Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Bouncing back into Spring

Wow, has it really been a month already since my last blog?  I have no idea where the time has gone! Needless to say, it's a bit late but SPRING IS HERE!  We made it through the whole Southland winter in our little van!  I am so proud of us - but to be honest, it really wasn't that bad at all.  I'll be honest, I was absolutely terrified at the initial thought of it.  Once Minnie got sick and winter approached, I didn't really know what to do.  The plan had always been to wend our way back up north before the harsh weather hit but now it was on its way I wasn't sure which was the best option; to risk battling Mother Nature back up across the whole country, or to simply hunker down and hibernate for a few months.  The thing was, we were so happy here, we really didn't want to leave!  So we hunkered and we're both so glad we did.  Despite the initial damp and mould trials, our first van winter really was quite a breeze.  We were cosy and warm throughout and while the rest of the country struggled with endless rain, flooding and storms, the weather here was ridiculously kind to us and to this day we continue to experience hardly any rain.  Who could possibly ask for more?  Sure, it will no doubt catch up with us in the end, but for now we continue to enjoy the sunshine.  In fact the temperature has already hit 18 degrees in the past few days!

Our colourful spring campground

Our campground is looking a picture at the moment.  I say 'campground' but it's really so much more than that.  At around 40 acres in size it's more like a giant parkland, combined with a working farm. There are gardens all over the place and at the moment we're being treated to bright splashes of colour wherever we look, from camellias and rhododendrons to weigelas in every shade and variegation. Let's not forget all the traditional spring flowers too, the daffodils, jonquils and snowdrops which are dotted everywhere.  Next to Brian and Evelyn's bus there is a huge daffodil bed just waiting to burst into flower, we can't wait for them all to come out!

'Norbert' the tiny orphan lamb having his first bottle!

And, being spring and being a farm, there are adorable little lambs scampering around everywhere, usually in twins or triplets, following their mums.  We were even lucky enough to look after a couple of orphans for a few days and bottle feed them until they were found new sheep foster mums!  Not a day goes by that we don't feel truly blessed to be here and to have found this place.

Another glorious day in Gore

Now the weather is warming up, we're starting to see the odd new visitor coming to stay for a day or two, including a couple of overseas ones, which we haven't seen any of for months.  I had a lovely surprise the other day when walking out of the grounds and a couple in a motorhome said 'Are you Jackie?'  They introduced themselves as Katherine and Lloyd, who have been following us through this blog and Motorhomes, Caravans & Destinations!  It was so wonderful to put some real faces to names.  If you're reading this Katherine, we must catch up for a glass of Peter Yealands before you move on again!  After two and a half years here, Brian and Evelyn are looking to go travelling again soon but at the moment it's just us and Debra, the lady I mentioned last time who is living in her car. She goes off travelling and sight seeing in a new area for a week or so, then pops back here and catches up with everyone for another week or two before going off somewhere else again.  It's such a free way to be!  It really is like having a little family here; everyone helps each other out in any way they can.  Just this morning Evelyn popped in to us for a tutorial on how to use her new Smartphone before she and Brian we going to the library to meet Debra for some computer lessons!  To think we would never have met any of these lovely people otherwise.

So where are we going from here?  We're not sure, at the moment we're quite happy here!  Despite being cooped up in the van throughout the winter, it's actually been a really busy time and we're using our time at the moment to just chill out, take stock and enjoy life.  Much as working from home is a blessing, it's also still possible to burn yourself out if you don't balance your time wisely.  I was writing for a lot of other people, as well as myself and was literally spending hour after hour, day after day writing my bum off.  It started out fine; I mean it was freezing cold outside, what else were we supposed to do?  I decided that if we were going to be stuck inside for the next few months, I might as well try and be as productive as possible. Gareth and I are both creative souls and we understand the need for each other to immerse ourselves in the things we love, so that's what we did, quite happily. However as winter was coming to an end, I found I was putting myself constantly under pressure to make the most of each day, to cram in as much as I possibly could, to achieve achieve achieve.  Which is really stupid because at the end of the day, nobody else expected it of me, only me of myself!

In hindsight it was probably a good thing that I got the measles because it forced me to stop.  And once I stopped, I found that I didn't want to get going again.  All the passion and inspiration I had for writing had just gone, I couldn't even think of anything to write about any more, there was nothing there.  As spring approached my measles was replaced by a severe case of cabin fever and I couldn't bear to be inside any more.  So I just stopped writing. Instead I spent my time walking, cooking, listening to music, feeding lambs and just spending time with Gareth and I quickly felt so much better.

Sometimes you just have to stop and smell the polyanthus!

It was during this time that I also decided to become vegan and shortly after, Gareth did too.  Now THAT was a surprise.  While I'd been vegetarian on and off for years, I could never imagine him not tucking into big slabs of meat and having cheese on everything, not to mention chocolate!  We both envisaged him being constantly starving and impossibly grumpy but it's been quite the opposite, we both love our new lifestyle and the food is brilliant!  Besides, as Gareth has discovered, you can get dairy free chocolate in the supermarket and it's not bad at all!  Funnily enough it was this change of lifestyle which brought back my enthusiasm for writing again.  Now I know that veganism isn't for everyone and this blog is essentially a travel/van life blog so that won't change, I'm not going to start harping on about it now or in the future.  However we do enjoy cooking a lot more these days and take a lot of joy and pride in it, so we started a Facebook page purely to indulge our love of vegan food and to share recipes.  You're welcome to check it out any time here and see what wonderful culinary creations we are able to come up with in our tiny kitchen.  People think that being vegan must be soooo difficult and soooo hard but if we can do it, anyone can!

