Wednesday, 20 December 2017

A Little Christmassy Village!

I read in the news the other day that this person called Halsey is being heralded as the voice of a generation.  This was rather a revelation and it made me chuckle as I have no idea who they are.  Gareth didn't have the foggiest either, but then we have no idea of a lot of things any more.  We haven't heard a single song in the Top 40 since we left the house and we have no idea what's on everyday TV or who is famous any more.  I didn't realise just how far removed from everything we actually were until a couple of weeks ago, when I was sitting in the waiting room of the local medical centre and a large television screen loomed above, playing daytime shows.  'Ooh, that was exciting last night, wasn't it?' a woman sitting opposite me smiled.  'I'm glad that couple from Wanaka won!'  'Oh, that's good!' I smiled back.  I figured she must have been talking about Masterchef or some similar show, which she was, and I thought I had got away with it until she kept on talking about not only that, but a heap of other shows on TV which were also apparently very exciting.  In the end, I had no choice but to admit that I hadn't watched television since 2016.  She stared at me quite literally open-mouthed and neither of us knew what to say next.  Mercifully I was called in to my appointment at that moment and I didn't have to explain!  Whilst it was a rather awkward situation, it made me incredibly glad that I had been out living my life for the past year and doing real stuff, instead of sitting in front of the gogglebox.  Ignorance really is bliss, as they say.

Even so, unless you live on a desert island, there are still some things you can't escape or ignore, and Christmas is one of them.  To be fair, it's only really made its presence felt the past week or so; in the supermarket, where the carols are blasting 24/7 and the Post Office, where the queues stretch for miles with everyone trying to meet the Christmas postage deadlines.  For the most part, Gareth and I decided we would pretty much ignore Christmas this year.  We were in the perfect spot to escape all the commercial hype and would spend the day exactly as we wanted, just the two of us.  We got all our Christmas shopping done in one day and breathed a sigh of relief.  Now that was done, we could just get on with work and all the other things we needed to be doing!  But then things started to happen that made me change my mind...

The sun goes down on another peaceful day

You see, as I look out the window right now, I can see a little Christmas village happening.  Our campground is surprisingly quiet at the moment and I think that's due to the fact that almost all the overseas travellers are working further up the country at the moment, picking fruit and doing other jobs to support themselves and fund their travels.  The campers we have here right now are almost entirely Kiwis, looking for a quiet place to spend Christmas and New Year in their motor homes away from the crowds.  There's Debra, who has been here on and off since May.  Sandra and Valentine, the fishing mad young French couple we met a couple of months back, who come and go.  There's Ron and his wife, our nearest neighbour, another lovely friendly couple in a bus with their enormous chocolate Labrador, Glenn in his caravan over the other side and the most delightful Maori chap with a white, fluffy wee dog who loves nothing more than a good yarn.  We don't know all their names, despite talking at length on many occasions but they all seem to know ours!

I realised how much I enjoy seeing these people every day, how kind they are and how much they make me smile, and it made me so happy that they were all here for the festive season.  But then it got even better.  We began hearing from people we had met throughout the year, who had been to stay months before and were coming back for Christmas and New Year!  'We'll be here for Christmas, must catch up for a drink!' one message read.  'See you at New Year for a wine!' said another.  It made me so excited that all these special, memorable people who had taken the time to get to know us previously were coming back again.  To think we had originally thought our first camping Christmas might be lonely!  That's the thing about this place though; it's a special and unique place people love to come back to.

We may not have much room for Xmas decorations - but we'll make room!

Before I knew it, I was downloading all my favourite corny Christmas albums on Spotify and sticking up our Christmas cards and decorations in the van.  For the first time in 15 years I wrote Christmas cards and sent them.  It was fun to do and made me feel good to let the special people in our lives know that we were thinking of them, but the best thing of all was the lovely messages we got in return from the recipients; a lot of them were so surprised and chuffed to receive a card from us.  In a world full of technology and instant messaging, it's a rare thing these days, to receive hand written communication you can keep.

