Tree change to slow living

Last week I introduced my new series about slow living and making a tree change to Armidale in northern NSW. Before I start packing, I need to get my ducks in a row. The biggest “ducks” are having somewhere to live and a job. I am trying to open my mind to all the possibilities. However, deep down the sensible voice keeps telling me not to take too big a risk. I still have a mortgage to pay, I’m sixty and getting a new job might not be so easy as keeping the one I’ve got. I don’t want to end up poor and homeless which is an unfortunately common scenario for single women my age. Sure, I want to live simply but I still want to eat!

A blurry image of grass blowing in the ewind

The day job.

My current day job is secure and satisfying yet very reactive. Dealing with teenagers and their families everyday is draining. The idea of changing jobs gives me so many things to think about! Do I need the same sort of job as I have now, earning as much as I do now? Do I want to stay in the same intense people-centric job? Could I scale back? Could I get a job selling widgets who don’t yell at you and bully each other on social media? Could I go freelance? I’d like to. 

Some options for a tree change

As any good list maker like myself does, I sat down and came up with some scenarios. Ranging from going the “whole nine-yards”, selling everything, buying a tiny house and living off the grid, right down to doing nothing and staying put. Then, there is everything in between. Renting my place, renting something cheaper up there or even sharing with my family.  Here are two of the options I came up with from riskiest to safest. There were 7 other options in between!

Go really hard  – tree change deluxe model

  1. Sell up
  2. Buy a tiny house
  3. Find somewhere to park it – you might need to rent someone’s backyard 
  4. Grow veggies and chickens
  5. Live off the grid
  6. Get rid of most of your stuff
  7. Quit work –  go freelance!!!

Safest – Stay here – do nothing.

  1. Keep your stuff
  2. Keep working
  3. No veggies or chickens
  4. No cost.

Complex property decisions

It’s complicated by the fact that while the housing options in Armidale are more affordable, the gap between there and my current property is not huge. Probably not enough for me to  come out of the transaction debt free. 

The better news is that rent is cheaper and if I rent my place I can cover the mortgage and other related expenses. (just!). If I do sell I will never be able to get back into the coastal property market without winning the lottery. Ackkkkk!!!!!

I also have to acknowledge that I have the privilege to make these decisions in the first place.

Are my expectations too high

The best case scenario would be to be debt free and able to retire or at least work less than I do now. Then I can explore freelance work and a simple lifestyle. I don’t want to go backwards in terms of my finances but I don’t want to be separated from my family waiting for the magic unicorn of a job to appear.

Am I expecting too much? Does making the tree change to living simply and slowly mean you have to be broke? I know I am overthinking it. Should I just chuck it in and take the plunge?

I know I would have 30 years ago, because I did. 

Slow Living 2.0

Mudbrick house

This post is the first in a new series about slow living

While on my blog sabbatical over the last month, I  have been doing a lot of reading, podcast listening and Youtubing about slow living only to realise I had been down that path before. A path I chose with my Ex in better times. It’s a way of life I’d like to return to and by chance it looks like that may well happen. 

I’m planning on moving to Armidale in northern NSW in the next 12 months, once I get the ducks of life in a row. This time it was not my idea but one I’m happy to embrace. I’m following my family as they move to the region. I don’t want to be away from them, especially my grandson. An added bonus being that the move and the preparations provide a wonderful theme to write about here!

This week a back story about Slow Living 1.0.

Fast Living – Setting the Scene

In the years from 1991 – 1994  my (then) husband and I decided we needed to change our life and slow things down.  We had a one year old baby. He was working for a large Australian bank. (Which bank? Not that one, the other one) I was on maternity leave from an even bigger multinational oil company.  (The one that smashed an oil tanker against Alaska). 

My job involved a lot of travel. It was high speed and had long hours. His job was also high speed, with long hours but without the travel, unless you count the 4 hour daily commute. Interest rates were close to 20% and the Sydney housing market was booming.  

We had lots of money, no time and plenty of stress.  Sounds familiar heh? 

Internal frames go up.

The first slow steps

Before our baby was born we had decided it was important that one of us be the primary carer. We didn’t want our baby to spend most of their time with strangers, no matter how well trained and caring. We were ahead of our time because that one person did not have to be me. The Ex was open to staying at home so he could combine parenting with part-time study and fulfil his long term desire to get a uni degree. 

Serendipitously, our tree change journey was made possible because at this time we were living at my grandparents’ house paying well below market rent. We were renting our own house at a higher market rate.  Living there, much closer to the centre of Sydney,  cut the Ex’s commute by half and although we had less money on one wage, we managed comfortably. 