Other than that, we're just cruising along at the moment.  Poor Gareth got hit pretty hard with the measles and is still recovering but hopefully is coming out the other side of it now.  I have also made the decision to leave Simple Savings, which is a wrench after 13 years and I will miss the unique community but I know it is the right one.  I might live in a mobile home but that doesn't mean life is meant to be spent going in a million different directions!   I am fortunate to still have a lot of writing opportunities which I am really excited about and you'll still be seeing us in Motorhomes, Caravans & Destinations each month.  Talking of which, if you live in NZ and have the opportunity to grab this month's issue, do have a peek at the three-page special on what life is like travelling with a dog, as well as Minnie's favourite dog-friendly destinations.  It really is the cutest thing, hopefully other dog owners will find it helpful too!

Monday, 14 August 2017

No house? No worries!

Ugh, it turns out I'm a bit more feral than I thought.  The rash I mentioned I had in the last blog turned out to be measles!  I haven't had them since primary school but I can't say they've improved with age. I look and feel hideous, plus of course there's added embarrassment of getting teased for having a childhood disease!  Heaven knows where I picked them up from; apparently there have been no other cases reported in Gore as yet, typical me!  We're currently waiting to see if Gareth gets them, which seems rather likely as he is also feeling unwell, just hasn't developed the spots yet.  With a bit of luck, by the time he does come down with it proper - if he's going to - at least I'll be well enough to look after him, the way he's been looking after me.  Funnily enough it's not that bad though, being ill in the van.  At least you can actually just BE ill and rest up, because there's not much else you have to do.  Not like being in a house where you have to still drag your sorry self around doing all the usual stuff.  Housework doesn't go away and you still get the same constant interruptions and have to make an effort with people when you really don't feel like it; whereas in comparison I can just hide myself away in the blissful solitude of our cosy little van.  I really feel quite fortunate!

Where do you choose to live, when you can live anywhere?

I realised after revealing our decision to keep living on the road the other day, that I neglected to say that this was not one which was hastily made; indeed we did quite a lot of research into the subject.  I think we both knew that this was what we wanted to do for some time, however I still was struggling with the thought of not having a permanent home.  Even though Gareth would always remind me that we actually DID have a permanent home and this was it; the idea that this would be our only home from now on, rather than a fixed structure on a piece of land like a 'normal' person, still bothered me. I mean, could we actually even do that?  We had met plenty of people before now who lived on the road permanently but had proper houses still to fall back on, even if they had been rented out for years.  Were we the only nutters out there whose home on wheels was their only home, with no plans to change that?  Was it really OK to be to be a grown up and NOT own a house?  Would we be OK?

I started doing some research among fellow motorhomers.  I figured this would give me a good idea quite quickly whether we were being ridiculous or not, seeing as there are an awful lot of us out there.  I belong to a lot of motorhome groups; there are some great ones on Facebook and we do our best to advise and support one another wherever possible and share tips, wherever we are in the world.  My favourite is a group called 'Living on the Road in NZ' so I put my dilemma to them.  As hoped, the answers came back thick and fast.  Even better, their responses were very reassuring.  There were HEAPS of people just like us, who had sold their home and everything they owned in exchange for a life on the road.  People from all ages, from all walks of life.  Some had been doing it just a few weeks; others for decades but not a single one had any fears or regrets.  Well, maybe one regret - they just wished they had done it sooner!  Just like us, nobody missed living in a regular house, or any of the stuff they had gotten rid of.  Also like us, after living so freely, none of them wanted to ever go back to paying high rents or mortgages, or power bills again.  And once again like us, the thought of living in a proper house made them feel really sad and uncomfortable!

One interesting point which was made was by a lady who felt that it was actually wise to be mobile in NZ these days, given our tendency towards natural disasters.  I had to admit, this has crossed my mind more than once before now.  Just four days after moving out of our house into our van, we were awakened at 2am by the tsunami siren and the whole town of Whangamata was evacuated, bleary-eyed to higher ground.  As we stood on a complete strangers deck, high above the town, looking to see if the lights were going to suddenly disappear below and listening for the wave that mercifully never came, I felt so lucky and relieved that all I'd had to do was jump out of bed into the driver's seat and whizz us up the hill.  It's good to know that in a state of emergency, wherever we are, the majority of the time we can drive ourselves to safety in just a few seconds, whilst having everything we need to survive on board with us.  It certainly gives us peace of mind, and if an area of the country looks dodgy or is having inclement weather or too many earth rumblings, we simply stay away and go somewhere else safer!

It's only a stretch of water between us and family after all!

My biggest concern when making the decision was of course, family.  I really struggled with not having a place they could come and visit, like a normal mum and daughter.  However the others were quick to point out that not having a permanent base was actually better, as we could move around and see everyone whenever we wanted, rather than be stuck in one place, waiting for them to visit us, when let's face it, everyone leads such busy lives these days.  In addition, there was nothing to stop them from coming to meet us anywhere they wanted and enjoying a welcome wee holiday at the campground, or a motel near by at the same time!  Admittedly, that didn't sound too awful at all! Thinking even longer term though, I had to voice my other big concern.  What about in years to come, when my children had kids of their own?  How would I be able to look after them and be involved in their lives, like the grandma I wanted to be?  The answer it seemed, was simple.  'You go to where they are and be the coolest grandma ever in her mobile home!  You can take them away on trips and give them amazing experiences and create precious memories they would never get anywhere else'.  Well that was a good point.  I thought of my dear friend Sue, who always took her three grandsons away with her when they were younger.  They went all over the place and had a wonderful close relationship.  If I could be anything like her, then I would be very happy.

