jack, you have wrinkles, you cannot live without it', comes the reply.  Fair call.  Not to mention it's the only product I actually use on my skin.  For several years now I have used nothing but water to cleanse my face and my skin has never been better.  A far cry from the old me who used to spend a fortune on Lush products and thought I could never survive without them!

And then there's my wardrobe.  I don't wear hardly any of the clothes in there now so the chances of wearing them any time in the future are even less.  I guess I'll just have to narrow it down to my favourites.  Same as shoes, I don't think I'll be getting too many opportunities to wear heels from now on!  I really don't care though.  I don't feel sad at having to leave any of my possessions behind.  I think I've been decluttering and unconsciously downsizing for so long that I don't have too much left anyway.  At least Ali will be set up for when he gets his own place - TV, microwave, washing machine, furniture, he can have it all!  The only thing I'm keeping is Roger the writing desk and a beautiful marble topped table I bought years ago which is going to be the main feature of my tiny house kitchen.  They'll both have to go in to storage until the time comes.

When I think about it, I've been an extreme minimalist for a long time time now; I've just been stuck in a regular house with all this other stuff because I've had to be.  Let's face it, an empty house looks a bit weird!  But the few things I do treasure bring me such immense joy and they will continue to do so in our tiny house when we get one.  One of the things I'm looking forward to most is the lack of screens and technology - oh lordy I'm looking forward to that!  Not wasting my time scrolling through crap on the Internet, not being constantly interrupted by messages, alarms, reminders or notifications.  Obviously I will still need a computer and Internet access to be able to do my work but I am planning for this to be as limited as possible.

What I am really looking forward to is cooking on the road.  Sure, it's a bit more challenging but that's half the fun!  I've been researching it a lot and I think we'll manage just fine.  I'm also looking forward to spending our time more simply; playing board games, listening to music, reading and being more creative rather than watching movies.  Finding new locations to explore and taking our fat little spaniel on leisurely strolls in beautiful places.  It will be a whole new lease of life for her as well as us!  And one thing we definitely intend to do is invest in a video camera so we can document and share our travels and our journey to finding the perfect spot for, and building our tiny home.

Living on the road may not be as easy as living in a comfortable house but I'm interested to see in how the change and pace in lifestyle will affect me healthwise.  I know Gareth is worried about me as my immune system isn't the best but I actually think the freedom of our new way of living will have a positive effect.  These past few years have really taken their toll on me physically, mentally and emotionally.  Most days I literally feel 100.  OK, intellectually I still feel about 12 but physically I am really not reflecting that!  I am hoping that the simplicity and reduction in stress levels will give me a new lease of life and an increase in vitality.

Most of all, I am excited to be embarking on this new chapter of my life with my soul mate.  Every day I still pinch myself that this beautiful, gentle soul chooses to share his life with me.  I never dreamed that I could be so ridiculously happy and content.  These past six years have been one hell of a rollercoaster and I have undergone a huge shift as a person.  I have hated myself, my situation, my decisions and my life to the point I have wanted to end it.  My children were the only thing that stopped me walking into the sea. The only other thing which really kept me going was the belief that I was a good person and that good things happen to good people.  And right when I started truly believing that and became comfortable with who I was, that's when I met Gareth.

Why am I sharing that?  I don't know.  I've never really told anyone, it's not the kind of thing you just casually bring up is it?  Certainly not when you're going through it anyway, I guess I feel able to now having been through the darkest times and come out the other side.  I guess I'm also sharing it to give people hope, because somebody out there might just need it.  If there's one thing I have learned through all these years of writing about my life it's that there's usually someone reading it who is going through the same, or worse.  And every time that happens I realise how important it is for us all to realise that we're not alone.  It's even more important for us all to realise that things do get better. Some people say that if you want your life to get better you have to make things happen.  I don't know if that's true or whether they just happen anyway but there's no harm in trying.  I may not have had a choice when it came to selling my house; but when it came to choosing my future I most certainly did.  In fact it's more than just a future, it's a dream!  Not bad for a ditzy chick like me ay? Just goes to show, when you hit rock bottom there really is only one direction you can go - and that's up!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

One Month's Notice (eeek!)

Well goodness gracious me and golly gosh.  What a crazy whirlwind of a week it's been and no mistake.  I'm still struggling to take everything in and my mind is one horrendous jumble of things I need to think about and things I really don't want to think about but have to deal with pronto.

In case you didn't see my Facebook post earlier in the week, Nawtypoo Cottage found a new owner on the very first day of listing - I think it actually took nine hours from the 'For Sale' sign going up that morning to the Sale and Purchase agreement being signed that night.  Whilst we still have another ten days until the sale goes unconditional, the moving date is exactly one month away so we have no time to waste.  Not long at all, is it!  No wonder I'm panicking.  But I'm also very, very happy.

No doubt some of you are thinking 'Call yourself a Simple Saver?  Why didn't you sell it yourself and save on commission?' Several reasons.  As I already explained previously, left up to me I would have never got around to listing the property.  It would never have been ready in my eyes.  Saying that, there is only one agent I would have ever trusted Nawtypoo with and that was the lady who sold her to me.  She also sold our previous home.  I trust her implicitly and I knew she would both look after me and find the right owner for my beloved little house.  We have been through a lot together and I don't just consider her an agent but also a dear friend.  She also REALLY knows her stuff.  Again, left up to me, I would never have been happy to list until I had painted every wall, fitted out the entire place with new curtains, restained all the timber - the list would have never ended.  In the end all it needed was a visit from Nancy who simply said  'mow the lawn, waterblast the outside and paint the kitchen ceiling and you'll be good to go'.  She was right, the difference was amazing.

