Thoughts: Camping 2020

I’ve just returned home to Auckland after a week camping with my teenagers. This has been something I have instituted each year in January for the last eight or nine years. It has been a time of presence, of renewed connection, and it’s something I value deeply.

We stayed at the Coromandel Town Top 10 – our second time. The first was six years ago, so I was curious to see how the experience has changed.

I have to say, the campsite is looking good. Better than I remember it from 2014. The staff were all very friendly and kept the place looking immaculate.

The joy of camping is all about getting a bit rough – but not too rough. One still needs WiFi/Data and ample power sockets to keep all devices charged!

Every tent needs fairy lights!

Each year I acquire at least one new ‘thing’ to make the next trip better. This year was a Campmaster three-burner stove and 2KG gas cylinder. It was great being able to cook at our tent rather than have to fight for space in the communal kitchen, elbowing between the pairs of German tourists and the very grumpy mums and dads who were wrangling hordes of children-under-5!

It was a different week though. Teenagers don’t have a lot of motivation (generalisation, yes) and are quite happy reading, napping and watching YouTube.

They’re still a bit camera-shy

I did manage to get them out of the tent for road trips around the Coromandel. Driving the 309 Road across to Hahei to go see Cathedral Cove was fun. Master 17 is learning to drive so he was paying a lot of attention to a road that curved, had few lines, and became gravel. He wasn’t feeling all that confident…

I did misrepresent the walk to Cathedral Cove somewhat, and Miss 14 wasn’t entirely impressed. She didn’t actually complain but in her words ‘Oh it’s a nice beach. Lots of people’ kinda summed up her feelings.

It was interesting watching Master 17 take photos of rocks, trees, paths etc. to use in creating textures. He’s getting into 3D modelling and rendering and wanted to see how much better his own photos would be than stock textures. I was very happy to see this!

Camping is also an opportunity for me to experiment with a degree of ‘feral’. I don’t grow facial hair as a rule so it was a curiousity for me to see if a) I could and b) how grey I actually am. Happily the result of a 8-day trial wasn’t too horrific and I am not traumatised by grey. However, I felt it made me look older which is something I am NOT trying to achieve. So as soon as I got home, off it came.

Coromandel really is a special place. I thoroughly enjoyed getting into ‘nature’ and given I work in mental health and wellbeing these days, it was a great reset ahead of the 2020 work-year.

I do have a tinge of sadness though. I wonder how many more of these weeks I’ll be having with them. They’re getting older and have their own lives. It is quite possible that that was my last. I really hope it wasn’t. We shall have to see.

^SD

Thoughts: 2020 Goals, Dreams and Aspirations

Happy New Year, one and all!

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent time reflecting on the year just passed, and thinking on where I want to be at the end of 2020.

I wasn’t in a great headspace 12 months ago and I didn’t go through this exercise then, so I can’t review goals set. That being said, there really weren’t any – I was surviving.

Since I started writing down goals mid-year in order to track and celebrate the achieving of, on reflection, I’ve realised that I have actually done a lot in 2019. And so, onwards and upwards we go!

For 2020 I have decided that my theme will be: freedom and responsibility. The two should not be separated.

I have come up with some intangible goals. These goals are more mindset or lifestyle goals. Designed to improve myself as a person:

I want to consciously make a difference (well, continue to consciously make a difference) in my workplace, in my social networks.

I will consciously make an effort to positively impact everyone I come into contact with.

I have also set some tangible goals:

I have set a goal to read 100 books this year.
I have set a goal to get good at making Vietnamese Pho.

I have set a goal to start to learn Mandarin properly (more than just dabble).
I have set a goal to travel (this one is seriously overdue).
I have set a goal to enable my teenagers to spend more quality time with their cousins.

I want to drink less, stay up later, be more social, cook for people.

I want to use my gym membership more than the four times I used it in 2019.

And perhaps THIS is the year I learn to snowboard…!

Where do I want to be in late December 2020?

Physically in the same apartment (hopefully). It will be nice to not have to move house for a while.

I have savings goals I’ve written down to achieve, so I’ll continue to be careful with spending.

Love? Who knows.

Health? On track.

Finances? On track.

Today I’m happy. I’m content. I plan to continue to be so in 2020.

I wish you all the very best for your 2020.

^SD

Thoughts: Learn to Celebrate the Wins

I have to confess that the last few years have been quite challenging, across pretty much all aspects of my life, but as I write this, I am reflecting on the fact that I am happy. I am content.

How did I get to this place?

It occurred to me that when things in life challenge me – be they personal challenges or work-related challenges, I actually have choice around how I react to them (do I panic and lurch from crisis to crisis?) or do I respond to them (take a breath, take a step back from the situation and consider all options). I have learned to recognise when I have absolutely no control over situations. As such I have learned to accept these situations and as a result of this acceptance I lose no energy or sleep because of them.

