Wednesday, 21 October 2015

How Mike King made me a better parent

According to my 17-year-old, he tells me about 70% of what goes on in his life.  I found this out on national radio recently when Ali and I were guests on Mike King's radio show 'The Nutters Club'.  I was pretty happy with that, I was expecting more around the 40% mark!  Apparently we're the exception, most kid-to-parent disclosure ratios are much lower.  I reckon I have my mum and dad to thank for helping me to achieve that 70%  because the biggest thing I learned from the way they parented me was to always keep the communication lines open.  I could talk to my parents about absolutely anything and I did.  Even so, no matter how good a relationship you think you have with your child, no matter how approachable you think you are, it doesn't mean that they WILL talk to you.  These past few months I have experienced first hand how holding in problems and negative thoughts can quite literally make a person implode.  It is the most terrifying thing I have ever seen in my whole life.  It happened in my world and it can happen in yours too, don't think for one moment it can't.

I mentioned in my last blog how spending two hours in Mike's company completely changed my perspective on pretty much everything.  In particular he made me aware of how we as people a) treat one another and b) how we NEED to treat one another.  I cannot begin to stress how enormous this guy's workload is; he and his team have one hell of a mammoth task on their hands and the demand for his help is overwhelming.  I learned more about the minds of teenagers in two hours from watching Ali and Mike interact than most parents could hope to learn in a lifetime.  Ali and me have always had a really tight bond but what I took away from that show has strengthened our relationship beyond belief and resulted in a much happier home.  It's made me think - if I as a 70% parent was able to learn so much, how much could this information help a 40% parent?  I feel that not sharing what I have learned would be selfish.

I'm not telling anyone what to do here, I'm just sharing what has worked for me.  But I do know that if more parents, elders, teachers and friends took this stuff on board, there would be a lot more happy and healthy people out there.  And I do know that Mike is right when he says we need to make it OK to talk about our problems.  Here are the key things I have learned from him, and Ali too:

1. Stop talking, start listening.  As Mike said (and it made me fall about laughing as it's so true), our generation think we know EVERYTHING.  We have a lifetime of wisdom to impart and enjoy nothing better than inflicting it on our offspring.  Whilst our hearts are in the right place, we are so busy forcing THEM to listen to US the moment they try to open their mouths, when what they really want is for US to listen to THEM.  You don't have to have an answer for everything.  Sometimes just listening is enough.  But if you are going to talk to them, make sure you talk WITH them, not AT them, there's a big difference.  Adults are much too good at interrupting kids because we think what we have to say is so much more important when the poor little buggers have barely had a chance to open their mouths.  We need to make a conscious effort to shut up instead of shooting down.  Respect their feelings and opinions. They have them, even if you don't agree with them.  You don't even have to understand them.  The important thing is that they feel able to talk to you.

2. Give them space.  This was Ali's number one tip for parents on the Nutters Club show.  If I ask him what's wrong and he says 'nothing', then there most likely isn't.  And if there is I've learned to simply say 'OK' and leave it there.  He knows I know he's not OK and that's enough; if he needs to talk about whatever is bothering him he will when he's ready.  Getting in kids' faces and asking over and over again what's wrong can just add to the pressure and make them clam up even more.  Besides, nine times out of 10 they don't actually need you and will sort out whatever it is bothering them for themselves.

3. Share your experiences.  Ali says this is one of the biggest benefits when talking to me.  Parents don't have to be perfect, we don't have to be these flawless pillars of society.  It's that way of thinking that could well stop your kids from feeling they can't talk to you for fear of letting you down, or that you will judge, or berate them.  How can kids expect their parents to understand them if they don't even know that we have lived?  The thing is, when you're willing to share your less than perfect experiences as a parent, your kids respect the fact that you know what you're talking about - and I think it's also quite disarming for them that you are willing to disclose those things about yourself.  It doesn't mean you condone that behaviour by any stretch of the imagination, it just makes you human and more importantly, relatable.

4. Never belittle someone else's problems.  This is pretty much the worst thing you can do, unless you actually WANT to stop them from sharing anything with you ever again.  Put yourself in their shoes, imagine you plucked up the courage to tell someone something that was really bothering you and they immediately jumped in and said 'Oh you don't want to worry about that, that's nothing!' - how would that make you feel? Yet we do that in society all the time, especially to kids.  We don't mean to, it's just that we don't want them to worry needlessly, especially when to us the problem is so easily fixed.  But to the person who has the problem, it's not nothing, it's a big thing.  If someone plucks up the courage to talk about whatever's bothering them, just let them offload and if you can't think of anything helpful to say back, just listen.

5. Trust your kids.   This can be bloody hard if they have given you reason not to but at the end of the day it's all you can do.  Don't automatically think that every time they leave the house they're going off to do drugs or get into trouble.  Maybe they are.  But there's a pretty big chance that they're not.  My son knows that all I ask of him is that he keeps himself safe.

6. Remember this mantra 'it's not about you'.  I'll repeat that again for good measure - IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.  This is probably the biggest thing I learned from Mike; it has helped me to understand my son more than anything else.  As I mentioned earlier, we think we have all this wisdom we need to impart when all that matters is stopping the other person from hurting.  If you've got an angry and aggressive teenage boy on your hands, he's not being like that to be an arsehole, he's behaving that way because he's in pain.  Once you get that, you can begin working with it rather than against it.

7. Last but not least - love unconditionally.  I'm sure Mike would say this too but I learned this one from my parents.   When I was 18 I was drinking a crazy amount every day.  I had booze hidden everywhere.  My friends were worried about me (seeing me drunk at college had stopped being funny for them a long time ago) and tried to help me but I kept letting them down.  I wanted to tell my parents but I didn't know how.  I think in the end one of their friends who was a college lecturer tipped them off that she had run into me and the smell of alcohol coming from me almost knocked her out.  I was terrified of what my dad would say but you know what?  He was the one who had the most faith in me.  I sat and bawled in his lap until his shirt was soaked and instead of hitting the roof and telling me what a terrible daughter I was he simply ruffled my hair and said 'It'll be alright mate'. He didn't have the answers - but he believed in me.

Becoming aware of all these things has made me not only a better parent, but a better person.  I would honestly recommend the above advice to anyone.  Or better still, you can listen to it from the man himself in Part 1 and Part 2  of the Nutters Club radio show podcast.  Every day I thank Mike inwardly for what he has taught me and encourage every single parent to embrace and support the incredible work this guy is doing throughout our country.  Who knows, he may well have already helped someone you love.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Broken bits

How is it that a person can be insanely happy, yet impossibly sad at the same time?  Is that even a thing?  Does anyone else ever feel the same, or is it just me?  I'm sorry it's been so long since I last wrote.  I've been suffering from terrible writer's block and the reason I haven't been able to shift it is because I haven't known how to deal with all the crap which has been going around in my head.  I've come to the conclusion that the only way I can move this stuff out of the way so that I can write about the things I'm meant to write about, is to get some of it down.  So forgive me for dumping a whole load of baggage right here.  I have no idea what is going to come out but if you'd rather just read about my latest money saving exploits and don't want to read my jumble of mixed up thoughts that follows, then please stop reading now and wait for the next post when I've moved on :)

Where to start?  I feel a bit of an idiot really because they're hardly earth shattering issues but nonetheless they're my issues and not getting them out has been literally stopping me from functioning. When people share their problems with me, the first thing I always tell them is to write it all down. Doesn't matter what you do with it after that, keep it, burn it, whatever but often the simple act of getting it all out is enough.  My mum told me to do that when I was nine years old and a girl called Charlotte was being mean to me at school.  Getting all the hurt and sadness out worked like magic and I've been doing it ever since.  Writing for me is like therapy so I guess I should stop being stubborn and take some of my own advice!  There are a lot of things I am unable to say in order to protect the privacy of others but I will share what I can.  At least from now on when I disappear and am unable to write you'll know it's most likely because I'm working on one of these things.

Firstly, the relationship between my youngest and his father has suffered a breakdown to the point that they are estranged.  It's heartbreaking, it's exhausting, it's disruptive and gets in the way of every damn thing and I feel completely powerless because I've tried and tried to fix it and I can't.  My baby is hurting so much and I can't freaking well fix it.  Just writing that much has got me crying like an idiot, so in the words of Forrest Gump, 'that's all I got to say about that'.  All I know is love cannot ever come with conditions.

I've also been grieving the loss of my best friend for a few months now.  Except nobody's died, it just feels like it.  At least when someone dies it sucks but you know they don't actually WANT to leave you; they just don't have a choice. Unfortunately in my case, he decided he didn't want me in his life any more.  I wasn't young enough, or pretty enough, or rich enough, or smart enough.  Or anything enough, who knows.  Funnily enough I don't care about any of that.  I'm completely comfortable with myself and happy with who I am.  I think that when you know for sure in your heart that you're a good person, you don't worry about that sort of shit.  I've never taken that stuff personally, it's not my problem.  But I still lost my best friend.  The person who knew me better than anyone, whose company I adored, who I shared a million zillion memories with and loved with every single fibre of my being.  You get the idea he was more than a friend, right?  He was my everything, my absolute everything.  