All in all, things were sounding very positive.  There was just one more fear.  What would happen one day when we got old, or our health wasn't the best?  Wouldn't that be scary, not having a house to see your days out in?  Apparently not.  'Let's be realistic.  If needs must, you can always park your mobile home and rent', one lady said.  'If something happens and you can't go on any more, you just park up where you want and stay put', said another.  Well that was true enough, there were plenty of places you could do that.  It wasn't any different really than a lot of people who travel throughout the summer months and then park up somewhere through the winter, just as we are doing right now!  Nobody else seemed remotely concerned; in fact all the options seemed incredibly easy.

The final clincher was talking to Bevin, our caretaker and himself a motorhomer.  'Of course you can do it!' he said.  'Plenty of people do.  Margaret and Ivan in that motorhome over there, for example, they don't own a house'.  Well that was a surprise - they were certainly doing alright!  They had been coming to the campground for years and would park up for six months or so, then take off again when the warmer weather arrived.  Even after a heart attack a year or so ago, Ivan was still looking great and they were both enjoying life.  Hearing how long they had been living on the road, and having come to know them these past months, I felt greatly reassured.  'Don't forget Brian and Evelyn too!' he went on, referring to our neighbours in the bus.  They had already been staying here two years, simply because they loved the place so much.  With Brian in his mid seventies and Evelyn a few years behind, neither of them were at all worried about any age or health issues.  'We'll just park up somewhere when the time comes', smiled Evelyn when I talked to her about it later that same day. I realised looking at her, so happy and content with her life, that I really didn't have anything to worry about.

Lake Tekapo.  That'll do for starters!

So I guess for now we'll just go with the flow!  We've got a couple of big work projects to get out of the way first and then we'll be setting off for a fun and travel-filled summer, ticking off a heap more places on our 'to do' list.  First on the list is Mackenzie Country, can't wait!  What a brilliant country we live in, measles and all!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Home is what you make it

Jeez it's been positively tropical here lately!  Am sat here in a t-shirt and it's still too hot!  Not that you can complain about that.  Only a few weeks left of winter and I'm feeling downright buoyant. Sure, we've had our share of problems with mould and damp but thanks to trial and error and determination we are pretty much on top of them now.  On the whole, winter really has been a breeze and both Gareth and I can say without a doubt that this is the best winter either of us have experienced in all our years in NZ.  We just don't get the rain here, you see.  After years of living in wet and windy Waikato and Coromandel, we have been truly revelling in our months of clear, sunny skies and dry weather and feel so fortunate to have stumbled on this sheltered little pocket of Southland.  In fact, we love it so much, we aim to spend every winter here from now on!  More about that in a minute.

Ken on a typical gorgeous Southland winter's day

This week we passed the nine-month mark living on the road.  On the one hand it seems to have gone so fast, yet on the other it feels as though we have been doing this forever!  I have to admit though, after almost 300 days in a van we're starting to feel a wee bit feral.  I think our families would probably disown us if they saw us at the moment!  At the very least, they probably wouldn't want to stand too close!  With the exception of my fringe, I haven't had a hair cut in almost a year.  I can't even tell how long it really is because I only see it properly every couple of months at most; but it must be quite long now because it's always getting caught in my armpit and the ends seemed to have developed a life of their own.  Fortunately at this time of year you can get away with wearing a hat most of the time and my woolly pom pom covers a multitude of sins!  At the moment I look particularly stunning as my entire body seems to have come out in a rash, with the exception of my face.  Honestly, I look like I have the measles or something, but I don't feel unwell at all so have no idea what on earth it is or what's caused it.

The past few months have also taken their toll on a lot of my clothes.  I say a lot, but I don't own a lot, which is why they have all started to wear out.  At the same time, which is a bit inconvenient!  In the past week alone I have had to throw out three pairs of socks and I only have five pairs as it is. They're not the only things with holes in either; my two bras should be condemned! My $6 black kids leggings have been worn so much the fabric has worn thin and they're so baggy and wrinkled even Nora Batty would be envious.  Still, I'm not going to moan about it.  My entire winter wardrobe cost $120 and that dressed me from top to toe, including thermal vests and snow boots.  Once upon a time I would have spent that amount on a couple of jumpers alone.  Gareth has spent even less, as he didn't resort to buying thermals like I did and doesn't even own a jumper.  Seriously, he doesn't!  So there you go, that's how mild the winter is here.  Living on the road has been a really good lesson in how little clothing us humans really need.  I literally have around four winter outfits and could probably get away with even less.  I have a lot more summer clothes when the time comes - but that all depends on weather I still fit into them as I don't need a mirror to tell me I've put on a stack of weight!

It's funny, how people have so many misconceptions about what life must be like living in a van.  I think it's something you can't possibly know or understand unless you've tried it.  As I've already mentioned, for starters we're not cold!  In fact, we're probably warmer than most people living in a house!  I certainly remember it being colder when I lived in a house, with big rooms to heat and always having to worry about keeping the fire going.  In comparison it's been so warm here lately that we've been having to turn the heater off at night because it's too hot!  Secondly, we're not deprived! We have everything we possibly need; it just doesn't look that way to people living a conventional lifestyle because they're used to living with too much.  That's not supposed to be a criticism, you just don't realise how much in everyday life is unnecessary excess until you don't have it any more. Thirdly, we're not lonely; far from it!  For starters we have each other but living on the road makes you a lot more outgoing.  You stop and chat to pretty much everyone you come across; which in regular life you wouldn't normally do, because you're either too busy going about your business, or just don't think to acknowledge others.  For us however, we have all the time in the world to share smalltalk and stories with whoever we meet.  I think it's a good way to be.  When every day is the same it's easy to get so wrapped up in your own life that you don't really consider other people's that much, but everyone is so interesting and has their own story to tell.

