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 we rolled

Go-By-Bike Day NZ was Wednesday 16th February.

Some of the team got into the spirit and we met at Victoria Square for the free breakfast organised by the spiffing chaps at Spokes Canterbury, (the Canterbury Cyclists Association) among others.  (Where were you Soph?)  From what I understand the different venues were organised by different groups.  Vic Square had free coffee!  Click on Spokes to go to their website and tell ’em what a jolly good show, chaps!  Also in attendance was Cycling Advocates Network (CAN) whom last year I bought this excellent accoutrement from:

less cars, more calf muscles.

As was the nice gentleman from Velo-Ideale, emporium of fabulous bikes and pieces such as this: (it might not be the best bike shop in the world, but at least it’s not in Islington…)

coffee time, comin' through!

As sported by our very own Chief Executive on her awesome retro bike – and my own Boss-Lady couldn’t resist getting one for her new/old treadley either.

I noticed that the only coverage Christchurch’s-own bastion of mediocrity, The Press, provided the next day was a small article headlined “Cyclist hurt on special day for cycling” or something like that.  It went on to describe the one and only negative incident to mar an otherwise excellent promotion.  But I suppose “Hundreds of cyclists enjoy incident-free commute, free breakfast” doesn’t make for good (sensational) news.

Or does it?  Here’s a little feature on Canterbury Television about the event at Vic Square.

And how do we roll?  Well a little bit like this:

The Chic Cyclistas

And another thing… Pedestrian Thinking?

Following on from the last post – no wonder we have such a hard time convincing people to consider the creation of a walking city (note: a walking city includes our rollin’ brothers & sisters).

The word ‘pedestrian’ has become in our society a kind of insult, meaning: slow, stulted, non-creative, inefficient and a bit lame.  In other words not fast, not sexy, not cool.  Which is why I love the work of Living Streets Aotearoa. From their website:

We want more people walking and enjoying public spaces be they young or old, fast or slow, whether walking, sitting, commuting, shopping, between appointments, or out on the streets for exercise, for leisure or for pleasure.

Let’s take back our public spaces!

This is from the page I linked to in the previous post: the Traffic Transport & Road Safety Associates (Ireland) website.  But it was so compelling I just wanted to give it a post all to itself.  Here’s the link again:

Pedestrianisation.

Why Pedestrianise?
  • Improving Road Safety – reducing the potential for conflict between vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists and motor vehicles creates a significant reduction in the number of accidents within the pedestrianised area.  In Odda in Norway accident reductions of over 80% were reported.
  • Improving Economic Vitality – most retailers, at least in town centres, appreciate that the number of people walking past their shop and not the number of people driving past their shop is key to getting people inside to spend money.  Pedestrians comparison shop, and research conducted in the United Kingdom reported increases in sales of upto 20% per year in the first few years following pedestrianisation. Research from 11 cities in Germany showed average rent increases of 50% after pedestrianisation. Chartered Surveyor Weekly reported that following the introduction of the footstreets concept in York, United Kingdom, a boom in retail sales was accompanied by rent increases of upto 400%.
  • Improving Social Interaction – increasing the amount that people meet, talk and interact, has been shown to have health benefits, but also creates a sense of community and a pride in the space or place.
  • Improving Health – in the same way that providing streets to drive on has been shown to increase traffic levels, providing a good walking environment has been shown to increase the number of people walking. Studies tend to show that the number of people walking within the immediate area will increase by over 50%.
  • Improving the environment – It is over 30 years since the OECD studied the link between environmental improvement and the removal of traffic.  Whilst some of the noted benefits such as reductions in Carbon Monoxide have now been addressed through the introduction of catalytic converters to vehicles, creating a modal shift from the car to walking reduces the level of CO2 helping the country to meet its emissions targets. Noise levels are also reduced by up to 15 decibels.

 

So, what kind of city do you want to live in?

Getting Munted and the Principles of Permaculture Pt. 1 – Chunder Road

So what about the much-hyped camping-on-the-farm holiday you ask?  Well I’m glad you did because it was adventure of high renown from start to finish.

First, the disclaimers.  We cheated a little bit over the break.  While the almost entire House of Davidson was staying with us we felt we needed to have some form of transport and particularly if we wanted to head up to the farm for a spot of ‘camping’ – more about that later.