If there is one thing I've learned the past few years is that I'm not very good at being sad.  I always seem to find far too many things to be happy about!  There's no such thing as a fake smile with me; if you've seen me smiling or laughing these few past months it's been genuine.  I've just been overwhelmingly sad on the inside at the same time.  You see the problem when you've shared a million zillion memories with someone is that they are everywhere.  In my house.  I can do something as simple as opening a drawer and one will pop up without warning.  On the beach.  In my car.  In every poxy song on the radio.  Everywhere, I just couldn't escape it.

And then something happened which completely blew my mind.  You may have seen me post that Ali and I were recently guests on Mike King's radio show, talking about Ali's experiences with depression and suicide prevention among his peers.  At this point I was at my lowest, not least because going to the show and staying overnight in the city meant revisiting so many of the old haunts I used to love.  It killed me but I made myself do it and somehow I managed to survive until it was time for the show without collapsing into a sobbing heap in the middle of Aotea Square and for the next two hours I was sat completely awestruck in the company of the most incredible man I've ever met.  I have never met anyone with such absolute humanity as Mike King.  I can't even find enough words to describe him but I know he had a similarly profound effect on Ali.  During the time we spent with him, he made me question everything I had ever known and somehow managed to change my whole perspective on life; most notably on people and the way we treat one another.  And all I've been able to think since is 'I want to help this man.  I want to help him make a difference'.  I bloody will too, you'll see.

The day I got back from the show I realised something had to change.  I couldn't live in this town with all these ghosts any more, hiding myself away.  I needed to get out of the house, go for a walk and clear my head.  So that's what I did.  I downloaded as many happy songs as I could think of which had no memories attached that I couldn't handle and off I went.  Every day I walked anything up to 15km a day, walking off my grief, walking off the pain.  I can see a whole heap of people reading this now and thinking 'Ahh, so THAT'S why she walks everywhere!'  It was like a compulsion and during this time I didn't give a stuff if I got nothing else done all day, as long as I did that.  You know me, if there's a positive to come out of anything I'll always find it and I realised that so much good has come out of this horrible time.  I have learned to be kinder.  I have learned to be more compassionate.  I have learned never to judge.  I have learned that an opinion is just that - an opinion.  I have come out of this a far better person now than I ever was before.

My daily walks are still a compulsion.  But now I just do it because it makes me feel good.  I love the music, I love the sunshine and I love everything and everyone I see when I'm walking.  I'm not on auto pilot anymore - in fact I feel more 'me' than I ever have in my whole life.  Just to seal the deal the other day I finally did something I've always wanted to do - I got a tattoo!  Before I was always worried about what people would think but not any more and I absolutely love it.  I don't think anyone can understand what an intensely personal thing it is until you have one.  The only downside is I can see I'm going to spend the rest of my life explaining to people what it means!  Which is this - I first learned the word 'attraversiamo' and its meaning when I read 'Eat Pray Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert.  It's one of my favourite books and thanks to her I'll probably go off and climb a mountain in Tibet and hang out with some monks one day.  Anyway, there are many ways you can interpret 'attraversiamo' - it's direct translation is 'let's cross over' but the philosophy behind it is more like 'transform yourself'.  I figure that word sums up what I've been doing these past few years pretty well. As for the little swallow?  That's for my dad.  He passed away at 57 and he loved swallows. Anyone who knew him well associated him with the little birds, he was always fascinated by them and would watch them migrate south every year from my childhood home in England and watch and wait for them to return.  He was the kindest, most gentle man to ever walk this earth.  I feel like he's always watching over me and having him represented on my arm reminds me of the fact that he was taken much too soon so I should really make the most of every day because my life is a privilege.  

To anyone still left reading this ramble, thank you for letting me spill my soul everywhere.  I'm in a good place now, really good and I have all sorts of things I can't wait to tell you about and show you! I just really had to get this out of my head first.  I remember reading a little while ago something which said 'One day someone will come along and hug you so tight all your broken bits will stick back together'.  At the time I felt so dead inside I laughed, what a crock!  But now I believe it.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

View from the top

What a wonderful start to the day!  Actually to be honest, since I've started walking every day to do my errands and leaving the car at home, EVERY day is a wonderful day.  I have my routine down pat now.   We live at one end of town and Ali's school is at the other so every morning when he drives to school I hop in the passenger seat.  When he arrives at school I jump out and walk the 5km back home again, taking care of any errands along the way.  There are so many benefits of doing this! Obviously it saves us money running two cars but another bonus is because I'm so much calmer and rush less I no longer forget things.  I keep my trusty blue butterfly backpack by the door and anything I may need to post, drop off or whatever gets put straight in there, no more annoying extra trips every time I forget something.  It also prevents me from buying anything not absolutely necessary because I don't want to have to carry it home!  Although saying that it can be pretty good weight training at times!

Best of all however, it's so good for the soul!  Just the increased exercise and fresh air makes you feel good - but it's much more than that.  Getting out and about each day has made me realise how truly lucky I am to live in such a wonderful little community.  Take this morning for example.  I hopped out of the car and as soon as I begin my walk everyone starts waving and smiling at me.  I continued through town and popped my head in at one of the local real estate agents on the corner where my friend works for a daily greeting and a giggle.  Heading out of town I pop in to the supermarket to pick up a loaf of bread and run into lots of wonderful people along the way, such as a new friend I met recently who among many other things told me where I could get my new vegetable garden filled with mulch for free!  Because I never forget anything any more, I was also able to pass on a bracelet I sold last week to another friend I bumped into in the next aisle as it was already in my backpack, saving both of us another trip!

From there I popped into Bunnings and had a lovely chat with the store owner who told me the best places to get free rocks for the rockery I'm building and also got some very handy advice on the most economical way to grow vegies for my garden, before wending my merry way home.  Before I started walking, none of this would have happened but now every day is more fun and brings something new and rewarding.  So simple, yet so positive in so many ways.

As for weekends, I walk as long as I like!  Last weekend was a real 'silver tea set' weekend where I made the most of every opportunity and stepped out of my comfort zone.  On Saturday I went for a big long walk for a couple of hours, then got home and decided to build a rockery.  As you do.  I'll show you the before and after photos when I've finished but it's always been a horribly messy area which has really bugged me so I decided to finally do something about it.  I had a roll of weed mat which I bought last year and never used and it was just enough to cover the space I needed.  Next came the rocks which were free and hiding under my house!  The previous owners at some stage must have stashed them under the deck and there were heaps; more than enough for me to cover all the edges of the weed mat as well as the joins.  I would have loved to know how many kilometres I must have walked lugging flipping great rocks backwards and forwards!  It was a great workout, not to mention all the times I had to crawl under the house on my belly to reach them and carefully back out again!  I still need to finish the job but Ali is helping me with that and our efforts will save us at least $200 on buying rocks.  As it is, the improvement already is already brilliant!

I also weeded and decluttered a large corner of the garden and built a compost bin and by the time I had finished for the day I was exhausted but it was time to get ready for a birthday party.  This was a big deal for a hermit like me.  I avoid this sort of thing like the plague and I tried my best to get out of it but to no avail and thank goodness I didn't because I had the most brilliant time!  I met some lovely new friends, caught up with some old ones I hadn't seen for ages and danced almost continuously for over four hours!  Once again it brought home to me how many wonderful people I am privileged to know.   Had I not vowed to myself to be a silver tea set girl, I would have missed out on a whole lot.

Sunday dawned a bit chilly and blustery and thanks to all the exertion of the day before I was literally barely able to move!  But there was a day to be made the most of so I dragged myself out for a walk. Goodness only knows what people must have thought as I struggled to get my legs to work for the first half a kilometre, to use my mum's expression I must have looked as though I'd done something nasty in my trousers!  Thankfully my muscles did eventually warm up though and I ended up walking for hours.  The wind dropped, the sun blazed down and it was lovely!  So I decided to take a leaf out of my own blog and climb the big hill to check out the view.  Here's what I saw:

     Our little township

Where the estuary meets the sea

The estuary.  Well, a bit of it!

All in all it was a really lovely weekend and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, happy that I had made the most of it.  

Last week I wrote how I had started to follow Wendy Gower's example of making a note of all the money saving things I did.  There ended up being so many I couldn't possibly keep track of them all! However I can definitely vouch for it being a worthwhile exercise, it really does make you realise what a wonderful job many of us do at saving money in countless areas on a zillion things.  I won't share them all with you but some of my favourites for the week were buying a pair of unusual pink and grey genuine Converse shoes in immaculate condition on Facebook for $10 (my others were literally falling apart).  I was chuffed to bits with this bargain, the seller could have easily got $50 for them!  