I love frosty trees!

Saying all that, even we have been guilty of having the same misconceptions just recently!  There's a lady who has been living at the campground in her station wagon for the past week or so.  I don't know how old she is, I would say 50's at least, maybe even older.  On her first night here she came and knocked on the door of our van and introduced herself and asked if it was OK to park near us, which was nice.  The following night was freezing, a real hoar frost.  We didn't even notice it being any colder than usual, with our oil heater and dehumidifier but the next morning I was out admiring all the frosty white trees, looking all lovely and lacey and jumping in the icy puddles.  Even after all the countless frosts we've had here, I still haven't got over the novelty of stomping on the ice and hearing that satisfying 'CRACK!'  Anyway, I stopped for a chat to the lady on my way past.  'How did you go last night?' I asked her.  I couldn't imagine what it must be like, sleeping in a freezing cold car with no heating but I didn't think it would be pleasant.  'Gosh, it was cold wasn't it?  I woke up this morning and there was ice on all the windows'.  I thought she meant on the outside of the windows, but she was talking about the inside!  'How do you deal with it?' she asked.  'What, the ice?  Um, we don't get any', I mumbled, feeling horribly guilty.  This lady had it tough, I can tell you!

The only ice we get is in the puddles!

We talked at length and swapped stories about mould and damp, as you do.  She had been living in her car for three months now and was also struggling with a damp mattress.  Just like us, whenever the weather was fine, she would have to strip her entire bed and hang everything out to dry and air.  It was the first time in all our months on the road that I had encountered someone who made me sad living this way.  'That poor lady', I said, when I got back to Gareth.  'Hmm, I can't imagine she's living in her car by choice, surely?' he agreed.  Surely indeed.  We lived in absolute luxury in comparison, and not just because we had a bigger vehicle.

The next day, the lady stopped me again.  'I've been thinking about you two! Tell me all about your travels,' she smiled.  So I told her a bit about where we'd been, where we had originally come from and some of the places we still had left to see.  'Whereabouts are you from?' I asked tentatively.  'Taranaki', she replied.  'I lived in the same rented house for 24 years until it got demolished in May.  I decided then, after so long in one place, it was about time I moved on anyway.  I've got family in Wyndham', she said.  Ah, so that was how she came to be living on the road.  It also turned out that she was quite accustomed to living in a vehicle, having owned a campervan for years.  Maybe I was wrong about this lady; maybe she actually liked living this way after all!   'I have to admit, I do still struggle to process the fact that it's actually OK not to live in a house', I laughed.  'But we just love living in the van, we don't want to go back to living in a normal house!'  'I know what you mean!' my new friend agreed.  'It makes me chuckle when I go to the supermarket and then say I'm going home, which is here', she nodded towards the station wagon.  'But this is my home.  Home is whatever and wherever you make it.'  I couldn't agree more.

'You know, I don't think that lady is sad after all, I think she's quite happy!' I said to Gareth when I returned to the van.  'Yes, she seems to be!' he agreed.  She's just someone who is quite happy and content in her own company and I can identify with that completely.  Now, when I see her sitting outside reading in the sunshine with a cup of tea, it makes me smile to see her living life just the way she wants to.

I forget all the time how odd we must look to someone who has never experienced life in a camper. People are always curious and you can often catch them surreptitiously looking in when they walk past.  I'm sure the last thing they expect to see is a hand crafted pine kitchen with a sink and a kettle and crockpot on the bench!  Today it's full of beef pot roast and it smells amazing.  I don't usually cook with an audience but this morning I inadvertently found myself with one.  It was such a beautiful morning and far too warm to stay inside, so I pulled out the little side table and stood outside browning off the meat and preparing the vegetables before transferring them into the crockpot.  What I didn't realise was that there was a kids' rugby game due to start and no sooner did I have the meat sizzling merrily away, than I was surrounded by scores of cars full of kids and parents! With my preparations already underway I didn't have any choice but to finish what I was doing but I felt rather awkward, not least because I was right next to the try line!  What made me chuckle the most was all the people going deliberately out of their way to walk RIGHT past the van.  Maybe it was just due to the delicious aromas coming out of it but I think it was more likely that they a) wanted to see what on earth I was doing and b) so they could have a peek inside the van while I had the doors wide open!  Kids are quite open about coming up and having a look, whereas their parents try to be sneaky about it and fail!  Still, less than a year ago I would no doubt have been the same.

When we set out in our van nine months ago, the plan was to find a new home; to buy land.  But as time has gone on, we've realised that we have already found our home.  Our home is Ken and we want to keep living just the way we are, wherever we want in our house on wheels.  We don't want to be tied to one place and we want to be free to visit our families wherever they are, whenever we want.  Maybe one day that will change and we'll want to settle down - but not for a long time yet.  We still have too much to do and see.  Most likely we'll upgrade to a bigger vehicle at some stage but we're in no rush; we'll wait for the perfect one to come along.  For now, we're happy just to stick with Ken.  After all, as we've learned from the lady in the station wagon, we really do live quite a privileged life!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Living on a shoestring in the Land of Giant Vegetables

Ugh, have got my first winter blah virus of the year!  'Tis my fault, I jinxed myself by getting all smug about how well I've been looking after myself and actually daring to say out loud, 'I haven't been sick all winter!'  Nek minnit, it's all on.  Ah well, I can't complain really; aside from getting knocked around by the paint fumes a while back, this is the first time I've been properly crook since the very start of our travels almost nine months ago!  Which is a blessing, because let's face it who on earth wants to be sick when you're stuck in a van?  Still, we have everything we need right here, including enough pumpkin to make a big pot of comforting pumpkin soup, thanks to Bevin and his wife Amy.  