To top things off, I went to the Hospice shop yesterday to take back my wedding dress, along with some other bits and pieces.  'Your beautiful dress?  Oh surely you'll want to keep that?' said the lady behind the counter, whose name was Wilma.  'I live in a van!  I don't really have room to keep it!' I smiled.  'Besides, it's not like I'm going to wear a dress like this again, I thought if I brought it back, someone else could wear it too'.  'I'll take the rest', Wilma said, ferreting through the bag, 'But I'm not taking that dress!  You hang on to it my dear, that's precious.'  'OK, well I was feeling a bit torn about it', I laughed.  'You win!'  So I still have my dress - at least for now, and while I was there I picked up two Christmassy hats for us to wear around the campground!  If you would like to read more about our special day, more details are in this month's Motorhomes, Caravans & Destinations magazine.  Thank you to everyone for all your kind well wishes and lovely messages!

The $30 medieval wedding dress I wasn't allowed to part with!

This Christmas is going to be our first Christmas ever without our families.  It's going to be hard and I know there will be a few pangs of sadness; but as long as they are happy, we are happy.  We didn't make any plans to eat with anyone, as we didn't think anyone would want a couple of vegans around on a day when everyone traditionally stuffs themselves with turkey and ham!  However, Bevin and Amy, lovely as they are accept us for all our weirdness and have invited us to a Christmas BBQ in the evening, with home made vegan burger patties!  I have a feeling our first Christmas as nomads is going to be a very happy and special one after all!

Monday, 4 December 2017

The Bestest, Most Perfect Day Ever

I'm not very good at keeping secrets, as a rule.  No doubt you've guessed that already, seeing as I've been documenting every minute detail of my life for the past 13 years!  But when it comes to BIG secrets; really important stuff, well that's different.  I'm very good at keeping those.  Which is why we hardly told a soul that we were getting married last Friday!  Being the minimalists we are, we wanted to keep things very simple and low key and that's just what we did.  Even so, it was still every bit as perfect as any large scale, big budget wedding!  The whole day cost us just over $700 and included everything from food and drink to wedding outfits, hair and make-up.  Here's how we did it:

The secret's out at last!

THE VENUE: When it came to planning the wedding, Gareth had only one stipulation - it HAD to be in the South Island.  The question was, where?  The answer as it turned out, was simple.  'Why don't you get married here?' said Bevin, our campground caretaker, looking around the 40 acres of park-like surroundings.  'The trees will all be out, the roses will be in bloom and there's plenty of room for everyone'.  As soon as he said it we realised he was right; we already had the perfect venue!  Our friends were here, our hearts were here - and unlike the other places we had checked out it wasn't going to cost us $500 just for the two of us to turn up.  From then on, for weeks leading up to the wedding we walked past 'our' special spot and smiled to see how the bare trees were indeed transforming into enormous shady canopies and the multitudes of rose bushes were becoming a beautiful backdrop of colour.  This was the place, no doubt about it!

The perfect wedding venue - our campground!

THE CEREMONY:  This was something we gave a lot of thought to.  Had we been married in the North Island, I would have asked a friend of mine who is a celebrant to marry us, but we didn't know any down here.  What we did learn however on doing our research was that they are expensive!  Now call us unromantic, but we felt that we really didn't need to pay $600 or more to get someone to come and stand under a tree just so that we could say some flowery words to one another!  Our solution was a lot more practical but just as lovely.  We went to the registry office in the morning for the ceremony, with Bevin and his wife Amy as our witnesses, and invited everyone else to the reception at the campground that afternoon.  I'll admit, I did have my misgivings about being married at a registry office.  I was worried that somehow we would be 'missing out', or that it would be too plain and not as special.  But it wasn't like that at all!  The lady who married us was lovely and the whole ceremony was very informal, we had a lot of fun.  The basic exchange of vows cost us just $240 in comparison to a celebrant and we figured we could say whatever flowery words we wanted to say to one another that afternoon in front of our guests for free and it would be just as special.  And you know what?  It was. I even got a bit teary! 