I also took in a brand new pair of Lee jeans which I had also bought from our Facebook Buy and Sell group to a local seamstress to be taken in and up as they were way too big.  Even after the extensive alterations I ended up with an awesome pair of jeans for just $25 and tailored to fit me perfectly!  Flea treatments for pets are a necessary evil but a bloody expensive one, especially as only one type works on our allergy-prone dog so I was really glad when my shopping around saved me almost $18 on Comfortis last week.  I got them online from a website called and they definitely deserve a plug as their service is just as brilliant as their prices.  They have a member of staff available on instant chat to answer any queries, delivery is super fast and they even send a personal follow-up email to ensure you were happy with your purchase.  Highly recommended and I'll definitely be using them for all my everyday pet needs from now on!  I also got a free haircut with a free bottle of hair oil to take home and paid only $14 for top make-up by purchasing what I needed from our local Sunny's variety store, rather than the $49 'special 25% off' price I had sourced from Farmers online.  I sold $90 worth of stuff on Facebook myself which paid for petrol and numerous other things without having to touch my bank account and to top it all off, after grumbling about going over my grocery budget the previous week, I managed to stay within my magic $80 figure last week, woohoo!

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Silver Tea Set Girl

My mum recently gave me a silver tea set.  Which is kind of funny because I've never drunk a cup of tea or coffee in my whole life!  Even so, I really rather like it, from the sugar bowl and tea strainer to the teeny tiny spoons.  It kind of reminds me of days gone by, when people did things 'proper'.  Of course the silver tea set (or in my grandmother's case the china tea set with the ivy pattern and gold trim) only came out on special occasions.  Why do we do that, do you think?  Save all the good things for special occasions?  Why can't we feel special every day?  Why do we keep the good stuff locked away, out of sight, out of mind?  What exactly are we waiting for?

I don't really know where today's post is going, it's just something that was in my head that I had to get out.  I think it's to do with mortality.  Over the past two weeks, five people I know have passed away and another is just hanging in there.  Only one of them did not have cancer.  The youngest was just 35.  To hear of his passing was a huge jolt and as the sun beamed in through my window that Saturday morning when I read the news, all I could think of was that he would never get to enjoy a beautiful day like this again.  All the many, many things he would never get to do that I still could.  And I realised that for a long time I hadn't been making the most of my life.

So I jumped out of bed, got dressed and went for a walk in the sunshine.  I walked and walked for hours.  I had a great long chat on the roadside with one of my favourite people, picked up a random toddler called George having a tantrum on the pavement and delivered him back to his family, saw a lady with rainbow hair, breathed in the salty sea air, saw starfish of every shape and size - so many little things which made me happy.  Then that afternoon I got out in the garden for the first time in months and months and had fun sprucing up the deck and yard, moving things around and potting up plants.  By the time I'd finished I was exhausted!  That night I slept better than in longer than I can remember.

I realise all these things will seem like absolutely nothing, but you see for the longest time I hadn't done anything.  Not really.  I'd just been living on auto pilot, going through the motions, getting through each day.  And if I'm honest, most days I couldn't wait for them to end.  Every single part of my energy was so focused on where the next dollar was coming from and how I was going to survive that in the end that was all I did.  Survive, but not live.  I didn't want to see anyone, talk to anyone, I shut everyone out.  You probably wouldn't think that was the case with me being such a Facebook addict but Facebook is different; you don't have to deal with 'people'.  You can do and say all the right things without anyone ever knowing that you didn't have the physical or mental energy to get out of bed and join the human race today.

That weekend I got my mojo back.  I also realised it was the first true weekend off I'd had since probably the start of the year.  Every other weekend I was either working or writing my arse off trying to make money when I didn't have work.  It felt so wonderful to finally have some free time and do something productive, something fun, something for ME that I made a rule never to do that again.  From now on, weekends will not be spent slogging my guts out unless it's in the garden, or bush walking.  Talking of walking, ever since that day I have been leaving my car at home and walking everywhere whenever possible.  I used to love walking, it's good for the soul but I'd stopped doing that a long time ago too.  In just two weeks I've lost weight, got my fitness back and am so much happier in myself.  And why wouldn't I be?  Today I actually counted how many people waved and said hello to me as I walked from one end of town to the other - it was 42!  Not a bad effort for a hermit!

And another thing, I've started wearing my armour around the place too.  You wouldn't guess it to look at me but I am!  I'm not talking about a medieval suit or a bullet proof vest though - I'm talking about my hair!  Years ago I met a very gifted psychic who told me that wearing red is like putting on a suit of armour; it brightens you up and makes you feel strong.  Unfortunately I don't own anything red but I adapted his way of thinking into something which works for me - I wear pigtails! The best thing about having happy hair is that it doesn't just make me happy, it makes other people smile too.  Seriously, try it sometime - everyone is always super nice to you when you have pigtails!

The other day Ali's dad took him and a friend hunting.  His friend had never been hunting before and as they reached the top of a big hill and took in the view both the boys were amazed at the view before them.  'Woah, this is awesome!' Ali's mate said, seriously impressed.  'What's stopping you boys from doing this every day? Nothing!' said Ali's dad.  The boys looked at each other and shrugged, knowing he spoke the truth.  The only thing which stops most of us from making the most of each day is ourselves.  I might not drink tea and I most likely never will but following the loss of so many dear friends I have made a vow to myself to be a Silver Tea Set Girl.  To my mind, this is someone who makes every day a special occasion, who takes delight in the small and simple things and doesn't have to wait for something or someone special to come along but finds something beautiful in every day just as it is.  There is so much more to life than work or money.  Sure it's important - but it should never be everything.  There are people to wave to, friends to hug, bright colours to wear, flowers to pick, miles to walk, starfish to count, hills to climb and so much more.  To my five friends who are no longer living, thank you for reminding me our time on this earth is not to be wasted.  RIP x

Monday, 14 September 2015

Jack Gets Her Groove On!

It must be said, sometimes I am my own worst enemy.  I think we all are to a certain extent aren't we? Certainly in my case it seems half the time I'm taking two steps forward and three back.  In the past week alone I've picked up a $100 fine for not paying my car rego on time and had to fork out $62 to the Medical Centre for being rushed in after hours with a suspected heart attack.  Turns out I have an irregular heartbeat, which makes sense, I'm an irregular kinda gal after all!  Even so, I don't mind telling you I shat myself.  In the hypothetical sense of course.

The good thing about the whole experience was that it made me appreciate being alive an awful lot and ever since then I have been determined not to waste a single moment.  The sucky part was I spent $162 I hadn't planned to, which was a bit of a downer after all the brilliant saving I'd been doing leading up to my near-death experience (slight exaggeration but I genuinely did think I was dying!) To be fair, I do a pretty darn good job of saving every week wherever I can but just lately I've been a lot more conscious of it and once again I have my totally unrelated but totally lovely namesake Wendy Gower to thank.  As a blogger of more than a decade, I should really be embarrassed to admit that I've probably read less than half a dozen other blogs in my whole life.  Before I started my own blog, I knew basically nothing about them and had never read another one so I had nothing to compare my own to, no guidelines.  I just rambled willy-nilly and here I am ten years later still rambling!  Not reading other blogs is by no means a conscious decision, most of the time I simply don't know they're out there or where to find them.  But anyone who knows me will also know I am a chronic Facebooker.  Put a blog where I can 'like' it so it jumps out at me and I'll read it!

Which is exactly what happened with Wendy's blog 'My Abundant Life' - I've given you the Facebook link here so you can make it jump out at you too.  Every week Wendy posts 'This Week's Frugal Tasks', listing every single thing she has done to save money and it's usually quite a list! Seeing all those savings in black and white like that really made me realise how much all the little things we do add up.  I mean, I've known that ever since my early Simple Savings days but somewhere along the line I've gotten so bogged down with everything that I kind of forgot.  After reading Wendy's blog I started making a mental note every time I did something that helped me save, whether it was walking instead of driving, using something up instead of wasting it, how many times I came up with a free solution rather than buying something - and I realised that my actions save us truckloads every single day.  I also realised something else.  For a long time I've been treating my efforts to save money like a fight - a constant battle, me against the world.  And yes, it is a hell of a battle at times.  But it's also a celebration!  I know more ways to save money than you can shake a stick at!  And every one of them is a triumph.  Every one of them is smart.  Heck I'll even go as far as to say I'M smart!  And so is Wendy and everyone else who can write a list of frugal tasks every week. We are legen - wait for it! - dary.

So ever since reading Wendy's blog I have been shaking my frugal groove thang with renewed delight and enthusiasm.  I'm not one of these militant feminists who think they can do everything - but I'll give most things a bloody good go.  Especially if it means I don't have to pay someone to do it!  So last weekend I built myself an enormous vegetable garden.  Well, it's enormous by my standards anyway.  I built it entirely from recycled timber the previous owners of Nawtypoo Cottage had left behind and it didn't cost me a cent!  I was so proud of myself because I'd been wanting to get it done for ages but didn't think I had the skill or the strength to do it - turns out I did!  It might not be pretty, I could feel my beloved late father (who was a builder) watching over me and saying 'Jesus Jack, that's a bit rough isn't it?!' But I didn't care - it was mine and I made it all by myself and it was going to be fabulous.