Straight out of the Southland soil!

Enough to keep us happy for many yammy dinners!

They also gave us a huge stash of yams, which we love in any shape or form and have been adding to everything!  NZ yams are different to the yams you get in other parts of the world. They originate from the South American Andes and are also known as oca.  They might look a bit odd, sort of like short, fat pink caterpillars but they taste marvellous!  I've never seen as many of them as I have here in the South Island.  I kid you not, here in Southland they grown the crazy biggest vegies I've ever seen.  Parsnips, pumpkin and yams are all much bigger than their North Island counterparts and as for swede, holy heck!  I'm waiting for the local dairy to refill their basket outside the front door so I can show you.  Despite Googling 'Southland Giant Swedes' as accurately as I could, I was only rewarded with photos of large Swedish people so I guess I'll just have to wait until I can photograph the real thing. Seriously though, these things are the size of a human head!  For $1.80 you could eat it every day for a month!  I guess it's the perfect climate for winter vegies here.  Talking of climate, we've been extremely lucky in that we've only had a bit of drizzle this past week, compared to the devastating floods in other areas of the South, particularly Christchurch and Timaru.  We couldn't believe it when we saw a photo of the petrol station in the main street of Oamaru completely under water.  We were only there a few weeks ago!  We felt very fortunate I can tell you.  That's one of the good things about living in a mobile home though.  As long as there is enough advance warning, you can get yourself out of most situations.  Having our entire house on board with us, we're always prepared!  

Trust me, you really CAN have too much of a good thing...

One thing is for sure, we've learned a heck of a lot these past nine months.  It makes us laugh now, to think how green we were at the start!  We carted around way too much stuff and poor Gareth would have to climb onto the roof and unload a heap of things every time we arrived at a new place, then heave it all back up there again when it was time to leave.  Our worst area however was definitely food, which was both surprising and hilarious considering we were both lovers of real food and had always cooked from scratch.  For some reason we got it into our heads that we would no longer be able to eat properly and our entire pantry consisted of tins of tomatoes and salsa beans and two minute noodles.  As a result, I haven't been able to eat two minute noodles since December. Every campground kitchen we encountered in the Far North was full of travellers cooking packet after packet of the bloody things until I couldn't even stand the smell of them any more.  Even so, we persevered with the salsa beans and tomatoes for considerably longer until we were both so sick of them we can only bear to have them once in a blue moon these days!

We were also woefully disorganised, which you would think wouldn't matter in a life with supposedly no schedule but if there was a way to make anything harder, or take three times as long, we would find it!  Because of our crap eating habits we would also run out of food every two or three days, which would mean we would constantly be having to go out of our way to top up again.  Invariably we would also be limited to a random out-of-the-way dairy or corner shop, which cost way more than a supermarket and didn't carry much range either.  These days however we have it down to a fine art. We go shopping only once a week; even longer if we can stretch it out and that's literally the only day of the week we spend money.  Seriously, we have six 'no spend' days a week now!  We plan our week's worth of meals together before we go and make a list throughout the week of anything else we need, so we can get all our shopping out of the way in one go.  We walk to town and carry everything home again on our backs so we don't even spend anything on petrol!  Even the daily routine is like clockwork now, from the moment we wake up until the sun goes down.  That probably sounds dreadfully boring and regimented but it's not at all; we've just learned what methods work best and what tasks need to be done when.  All in all our total costs work out to around $200 every 10 days, so I guess you can say $20 per day.  That covers our food, campground fees, power, water, showers, laundry facilities - absolutely everything we need.  In the warmer months, when we don't need to rely on power you can cut that figure in half or even less.  The only bills that come in are for our phone and Internet. We eat really well and don't go without anything - well, certainly not anything important anyway!  I honestly can't imagine going back to a 'normal' life now.  The brilliant thing is, there are so many more people out there doing it than you think.  Honestly, you would be amazed!

Apologies for the lack of photos today, my brain just isn't functioning and I need to go and make my soup!  If you haven't already seen them, do check out our Facebook page for a couple of video compilations Gareth has put together in the past week or two.  The first is a bit of an intro to our travels, the second covers some of our recent adventures in Dunedin and Oamaru.   I was embarrassed when I watched the first one to find that I actually welled up and got a bit teary!  It was so wonderful to relive some of those special moments and places.  We really have seen a heck of a lot of cool stuff - and there's so much more yet to come!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

When You Wish Upon a Snowflake...

Thank you so much to everyone for your lovely posts and messages following our last blog!  I forgot to include a photo of our rings in the previous post, thought you might like to see them.  We wanted to photograph us actually wearing them but it was so freezing cold without our gloves on that our hands turned bright red!  So we decided to use Mother Nature to our advantage instead and were chuffed to bits with the result:

Our engagement bling!

As mentioned briefly last time, we were finally able to move back into our van shortly after our return from Dunedin and thank heavens all traces of painty pong have gone.  We're still not sure why the heck it took so long for the paint to dry, obviously the cold temperatures and damp air didn't help but we came to the conclusion that the actual timber itself must have also been too damp for the paint to be able to dry.  Not that we could do anything about it at this time of year!  Still, at least it's done now and Ken looks much smarter with his fresh, white paint rather than wet, mouldy timber!  It's still not perfect, whilst it seems to have taken care of the mould (at least for now, time will tell), we still have the problem of the foam mattresses getting soaking wet underneath.  This means every couple of days when the weather allows we have to dismantle the bed and do our best to air dry or heater dry the squabs in between sleeps.  It's not ideal but it is what it is; we looked into other mattress options but they were all horrendously expensive or too big or both.  'Tis all just part and parcel of van life in winter!