Us after the ceremony, with Bevin and Amy

HAIR, MAKE-UP & OUTFITS.  My wedding dress was one of the most awesome wedding bargains.  From the outset I had dreamed of having a sort of Celtic, medieval style gown; however despite intensive searching online, I was looking at around $3,000 for the style I wanted!  So I decided to try the local op shops for a suitable alternative.  I figured that would do me just fine as I was after all only planning to wear it once and being in a van I was hardly going to be able to carry it around with us forever more!  'Are you looking for something in particular?' the lady in the Hospice Shop asked me.  'I'm looking for something that will do as a wedding dress, actually!' I said.  'Come with me, we might have something upstairs', she smiled, leading the way. 

At the top of the stairs there was a rack with a dozen wedding dresses on it.  Some were too big, some were too small, some were too puffy and not my cup of tea at all - and at the end, to my amazement and delight, there was a green and gold medieval style gown!  'Can I try that one?' I asked the lady.  It wasn't the kind of colour or fabric I would have normally chosen and it didn't look much on the hanger.  I could tell the lady felt the same, but I HAD to just try it on and see.  'My goodness.  It looks as though it could have been made for you!' she said.  I had to agree, it looked so much better on than it did on the hanger!  Despite trying on others just to be sure, we both agreed, there was no question, this was the dress.  I didn't even know what the price was but was willing to pay it anyway.  'Would $30 be OK?' the lady asked.  OK, are you kidding?  After seeing almost the exact same dresses for $2,770 more, I just about fell over!  To top it off I picked up a nice pair of heels for $4, seeing as the only footwear I have these days is jandals or snow boots.  Possibly the favourite part of my outfit however was the floral hair wreath Gareth made for me from a couple of dainty $2 headbands.  It looked so effective and everyone commented how pretty it looked.  I'm sure we can find a safe place in the van to keep that!

Us in our glad rags, complete with flowers after all!

Gareth had his heart set on wearing a kilt, and we found him the perfect one online, plain black for $70, with a smart black button shirt to go with it for $25 from The Warehouse.  Seeing as I didn't want to wear a full length medieval gown to the registry office, particularly when we still had to do all the setting up for the reception afterwards, I wore a plain white summer dress which I already had.  As the temperature hit 30 degrees as we emerged from the registry office, I was very glad of it!  Seeing as we were going to be surrounded by flowers at the reception, not to mention the small issue of where to keep them afterwards, I chose not to have a bouquet; however on seeing I didn't have one, Amy brought me a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from her garden, full of peonies, roses and other beautiful blooms which would have cost an absolute fortune from a florist!

Some of our guests enjoying plenty of food, drink and shade 

DECORATIONS:  With so many stunning flowers all around us, we didn't feel the need to go overboard with decorations, so went with a couple of simple church candles.  As for the table centrepieces, this was an easy decision for us.  Instead of flowers, we had little vases of parsley, in reference to how we met, when I was buying parsley in Bunnings!  We decorated plain little milk bottles with green ribbon and some leftover white flowers from my hair wreath and popped fresh parsley into each one.  They looked so simple but adorable and effective!  Our entire cost for all the decorations, tableware, tablecloths, serving spoons, platters - everything - was just $112 and purchased from a local discount store.  Obviously we made sure as many items as possible were disposable as we couldn't store them afterwards and anything which wasn't, we donated to the local pavilion so that others can use them in future.  We were very fortunate in being able to use tables and chairs for free, thanks to Bevin at the campground.