At first our goal was simply to change our occupations to something less frantic and more meaningful. A contributing factor for me was the Oil Company’s response to the Exxon Valdez incident. It left me cold and disgusted. The disaster was swept under the carpet with disturbing rapidity. I felt that their response did not align with my values and wanted to leave. A restructure of their business model meant I was able to take a generous redundancy package so I had an unexpected windfall on top of my maternity leave. 

Step 1 saw me heading back to Uni to do a Diploma of Education so I could teach. A much more meaningful and family friendly occupation. I was able to do my Diploma part time and on a campus not far from home. Besides taking Bub with me when they were very little, we relied on a combination of friends and neighbours to babysit. The Ex stayed with his work for the time being.

Hand built mudbricks

Green shoots start sprouting

As part of the Diploma, I did a subject on sustainability and became very wrapped up in environmentalism. My enthusiasm no doubt boosted by the oil spill. I became obsessive about the impending doom that climate change would bring. I wanted to be greener. A lot greener.  This desire to live a greener life led us to the next steps. After the baby was weaned and I started working as a teacher, the Ex quit his job and stayed at home to be the primary carer. This was a very courageous step. Back in 1992 there weren’t many stay at home dads around and he bravely continued to take Bub to playgroup.

He copped an enormous amount of flack for our decision, especially from his dad. I was really proud of our trail blazing lifestyle. Splitting up with rampant consumerism gave me a sense of power. It excited me to be with someone who was challenging gender stereotypes, and pushing back against the toxic norms. 

You’ll see echoes of this in my way of life now. My Year of Zero, my Eco Hacks and my desire to be more sustainable are throwbacks to this time. My decision to have only one child was deeply rooted in the desire to reduce my environmental footprint.

Plans become reality

Once we recognised the need for change, we started planning the move. Dreams and big talk turned into reality. The journey was incremental and multifaceted. In recounting it here it’s hard to remember the ins and outs and the exact chronology. One decision was layered over another. Ideas became blended and bent. This post can’t capture the whole convoluted story, only the overall result.

We sold our house, bought a two hectare patch(~5 acres). By January 1994 we had moved in with my mum in Bellingen on the mid north coast of NSW. In July that same year we were living in a half built mud brick house and by 1996 we had chickens, a veggie patch, a cranky old cat and a Labrador puppy.

By 2000, we were back in the city, trying to patch a broken relationship and pursuing a different dream. I’m at pains to point out that the slow living wasn’t the cause of the unhappiness. That unhappiness was for many other reasons, some of them a direct result of the previous fast living.

In hindsight, the journey was smoother than you’d think and while things eventually went sour between myself and the Ex, I really have to thank him for following my dreams and making this first tilt at slow living a reality.

We never did finish our mud brick house!

More about my plans for Slow Living Version 2.0 in the coming weeks. 

Urban Nature Study – Part 1

Earlier this year I volunteered to take part in an Urban Nature Study for an Honours student at the University of Wollongong. The study involved two Zoom interviews and three urban walks. On these walks I was required to take notice and record my interactions with urban nature. This included what I could hear, see, smell, and feel. To help me remember what I observed I made notes on the voice recorder app.

During the walks I was encouraged to take photos of the things I saw. It was pretty much the perfect sort of study for me! To top it off it we were still under some COVID restrictions so it was not as if I was doing anything else.

The student has submitted her work and I have permission to publish my contributions. I am not sure what her ‘findings’ were. Here is the first of my 3 walks. I have changed some of the street names.

Urban Nature Diary Day 1 – 13th June 2020

Saturday Beach Walk

My walk today was one of the two routes I take frequently. I call this route my “beach walk”.  The other is my “neighbourhood walk”. I sometimes run these routes rather than walk.  Today, I ran part of the way and walked part of the way as I was stopping to take photos. All up it took me about 1 hour 20 minutes.

This route takes me along Crown Street, past the hospital and railway station into the CBD, I then walk down to Smith Street and head to the beach from here. I walk past Levendi’s (a cafe), along the harbour, past the lighthouses and then past WIN Stadium. When I have the time (as on weekends) I extend the route and walk along the beach to the end of the golf course cut back up Swan Street under the railway bridge, up Gladstone Street, X Ave, Y Street, and then finally back onto Z Street and home. This is a little over 8 km. If I’m in a hurry, I cut back up to the WEC (Wollongong Entertainment Centre) and head back home through the Mall. If I’m running, I can do it in 50 minutes.

