The power of gratitude

We’ve all had our priorities shifted here in Christchurch by recent events. Once the fact really sank in that we live in a place where any second, with absolutely no warning, the earth can rise up roaring under our feet and the walls come tumbling down, we had to accept certain realities, like ultimate lack of control, quite differently.

I mean, sure we can control our day to day realities up to a point, but the big things, the life and death stuff, that’s pretty much out of our hands. That’s the same for everyone, no matter where we live or what we do.

But there’s something we can control no matter what our personal situation. Our own response to life. This isn’t easy. In fact it’s probably the hardest thing of all. Often it feels easier to move mountains than control our own minds.

But here in Christchurch, when we feel so helpless in many ways, shifting our priorities to focus on the things we actually can have some small hope of controlling has been a very healthy thing for a lot of people I know.

I’ve been reading some interesting writing recently about how to grow wellbeing and happiness in our lives, and more specifically, the power of gratitude to increase happiness. I have a small daughter, so I’m particularly keen to teach her how she can nurture happiness in her own life. One thing many of these writers emphasise is how making a daily habit of stating things we are grateful for can create a sense of well being, and encourage the habit of savouring life.

Some people keep gratitude journals. And I am a stone cold sucker for nice stationery, so when I saw this puppy, well, the idea of keeping a book of things I am thankful for seemed all the more enticing.

But we as a family have chosen instead to go round the table at supper and ask each other what we are grateful for. Initially it felt contrived. Some days I struggled to think of anything I was thankful for. I was tired, I felt grumpy, work had been hard and I still had three hours of writing to do once I put the small person to bed. What had I got to be grateful for?

Well of course the answer in these situations is always, “so much, you self pitying twerp!”

As soon as I realised that, I begin to remember the good things, the little moments that illuminated a difficult day. I’m not talking about the bigger picture stuff, like the fact that here and now I am incredibly lucky just to have a job, a house and my family around me (although some days, believe me, when I say I feel grateful for these things, I really mean it). I’m thinking about the gilded instants that lift the whole. The moment when, walking home, the sun came out and the bellbirds started singing. The postcard that arrived from a friend. The hug that my daughter gave me when I picked her up from preschool. The little beautiful things. I’m grateful for them.

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We Loved the Effort

Or, how we once lived perambulatory for a year and learned to love the bus (and online grocery delivery).

So…  we’ve bought a car.

There. I said it.

I know this post is a while in coming – we bought the car a few weeks ago – but it’s been hard to figure out the right way to put it out there.  I hinted earlier that our wee experiment was coming to an end.  In our minds, somewhat prematurely, thanks to the small matter of a few major earthquakes – in all honesty I’ve been actively looking for another car since a few weeks after the major earthquake on February 22.  As it turned out, we managed to last until our 12 months was up but more through chance than design.  We had the ever-generous Uncle Puff living with us after leaving his place in hard-hit Redcliffs, and he placed his car at our disposal until we were able to get our own one again.

Even that was a good opportunity to reflect on the nature of car ownership.  Three adults and one Bobbin of 35 months and counting (not only that but talking back, negotiating and planning holidays away from us too) living together – we do not all need our own cars.  Even though the three of us live and work quite different schedules, only having one vehicle was more than enough to make our lives a little easier.  The loss of car-free credibility offset by the penitence of being seen in the street-cred-diminishing, lemon yellow, ‘flying custard square.’*

But nothing’s ever perfect or rather, things are perfectly imperfect and we should be proud of what we’ve achieved.  I know that I’m so proud of Lizzie and Seraphine for loving the effort, through gritted teeth sometimes.  (You really should come and do the incredibly steep walk that Lizzie would do morning and night, in all weather, with a 10kg bobbin in a backpack complete with lunch, spare clothes, nappies etc., her own lunch and laptop – all in her work (read: not great for walking in) gear.  Not only was she single-handedly defying convenience she was sending it to it’s room for Time Out and no supper.  I love you, Peedie Mitten.

Our year of living (solely) perambulatory has come to an end but I do love the bus.  And using Shanks Pony, and I’m not so scared of walking up hills.  Here we are, no longer car-free with child, but also no longer unthinkingly beholden to Convenience either.  At least we’d like to think so.  But reflecting on my first month with a new car – it’s been something of an orgy of convenience, albeit a mindful one – damn I’m loving having a car again!