Our gorgeous surprise wedding cake and dessert

FOOD & DRINK: This is something we were very proud of - with the exception of desserts we did all the catering ourselves and the whole feast was completely vegan!  We told all our guests that they were welcome to bring meat if they wanted to for the BBQ but not one person did, telling us that they were looking forward to trying new things instead.  Gareth and I made heaps of lists of what we were going to make and buy and everything went like clockwork.  We were super lucky to be allowed to use the kitchen at the showgrounds and it was actually really nice and relaxing to shut ourselves away the day before the wedding and cook and prepare everything together.  We made a great team and being so organised meant we had very cooking and preparation to do on the day.   The only thing that we were a little sad about was that we hadn't been able to get a wedding cake.  We had asked around locally but nobody was game enough to try making a vegan one and we ran out of time to try and have a go ourselves.  As a wonderful surprise however, Amy single handedly provided all the desserts, from fruit skewers, to a beautiful panna cotta made with coconut milk - and our very own vegan wedding cake.  Everything tasted just as good as it looked and we were so chuffed to have a wedding cake after all!  Our entire bill for food and drink was $260 and there was enough of both left over that we haven't had to cook or buy another thing since, almost a week later! 

Us looking and feeling dead posh in the Thomas Green 

PHOTOGRAPHY: This was one of the most important things to us.  Living the way we do, we were well aware that the photos of our special day were going to be the only thing we had that we could really keep, and share with our families who were all far away.  Gareth is a great photographer as we all know, but how was he going to be able to photograph his own wedding?!  We thought about hiring a photographer but again it was a huge expense and one we didn't really feel was necessary for such an informal and low key reception.  So we agreed we would just have to content ourselves with a few happy snaps outside the registry office and with a bit of luck someone would take a few photos at the reception.  Armed with a selfie stick we arrived at the registry office and thought with a bit of luck we would have time to take a few photos of ourselves before having to rush straight back to the kitchen to get ready for the afternoon's celebration.  Our witnesses, Bevin and Amy, had other ideas however.

'Come on, I'll shout you a drink to celebrate', said Bevin, as the four of us left the courthouse.  He took us across the road to the historical Thomas Green Public House, which is quite possibly one of the grandest and most beautiful places you could ever imagine.  There we sat and enjoyed a drink together before Amy jumped up and said 'let's take some photos!'  In all my days I could never have imagined a more glamorous place for our wedding photos!  We had a ball climbing up and down stairs, hanging over balconies and admiring ourselves in the impossibly enormous mirrors.  Our photos were going to be so much more special than either of us had ever imagined.  Amy was far from finished, though!  A talented photographer with a wonderful eye for detail, from there she took us all around Gore, from the Public Gardens to the Eastern Southland Gallery, taking hundreds of photos as we went.  It was honestly the most precious and wonderful thing anyone could have done for us and still makes me fill up with tears thinking about it!  We had so much fun as we went around, hamming it up for the camera and smiling until we could almost smile no more.  To think we thought we were going to be spending the morning stuck in the kitchen! 

With some of our wedding party in front of the rose garden

The temperature continued to climb that afternoon but us and our guests were all comfortable in the shade of the enormous trees.  That was another thing we loved about our wedding, was the diversity of our guests; all ages, backgrounds and countries.  Some of them were from Gore and we had known them for a while, others were from as far away as Germany and France and we had only recently met, but each and every one helped to make the day extra special.  Everyone mingled, the atmosphere was so informal and relaxed and although we may not have had our immediate loved ones with us, it felt as though we were among family.  It truly was a perfect day and best of all, unlike many newlyweds our choices meant that we were not going to be starting our married life in debt or under financial pressure.  We could have had a big, expensive wedding, but decided that we wanted to save our money for more important things, to be able to travel and maintain the lifestyle we love for years to come.  The money we saved on a celebrant alone amounted to almost the cost of the entire wedding!

To everyone who took part in our special day, a sincere and heartfelt THANK YOU.  To the few people who did know our secret and sent gifts, cards and well wishes, thank you too, for your thoughtfulness.  We received some truly beautiful gifts and all of them were absolutely perfect for a couple who live in a van.  We even have some gorgeous Christmas decorations to hang in Ken and make him look festive! 

We received such gorgeous and appropriate gifts!

So what's next for us?  No more secrets, at least not for a while!  We have a book to write, more videos to make and hopefully many more exciting things to bring you over 2018.  This time, however, we'll keep you posted!