The catalyst for my building frenzy was last week's trip to the supermarket.  I currently receive a Working for Families tax credit from Inland Revenue for being a sole parent until Ali leaves home.  I was eligible for the maximum payout of $160 per week and I would use this for all Ali and my food, petrol for both our cars as well as other incidentals such as hair cuts, phone top-ups and care packages for Liam.  However when my work dropped off a few months ago it was cut by $60 a week.  This, as I found out makes a BIG difference.  It's a bit bloody Irish, don't you think?  'Oh, you're not earning as much as you were so we're going to take some more off you!'  Then last week I found out they were taking another $20 a week off me because I have a private child support agreement with my ex and refused to make him pay through Inland Revenue.  The reason for this is a) We've already been doing this for two-and-a-half years and it works perfectly well, both parties are happy with the arrangement and b) If I go through Inland Revenue, my ex will be made to pay more.  I don't want that to happen.  In my opinion he already pays more than enough and in addition he helps us out with things like free firewood, meat for the freezer and other things that he doesn't have to do.  I have also had sole custody of our children since our marriage ended.  I would not dream of taking any more from him and I'm stuffed if I'm going to let IRD make me.  So in the space of a couple of months my weekly Working for Families payout has now halved to just $80 per week.

Last week was my first go at trying to manage on that.  I don't HAVE to stay within it but it's a challenge I like to set myself; a matter of personal pride.  I knew it would be tough but I still thought I could do it.  I couldn't.  I went to the supermarket and spent $120 and still had barely anything.  In this shop there were no bought snacks, no cleaning products, no tea, coffee or alcohol and the only meat I bought was a pack of bacon on special.  I didn't even buy a loaf of bread; all I purchased was fruit and vegetables, shampoo, pet food and some basic ingredients I could use to make a whole bunch of other stuff.  I was really, really, really, REALLY angry.  I couldn't have shopped any better, yet I was still a whole third over my budget!  I figured if I was going to have any hope of getting my food costs down I was just going to have to beat the supermarket at their own game and the only way I could do that was by growing my own food like I used to.  Obviously I knew how to do it, but this time was going to be the first time I had done so completely from nothing and all by myself.

So the world's ugliest vegie garden was created.  A patch of lawn was dedicated and my timber frame has been built.  No photos yet!  It's going to be a work in progress because I have to find the cheapest and most practical way to prepare the soil and fill it and one of the unfortunate things about setting up a garden is that it does require some outlay but it will be worth it because I never want to rely on the supermarket for fresh produce again.  If you have fruit and vegies in the garden you can always eat. Besides, getting out in the garden is good for the soul!  I just need to put in some serious weight training if I'm ever going to be able to get my spade through the grass and dig up the turf.  Methinks I may have to find an easier alternative!  I won't give up on that just yet though - after all, I always thought I wouldn't be able to build a garden either!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Friends don't let friends go broke

One of the most enjoyable parts when writing the $21 Challenge book with Fiona was compiling the chapter on 'Minor Hurdles'.  This was a section dedicated to all the different types of people who for whatever reason do their best to sabotage your efforts to save money and get ahead.  Some of them had no idea what an effect their behaviour was having, but others knew bloody well.  In hindsight we probably should have named the chapter 'Selfish Bastards' but 'Minor Hurdles' was more politically correct.  By identifying the people around us into different 'types', readers were easily able to identify who their own saboteurs were and how best to deal with them.  Once you become aware of who is affecting your financial progress and how they do it, they no longer have any power over you and their future efforts to trip you up become just that - a minor hurdle.  Let them try their darnedest!  You just keep doing your thing.

Like many parents, one of the greatest things about being a mother to my kids is being able to give them the gift of my hindsight now, in the hope that they will use it to their advantage a good 20 years earlier than I did and learn from the mistakes I made.  Of course in my case it particularly comes down to money - Ali and I talk about money a LOT.  In fact as I said to Rob Stock earlier this week when he was interviewing me for an article about teaching money skills to kids, I feel sorry for the poor guy!  Since becoming the only child still living at home with me, he gets bombarded with it 24/7!  But boy, what a valuable insight he has also got.  Whether he decides to take any of that knowledge into his adult years and make the most of it, well that's up to him but I was pretty chuffed the other day when I went into his room while he was at school and found a wishlist neatly divided into two columns: 'Things Alistair Wants' and 'Things Alistair Needs'.  Looks like somebody learned something from his mum's class at school the other day!  At the top of the 'Needs' list was 'Pay off car',  which as of this morning was proudly ticked off as he made the final payment to his brother.  One goal down!

'From now on all your money is your own!' I told him.  'Yeah, except now I don't have any.  I only have around $10 left from my last pay', he said.  'What?  But you worked three days last week and you only had to pay Liam $50!  Where's the rest gone?'  'Gahhh at the frigging cafe!' he grimaced, 'I spent like $30 there yesterday'.  'You did WHAT?  What the hell did you buy?' I asked him.  'Well it's $5 each for a large coffee and then I shouted two of my mates something as well'... he went on.  That explains why he didn't eat any of his lunch yesterday, I had to throw that away this morning too, even more unnecessary waste!  'Oh Ali we've been through this before - you DON'T have to spend all your money on your mates!  That is not what you work for!  I thought you learned this last month when you complained you spent all your wages on Red Bull and Indian food!' I reminded him.  'Ugh, yeah I forgot about that', he sighed.  'I can't believe I spent $60 at the Indian restaurant!'  'So when you put it like that, you worked four hours at the fishing shop to buy you and your friends lunch.  Is that what you slog your guts out heaving gas bottles and ice around for at work, to spend it on coffee and lunch?'  I went on.  'They have jobs too, they can bloody well pay for their own stuff if they want it!'

I didn't want to go on any more about it so left it there and drove him to school.  Normally he drives himself but as he didn't have money to put petrol in his car I offered to drive him in mine.  We hadn't long left home when we got a text.  'It's my friend, she says can I bring her and Hayley a coffee and a hot chocolate to school' he said.  'No you bloody well can't because you don't have any money and you can text her right back and tell her that!' I growled.  'Three coffees at $5 - that's $15 before you even get to school!  That is INSANE!  I don't even spend that on a bottle of wine! Don't get me wrong, everyone likes a treat and I know you like making your friends happy but YOU are the one losing out here.  You guys are making these things a staple and it's you who is footing most of the bill!' God I was angry.  I still am.  I hope he's learned his lesson, I really do but it's one I'm going to keep on at him AND his friends about until it sinks in.  You don't have to spend money on other people for them to like you.  You don't have to spend money on people just to be nice.

I probably sound like a right grumpy old cow but heaven knows I sabotaged myself for long enough to know how financially damaging it can be.  On the one hand Ali is doing really well and trying to focus on paying off his commitments so that he can be independent and afford to buy the things he needs.  On the other he is sabotaging himself big time and letting others do it too by throwing even more money away on absolute shite.  Stuff which at the end of the day has an instant gratification value of all of five minutes yet can put him behind for a good couple of weeks.  Just like I said to his class recently, from the moment you start earning your own money you have to make choices with it and one of the things which is hardest for teenagers to master is being able to think any longer term than today.  When a 17-year-old boy has money in his wallet and has a passing whim for a Red Bull and a Subway NOW, he doesn't think 'Now if I spend this now, I'm not going to be able to put petrol in my car next week'.  But he'll learn.

And let's face it, a lot of us have the same problems in our adult lives too!  Many of us have people in our household or social circle who constantly drain our bank accounts and sabotage our efforts to save.  Even more of us are our own worst enemies, saving hard all week only to think 'Ugh, what a horrible day, I just can't be bothered cooking tonight' and go and blow all the money we just saved on takeaways.  The only ones who can put an end to either of these scenarios is our own sweet selves! We all have those friends or loved ones who 'lead us astray' and if it's a problem, it's up to us to grow a pair and pull them into line instead.  No point complaining about it if we never do anything about it! The one good thing about teaching this lesson to Ali is at least I am able to lead by example; for many years I didn't.