Not that we didn't have our fair share of trials and tribulations getting there however!  Gareth and I worked tirelessly for three days straight from dawn til dusk, cleaning every inch of the house.  Whilst it was knackering it was also really rewarding to see how well we worked together as a team.  I don't know what I would have done without him.  We even learned how to fix holes in walls (which was necessary after recently acquiring a free couch for Ali's room and accidentally sticking one of its feet through the wall trying to manouevre it through the door).  A quick YouTube tutorial soon had Gareth gibbing and plastering like a pro!

Although the painting of the ceiling didn't go QUITE so smoothly.  We did find not having a vehicle a bit of a challenge at times when it came to cleaning up and getting the things that we needed quickly. Discovering too late that Ali had disposed of the paint roller, we had no choice but to use the brand new 'speed brush' pad to do the job.  It wasn't really intended for ceilings but it was all we had and couldn't afford to lose an hour walking to Bunnings to get another roller.  For Gareth it was his first time painting and he wasn't enjoying it one bit.  For starters the speed brush was proving hopelessly unsuitable and the paint was going on much too thick, resulting in a far from smooth finish.  However he also didn't notice until too late that despite putting dust sheets all over the floor, the paint was dripping all over them and he in turn was treading it through the dustsheets and all over the carpet. Can you imagine the horror on both our faces upon lifting the sheet and discovering splodge after splodge of white paint all over the deep charcoal carpet?!

Gareth called a cab and made a mercy dash to Bunnings to pick up a new roller whilst I rang Nancy in a panic and she called out a carpet cleaner.  Quick as a flash he came around and had a good old chuckle at our mishap!  Not only did he manage to make the carpet as good as new again, he also gave Gareth a painting lesson, helped us to fix the ceiling, left us a spare paint roller he had in the car AND didn't charge us for ANYTHING, not even the carpet!

It was people like him in the end who really made the stress of those few days not only bearable but really heartwarming and although there was a lot of swearing from both me and Gareth along the way, we both felt truly blessed to know and meet such kind and awesome souls.  After spending several months cooking in the dark and picking that the new owner would probably prefer lighting in the kitchen, I gave up on the bigger companies who had never returned my phone calls and instead rang a retired electrician who had been one of my favourite customers from my bartending days.  He came around the following morning, just as he said he would, and it cost me just $35 to repair three lights.  I dread to think how much the bigger companies would have charged me but I imagine it would have cost a lot more than that!

We could hardly believe it, we never dreamed we would make the Wednesday morning deadline in time but by Tuesday night as we looked around in satisfaction we realised, we had actually done it! We were so exhausted we were almost falling asleep where we stood (to the extent that at one stage I actually began painting the kitchen wall instead of the ceiling until Gareth asked nicely what the hell I was doing) but we had DONE it and it was looking fab.  All that remained was to run the vacuum cleaner around first thing in the morning and we would be ready for all the agents to parade through at 9am.

Which was fine in theory, until I went to turn on the vacuum cleaner that morning and discovered it was completely stuffed.  There was no saving it and with less than an hour until the house was due to open we were in a horrendous panic.  After three days of everyone traipsing through the house the floors were in a heck of a state, no way could we let anyone through looking like that!  There was nothing else we could do but SOS for a taxi again and Gareth made another dash in to Bunnings for a new vacuum cleaner.  Thank goodness for staff discount!  Before we knew it the job was done, the house was finally finished and the two of us took a deep breath, locked the door behind us and left Nawtypoo Cottage in the capable hands of our agent.

The rest as they say, is history.  A lot of people passed through the doors of our little home that day but one of them loved Nawtypoo just as much as I do.  I knew the instant I met her that she was the one.  The next month is going to be crazy.  There is so much to sort out!  We need to sort out a vehicle for us to live in.  We need to sort out storage for the few things we want to keep.  We need to sort out what the hell we are going to do with four cats.  It breaks my heart but I can't see how they are all going to be able to come with us.  Even putting them in a cattery isn't an option at $560 a week for all of them!  I really need to do something about that.  It's the only thing which really takes the shine off things for me.  We will miss them dreadfully.

 My biggest concern is helping Ali to find a new home.  He wants to stay in Whangamata, where his job and his friends are - but there are absolutely no rentals available in this town and hasn't been in longer than any of us can remember.  He would love to flat with some of his mates but they all still live at home.  You can imagine the guilt that I feel, not being able to provide the same for him.  I just hope we can find him something soon, where he will feel comfortable and happy.  He's a very responsible young chap.  Well trained and domesticated and a capable cook.  Loves really good coffee, hardly ever touches alcohol and if I say so myself has excellent taste in music.  When I know he's going to be OK and has a roof over his head, then I can finally allow myself to be excited.  He's been my right hand man for so long, it's going to be pretty weird without him.  But I hope it will be the making of him too.  It's been a hellishly rough few years.  Something good surely has to come out of all this!