Tuesday, June 28, 2011

boys and girls come out to play

The dancing queen has a new best friend.  And that best friend happens to be a boy.  They draw together, play on the trampoline, make up dance routines, perform 'shows' - all the things one might expect of any kid of 8 or 9.

Sadly for her though, thanks to the ever growing pressure on children to become adults, they is getting rather a lot of stick from the rest of her class - ooh you have a boyfriend!  have you kissed yet? and other less than savoury, clearly misunderstood, and obviously uneducated guesses at what might be transpiring between them.

We've talked at length about this, her and I.  She is upset, somewhat confused about what the questions all mean, but also curious, knows that there is 'something' involved in this.  To start with they were almost amused by the attention shown by the other children, but now it has become a source of angst - and is causing some ripples in the classroom.  Apparently it's all about 'liking' and 'hating'.  Ick, what horrible language for children to be using in the first place!

I want to put an end to the teasing but understand it is just kids being kids.  I want to protect her from knowing 'too much' about boy/girl relationships, but get that just having a friend is probably the very early stages of understanding the differences between the genders.

I've taken the line that, when the others are teasing them, and asking such questions, they are only using language that is 'inappropriate for their age' (she likes this), and that it is just fine to walk away or tell them to stop.  I've told her I'm really glad that she has friends who are girls AND boys, and that this is a really great way to get to know all kinds of people and have good relationships as she grows older.  We talked about how important it is to keep the other friends, and not abandon them just for this new one.

I'm sure that when I was young there were similar situations - but at 8 years old? surely not!

I am becoming more and more sceptical about this modern culture of technology and easy access to knowledge that we live in.  .  It's bad enough that puberty is coming 3 or 5 years early than it did 30 years ago.

I want my children to enjoy being children for as long as they can

Sunday, June 26, 2011

financial dyslexia

The term 'financial literacy' has been bounced around for at least 10 years that I can think of - and recently was in the headlines again when MP Simon Power made the hardly-surprising announcement that the financial literacy programmes, supposed to be delivered by the Min of Ed, appeared to be either not working, or not even being delivered.
My last blog was about how couples can achieve financial compatibility when they have different money languages.  But consider this - if so many people are actually financially illiterate, then their chances of even having a money language are severely limited.
Moreover, I believe that many NZ'ers are not only illiterate when it comes to matters financial, they are actually dyslexic.
By this, I mean that despite the (admittedly minimal) education that have had about budgeting and managing money, and possibly the fact that they grew up in a house with what could be considered good financial habits, thanks to the influx of 'easy money' and our consumer based culture, the are now faced with completely skewed, even incomprehensible messages from the finance industry.

Where one person will see a dodgy finance company, or be able to understand the high risk/high return concept, many others will simply see the lure of a high interest rate and consequent (they hope) increased income.
Where one will see that a hire purchase is simply a fools game, many many more will gladly take on loans for consumables with  outrageous interest rates, all the while seduced by the mentality of 'have it now' and 'low monthly payments'.

In fact the value of money has, in my view, diminished.  Consumers want more, and want it now, and the finance companies are only too happy to oblige them with online loans, no-application credit cards, and seductive lines like 'buy now, pay later' or, the deceptive 'no payments for 18 months'.  So, the financially gullible purchaser (and that means most of us), is programmed to stop thinking about the long term, and simply  enjoy the short term pleasure of owning a new gadget, or car, or entertainment system.

The irony is of course that the value of the goods decreases at almost the same alarming rate that the interest cost of that good increases.  But as the clever marketing people remind us, that thanks to the considerate and flexible terms of the financier, we do not even need to  think about the fact that the $1000 TV is in fact going to cost us not $20 a week but more like $2000 or more, over the next two years - by which time we will want to upgrade again and start the cycle, again.  The consumer literally cannot, or will not, see this anomaly as the financial education they are receiving is cleverly, and frighteningly, packaged in the 'whats in it for me' wrapping paper that we all love to look at and open.

So, how do we change a culture?  Is it even possible to change the way consumers view their saving/spending habits - and therefore can decipher their own financial dyslexia?

To begin with, there just has to be some changes in regulations.  
- Firstly, make it compulsory for financial institutions to supply   true costs of borrowing - total credit card interest and so on..  The government is working on this.  That will scare some people.  But not all
- Secondly, there needs to be true income testing for borrowers.  It's just way too easy to get money.  No more complimentary credit cards, no more application free loans.  As a country we simply can't afford it.
- Thirdly, introduce financial education at the earliest age.  Even a 5 year old can learn about money in/money out at it's most basic.  And this needs to be a core part of education for all children, right through school.