This week is NZ Money Week and if there is one lesson I would really love for parents to teach their kids this week it's this - Friends Don't Let Friends Go Broke.  Don't take advantage of your friends and don't let them do it to you.  Stop throwing your money away on meaningless rubbish and go and find something else to do together instead.  Look after yourselves and each other and nobody ever has to miss out.  Save your money for all the amazing stuff you still have ahead of you because you will not BELIEVE the cool things will be able to do in the future if you just stay strong and hang onto it. Here endeth today's lesson :)

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Pulling rabbits out of hats

Remember how I said in a recent blog that we couldn't afford to have someone else live with us?  As it turns out it's pretty much ended up happening anyway!  After years of living in a male dominated household, Nawtypoo Cottage has recently become the second home to a little pocket rocket called Hayley - Ali's girlfriend.  She lives over half an hour away but they both go to the same school in the same town and she does a lot of after-school activities here so a lot of the time it just makes sense both logically and economically for her to stay.  She loves our dogs and cats (which is a huge bonus because they are 'eccentric' to say the least) and nicer still, she loves my food.  Which I'm extremely thankful for as on the one hand it's a pleasure to have someone to cook for who really appreciates it - however on the other hand I have to be even more creative than ever at making delicious and filling meals which are made out of next to nothing!  But it's a good thing, it's got me brushing up on my skills and digging out long forgotten recipes as well as trying out new things.  I thought I would share a few favourites from the past week which have all been given the Ali and Hayley stamp of approval!

'Algud Pizza'

This is what I make when I have bugger all meat in the house and not much more than a tin of spaghetti in the pantry but don't have the time or the budget to go to the supermarket.  It's super easy (the scone dough contains no yeast so no mucking around waiting for it to rise) super cheap and surprisingly tasty considering you can actually make it contain so little.  Or in Ali's words 'This pizza is algud!' (teenage speak for 'all good' - high praise indeed) - hence the name!  The recipe below makes one large pizza so multiply the quantity to make however many you need.  I managed to stretch three rashers of bacon, a single onion and two tins of spaghetti into three huge pizzas for Ali, Hayley and me and we could all only eat half each, oops!  Fortunately they refrigerate and reheat really well!


1 cup self raising flour
1/2 cup cheese, grated
1 tsp mixed herbs (or whatever you have; basil, oregano, sage and marjoram all work well)
Approximately 1/4 cup of milk 
Toppings of your choice, whatever you would normally use to make pizza or just chuck on a tin of spaghetti for a kid friendly version (which incidentally adults love too!)


Mix together the flour and herbs in a large bowl.  Slowly add the milk and mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until you have a firm scone dough (feel free to add a little more milk or flour as necessary until you get a consistency you're happy with).  Roll out on a floured surface to around 25cm, then pinch all around the edges to make a 'lip'.  Preheat your oven to 220C and carefully place your pizza base onto a greased baking sheet.  Put all your toppings on however you want them, then sprinkle with the cheese and pop into the oven for around 10 minutes until the toppings are cooked and the base is golden brown.  

Sausage Casserole

Apologies for not having a picture to go with this, we ate it all before I thought of sharing the recipe! But as far as recipes for sausages go, this one is actually quite posh and respectable and certainly 'good enough' to serve to guests. My mum came home from work one day when I was a youngster to find I had gone through her recipe books to find something I could make for dinner with the sausages she had left out to defrost.  I thought I was helping, she thought I'd gone mad!  Fortunately my brave experiment paid off and the result is a dish which is really economical and simple, yet full of flavour. Don't leave out the sage though, it really makes it!


6 sausages (or thereabouts) I like the pre-cooked ones but any will do
Splash of oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 - 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
3 - 4 sliced potatoes (or more, enough to cover the top of your dish)
Salt and pepper
Large pinch sage


First preheat the oven to 200C.  Heat the splash of oil in a frying pan and brown the sausages.  Leave to cool a little, then cut each one in half and place in the bottom of a large casserole dish.  Scatter the carrots and onions on top of the sausages, then layer the sliced potatoes on top of that.  Pour your tin of tomatoes over the potatoes and sprinkle with the salt, pepper and sage.  Cover and bake in the oven for around 45 minutes to 1 hour until the potatoes are cooked through.

*Note - Sometimes when I'm feeling lazy and want the dish to cook faster I leave out the sliced potatoes and just cook and mash them separately then serve with the rest.  Either way it's yum!

French Shepherd's Pie   

I made this for dinner last night and was chuffed to bits when Hayley presented me with her empty plate and said 'That was AMAZING!  Honestly it was SO good!'  And, I have to say it is, this is one of Liam's favourites from way back but I definitely can't take credit for the recipe.  As many Simple Savings members will know, this was originally shared by much-loved and very savvy member Poppet.  As you can see it makes a BIG pie! It’s the perfect example of how far you can make a little meat stretch and is also a wonderful way to use up any leftover sour cream or cream cheese in the fridge.  I haven't met anyone who doesn't love it!


500g minced beef or lamb (or thereabouts)
6 large potatoes, cooked and mashed
Splash of oil 
1 onion, chopped 
2 cloves (or 2 tsp) garlic, crushed 
250g sour cream (or cream cheese – or however much you have, less is fine) 
Handful of grated cheese 
Large pinch mixed herbs

First, bring a large pot of potatoes to the boil and cook until tender. Drain and mash and set aside. Next, preheat the oven to 180C. Heat the oil over medium heat in a separate saucepan. Throw in your onions and garlic and fry gently for a few minutes until softened. Add your mince and brown all over, stirring frequently. Then add the mince and onion mixture to your cooked, mashed potatoes. Mix together well, then add your sour cream (or cream cheese) and mix well again – don’t worry if it looks a bit runny! Pour everything into a large, rectangular dish and sprinkle the grated cheese over the top. Scatter your mixed herbs over the top to finish, if using. Pop in the oven for 20-30 minutes until golden on the top. Serve with vegetables or salad. Too easy!

I think that's enough recipes for one day, we all know I'm no talented food photographer!  But I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!  And for those of you who missed my Facebook post the other day, you can see a photo of Liam and his gorgeous girlfriend here at their recent uni ball.  I have to take my hat off to Tiana; in just a few months she has succeeded where I failed for 18 years - getting my beloved eldest to cook!  

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Politically Incorrect Teaching Blog

For many years I have carried a dark secret.  When I was 16 years old, my English teacher Mr Janes locked me in the store cupboard of his classroom, along with three or four other pupils.  We had to stay in there ALL day and were unable to talk above a whisper in case the other students going about their work completely unaware in the classroom outside heard us.  Not a soul ever knew we had been there. Was this child abuse?  Nope, quite the opposite - our teacher was helping us to pass our final year of English!  There were a few of us who, due to our own lack of self discipline had got so behind in our essays, there was no way we were going to catch up left to our own devices. Unconventional as it was, Mr Janes knew the only way we would manage it was to be physically put in a situation where we couldn't do anything else!  So a secret plan was hatched and early one morning into the cupboard we went.  I wrote four essays that day and left school a short while later with an A in English.

You don't forget teachers like Mr Janes.  I still have a photo of him somewhere sitting at his desk with a huge smile about to throw a paper plane at me.  I think when you have a real love of the subject you teach it just shines through.  Like the English teacher I had after I left school and went on to college, Mr Tomlin.  Tall, craggy and always seemingly dressed in brown and green he reminded me of a tree - but a tree who brought the whole classroom alive.  We would all sit mesmerised as he sat and regaled stories such as 'Gawain and the Greene Knight' and excerpts of Homer's 'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey'.  Thanks to him I began a love of Greek mythology and Celtic history which has never left me.  We were all heartbroken when he left.  His replacement was a tiny woman who liked to shout a lot.  She didn't like boys and although I wasn't a boy she didn't like me either.  The classroom no longer came alive, instead we just sat around a table taking it in turns to read passages of books in bored monotone.  It wasn't long before the college canteen became a far nicer place to spend my time than in her class and in the end I stopped bothering to go at all.  Had Mr Tomlin remained my teacher I have absolutely no doubt I would have left college with another A.  As it was, I dropped out.  Amazing what a difference one teacher can make.

Back then the sum total of my financial education at school was how to write out a cheque and fill out a deposit slip.  Sex education wasn't much better but at least it was funny and we got to laugh at the poor teacher who got the job of instructing our class of delinquents how to put a condom on a banana.  I never in a million years thought I would one day be standing up in front of a class myself, much less teaching financial literacy but that's exactly what I did last week when I made my teaching debut.  To say it was nerve wracking was a bit of an understatement.  I thought I still had another week to prepare when I was called one afternoon driving two hours from home and was asked if I could change the day to the following morning.  'But I've got no notes!' I wailed.  'I haven't had a chance to prepare,  I'll have to wing it!'  'That's no problem, I'm sure you'll be fine', said the voice at the other end.  Just to top it off, among the students casting their critical teenage eyes over me was none other than my own son.  Understandably he was as overjoyed at the prospect as I was.  I got up early the next morning and scrawled down a few notes and hoped that would do.  As the Year 12's and 13's wandered curiously into the classroom, another teacher came in to tell me his Year 11 students were also going to be joining us as well, as he thought they should hear what I had to say.  Oh heck, what had I let myself in for?