So with the tremendous support of Granny and Grandad we hired a car for a few weeks.  Don’t hate us for our loose commitment!

We always talked about how not owning a car would save us money that we could potentially use to hire one when the need arose.  And it’s true and I’m glad we did.  End of disclaimer.

So.  We ended up hiring the cheapest station wagon we could find – it was little more than a glorified hatchback and there was no way we could fit Aunty Taffy and Brad so our poor couch-surfing Queenslanders had to catch a bus to Blenheim through some of the windiest hill climbs in the whole island – the infamous Hundalees – not-so-affectionately known as the ‘Chundalees’ as poor Aunty Taffy found out.

The rest of us stacked in 4 adults, a bouncing bobbin in her carseat and the bootspace was jam packed, floor to ceiling with two tents, a mattress, bedding and a chilly bin full of food.  Oh and a 5 kg bag of flour.  There was absolutely NO room for the guitar, or the camping oven and table (which were only really for fun anyway seeing as we were camping by a house).  The back windows looked like the car had been vacuum sealed – everything was squished into the corners filling up every available space.  Somehow Elizabeth managed to fold herself in two to get into the back seat with Granny Margaret.

Things were going swimmingly until the wee bear fell asleep at the bottom of the Lewis Pass, which gets rather windy itself, before waking up at the top and vomiting her poor little tum out.  She’s only thrown up in cars twice and both times it was from falling asleep on windy stretches.  She was so good though, as her mother managed to contain most of it somehow (my eyes were firmly on the road) and the car itself survived without a direct hit.  We pulled in at Maruia Springs down the bottom to clean up and get some fresh air.  And become sand-fly bait.

Now Maruia Springs is an interesting place.  I’ve stayed there and camped there.  Pulled in for a cold one and played pool there.  It’s changed over the years from a sort of road house pub with hot pools into a pseudo-Japanese health resort with chalets.  It’s still an incredibly beautiful location and the Japanese-style baths are great.  I’ve always preferred the hot pools at Maruia to Hanmer Springs as the setting was just amazing – they look out onto a mountain river with steep native forest on the other side, it was a bit smaller and quieter and generally less touristy.  Oh how things change.

The first things we notice are what Uncle Puff coined as ‘no-signs’.  Lots of verboten everywhere.  No this, no that.  No, we were not allowed to use the toilets.  The whole entrance has been redesigned – all windows are gone and there’s some sort of design-award-ready trendy wood panelling that makes the whole entrance look intimidating and unwelcome.  You can’t see in and you don’t really know what they’re even offering as most of the signage is dedicated to telling you what they’re NOT offering.  Yikes.  Maybe living in a perpetual cloud of ferociously biting insects has made misanthropes of them all.  We got cleaned up using our own water and towels and got the hell out of Dodge.  Goodbye Maruia Springs.  I miss you.

The rest of the trip was tough.  Hot and tiring and Seraphine was over it.  She’s still not great on these long car journeys.

The flooding that had previously closed the Pass was still evident near Springs Junction with the road down to one lane in places and further up the road we stopped at Maruia Falls to marvel at the swollen river hurling itself over the shelf in an angry tide.  Great stuff!

The sun was definitely on the downward slide as we took the turn-off to St Arnaud and headed for Tophouse.  Once again the journey had taken most of the day and we still weren’t there yet.  But as the golden hour approached and the  trees were thick with cicadas, we saw the farmhouse complete with Aunty Niki and Uncle Ewan waving from the verandah as we rolled up to the gates of… Muntanui!

To be continued…

Tired Old Bastard Blues – A whinge.

Gee I bet that title really reeled you in.

I need a holiday, big time.  Energy levels nearing empty, the Tired Old Bastard gauge is reaching critical.  This was compounded last night during a slightly sad outing for the somewhat-less-than Mighty Lyttelton football team in our last game of the year for the Summer League.  Slightly sad in that our healthy looking squad from the start of the season only managed to turn out 9 players and we required the services of two backpackers who happened to be passing by.