Finally, and this is the hard one - we need to each make a conscious decision about our spending and saving.  The best way to teach is to model behaviour.  That doesn't necessarily mean having a budget pinned to the fridge (although it might do), or only buying groceries on special (although that's a good idea!), or going without some of life's pleasures.  

But it does mean a total change in attitude - as long as we continue to be a patron of consumerism, it will continue to try to own us.  

10 simple steps to deciphering money and becoming financially literate

1. Know where your money is coming from and going.  Take the time to write a budget (there's a great template at www.sorted.org.nz
2. Write a list of goals - especially those that are going to require a financial investment
3. Put a no-circulars sign on your letter box - no pamphlets, less temptation
4. for 3 months, keep every bill, invoice and account.  At the end, look at exactly where your money went. Does it match your budget? What needs to change?
5. Chop up your credit card.   NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER (did i mention NEVER) purchase something on HP.  The only exception to this is a health/employment crisis
6. Open a second bank account and start saving. Even if it's only an automatic payment of $5 a week, it's a good habit to get into.
7. Make some rules - what are you NOT prepared to give up/go without?  What will have to change to make this happen? What are you going to say goodbye/not now/maybe later to?
8. Tell others.  lobby your kids school/your work place/your place of study to include some financial education in their day to day schedule.
9. Apply all the above to your children (as appropriate).  Even the very young can understand about money coming in (pocket money) and how they are going to spend it
10.  .If you're struggling get help.  Seriously.  Budget advice.  Bank.  Online coaching.  Do it now.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

the age old question...are we compatible?

When forming a new relationship, particularly with a significant other (in comparison to with a friend), there is much to be said about finding areas of compatibility.  When the stars have faded a little, and the soft focus has turned more to a blur (or possibly a frighteningly sharp focus), I think it's important to have some things to work from and towards.
The experts say that having a similar IQ is important.  That ones emotional intelligence should also be on the same wavelength. perhaps some shared interests and hobbies, congruency in goals and dreams.  Similar spiritual thoughts or values.  Sexual compatibility.

How about this one:  financial compatibility.

Now, compatibility, by it's own definition does not mean that both sides have to be the same, but it does mean that they have to CONGRUOUS...be able to fit together, not create disharmony.

I would suggest that this is one of the most important things of all, especially for those people on 'second time round', and in particular when the two partners enter the relationship with different levels of asset and liabilities (and spending/saving habits!).  Yes, there can be events outside of our control that lead us to be in a particular set of fiscal circumstances, but I am talking here about those base values and habits that make up our financial personality.

Where one is a spender, and one is a saver - or one believes in speculation and the other in accumulation, the issue is not then who comes with what, or even which path they will follow as a couple (assuming they choose a joint financial path) but how they will manage the differences.  Yes there is the issue of financial literacy - it plays a huge part of course, but I'll save that for another blog, and assume here, that both parties have some sense of what this is.   

A saver, for example, may bring up their children to, or have been brought up in a family who, respect money for it's cumulative effect.  Possibly be a cautious spender, favour a regular job over self-employment and see owning a house as a priority or goal.  The spender may live in the now, not feel the same need to be tied to a particular career, or location - see the freedom in never 'owning a mortgage' and prefer to enjoy their money in the short term.

I believe that where there are extremes of these differences, a relationship is already on a precarious path.  It is certainly true that money is a major cause of divorce - but I think it's deeper than that.  It's about where each person puts priority and value, more than how each dollar is actually spent.  For simplicity, I have referred to each end of this spectrum as a 'saver' and a 'spender'.

For example, when, as a saver, you see your loved one - be it partner, sibling or child - treating money in a different way to how you think it 'should' be treated, it can be tempting to see them as wrong, or misguided, or just plain irresponsible.  Similarly the spender could see the saver as over cautious, conservative or mean.

So, what to do?

Firstly, I think it's about recognising that one persons 'value' of money (possessions/assets/liabilities/spending and saving) is not necessarily the same as the others.  And in fact, working on the principal that perception equals reality, one or the other is neither wrong nor right, except to the believer.  Note thought, that this can be particularly tricky when it's someone you already have a strong emotional connection to.

Secondly, identifying where you sit on the money continuum - what is your style?

Thirdly, deciding which things are 'no go' areas, or deal breakers in a relationship, when it comes to money - and believe me, there will be some.  High personal debt and little in assets is likely to be just as offputting to the saver as a huge mortgage is to the spender.

Finally, discovering together,which areas of 'finance' are manageable, adaptable, or have potential for developing. - that's the compatibility being tested.  It's going to be challenging, it might mean making some hard decisions, but the payoff  will be worth it's weight in gold:)

Monday, June 20, 2011

be prepared!