As it turned out, what I had let myself in for was an hour of what was really quite fun!  The students were lovely and attentive, they asked questions, they didn't fall asleep or spend the entire session playing with their phones as I had expected and we had a lot of laughs - some at my expense and rightly so but mainly because having raised two kids their age I could speak their language and everything I talked about I was able to offer an example in terms and scenarios which were relatable to them.  Just like the many adults I had given workshops to years before, I was able to scan their faces and reactions to see what was pushing their buttons.  Seeing the light bulbs literally go on in some of their heads was hugely rewarding.  Before I knew it, my first class had come to an end.  I knew it wasn't perfect, I was still pretty rusty after several years' break from public speaking but it was all still there and even Ali admitted that for a class which had been done almost entirely off the top of my head, it was pretty good.  Praise indeed!

The best part however came in the days which followed.  I was surprised and chuffed to receive a message from a student who asked if I would possibly be able to do a class just for Year 13's about how to survive after leaving home with regard to smart cooking and shopping and so on. ' Of course!' I said.  Then I received a message from another student and then another.  Then parents started contacting me to say how much their kids had learned and could I please teach them this and that and when were the self esteem classes starting because their son or daughter really needed them?  It was brilliant to receive so much feedback after just one class and I can't wait to do more.  I'm not sure I could ever aspire to being a teacher of such amazing calibre and influence as Mr Tomlin.  I can't imagine ever dressing like Mrs Tiggywinkle and shouting in a squeaky voice at my students like his replacement either, heaven forbid!  But unconventional like Mr Janes?  I think that could be me. Although in this day and age I wouldn't try locking my students in a cupboard, no matter how much I cared about them passing my subject, can you imagine how that would go down in today's society? I'd get struck off in a heartbeat and sued by legions of angry parents!  But hey, look at me.  I survived the cupboard and I'm still writing 25 years later out of choice.  

Even if I only managed to teach one thing from that class which would stick in those kids' minds and help them succeed a little more in later life I would be happy.  But I learned a lot from that class too. These are just a few things I gleaned from that session, I thought that parents and readers may be interested to know:

1. Kids have no concept of how THEIR money and what they do with it right now relates to their future.  They don't think about things like buying houses, investing or retirement, it might as well be a million miles away.  Money education in young people needs to focus on things which are a lot closer to home.  They understand a lot - but only if it directly affects them and where they are at right now. Anything more complicated or long term, you might as well be talking to yourself because they really don't care.  They need to come to grips with how to manage their money day to day before they can even think about 10 or 20 or 50 years time.  But once they have those skills down pat, they're set for life.

2. Kids get told they have to save money, but nobody really explains WHY in a way that they actually give two hoots about.  It's no wonder they find the concept so unimportant and uninspiring when nobody ever tells them what is in it for them.  THAT is what they want to know!  Let's face it, that is what teenagers want to know about EVERYTHING.  You can literally see the penny drop once someone explains to them what they will get out of it.  

3. At least 50% of the students have jobs, but aside from the odd few putting petrol in their vehicles, the rest of their money is disposable.  They have no concept whatsoever of how the money THEY earn plays a vital part in them being able to get to uni and so on.  Student allowance is not guaranteed.  Year 12 students need to be saving the money they earn now to enable them to afford to support themselves when they go on to uni at the end of Year 13.  Kids don't realise how much it costs to go to uni.  They don't realise that their parents may not be able to support them with things like accommodation and that student allowance isn't a given.  The focus is always on passing NCEA and gaining University Entrance but not the financial implications of achieving this.  Because of this lack of information there are kids with uni aspirations every year who get a heck of a fright when they gain their UE and then realise to their horror they don't have a hope in hell of going.  How heartbreaking is that?  For those who don't go to uni, they have no concept how they need to save their money for all the things in life which continually go wrong such as needing to replace your car tyres or copping a parking fine.

4. Terms such as 'debt', 'interest', 'budget' and so on have absolutely no meaning or relevance to most teenagers.  It's like when I was a kid and we used to get told to save money for a rainy day.  What the hell is that supposed to mean?!  Kids need to know how to save money on the things they come across every day - the things they do, touch, eat, drink and want.  The other stuff just bounces off, doesn't resonate.

5. Nobody tells kids how tough it is to be on a benefit.  How depressing it is inside a WINZ office and how being on a benefit can make you feel about two inches tall.  There are plenty of kids who think it doesn't matter if they don't know what to do when they leave school because they know there is such a thing as a benefit and they think they can sit back all day.  They don't realise that being on a benefit can mean the difference between putting petrol in your car or turning on a heater to keep warm.  They don't realise that WINZ cut you no slack and will nag them constantly to find work, that their lives will be full of appointments and training and if they don't make the effort to find work and PROVE they have done so, then WINZ will find it for them and they may well be forced into doing a job they hate.  Even the teachers didn't know that!  But maybe you can't unless you've been there.

The above is just the tip of the iceberg.  What my experience so far has taught me more than anything is that kids worry about a lot of stuff that they are either not voicing or not being taught.  It's not rocket science, it's simple every day smart money management and survival skills.  My first class made kids think 'shit, I didn't know that!' and they really want to learn more.  Which is brilliant for someone like me who has all the time in the world to teach it to them!  Oh - and Mr Janes, if you ever happen to be reading this?  I totally forgive you for locking me in the cupboard!  However I still haven't forgiven you for locking me in the cupboard a second time with Andrew Burgon on my birthday...

Friday, 21 August 2015

The Pursuit of Happiness

What an incredible, twisty-turny week it's been.  I'm only here catching my breath now because I'm in bed sick!  As it is I'm not sure where to start, so much has happened and it's all been so fast - but I'll do my best.  I guess the best place to start is with Ali, because pretty much none of the events of this week would have come about if it wasn't for him.  I've written before about how big this kid's heart is and never more than when it comes to his friends.  So I wasn't at all surprised when he went screaming off in my car last weekend to rush to the aid of one of his close mates.  A lot of kids talk to Ali about their problems.  He has an amazing way of looking at the world and always knows the right thing to say.  I knew he would be able to help his friend and he did.  Even so I was more than a little perturbed when he turned up a couple of hours later with the guy and all his belongings and announced that 'he needs to live with us for a while'.

Don't get me wrong, this guy is a great kid!  He has a good heart, enormous responsibilities way beyond his years and a genuine desire to get ahead in life.  Unfortunately everyone and everything was standing in his way of being able to achieve that.  I wanted nothing more than to help him - but live with us?  Embarrassed as I was to admit it, I just couldn't afford to feed and care for another person.  All night I lay awake worrying how we were going to manage.  Ali and I had just come through the toughest couple of months we had known.  We had had barely any income for over two months, yet we were surviving and now with a brand new venture about to begin and hopefully take off, this time was absolutely crucial.  Bringing another person into the equation was a huge risk and one that we just couldn't afford to take.  Not for anyone.  

I explained all this to Ali and he understood totally.  But how was he going to tell his friend that he couldn't stay longer than the weekend?  It broke his heart but somehow he found the words.  I was proud of him, it must have been a very hard thing to do and as he prepared to leave I also did my best to explain that it was nothing personal, that I was working my butt off trying to provide Ali and me with some security but I wasn't quite there yet and I didn't feel able to provide him with the level of care that I normally would and felt he deserved.  Just like Ali, he totally understood.  'It's OK, my mum can't feed me either', he shrugged with a smile.  Just like that my heart broke.  Oh hell.  'Is she getting help?'  I asked him.  'I don't know', he replied.  I told him that there were a couple of places that they could get help from in the area with food parcels and that he must let me know if they weren't receiving anything and I would put them in touch with him.  I looked past him into the bedroom, where the spare bed had been made with almost army-like precision and once again my heart broke.  This was a 'bad kid?'  What sort of bad kid makes their bed so beautifully?  It took all my willpower not to call them back and say 'OK, you can stay' but I told myself he would be better off going back home and working out his problems.

Shortly after Ali came back and lay down on his bed with his head in his hands.  'What's up?' I asked.  'I feel terrible that I couldn't help my mate', he said.  'But you did!  You were there for him when he needed you and you gave him a place to stay', I said.  'But it's not enough, I wanted to do so much more!' he replied.  'Whatever I try to do something or someone always gets in the way.  I don't have any money because every cent I get has to go on paying off my car.  And I can't even drive my car because I don't have any money for petrol!  And I wish I hadn't wasted so much money on food and Red Bull, it's just stupid', he growled in frustration.  'Unfortunately that's how we learn the hard way', I smiled in sympathy.  'We all do it.  But think of the positives!  You're only $150 away from owning your own car.  You've been paying it off since February and in a couple of weeks you'll be done and it will be all yours and from then on your money will be your own.  It's a good car and you got it for a really good price.  And at least you HAVE a car!  Think about your friends, when do you think most of them will ever be able to get a car?  They don't even have anyone to teach them to drive!'  That swiftly put a different perspective on things.