Ken now has shiny white timber bench seats, instead of damp, mouldy ones!

Here you can see where we have had to drill heaps of large holes to aid
ventilation.  This goes some way to prevent all our stuff contained in the bench seats from
getting damp and mouldy.  Hopefully now the storage interior has now been painted, it should
help even more.  We hope!

We also took the opportunity of giving Ken some nice new upholstery as his side panels had also been affected by the moisture.  He feels much nicer and brighter now and with a bit of luck our renovations will see us through to the end of winter.  I'm really proud that we've made it this far, but in all honesty the winter is really not that bad here, we love it.  Here in Gore we seem to miss a lot of the weather extremes the rest of the country gets hammered with, and after years in the Waikato and Coromandel we don't miss the incessant rain and wind one bit!

Our incredibly technical and expensive upholstery procedure

Ken now has a nice touch of Kiwiana with his paua shell fabric!

And at last we are finished

Besides, today one of my biggest wishes came true!  Although we had a smattering of snow a few weeks back, it didn't come to much and we missed it actually snowing.  I'd been watching the weather forecast all week and although all the weather reports were warning of snow storms across the south, I wasn't overly confident we would get that much in our little weather haven, if any at all.  'I wish just once it would snow when we could see it and actually be out in it, rather than when we were asleep', I pouted to Gareth.  'I'd love to see snowflakes again!'  The last time I saw snow falling was when I was about 13, back in England.  The first flakes started to fall around 10pm last night and I stuck my head out of the van for a few seconds, grinning like an idiot at the white flecks spattering the night sky. Even if we didn't get any more than that, at least I'd seen it.  We planned to wake up early though, just in case.

A lovely sight to wake up to!

'Looks pretty white out there!' called Gareth, as he peeked out behind the curtain around 7am.  'Awesome!'  I said, taking a look.  It wasn't the three feet I'd hoped for, but it was still a decent couple of inches; the most either of us had seen in a long time.  And it wasn't snowing; once again we had missed it overnight but at least we could go out and play in it!  I hopped outside with Minnie to take some photos and couldn't stop smiling at the sight of everything covered in a snow blanket as far as the eye could see.  The hills, the trees, the cars, the buildings, Brian and Evelyn's bus.  And then all of a sudden my wish came true.  It started snowing, REALLY snowing, millions of snowflakes falling all over me and Minnie.  It was magic, it really was.  Honestly, I felt as though I was in Narnia or something!

One very happy big kid!

The first of several snow showers we got to enjoy through the day

Gareth came out to join me and everyone we saw was smiling.  Our new friends, Fred and Linda who had arrived the day before.  Brian and Evelyn, with little Brandy bouncing along in her bright blue jacket and of course Bevin and Inca.  Inca was beside herself with excitement, rolling around in the snow, tearing around like a mad thing and demolishing snowballs with her paws.  Her enthusiasm rubbed off on a rather bemused Minnie and the two of them were a delightful sight as Minnie tried her best to keep up with her exuberant friend!

Minnie still hasn't decided if she REALLY likes snow.  But she certainly likes eating it!

The perfect spot for snowman building!

One very large snowman, complete with funky Steampunk glasses!

In all the years I've lived in NZ I've seen snow twice, at Mount Ruapehu on the ski fields.  Both times however I was a bit disappointed - the snow was so hard, it was more like ice and although you could toboggan on it, you couldn't actually play in it; being hit with a snowball was more like being stung by a paintball!  The snow today though was perfect.  Soft, crunchy, powdery, perfect for making snowballs - and snowmen!  It didn't take long for momentum to gather as we rolled what was to become our snowman's head and body around the field.  In fact, they grew so big, it was quite a challenge to lift the enormous sections on top of each other!  But we got there and we patted and preened and smoothed him off until he stood even taller than Gareth!  Our beautiful big snowman attracted quite a few admirers and much hilarity was had as we raided our vegie supplies from the van to give him potatoes for eyes, a yam for a nose and a celery stick for a mouth.  We had so much fun that once we finished we didn't want to stop, so built a snow lady as well, to keep him company!

We made snow us'es!

I don't know what it is about snow that turns grown adults into big kids but it really was the most perfect day and the most unbelievable fun.  Who knows whether we will get treated to another spectacle again any time soon but if not, that's OK.  I've already got my wish!

Monday, 10 July 2017

A Bit o' History - & New Memories Made

Aghhh, where has the time gone?  So much news to catch up on!  For starters, we've been back in the van for about a week now, hooray!  Just as we were about to give up hope we finally bloody got there.  But that's another blog.  First I need to fill you in on our travel adventures!  I'll be honest, the first time we went to Dunedin I didn't really like it all that much.  Sure, some of the old buildings were cool but I found it really spread out, a lot like Hamilton so that it takes you ages and 50 million traffic lights to get anyway.  I hated driving in it, all the lanes and one way systems were so confusing and for such a massive place there seemed bugger all to do!  It probably didn't help that it rained the entire time we were there either.  Unfortunately for me, Gareth's favourite shop, Warhammer is located right in the heart of Dunedin (it's actually the only shop of its kind in the whole South Island) so a few months later it meant going again for a flying visit.  This time it didn't rain at all and although I still couldn't navigate my way around to save myself, I enjoyed it far more, particularly cruising around the Otago Peninsula.  It reminds me a lot of driving the Thames coast road in Coromandel; narrow, winding and picturesque, passing through several small settlements as you go.

Gareth goes to Dunedin for Warhammer, I go for the food!