Last Sunday I was part of the investiture of NZ's newest scouting group.  Keas, cubs and 4 new leaders had their investiture and were presented with their scarves.  It was a really interesting ceremony, including promises, laws salutes and handshakes.

It's a whole new world, this Scouting one.  I had no idea there was so much formality, so many rituals (wolf yell anyone?)  and tradition.  It was so terrific to see so many families connecting and commiting to what on the surface essentially appears to be a rather old fashioned (or at least old school!) way of bringing kids together.

The leaders all took on names (bird names in the case of ours).  I am yet to decide on a name - as I am not a nickname person - don't even like being called a derivative of my OWN name! - I am struggling with this a bit!

Especially considering that on arriving at the investiture I offhandedly mentioned to the organisers that I 'probably should have been invested today, just so there is another person warranted' - and ended up being invested as Group Leader - responsible for the whole shebang!

I'm a bit nervous about that - just how much extra work is this going to entail for me?  I often already feel a bit stretched and do not want to do a half hearted job.  However I am really excited about seeing this group get well established, and it is a great opportunity to be there from the beginning, so with that in mind I will approach this with an open mind (and a can-do attitude...very Scouting!)

Besides, what else would I do with all that time I am awake in the night!!?

you can see more about what we will be up to at www.scouts.org.nz

Saturday, June 18, 2011

luxury weekend retreat in the wottifs

I have come to realise that I spend way too much time worrying - no, make that, visiting the past, and wondering about the things that might have been.

Sometimes it's a visit to regret...

What if I had said 'yes' to a particular job/invitation/business proposition
What if I had been tougher and said 'no' to other jobs/invitations/business propositions!

Sometimes it's a visit to relief...

What if I HADN'T said yes...or said no...

Yes I know it's not very healthy to spend lots of time pontificating over what might have been, but I think if we are honest, every does it, at least a little bit.  In some ways there can be a real pleasure in reliving an 'almost' moment - especially if it were one that held great promise.  And it can also be liberating to be able to look back and be just a little self-congratulatory about the excellent choices we made in the past!

The best part about looking back though?

The luxury of being able to go there when I want - but also knowing it's just a fleeting visit - and I'll be back in reality in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

the bathroom amnesty

my latest idea for decluttering/simplifying and cost cutting is happening in the bathroom.

Tidying out the cupboard one day under the vanity (yeah yeah I know I need to get out more), I was amazed at how many sample size/travel sized and half used bottles and packets of things there were - perfume, deo, talc, fancy little soaps, sachets of shampoo, you name it.  Out of curiousity I checked my handbag, overnight bag, toilet bag, makeup bag - and those of my daughters.  Even more!   I decided I was spending way too much money on soap, shampoo, air freshener, deodorant and so on and so on and so on and it was time to use what I had.

I got a small washing basket - one that would fit in the cabinet, and put everything in there.  I figured I had enough stuff to last at least 6 weeks.

Now, I am not a hoarder as many of you know - but my goodness. I have not bought anything in the toiletry aisle for over 3 months.  And I'm not even half way through it all.

I'm being creative - using the spray deos and perfume i'm not so keen on for air freshener...bits of shampoo for bubble bath for the kids.  Using two-in-one shampoo for body wash.  So far no one is complaining - and I reckon I saved myself heaps of $$ - and got an organised bathroom cabinet in to the bargain!  My vision is to have ONE of everything - how much better will the bathroom look then!?

Next, the cleaning products - I mean, seriously, do we really need 10 different products when bleach, vinegar and baking soda, do most things?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

the sound of silence

After a busy morning of work, I stopped in town for groceries, a spot of shopping and some lunch.  As usual wanted quick and easy and chose the golden arches.
I walked round to the (quite nice) cafe-y bit with my tray and a book.  At the next table were an elderly couple.  As I passed them to get to my  table I noticed they were both sitting a little apart and not saying anything, but didn't have any food in front of them.  

I ate my lunch, and read my book - stayed there for probably 20 minutes.

In that whole time, the couple did not speak to each other.  They didn't have books, they didn't even have a cup of coffee, they just sat, looking around, but not at each other.

Now, it's possible that one - or both- have a hearing problem. It's possible they had just had an argument.  It's possible that this is the first time they have not engaged in conversation in a long time. It might even be that they truly enjoy companionable silence.

But what struck me was that, maybe, maybe it wasn't.  And (stretching the truth and probably reality for the purpose of a good yarn here...), what if this is what their life is now? Being together, but not ever talking.  In fact, possibly being together but having run out of conversation.