We sat there for ages, putting the world to rights and we talked a lot about his friends and other people we knew and what so many of them had to live with.  I remembered a quote I had seen not long before which said 'If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back'.  'Exactly.  But that's why I feel so bad, I just don't feel I did enough', Ali said sadly.  I told him that he had done a lot more than he realised and that even the smallest act of kindness was never wasted but he still wasn't convinced.  One thing I did manage to get through to him is that sometimes, just like in our case, you just had to look after yourself first.  Because if you don't look after yourself, you can't look after anyone else.  It didn't make him feel any better, but at least it made sense.  Even so, for the next couple of days he was still down on himself and continued to beat himself up for 'not doing enough'.  The more I heard about his friend, the more I wondered what I could do to help him and others like him.  Over the last five years of raising teenagers my boys and I had dealt with a lot. Kids who didn't want to go home because their parents were likely to be drunk and aggressive. Drugs, drugs and more drugs in either the kids or their parents.  Kids who were always getting kicked out of home and made to feel unwanted or a 'problem' or 'bad'.  Kids who only had to walk in the door from school and were greeted with a tirade of name calling using language too offensive for even this potty mouth.  In the past two years alone we had dealt with four suicidal teens and five different kids who had asked if they could live with us.  What they all had in common was that they could all talk to Ali, they could all talk to me and that we had been able to help them all.  In addition I had also managed to talk three of my adult friends out of suicide on more than one occasion.  It wasn't rocket science, just instinct, natural optimism, and a knack for being able to find the right words.  And around 4am one morning I had the answer.

When it was eventually time to get up a few hours later, I asked Ali 'Weird question, but does anyone teach you anything like positive thinking at school?  Self esteem, how to feel good about yourself, that kind of thing?'  'Um, no?' he said.  'We have these kind of merit card things that we get if we do something good but that's all'.  'Do you think it would be a good idea if it was in schools?'  I asked him, 'Would it be valuable?'  'Yeah.  Yeah I do', he replied.  Now this was coming from someone who does not mince words.  If it was a bad or stupid idea he would tell me in an instant but his response was quite the opposite and we both agreed it was from around Year 9 that the wheels start to fall off, along with the warm, fuzzy nurturing that younger students get to enjoy.  As it happened I had a meeting at the local school that very morning to talk more about the upcoming money classes so while I was at it I broached the subject and asked if they would be interested in me teaching some positive thinking and self esteem tactics to Years 9 - 13.  'Yes, we would!  We should get you in this term!' came the reply.  

It was lovely to see I was on the right track and the next day I had another meeting with the principal of another school.  I told him of the many situations I had witnessed and dealt with and coming from a small town felt that surely it must be the same for him, being in a larger area with so many more students.  He agreed and said in his experience the child's home and family environment made no difference - the cases of low self esteem and depression were just as much there in children who were nothing but loved and supported than those who were abused and neglected.  However he didn't want me to do a workshop.  He wanted me to be an employee!  'I want financial education to be drip fed to my students throughout their school years', he told me.  'I want you in our school timetable and for students to be able to receive a positive reinforcement lesson every day.  They might not get it at home but we can give it to them at school.  I can tell you right now, every school in the country is going to want this'. I couldn't wait to get home and tell Ali!

I thought that sending Ali's friend back home to sort out his problems was the best place for him. Sadly it wasn't and a few days later he found himself homeless again.  This time however I knew just what to do and the next morning we drove him two hours to Auckland to start a new life with family members who would love and support him.  It was that simple, yet nobody had made it happen.  'So thanks to you, your mate is reunited with his family and thousands of kids all over NZ are going to receive classes to help them to feel better about themselves', I told Ali that night.  'Do you feel like you've done enough now?  'Not really', he replied.  'We should have taken him up to Auckland the first time!'  Honestly, some people are never satisfied but I couldn't be happier and I can't wait to get started making a difference in schools.  The more I think about it, the more it feels like the most perfect job in the world for me.  After all, I've been helping adults to see the positives for years through my writing, entirely by accident.  Imagine how much I could help people if I actually TRIED!  

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Marriage Break-Up Blog

Pardon my French but I don't know if I'm on my arse or my elbow at the moment!  What a difference a couple of weeks make.  I've gone from complaining I didn't have enough work to do, to trying to set up and market a new business, write financial workshops and classes, keep up my magazine column and write 30 press releases for clients in the US!  I'm absolutely exhausted!  But I'm also the most excited I've been in a long time.  I can't wait for these workshops to start, I want to help EVERYONE!  Funnily enough though I forgot one particular group of people, which is rather ironic because I am one and that's solo parents.  I think we deserve our very own workshop because my God some of us have it hard and so many of us have no one.  Nobody to support us, nobody to bounce ideas off or to give advice.  As many solo parents know, you can go for days without talking to another living soul except your kids!

I'm not complaining though.  As I told Sunday Star Times reporter Rob Stock the other day when he was interviewing me about how to manage financially after separation, compared to most solo parents I have it super easy.  I've never had to fight for child support from my ex, in fact we never fought about anything throughout the whole dividing up of assets and all that.  Neither of us begrudged each other having anything, it was all very civil and straightforward.  Emotionally it was hideous and very, very sad but with regard to who got what, there were no dramas.  Equally we never had to go to court, there were no bitter custody battles and our child support agreement is done privately.  In that respect I am extremely lucky.  In any other respect I'm like anyone else who has gone through a marriage break-up.  I've seen a lot of my friends go through them since I did almost three years ago and whilst everyone's individual circumstances may be different, the array of emotions and their harrowing intensity is the same.  We might not experience them all in the same order, but we experience them all.

I never really wanted to write about this stuff but a) Rob told me I should and b) after his article came out at the weekend I received some incredible, heartrending emails from solo parents who have it much, much harder than I do.  They are right and so is Rob.  Rarely does anyone know what they are truly getting into when a marriage ends.  Even if you are the one ending it and think you have done all your homework, nuk - you cannot be prepared enough.  There will always be a moment down the track when you wish you had known something from the start, some financial entitlement which could have made things so much easier, something more you could have done to protect yourself and the children who depend on you.  So for Rob, the beautiful people who wrote to me and anyone else in the same boat or thinks they ever might be, this is for you.

Being a solo parent is not all bad.  The best part is, you can be yourself.  Anyone who has ever felt unable to do this will understand what I mean.  You no longer have to justify or explain your decisions to anyone or worry what anyone else thinks. You also get to control the TV remote.  If you are lucky enough to have your kids living with you, being a solo parent can strengthen that bond more than you can ever imagine.  You're a team, it's you and them against the world.  I will always cherish and be grateful for this time I have had with my kids.  I might not get it right all the time and it can be daunting being the one always having to make the call with regard to advice or discipline or helping them to make important decisions but my God it's a brilliant feeling when you know you have done a good job.  To anyone feeling exhausted or overwhelmed parenting your kids alone, it may feel awful right now.  Awful and lonely and endless but trust me you will look back on this time one day and realise how amazing it was.  Tough, yes.  Quite possibly the hardest time of your life. But also an amazing time and a time where you will realise you are capable of so much more than you ever thought.  Although I still haven't plucked up the courage to use a chainsaw yet...

The early stuff is the scariest, which I'm sure you can imagine, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work that out.  But I don't think anyone is really ready for how scary it actually is.  At various stages you will undoubtedly ask yourself 'What the hell have I done?'  In my case the first time was when I went to WINZ.  As my boys would say, shit got real.  It was daunting doing all the paperwork, it took so long, there was so much stuff I needed to bring and remember and the whole time I was looking around thinking 'I don't belong here.  I don't belong here'.  I still hate the place and I still think that whenever I have to go there for any reason but you just have to get over yourself.  One thing you learn real quick when you're a solo parent - you do what you have to.  The scariest part of all however was my first night in my newly purchased house.  I lay there freezing my arse off in my new room, the owner of a brand new home and a brand new mortgage in my name only.  Everything was still upside down all around me, it all felt foreign and wrong and the enormity and finality of everything hit me.  But things always seem worse at night.  I got up the next morning, the sun was shining, I took our two rather bemused and disoriented dogs for a walk on the beach just like I had a thousand times before and I knew I was going to be OK.

One important tip, and it could be the most important - get legal advice.  I didn't and I was lucky, I have an ex who has been nothing but fair to me and didn't stitch me up but he could have and the majority of exes will do their darnedest to make your life more difficult. The stories I hear just break my heart.  They don't think about the fact they're depriving their kids; all they care about is getting back at you, hurting you.  Many of us, especially us more emotional women, concern ourselves more with keeping things as normal as possible for the kids and plan 'nice' things to look forward to such as finding the perfect little house to make a new start in but you have to try and think logically, not just emotionally.  Protect yourself from the outset and get reliable advice.