And with that exclamation point, *poof* goes whatever remaining car-free credibility we had.

So is this the end of Tyranny of Convenience?  No way.  You’ll never guess what we’ve just gone and done.  Buying a car was only the tip of the iceberg.

Oh dearie me, we’ve gone and bought a house.

* Actually, in all honesty, we love the flying custard square.

Needing Validation?

I know this is meant to be the blog about being a car-free family and thinking all about how convenience dictates our lives, but frankly, the earth is actually moving under our feet.  And it’s not nice.  And it keeps on coming – a couple of ‘5s’ and a 6.3 shake in the past week has set many people and the recovery backwards somewhat.  It’s hard to think about anythng else.  But as Moata says (or quotes, actually) we just gotta keep on swimming.

So, ToC has been a hell of a ride, even without wheels it seems.  We’ve made it through 12 months of (mostly) carlessness, some earthquakes and we’ve just turned ’70’ in posts – that honour goes to the formerly AWOL but now returned Lizzie with her reflective Matariki inspired post.  And in that spirit of reflection but also rebirth and new beginnings – we bring you a new look – we hope you like.  Matariki signifies a new year, a fresh start, a time for being together with family and whanau and a time for thanks-giving.  So despite, well, everything – or maybe because of it – let’s celebrate and we thank you for coming along with us, or stopping by or simply stumbling onto the blog.  Remember, you, each of you – You. Are. Great.

Make a cuppa, park yourself for free, kick off your silt-sodden shoes and let this gem of a short film light up your solstice.  And if this doesn’t make you smile, you have a heart of stone.  Arohanui.

A list of things we’ve learned

Ciaran just insisted, in a charming way, that I go and write a damn blog post.

“Even just a list of things we’ve learned,” he said plaintively.

That’s a tough ask for me, because I’m not very good at learning stuff.

I mean I am good at it, if an authoritative, interesting person tells me what I need to know, preferably with the assistance of books and visual aids. A situation otherwise known as school, I believe.

But learning from personal experience? Oh, that’s hard.

But just for him, because he asked so nicely, I’m going to make a big effort.

So what have we learned from a year of not having a car?

  • Contrary to my own expectations, it was actually harder not having a car in the summer months. I thought it would be tough on cold wet winter mornings, when I had to get up in the dark, wrangle a protesting toddler into her pantechnicon and push her to preschool in driving sleet. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff wasn’t exactly fun. But I’m pretty stoical when it comes to stomping around in unpleasant weather.
  • What was more of a bummer was when the weather got all nice and we wanted to go to the beach for a swim/go camping on the weekend/go for a picnic on the peninsula on a sunny Saturday and we couldn’t, because we didn’t have a car.
  • Even though you save money not having a car, who knows where that money goes? In hindsight, we should have been inspired by the quit smoking exercise, taken the money we would have spent on petrol every week and put it in a high interest savings account/sock under the mattress instead. We didn’t. Oh well!
  • Outings that require more than one bus trip become too hard. Although maybe that’s just us being lazy.
    You gain a new appreciation for your immediate surroundings, because you spend a lot more time there. Instead of driving into town to go out, we just walk down the road. Admittedly we pretty much always did that anyway, because we live in Lyttelton and it is frankly much much nicer than Christchurch, but without a car we became even more ferociously local in our focus.
  • Online supermarket shopping rocks. So fantastic. Quicker, easier and cheaper, even with delivery costs, because you don’t impulse buy. And let’s hear it for automated shopping lists! Unfortunately online shopping is currently not a happening thing in Christchurch post quake, but we want it back. Vehemently.  I should also note that it would be very nice if the supermarkets could sort out some form of recyclable delivery container, because it right gets on my tits when we have made an effort to take our canvas bags to the supermarket, and then I get my groceries delivery in about a bazillion plastic bags. Honestly chaps, you can pack more than two cans of tomatoes in a bag. No really you can. Try it. It will astonish you.  And while you are pondering this amazing revelation, how about considering some reusable, branded crates? Think about it, socially, ecologically and ethically responsible, miles of feel good press releases and happy customers. All for piss all effort. Sounds like a winner to me folks. Why thank you, I will take a small mention in your corporate eco-awards winner’s speech.
  • Major natural disasters are not good times to be without a car. When the earth roars under your feet, the buildings fall down, the roads buckle and all public transport has ground to a halt, it is nice to have the option of climbing in your car and getting the hell out of there.
  • It takes balls/stupidity to be car free with a small child, as there are times when they are sick, in the deepest darkest hour of the night before morning and you too are sick with fear, that you really would like to be able to just get in the car and drive somewhere where nice people in white coats will make it all better.
  • Our friends are the most generous people, and when we have really needed a set of wheels, they have given us theirs. Big thanks especially to the beautiful Kate, who lent us her car in that difficult, frightening post quake period, and made it possible for us to get around our broken town and also to get away to the mountains for a break. Thanks also to Lindon and the flying custard square, which he placed at our disposal as a ‘family car’ with his usual grace and generosity. And thank you to Lauren, Daniel and Clara, who lent us their Demio so we could go on dates, and babysat our little girl into the bargain. You guys are the business and we loves you.
  • I should have got a bike. Although, Lyttelton doesn’t have many down sides, but it’s a bit crap for bikes (assuming you want to just use your bike as a form of transport and not as some form of advanced downhill, off road, neon lycra clad insanity). It’s steep and hilly and the rest of the city is through a tunnel you cannot cycle through (although you can put the bike on the front of the buses and ride through the tunnel that way. Lots of people do). Also did I mention I am lazy? Also I’m too vain to wear a bike helmet. Maybe I will make an effort to get over some of these constraints as I actually really enjoy cycling places.
  • I passionately hate ‘cycling gear’. Really people, is it compulsory to look that bad just because you are riding your bike? In some cities people just wear their normal clothes, you know? Actually this is a total tangent and not something I have learnt as a result of being car free at all. But any excuse to air my utter intolerance for taut nylon bottoms is a good excuse.