Maybe it's the full moon, or maybe it was low blood sugar...but it made me feel quite sad.  How awful, that one could get to the end of life, having spent it with the person who made you happiest - or at least that made you feel the best you could be - when you met them, and now have literally nothing to say to each other.

 I always feel a bit 'thingie' when I see elderly couples helping each other across the road, or holding hands in a park, or doing the groceries together.

I heard a Henry Cloud talk yesterday about marriage and intimacy.  He reckons the biggest aphrodisiac is time spent talking and listening to each other.

I think he's right.    Perish the thought that I (in the event of growing old with someone) will reach a point of not having anything to talk about with my spouse. Then, it really is done and dusted.

I think I'll try and take a positive spin on it...maybe that old couple are so completely happy and content with each other, they can spend hours together without the need for words.  Sound better?

Friday, June 10, 2011

my first guest blog

I was recently invited to guest blog at http://quickeasycheaphealthy.com/
  You can also find them on facebook:

This is an awesome blog with excellent recipes and ideas and some gorgeous food photos too.

Without further ado:  my post:)


I have a core list of recipes that are sure fire winners in my house.  There's one adult and two (relatively palate-adventureous) children, and I endeavour to get something green into them every day.  My maxim is: prepare and present in 30 minutes or less, aim for 5+ a day (veges/fruit), no leftovers on the plate

On the particular busy nights, - scouts, dancing, playdates - I often have soup, made with a pumpkin and what ever other veges come to hand.  Pureed smooth with my stick mixer - seriously the best gadget in the house - I can usually get the kids to eat at least a couple of mugfuls, soaked up with some home made bread.

But when pumpkins (and time)  are not so plentiful, I tend to fall back on my micro-garden.  My entire vegetable garden is only about 4 square foot, but along with a number of fruit trees, it keeps us in the fresh '5+ a day' way for most of the year.  The easier and faster to grow the better, and so I have given over around half of the garden space to herbs.  Parsley, mint, basil-mint, chives, dill, rocket, thyme and shallot.  These all grow with hardly any effort and care and easily transform something bland into something  grand with minimum effort.
Whilst I can see the benefits of adding vege purees to food to top up on vitamins, I have been reluctant to do that too much, as I really want the children to get a taste for individual flavours, and also to appreciate the texture and colour that the 'whole' variety offers.

Here's two of my kid's favourites:

Surprise pie.  This is absolutely a cheaters recipe but the children (and me...) love it.

Make up enough instant mash for however many you are serving. I use milk to make it, and then add a slosh of olive oil:
Heat the milk, then quickly beat in the flakes.  When it's at a smoothand stiff consistency, add:
one grated carrot
a few florets of broccoli finely sliced.
2 - 3  tablespoons of finely chopped herbs (i use parsley and chives most)
half a cup or so of grated cheese.
mix that all through with a spoon.
Put it into a greased pie dish and then stick in the microwave for 3 or 4 minutes - this will reheat the potato, melt the cheese and par-cook the carrot and broccoli.
When it's piping hot, sprinkle with some more cheese and a bit of olive oil and  flash under the grill til the top is browned.

It will firm up and easily then be scooped out.  Sometimes for variety I put shredded deli ham on the top and grill that too.

My kids like it with gravy and a piece of bread to mop up the edges.

The kids will devour a whole plate of this- it's quick, easy and contains 3 veges. good for all!

in a frying pan, cook one finely chopped onion in a little olive oil. Add a chopped clove of garlic or 1/2 tsp of garlic powder.
Add two tins of chopped tomatoes.
Add at least three tablespoons of chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, chives)
I also add some chopped olives as my kids love them.
Grate in a carrot.
Thicken with tomato paste.
cover and Leave to simmer about 10 minutes whilst you cook short pasta.
Drain pasta and combine with the sauce.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

purging,splurging and emerging

are those not some of the most evocative words you've ever heard? (or heard today...)

Purging - the want of many, the obsession of few.  In this instance I'm referring to stuff-purging, which I have written about before.  I am almost there! There is almost nothing left in my house that I do not believe to be useful or beautiful (thanks you William Morris!).  It's a great feeling.  I can clean the house in an hour if I'm quick, less than two if I'm careful.  I've decreased my weekly spending heaps too - just by using up everything that's about the place (currently the bathroom, home of samples and half empty bottles).  The garage is almost finished, just a few odd things to re-home, and then it can become a relatively safe outside playspace for the kids for winter.
The pantry - well that's a work in progress, but I am slowly weaning myself off my appliance/gadget addiction, and unhealthy habit of buying interesting but largely unpalatable condiments.