WINZ get a pretty bad rap but I've never found them anything less than brilliant to deal with, however many people are quick to rely solely on them for help and miss out on other avenues.  Ask other solo parents what help they get.  I've never met another solo parent who doesn't have something enlightening to share. Their situation and circumstances may not be identical to yours but nine times out of ten they will have something valuable to impart.  With regard to WINZ and Inland Revenue, communicate with them regularly.  Don't be fooled into thinking you are getting all the help you are entitled to, there is often a good chance that somebody has missed something and if they have they will take action fast.  A lot of solo parents struggle and there is nothing they can do about it.  But a lot of solo parents also struggle and there IS something they can do about it.  If you are struggling to keep yourself and your children warm and fed, GET HELP.  And if you can't get help or you don't know where to go, message me on Facebook and I will get you help.  Repeat after me, Number One Solo Parent Rule - You Need To Look After Yourself.  We are too quick to go without and make sacrifices for the sake of our kids but the bottom line is solo parents can't afford to get sick.  Because if we do we can't work.  Not only that, if you get sick there is often no one else who can look after you or your kids so you have to keep dragging yourself around getting sicker and sicker until the wheels fall off and you wind up in hospital like I did last year.  The stress of the enforced separation from my boys was almost worse than the illness itself!  So please take it from me and do whatever you can to stay healthy.  Don't ever feel guilty about it because your kids need you to be well too.

I was asked recently if I get discriminated against as a solo mother and I said no.  I never thought I did until I went job hunting but yes, I actually do.  Being the sole carer of a child deems a person unreliable apparently, you see.  I admit that this revelation made me very VERY angry.  What a load of shite! If anything, solo parents are even more reliable because they appreciate the work and need the income more than anyone!  When you consider also that my kids are old enough to drive a car, buy alcohol and vote it's bloody laughable.  But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter if your child lives with one parent or two; if that child is sick or needs you, any parent will surely put them first. But whatever, people will always think what they want.  Ignorance is bliss, I probably would have thought the same about solo parents until I became one.

It's been a long post today and I have more to share of a far more lighthearted and humorous nature but I'll save that for another day.  I still have press releases to write and workshops to plan and I can't even remember what else!  And to anyone who heard me talking to Danny Watson on Newstalk ZB yesterday?  I had NO idea I was actually live on air.  No idea at all!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Dawn of a Bright Future

My goodness how quickly things can change.  Maybe Maurice and Pat had a word to the big fella upstairs last week on my behalf, who knows?  All I know is that things couldn't be more different than they were last time I wrote.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the right thing by sharing so much about my situation but my theory is that you never know, someone somewhere out there might be reading it and have the answer.  A different perspective, a flash of inspiration, a solution that has never occurred to you or that has always been there but you were never able to see.  And after my last post, that's exactly what happened.  Melissa had the answer.  Sue had the answer. Kenia had the answer.  Wendy had the answer.  They all contacted me with regard to different things but their message was the same.  1) Stop resigning yourself to a job you'll hate and use the skills you have to enable you to do something you like.  2) Get your name out there, tell everyone you have these skills and charge for them.  3) If you can't find a job, then flipping well create one!

So with their help and input that's just what I did.  You might be thinking 'Oh come on woman, it's not rocket science, have you never thought to do that?' Actually, no!  Sure there were things I wanted to do, even dreamed of doing but either the timing wasn't right or I just didn't need to be doing them right then.  And then I just sort of forgot really.  All those years of experience, all those skills were just meaningless words on my CV.  They looked flash but they weren't being brought to life. When you think about it though, who DOES really talk about things like that?  It's certainly not a taboo subject or anything, it just never seems to come up.  You may know what a friend's job title is but you rarely know exactly what that job entails.  I realised that after my job hunting post when people were contacting me asking what skills I had and whether I had ever done such and such. In most cases I had been doing them on a professional basis for 15 years!  But whilst in 10 years of blogging I had shared everything with readers from what I was cooking for dinner to the penguins on my pyjamas, I never once talked about what I could do.

Fortunately over the space of a couple of days, the people who I mentioned above helped me to see and no sooner had I put my name out there, or someone else had done so on my behalf than the work began rolling in.  It was pretty much immediate, amazing!  A whole world of work and untapped resources I never knew existed!  And then as if that wasn't enough, something else happened.  Wendy Gower and I are not related and have never met but we have a lot in common.  Wendy first came to people's attention just over a year ago when a national current affairs program filmed a segment on her thrifty lifestyle entitled 'Is this Australia's stingiest family?'  I've never liked the word stingy but even though the title may have sounded less than complimentary, the nation embraced Wendy and her family and since then she has never looked back, helping thousands of people improve their lives and their bank balances through passing on her knowledge.  

Wendy's experience reminded me of my own several years before.  Back in 2007 Campbell Live filmed a segment all about our family and the $21 Challenge and the same thing happened.  While there were plenty of sceptics (after all you can only convey so much information about how to survive on $21 in a seven minute segment!) there were many, many more people who wanted to know more and wanted help.  Ultimately this led to the writing of the $21 Challenge book but from then on I began receiving invitations to come and talk to groups of all kinds, often fitting hundreds of people into city libraries.  One visit to a group of struggling WINZ clients was so successful, the co-ordinator went on to introduce a six-week program in her own and other branches, based around the principles of the $21 Challenge. I even taught a three-week program at the local high school, which was heaps of fun but more importantly highlighted a huge need and a gap in the education system.  Many times I thought how amazing it would be to design a money saving program which would be made available to every high school and educational institution in NZ.  Moreover, I wanted to be the one to teach it.  But it wasn't possible.  Simple Savings was a small team and we were constantly flat tack, there was already far too much to do!  So my little dream stayed just that; a dream.  Maybe once or twice a year it would pop up in my head and I would think wistfully 'Yeah, I wish I could have done that', only for it to quickly disappear back to where it came from because it was always too impossible to consider.

I can't remember if Wendy added me as a friend on Facebook or vice versa but for a while she was just one of those 'Facebook friends who you don't actually know in person but are nice to have anyway'.  Until I wrote that post and out of the blue she contacted me to say 'You still have so much knowledge.  Why don't you go and talk to people and help and inspire them to save money the way you used to?  I know firsthand there is a demand for this in NZ but I can't be everywhere.  You could do it though!'  What, you mean go and do the absolutely most rewarding, most enjoyable thing I had ever done?  The thing I had totally forgotten all about for like - ever?  The thing which I never had the time to do before but I did now?  Maybe I could! 

The next day I took the plunge and placed my first tentative post on our local Buy and Sell Facebook community page.  Immediately there was interest and as I watched it climb my inbox started to go crazy with messages.  My post hadn't been on the page ten minutes before there was a request from the careers officer at the local school to come and do a workshop.  And then another school.  And then I started to talk about the things I used to do, the groups I used to talk to and realised that whilst there may have been seven years between me being on Campbell Live and Wendy being on A Current Affair, nothing had changed.  Saving money hadn't gone out of date.  People still needed help and didn't know how to help themselves.  And most shockingly of all, there was still next to no money saving or management education in schools.  This was apparent from all the twenty-somethings who posted on the page 'Yes, this is so much needed in schools!'  'I wish I'd had something like this when I was at school' and on it went.  And bingo.  Up popped my dream.  My dream of being able to visit every school in NZ and teach school leavers how to save money.  Or just as importantly, how not to waste it.  How not to make the same stupid mistakes so many of us adults did because we didn't have anybody to teach us and WHY.  I realised there was no longer anything stopping me from doing it.  I also realised that although the timing may not have been right before, I was so much better equipped now to undertake this job through the events of the past few years.  Before when I used to talk to people about saving money, I could talk the talk and I could walk the walk but I did it out of lifestyle choice, not necessity.  I hadn't been to the desperate places many of the people I was talking to had been.  But now I have.  I can actually convey through my experience what debt feels like.  And I know that I'm going to be one hell of a teacher because of it.

I already felt I was on the right track but just to make sure I sought advice from the wonderful Glenn Larsen.  He was the miracle worker who believed in me and fought the banks to enable me to buy Nawtypoo Cottage and has been a much valued friend ever since.  I knew he would tell me straight up what he thought and awaited his visit with fear and trepidation.  I totally expected him to say 'What the hell are you thinking you mad woman?  Sell your house right now and get yourself out of this mess!'  But he didn't.  Instead he helped me devise a plan which will hopefully help to keep a roof over my head while I'm getting this new venture off the ground.  My first school workshop is August 28th and a community one for the rest of the town will be shortly after to co-incide with Money Week from August 31st - September 6th.  After that, who knows?  Support has already been incredible and I have meetings coming out of my ears.  It's a big risk but what the heck, I'm used to taking those!  And if I'm really lucky, it might just pay off.

I'm going to call my workshops the Bright Future Program.  It just kind of jumped out at me but I rather liked it because for me it has two meanings.  Hopefully I can make a difference in people's lives and help them achieve a brighter future through my teachings.  But throughout this whole crappy few years, you my readers have helped to keep me afloat by always writing to me and telling me how positive I am in my posts.  It always blows me away to hear that because I feel like I'm just whinging!  But indeed I have always prided myself on being an optimist and to hear it from others makes me stronger every time.  So Bright Future it is!