Slightly sad also in that I spent most of my time in the game chasing after younger, fitter, faster guys who I had no hope of catching without resorting to bolas and generally finding the whole experience akin to one of those nightmares where you have to run to or from something and you can’t make your legs move.  This is what happens to you at 35 if you take a fortnight off to recover from the minor whiplash you incurred last time you played.

Remind we why we’re doing this again? I said to myself more than once as I watched the player I was supposed to be marking once again run past me and off into the open pastures of our exposed right flank.  That’s right, it’s meant to be fun.

Football really is a winter game and fun is relative in 28 degree heat on a pitch that’s magically metamorphosed from green grass to something resembling volcanic rock with all sorts of uneven divets, bumps, holes and thanks to the earthquake some actual sand bunkers.  Oh and losing 1-8.

Nothing like all that to make you feel old and tired.

Now the Tyranny of Convenience take on this would be I was out running around in beautiful Hagley Park on a beautiful summer night playing football (the beautiful game) with my beautiful friends, enjoying using my beautiful body and building health and flourishing. blah blah blah.

But sometimes the only thing that makes you feel better is a cold pint at the pub.  Which is where I took our goalkeeper afterwards – he’d had an even worse day at the ‘office’ than me.

For some reason I offered to take home the jerseys as well.  So, loaded as I was with 3 bags and most of the skin of the second toe of my right foot apparently missing, I was really looking forward to the walk to the bus stop and the slog up the hill to follow it all.*

I must say, The Idler is really catching my attention at the moment – I think Tom really is on to something there.  The whole ToC Loving the Effort idea is suddenly looking a bit… well, let’s just say that given the way I’m feeling right now,  a breath of fresh air on the whole subject of convenience might be just the tonic.

“I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”
– Pascal

* There is a happy ending!  I bumped into one of our neighbours on the bus who’d parked their car at the bus stop and drove me up the hill – how convenient – hooray!

Camping Deluxe

Given the developing conversation in the comments section of the previous post, I thought I’d start a little thread on that most divisive of topics – camping: lean & mean or lush & lazy, emphasis on the ‘lush’.

Are you the type to ditch the car and walk for days, sleeping in tiny, lightweight hiking tents, subsisting on scroggin and water from your environmentally-sound steel water bottle?  Or are you more likely to load up the 4×4 with everything from the solar shower to the case of fine wine, herb & spice rack and the foam mattress?

To pee in the wilderness or look for a camping ground with ablution and kitchen blocks, recreation centre and powered camp sites?

Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle.  Maybe you like both, some of the time?

Ahhh, the simple life...

Me? I must say I like to camp near the sea or rivers so I don’t much need a shower block and I prefer to camp in quiet places because I can make enough noise all by myself – you should hear my guitar-playing.  Then again, maybe you shouldn’t.  So that kind of rules out busy camping grounds with all the facilities.  BUT I do love taking nice food, good wine and cold beer.  I like deck chairs at sunset with drinks holders; fresh coffee and B&E for brekkie. I also like that old foam mattress instead of the closed cell mats which feel more like you’re sleeping on a layer of second hand Mills & Boon paperbacks.

I once spent the most incredible ten days four-wheel-driving and camping with my sister and brother-in-law in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.  Our days spent exploring some of the oldest rock landscapes in the world and seeing incredible wildlife, plants and views to leave you speechless.  We’d race to pitch the tents, avoiding the ever-present ant armies, and get the chairs set up for an ice-cold Coopers under the vivid, red sunsets.  Nights camped under millions of stars drinking and eating excellent food prepared from scratch (it was generally a 3 person job – one to cook and two to swat the flies away) and eating pistachios and chocolate.  Not too shabby eh.  We were literally days driving from any other humans and most of the areas for camping were little more than lines on a map – no facilities whatsoever.  But we had the trusty 4×4 and a large chilly bin. (Esky, cooler, whatever).  Two essential conveniences.  The best trip of my life.  Now, those guys know how to camp.

I suppose I’ve been a little bit spoilt by that experience ever since.  Anyway, that’s why I’m kinda excited about the prospect of camping on those guys farm over the New Year…

61 acres of cloud... eat yer heart out!

Obviously it won’t be snowing then…

And I’ve found some inspiration for future luxury camping ideas – I’ll leave you with this little image of bliss in the wilderness:

So, which kind of camper are you?