Lyttelton – Do Something Beautiful

Well now, it’s June already which for those of us living in Aotearoa means we are entering into Matariki, sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year.   I might post more about Matariki shortly but for now I want to point out that it is a time for reflection, remembrance, connection with family/whanau and new beginnings.  We will make a couple of posts on this theme this month as those of you who have been following our trials and tribulations might have realised that we have passed our 12 month goal of being a car-free family during May.  More on that soon, as well as the end of the experiment… So in the spirit of Matariki I’m reprinting here the following article I wrote for the Lyttelton News – our local newspaper which comes monthly as part of the Akaroa Mail.  It appeared on the front page of the Friday 11th March edition.  Thank you to Margaret Jefferies for inviting me to submit.

Last year Margaret Jefferies of Project Lyttelton sent me a superbly eloquent definition of sustainability: the possibility of life flourishing forever.  In its simplicity it summed up perfectly for me, what I believe is a worthy aspiration for our community.  Inherent in the concept of flourishing are all the ingredients of a life well lived, and a strong community, such as: sustainability, engagement, inclusiveness, meaning,  resilience and well-being.  I like the definition also because there is room for doubt.  The possibility of flourishing.  It’s not a given, it suggests we must take responsibility and approach the goal of sustainability (flourishing) with purpose.  It is possible, there is hope.  How we do it is up to us.  It is in the act of seeking that we may indeed flourish.

Right now, as a community we have been faced with a crisis of major proportions.  We will move through the stages of emergency response, recovery and eventually, revitalisation.  It is how we approach these stages and frame our perspective that determines the quality of the experiences we will have.  You could say that this is the measure of our resilience.  To put it simply, we can choose to see the earthquake either as purely a catastrophe – the end of many things – rebuilding in haste, without vision, walking backwards into the future or we can acknowledge the tragedy and begin to approach it as an opportunity to re-imagine our community and work to create the flourishing Lyttelton of our dreams.  There is no right time for this to happen.  No rules or timeframes, it is up to us, together to work it out.

Lyttelton is resilient.  I know this because we have so far made it through two major earthquakes, the second a genuine disaster for our town, and still, here we are – working together, helping each other, asking questions, talking about the future.  If we are to not only endure and survive but to flourish, we must mix in the best of our resilience with a sustainable approach.  Moving forward in a considered way, with vision, be bold and with nothing less than flourishing as our goal.  And while we are waiting to get on that bus – let’s do something beautiful.

How to survive a natural disaster pt. 1: the loo with a view

If one must, one must in style.

If a person takes a dump in their back yard and everyone pretends not to notice, does it still make a stink?

Ah yes, the age old question.