There still wasn't much to do in Dunedin though in my humble opinion, except eat, which we did an awful lot of.  As Murphy's Law would have it however, no sooner had we got back to Gore than I read a travel blog by NZMCA member Shellie Evans talking about her visit to a place called Tunnel Beach in Dunedin that very day.  It sounded awesome - why had none of the locals told us about it when we asked them what there was to do?  All any of them had had to say was 'go and see the penguins and seals', which you had to pay a fortune for to get taken out in a boat.  Having walked among them for free in the Catlins we didn't feel we could top that.  That's the way it often goes though, many locals don't even realise what's on their own back doorstep; it's travellers like Shellie who make it easier for the rest of us by sharing their remarkable finds and spreading the word.   After that we couldn't wait to get back to Dunedin and check it out.

Tunnel Beach - we missed out last time!

Unfortunately what with first Minnie being ill and then all the shenanigans with the van, it took more than two months for us to get there again but we looked forward to it with every week that passed. One thing was for certain, after all the heartache we had been through with the damp, mould, stinky paint and everything else, when the time finally came, we were going to do it properly and treat ourselves to a nice motel.  By that time, I had also had a chance to read a lot more about Dunedin and its surrounding areas.  It was going to be a busy few days when we eventually got there!  As the end of June approached we finally dared to hope that the time had come.  We booked Minnie into a rural boarding kennel where she was in her element out on the farm surrounded by doggy friends and at last we were on our way.  Ken was about to get his first decent run in quite a while!

Bubbles, rubbish on TV and cosy slippers - just like a 'normal' life!

The journey wasn't the most enjoyable as the van was still full of paint fumes and despite the freezing temperatures we had no choice but to drive most of the way with the windows down and our heads hanging out so that we could breathe!  Still, it's an easy drive from Gore to Dunedin on the main highway and I never get sick of admiring the beautiful rolling hill country and the ever-changing Southland sky along the way.  A couple of hours later we were checking into our motel, the Aurora on George Street.  We stayed there once before and it was lovely, however this time we made sure we chose a smaller room as the last one was much too big for us!  This time it was perfect, not that we spent too much time in it as we were too busy exploring and wandering around the city at our leisure. One thing I still can't get used to is how devoid of people South Island cities are compared to North Island ones.  Don't get me wrong though, it's a wonderful thing!  After the craziness of Auckland and Hamilton, the cities I was most accustomed to, it's a lovely novelty to be able to walk the streets and browse the malls without people constantly jostling you and getting in each other's way.  Even in the bustling bars and cafe's in the Octagon we would often find ourselves almost the only ones!

Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Municipal Buildings

Och aye, it's Robbie Burns!

Another reason for our trip was to do some research for an upcoming Motorhomes, Caravans & Destinations article.  The theme was to be art galleries and sculptures and we had everything planned. First stop was the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and on entering I was embarrassed to realise I was setting foot in perhaps only the second art gallery of my whole life; the first being Auckland a few years before.  I have to say, I enjoyed the Dunedin one far more.  It was smaller and far more intimate but none the less impressive.  The highlight for me was coming face to face with my first original Monet painting!  He was my favourite artist since I was a teenager and the rockstar posters on my bedroom wall back then were interspersed with framed prints and cards of his work.  It was a really nice and relaxing way to spend a morning and we both walked away feeling glad that we had done something different from the usual beach/bush/climbing outdoorsy stuff.  We also took the time to have a leisurely browse around the surrounding architecture - the Municipal Buildings, St Paul's Cathedral (not 'the' St Paul's obviously!) and my favourite, Writer's Walk, with a big bold statue of Robert Burns proudly in residence.

We had plenty to go on already for our Motorhomes article - but there was another place we thought would really be the icing on the cake and decided to bite the bullet and add another day to our stay. Our destination?  Oamaru,  the Steampunk Capital of NZ and home to Steampunk HQ!  The road to Oamaru was a new one for both of us and we were really excited to explore some uncharted territory. As we set off over the hills to Blueskin Bay and Waitati I also found myself up against another new experience, driving on black ice.  At such altitude and under the shade of thick trees and bush, there was no chance of this stuff melting today.  I didn't want to let on to Gareth how scared I was but I had never driven in the stuff before and that very morning a car had slid off the road at Portobello, just a few minutes away and plunged into the harbour!  'I like this road!'  Gareth beamed happily, blissfully unaware that I was in fact crapping myself as I tried to stay focused on the road and maintain a safe speed.  Was the whole 100km journey going to be like this?  Mercifully it wasn't, and as we passed Waitati the road flattened out, the sun shone and I was able to relax and enjoy the journey.

Oamaru's Victorian Precinct.  No doubt brilliant on any day but Monday!

We had checked online beforehand to make sure the Steampunk museum would be open, which it was.  However as we discovered on arriving, you shouldn't really visit Oamaru in winter on a Monday as pretty much everything else is closed - and being Murphy's Law it was indeed a Monday. Still, even in its closed-up state it was obvious that Oamaru is a very cool town.  Despite driving through many quaint and historical towns on our travels, Oamaru really is next level.  I felt as though we were in a Dickens novel as we made our way down the narrow cobbled streets, dotted with old fashioned sweet shops, artisans and forges.  The Victorian Precinct felt like being in a ghost town, with everything closed the way it was.  It was such a shame that we were unable to pop into the many craft shops, galleries and boutique cafes and shops - but on the other hand it was plain to see that we hadn't allowed ourselves enough time to 'do' Oamaru properly anyway.  To see everything would easily take a whole day, if not two.  That was fine with us though, it meant we could go back again! And this time we would know to stay, rather than return to Dunedin the same day.

Welcome to Steampunk HQ!

Very cool playground equipment for grown ups!