But ah the splurging! For what would life be without a little mad money!  Right now, my splurging is shoes (duh!) and dresses.  I reckon there's a real gap in the market for a vintage/preloved shop just selling dressy clothes.  I can't bring myself to spend $100 on a dress and so I've been lurking on TradeMe - and wow are there some bargains to be had there.  There must be a whole community of women who wear high end clothes once and then put them up for sale.  Principals, Mei Mei, Trelise, all a steal!

I was selling stuff on Trade Me too, but I've tended lately to go down the 'give it away' route.  I figure that people are so generous to me, especially with kids stuff, that the least I can do is give away some of the things I no longer have a use for.

I'm particularly fond of the 'Pay it Forward' idea - whilst not really a karma kind of girl, i think there's real merit in doing a good turn in gratitude for one done to you.

I'm trying to teach my children the same principals....purge those things (physical or otherwise) that we don't need, want, or care for any more.  occasionally, splurge on something fabulous.  And in the meantime, continue to show intentional honour to those whose paths we cross, which can only make us better people.

Monday, June 06, 2011

dream weaving

I fear my post on nightmares may have been a self prophecy.
After 9 months of being nightmare-free (give or take), at least my insomnia was manageable.
But suddenly the weirdo, help my kids are missing type of dreams are back.
The suckiest thing about being single? waking up from a bad dream alone.

I did have one REALLY weird one last week too....read at your own risk!

I am dancing.  I am really enjoying it, lots of twirling and spinning.
I have a great dance partner, who is delighting in spinning me around.
The dance partner morphs into a Bolivian folk singer called Fonterra, and is now my boyfriend.  He has long black hair, a flashing smile and a shark tooth earring.  He is short.  (I have danced in real life with someone who kind of looks like this).
I look across to ask another man to dance.  I really want to dance with the other guy. It's someone I know in real life.    But in the dream he has become a Hare Krishna.  He's jumping around with his drum, having a great time, extolling the virtues of his newfound passion, with such fervour that he is oblivious to all that is happening around him. Then he's dancing right in front of me and saying, 'soon, later, I just want to finish this dance first'.  
Fonterra keeps pulling me away, but because he is so short I can see the other guy over his head.

I wake up feeling exhausted and discombobulated.

It's was so vivid I can can still recall the details of it, 10 days later.

I've described this dream to a couple of people, the interpretations are extraordinary.  What do you think it means?

Friday, June 03, 2011

the next best thing

I have a special gift for coming second.

I think maybe it's because I peaked too early...first born of four children.  First to make the front page of the paper at age 1.  And again at age 4.  First on the stage at 5.  Won my first ever piano competition at 8.  It was all downhill from there...

I have the dubious honour of being picked not once, not even twice, but actually three times for UNDERSTUDY in the school play.
I was an excellent straight-B student.
In the school orchestra I was always honoured with playing second flute.  And being the subsitute piano player.  Oh and singing alto - but never in the first row, always just behind.

It was my second car (ah the Nissan 180B) that was the cool one - till I wrote it off.
Once I got a speeding ticket for going 90 in a 50 km zone.  I was pretty proud of that, in a weird kind of way - I was late for church.  When I got there, I announced my feat - too late, someone else had got one just before me, going even faster.

I recently met up with a boy I had a secret crush on when I was a teenager.  He married my friend.  
Without exception, every boy I went out with before I got married myself, married their next girlfriend (actually does that make me second or first???).  I often heard 'oh you are just the girl I would like to marry...if I actually WANTED to get married...which I don't...'

Sheesh even when I contracted meningitis in 2004 and was whisked off in an ambulance I arrived at hospital to learn my mother had already been diagnosed and admitted with it!

Maybe I'm just better at following trends than setting them?

I console myself with this:  coming second ACTUALLY means, coming last...First!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

grumpy old bag

I want to be one of those loving positive mothers I really do.  When my kids are fractious, I want to be the one who says, 'oh, let's blow bubbles' or 'aha, what you need is to come and cook with me'..

But, the truth is, I'm not that person.  Yes, mostly I'm positive, but I sometimes find myself saying NO almost as an automatic reaction to my kids requests before I've even digested the question.  Can I have a - NO! Mum, will you - NO! Can I go to - NO

I saw the shorts for a movie, called The Boys are Back.  In it, the actor says, Just Say Yes.  It's about parenting alone, it makes sense to me, kind of.


We rob ourselves, and our kids, of such simple joys, all in the name of calm, order, quiet and minimising mess.

I resolve to say YES more and NO less.