We now know the answer to this and many other things we never thought about before.  Mercifully our water and sewerage is back on (although we’re still using both sparingly and boiling our drinking water).  But I did promise the obligatory photograph of our back yard ablution block so here you go.

Emergencies tend to do different things to different people.  It can bring out the good and the bad.  And no, that is not setting you up for some lame gag about cathartic motions.  Although I am about to show you a picture of a stool…

In the case of Uncle Puff, it brought out the pragmatic, DIY legend in him.  Admittedly it usually doesn’t take much under normal circumstances.

The question of a lack of facilities with a houseful of people was rapidly becoming an issue.  We had immediately started collecting rain water (just the excuse I needed to rip out the downpipe and set up a rain butt – should’ve done it years ago) with which we could flush the toilet once we got the all clear to do so but who knew when that was going to be?  We couldn’t keep filling it up.  Ahem.

Enter the Puff.  Why just dig a hole in the ground when you can create the Luxury Latrine.  First we identified the most private spot on the banked bit of land behind our house.  We considered the relative difficulties of squatting on a slope and looked around for something to sling our nether regions over (not to put too fine a point on it) when Uncle Puff had the first of his brainwaves.  All we needed was an old wooden chair that we could cut a hole in the seat.  It just so happened that we did have an old chair with a broken back and a solid wooden seat in the cellar (aka The Underworld).  A quick visit to our neighbour Merv (latterly dubbed The Mervinator by the neighbouring kids for his efforts during and after the earthquake) to borrow a jigsaw and Puff’s eyes were aglow with the vision of a back yard latrine of legend.

The throne was completed in no time and the final piece of the puzzle was completed with a stout harakeke branch and an old shower curtain for privacy.  It was only fitting that Puff performed the opening ceremony.

And now, the stool:

I'm going outside, I may be some time. Pass the newspaper.

Although the ‘loo with a view’ has now been retired, the stool remains as our own personal monument to survival.  And I’m still collecting rain water.

It’s the Little Things…

I remember the small stuff.

It’s funny what sticks in your mind after something like this.  Things in my office that I’ll never see again.  None of it is important really but it’s strange, I know exactly where it’s probably sitting (lying) in that room that I’ve spent a large part of my life for the past 3 years.  A room which will no longer exist in a matter of days or weeks when the wrecking ball comes.

The view from our 4th floor office to the east was amazing.  Madras St was the final strip of ‘skyscrapers’ in the central city east.  Beyond our building was just houses and suburbs to the sea.  Our shared kitchen and staff room was the scene of many great debates, conversations and delicious lunches.  Head-shaking over letters to the editor, discussions about the ‘correct’ way to load the dishwasher, backyard permaculture, recycling and generally putting the world to rights.

So many people lost so much more in buildings just a block away.  So many people didn’t get to walk out into the drizzle of a dreary Tuesday lunchtime and count themselves lucky.

I walked over papers, furniture, broken glass, out into the rest of my life.

But I remember the little things – an umbrella, a rain jacket, two photos of Seraphine, a box of chocolates I was saving for my colleagues, birthday cards, some books of poetry, a phone charger, my diary, a notebook from Bulgaria.

All so clear in my mind, lying there like lost toy soldiers in the garden.

Anything but convenient

I found out from my brother-in-law that their dog, Aslan, had become unwell and he took him to the vet on Tuesday.  They diagnosed him with cancer and he had to be put down yesterday.  When I rang, he’d just buried him.  My sister and their children are all in Wellington and so my brother-in-law had to deal with this all by himself and continue to do so for another two days until they return.

He loved that dog and sounded very far away yesterday.

And the aftershocks continue.

Far From Normal

Shaken to the Core: Blog | Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

The link above is to a brilliant post by one of my colleagues at the MHF that offers hope to anyone feeling like they are ‘not coping’* after the earthquake or finding they’re, by turns, angry, sad, vague, exhausted or maybe feeling ‘survivor guilt.’

These are all ‘normal’ or rather, to be expected responses to trauma.

*we all cope in different ways and have different levels of need at different times.  We can’t be all things to all people and it can be very hard if you have people depending on you.  It’s OK to ask for help and admit that we’re just not coping, in fact, it’s the best thing you can do in the long run.  We’re gonna need everyone in order to build the city of our dreams.

I’ve added a link in the Earthquake category below to a page with useful links, information and resources for coping in a disaster.