Cue spooky Scooby Doo music!  Gareth doing his best to look menacing on the Intergalactic Pipe Organ

Besides - just around the corner across the railway tracks was Steampunk HQ!  You can't miss it, with its imposing building and gloriously wonky steam train perched precariously out the front.  Entry is $10 per person and whilst it's not as big as we thought it would be (it took just half an hour for us to cover everything, and that was stopping to take heaps of photos for Gareth's mum too) it was still well worth the money and the visit for the enjoyment factor and to see such a collection of wonderful creative minds come together.  There is such a huge element of fun here and we loved the interactivemess of the museum.  Compared to most museums where you have to be quiet and are not allowed to touch exhibits, at Steampunk HQ you are encouraged to climb in things, on things, see how stuff works and generally marvel at how the heck anyone ever thinks of coming up with any of it.  As one middle-aged English tourist happily told us, 'I feel like a kid again!' Definite highlight for us was The Portal, a beautiful walk-in experience of light and sound that you won't want to end.

The Portal - we're in there somewhere!

Mission accomplished, and with pretty much nowhere else for us to go, we made our way back to Dunedin before the roads started to freeze again.  When we arrived back at the Aurora Motel, a lovely surprise awaited us and we had been given a complimentary upgrade to the most luxurious suite in the complex as an apology for some noisy guests keeping us awake the night before!  You cannot imagine my delight at wandering in and discovering a spa bath - I never thought I would ever be able to have a bath again!  After all our adventuring we fell soundly asleep in our pristine king sized bed - which was just as well seeing as there was absolutely nothing worth watching on our 55 TV channels. Good to know we haven't missed anything!

The start of the Tunnel Beach track.  Before the sheer drop!

The following day it was time to return to Gore, but we still had one more item to check off our 'must do' list.  This time we weren't going to leave without visiting the historical Tunnel Beach!   This little spot just 7km out of Dunedin is heralded as possibly the most romantic beach in NZ, due to the story behind it.  Back in the 1870's, a politician named John Cargill commissioned the beach for his family and actually carved a tunnel right the way through the cliff, 150 stone steps and all, so that his wife could sunbathe in private, away from prying eyes.  She would have had to be one heck of a keen woman to go sunbathing there very often though I can tell you, as just getting down there and back involves a solid hour of effort!  The descent to the beach entails navigating a long, winding and very steep track from the top down to the cliffs.  This is itself can be quite tricky, especially at this time of year when the track can be wet and slippery.  What concerned me the most however was how the hell I was going to get back up though!  Judging by the tales I had heard and the sight of several young men who passed us drenched in sweat and struggling for breath (one had to literally sit down in the middle of the path until he could go on again!) I was positively scared at the prospect.  Even so, the two of us had a laugh trying to stay upright all the way down and by some miracle we managed to get down to the bottom without stumbling and rolling off the cliffs.  Another very important thing I forgot to mention is that you can only get down to the beach at low tide, otherwise the water comes up too far and you'd never make it through the tunnel.

150 steps and a tunnel carved right through a cliff.  Let's face it,
that's a pretty special thing to do for your Missus!

Talking of the tunnel, now I was faced with it I was having problems getting myself to go through it. It was pitch black and literally had been carved through the cliff but we're not talking a huge cavern here, but a very narrow space.  I'm pretty claustrophobic (that sounds ironic for someone who lives in a van doesn't it, but nonetheless!) and several times on our travels I've been pissed off at it getting in the way of my adventuring.  This time was nothing short of heartbreaking though - I mean, it was SUCH a long way down and we'd gone to such lengths to get there!  Even the rain had stopped long enough for us to be able to make the trip.  I couldn't let it stop me this time.  'Here, take my hand, you'll be OK.  Just take it easy', said Gareth.  'Nope, I'm getting down those 150 bloody steps and out the other side as quick as I possibly can!' I said.  So I did and rushed out the other side to - an enormous group of school kids out on a field trip.  Hmm, so much for being the most romantic beach! It didn't worry me too much but Gareth seemed really quite furious to see them.  To be honest, there wasn't much we could really do anyway though.  Although it was only half an hour past low tide the water had already come in too fast for us to be able to explore the beach fully - and besides, to get onto the sand you first had to scramble your way across a large stretch of unstable and very slippery rocks.  As I said before, Mrs Cargill would have had to be one very game woman!  The school kids, Gareth and I and a few other tourists all did our best but it was just too unsafe and none of us relished the idea of having to get ourselves or each other back up that track with a broken leg.  For anyone reading this, to attempt Tunnel Beach you really need to be fit and well.  Definitely not recommended for small children or the elderly!

Us - right after Gareth popped the question!

'Come on then, we might as well go', sighed Gareth and I duly bolted my way back through the tunnel and out onto the path.  It really didn't worry me that things hadn't gone quite to plan, or the beach hadn't been as easy to get to as we had thought, but Gareth seemed really upset about it.  'It's fine!' I assured him.  'Well - how about we go up this cliff over here then, we can do that at least', he smiled.  That was fine with me, so off we went, climbing up until we stood looking far out to sea, with the waves crashing on the little beach which had eluded us below.  'This is lovely', I said - and as I did so, something happened.  Gareth pulled out a ring and went down on one knee!  'I would love for you to be my wife', he smiled up at me.  So that's why he'd been so agitated!  Lucky I wasn't standing closer to the edge of the cliff or I might have fallen off with surprise!  But of course I said yes and I don't know whether it was because I was fitter than I thought or because I was so ridiculously happy but I didn't find the hike back up to the top bad at all, I wasn't even puffed!  So is Tunnel Beach the most romantic beach in NZ?  In all honesty, not really, it's the story which makes it so.  But it will always be special to us from now on!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Joys of Underspending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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