Don’t get me wrong. Tough situations are tough. They do have an impact. They do force change upon us. But for me, the key was developing resilience – that ability to bounce back quickly to the pre-crisis state.

One thing that has helped me develop this resilience was developing a plan. Understanding that there are controls/frameworks I have to live within (long boring story) and planning for my future, taking these frameworks into account and instead of feeling constrained by them, making them work for me. Harnessing them. Allowing them to chip off the rough edges and to help me develop focus. I am a much better version of myself today than I was two years ago.

I could have been wallowing in a ‘poor me’ mental state but I chose not to.

I think that we pay too much attention to the negative. The bad things that happen. The office politics that get us down. The increased workload. The day-to-day stresses. If we pay attention to the negative, we allow the negative to increase. We start looking for the negative. We feed the negative. And the negative compounds. I suspect this is part of the human condition.

To counter this I have learned to celebrate the wins.

I now look for the little positive things that happen and I revel in them. It may be a win at work. It may be seeing growth in a colleague. It may be finally getting the roommates cat to sit next to me on the couch (this one was hard to achieve!). It is important to reprogramme your mindset and change your focus.

Recognising and revelling in the little wins is one thing, but it is important to go a step further. I’ve created a list. It is a list of goals or milestones that I want to achieve or acknowledge over the next three years or so. It’s a ‘living document’ which I add to regularly. The list items are currently mostly financial goals around saving etc. but they’re also practical goals. They’re also milestones to look forward to: A new place to live. Home ownership. Significant birthdays of my kids. That sort of thing.

And the amazing thing is, since I wrote this list at the beginning of July, I’ve ticked off three things already. There is an acceleration occurring because they’re written down. My sub-conscious and my conscious mind are working in concert to achieve these things.

So, write things down people. And when you achieve them, celebrate them with something that is occassional. For me, it’s wine, a cigar and a firepit. What is it for you? What will you do?

Good luck!

^SD

Thoughts: 50 not out

So, today is my 50th birthday. I’ve been approaching this date with a degree of trepidation. For me it’s a big number. And no, before you think it, 50 is not the new 40. It’s 50.

I have returned from a few days flying solo in Raglan. Raglan is quite possibly the best town in New Zealand to head to for a time of reflection and resetting. And reflection and resetting has been very important for me to do this week.

At the top of the list: My life has not turned out the way I expected.

An upbringing in an environment of Mum, Dad and the kids probably set the expectation that that was what life was supposed to be. Study hard, get a good job, find a girl, settle down etc. etc.

This is the Kiwi multi-generational procedure on repeat.

I did these things.

And they never quite fitted.

I find myself at 50 on the cusp of something new.

I don’t have the ‘happy family’ I once expected and was conditioned to expect. But I do have a happy family and I am happy and content. My kids are my pride and joy. They inspire me.

I don’t have the house, boat, bach and BMW which was the aspirational cry of my youth. Life has thrown me curveballs, which I seriously miss-hit. I’ve de-materialised significantly. Yes, circumstances dictated that I needed to, but it’s also been of choice. Some things have simply become less. It’s healthy.

I have learned what is important to me and what isn’t. I have learned what adds to my journey and what doesn’t. I have learned what values I hold true to and what values can be improved upon.

Most crucially, I have learned to choose wisely.

I have learned a lot about the nature of people and being human.

I’ve learned that people come into your life for a reason. I have learned that It’s not immediately apparent what that reason is and I’ve seen that sometimes years pass before the reason manifests. But it always does, and you have to be open for it.

I’ve learned that human connections are not things I can control. So I relax and see them for what they are and enjoy them. I do like to meet people and connect, recognising that that connection could be for a lifetime, for some years, or only for some minutes.

People come into my life and leave, sometimes without a trace. And you know what? I’m cool with that. They are on their own journey. As I am on mine.

All I can do is strive to make the connection, however fleeting, as meaningful and healthy for both of us as possible.

I’ve learned that the people you surround yourself with influence who you are. Your character. Your attitudes and beliefs. I am who I am in part due to the friend choices I have made. I have learned that it’s ok to end friendships if they are causing harm and making me a worse person.

Choose your people wisely.

I’ve learned about work/life balance. I’ll let you in on a secret: there’s no such thing. It’s just life, and you only have one life assigned to you. Everything you do with the hours in your day is subject to choice.

Choose your time investment wisely.

I’ve learned to look for the good, the humour, the fun, in everything. It’s about getting of the beaten track. Walking down that alley. Going around that corner. Just because it’s there. I adore exploring and talking and discovering.

I’ve thought long and hard about success and failure. I’ve had my share of both. By conventional standards and expectations it could be said that I’m a failure but I thankfully no longer hold conventional standards as my yardstick.

I’m still standing. I’m still smiling. And I have new goals and aspirations.

I feel that I have lived several lifetimes in my 50 years and I am looking forward to seeing what the next few lifetimes bring.

For me:

I will continue to care.

I will continue to communicate.

I will continue to listen and to learn.

I will continue to be open.

I will continue to risk being hurt.

I will continue to tell people I value them.

I will continue to tell people I love them.

I will continue to trust.

I will continue to wander and to wonder.

I will continue to be the best Simon I can be.

^SD

Thoughts: Romantic Gift-giving

I need to confess something.

As I approach a significant birthday, I’m starting to reflect on things I’ve learned over my life, or, probably more accurately, not learned.

I struggle with romantic gift-giving. It’s true.

Let me provide some context: I had a poor upbringing when it came to gifting. Growing up in Palmerston North, yes we acknowledged birthdays, Christmas, and Mothers/Fathers Day, but my Dad wasn’t really a deep thinker around teaching his kids how to gift, and Mum usually bought her own which she then gave us to wrap. Or she’d say something along the lines of “I’d really love a new measuring jug”

I still remember excitedly riding my bike to the store to buy the measuring jug. It was a no-miss opportunity. And yes, she loved it.

Fast-forward. Owing to a complete lack of romantic interests through my formative years, I was completely unprepared for the sophistication of Auckland women. Or, rather, the sophistication of any women.

I remember being a little panicked about having to buy a birthday gift for the woman I was to become engaged to. I was looking for clues. Clues please. Clues, please give me clues…! Anyhoo, walking through the local Farmers one day we passed by the Ponds stand and she said in passing, “hmm… I need to restock”.

Ding ding ding! We have a winner people!

Not long after, as she unwrapped a selection of Ponds’ finest, she looked at me with an expression that screamed “face cleaner? Where’s my real present?”

Lesson learned.

I’m now pretty good with significant day gifting.

However, I am not good with spontaneous romantic gifting.

Flowers. I just don’t get flowers. You can spend a lot of hard-earned cash on flowers. That you give. That die. In days. That have a potential underlying reaction of “what did you do”?

I can handle gift cards. Books. Something tangible and useful. But not flowers.

So, in the interests of self-improvement, I questioned the counsellors and clinical psychologists I work with.

They listened. They understood my perspective. They gave me sage advice:

Buy the damn flowers.

So that’s it. Don’t be overthinking everything.

Just buy the damn flowers.

S.

P.S. I hereby formally apologise to all those who were deserving recipients of no flowers from me over the last 30 years.

Thoughts: A First and Much Gratitude

One of the pleasures I’ve had to cut back on in recent years has been going to arena concerts. The reasons are many and varied of course, but I’ve trained myself to not be too bothered by FOMO. It’s been a bit tricky with all the bands I grew up with doing potentially their last tours.

I’d decided against seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, mainly due to not being able to afford tickets when they were released all those months ago. I would, once again, live vicariously through the experiences of my friends, both real and virtual.

Last a Thursday I got a text from my bass-playing 13yr old daughter: “The Chilis are in town, how appropriate do you think they’d be for me?”

A conversation ensued, and at the end of it, I was taking my kids to see this band, and it would be their first-ever concert. She’s been learning bass for nearly a year and loves Flea’s playing. What an opportunity for her. My son is a drummer. To expose him to Chad Smith live – just wow.

My ex – their mother – paid for all three of us. ‘ I’ll take it out of child support’.

I am humbled. Gobsmacked. And so full of gratitude for this gift. This memory.

Thoughts: Foodie Heaven

Over the last ten years or so I have recreated myself in the kitchen and I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way. I came from a cooking position of making mashing potato, boiling Westie veges and doing unspeakable things to meat (yes, this is still standard fare in Palmerston North – I know… ;-0 ) to discovering Jamie Oliver.

Jamie opened up a whole new world for me. I guess in a sense he is my Julia.

Anyway, I started to obsess. I adore cookbooks and discovering new cuisines. I love having a functional kitchen but most importantly I love having a full collection of herbs and spices.

In New Zealand we are served well by the large supermarket chains who have shelves full of beautifully packaged products by Greggs, Mrs Rogers and other assorted importers/packers/distributors. This is all well and good, but the reality is that this is a really expensive way to obtain your ingredients. Especially when you need to stock up.

Some years back I was introduced to Mahadeo’s – a foodie heaven hidden away in Eden Terrace – and it’s become a regular stop for me. They specialise in Indian cuisine and all that goes with it. Herbs and spices are presented in bulk bins and are very inexpensive. Do you want Paratha or Naan? It’s there. Methi leaves? They’ve got them. What I really like about this store is its vibe. It’s authenticity. The owners are fantastic people too.

To give you some idea of why you should shop there, I just purchased 21 different types of herbs and spices, ~50g of each, and the total bill was just over $10.00. That’s all. (NZD!!!).

So, if you’re into your food and cooking, and you live for exploring cuisines, I do recommend you explore markets such as Mahadeo’s. These stores are scattered all over the place in the cultural enclaves that have formed over the years. There are many in Auckland, and if you’re reading from other parts of the world, do venture out, explore and discover a world different from the one you’re used to.