And we’re off…

This morning I left home at around 7:30 AM. There was a partial cloud cover. It was fine and crisp. It had been raining overnight so there were puddles and wet leaves on the ground

My phone said it was 12.7oC and dead calm.  I had dressed in long tights and a long sleeve lycra hoodie, joggers and socks. I normally listen to music or podcasts while I walk. Today it was a podcast.

The ground was wet, and the leaves made it slippery, so I picked my way out my driveway. The large liquid amber at the corner of my driveway drops so many leaves and I have slipped there before so I am always cautious.

The creepy tree

Just before you get to the hospital there is a huge Morton Bay Fig in a tiny park. There is very little room left in the park for anything but the tree. (Image 1) I really like this tree and have wondered how old it is and what it must have been like before it was hemmed in by the road and houses. It would make a good climbing tree as the branches hang down low to the ground. However, it would be near impossible to climb as the limbs are very broad and smooth. The buttress roots spread out for at least 5 metres in all directions.  I call it the “creepy tree” because it does not matter what time of day it is, the massive tree is always casting a shadow on the park. It smells dank and composty.

Image 1 – The Creepy Tree

Noisy traffic in the shopping precinct

The noise of the traffic makes it hard for me to hear any birds, but I did notice some dead or close to dead earthworms who had boldly ventured onto the pavement when it was raining and had now become trapped on the drying pavement. A bit of styrofoam captures my attention and I get annoyed and feel that the hi-fi store (likely source of the foam), should be held to account for the amount of foam that blows out of their bins and ends up as pollution on the street near their shop.

This part of the route is in my opinion, nothing but “urban”. It is paved and built up. There are few gardens as most of the premises are commercial. In the CBD itself, the council is attempting to green things up. (Images 2 – 4) 

It’s sad to see that their bright little street flower boxes are the target of vandals (Image 5)  If there are council workers watering the plants or replanting what has been ripped out, I’ll thank them for their work so hopefully they don’t get too downhearted that not everyone appreciates the little bit of colour the boxes provide. I notice the raindrops sticking to the leaves of plants. (Image 6)

Wollongong Harbour

Once I get to the harbour, I join the many others who are enjoying a walk or a run on this nice morning. The clouds are making a dramatic backdrop to the little lighthouse and Belmore Basin. Some pelicans are preening, and people are out in kayaks paddling on the smooth water. (Image 7)

Image 7 – Belmore Basin

There is a reasonable swell and some surfers are clustered at the end of City Beach. The water must be colder now as most are wearing wet suits.  (images 8 and 9)

It’s warming up and I am regretting that I didn’t wear a T-shirt and jacket rather than the hoodie which I can’t take off. 

Image 10 – Dead Calm

On the Beach

It’s dead calm.  (Image10) the air is clear and fresh, but I lament that it is not as clear as it was a few weeks ago when we were deep in COVID lockdown and the sky had a fresh luminous blue with no pollution hanging about in a brown haze.

Image 11

Once I get to WIN stadium and the footy field/golf course junction I head down to the beach. I take a lot of energy from the ocean and enjoy seeing it every day. For me, it’s peaceful and rugged and energising all at the same time. It’s mid tide so there is some compacted sand to make the walk easier. I have to dodge a few incoming waves to prevent getting my shoes wet but this adds to the fun. The sand shows evidence of last night’s rain with the little pock marks dimpling the sand. (image 11)

There are a few shells. (image 12) Last time I was on the beach there were lots of rocks and pebbles at the wave line and I notice that this time there are very few rocks. I wonder if they were carried away by last week’s big surf or if I was at a different part of the beach. Up ahead I see the little pebble “garden” I was looking for and figure that they do probably get moved as a result of the tide. (image 14.)

Image 13 – Roof tile?

Not a rock

I take especial interest in an unusual green “rock” (Image 13). I pick it up and turn it over in my hands. I decide that it’s not a rock after all and probably a piece of roof tile that has been washed down a creek. I’m on the lookout for sea-glass[1] as I collect interesting bits of that.

This is an off-leash beach but there are few dogs. A couple of gulls fly past skimming close to the sand. The air smells salty but since there is no wind to whip the sea spray into my face, I don’t taste it.

As I re-join the road and the buildings, I can hear some rainbow lorikeets squawking and fluttering in a large flowering gum near the dog training park on Swan St. There are some magpies or crows cawing as they fly overhead. I pass a garden which has some nice succulents spilling over the fence and I break off a small piece to bring home and plant in my own garden.

The home stretch

I am about two kilometres from home and I am now very much regretting the choice of outfit! The sun is rising higher and I am getting hotter! It’s a balance between going faster to get home quicker and overheating! On Gladstone Ave there are a few private gardens with some lovely old roses, but today most only have a few straggly petals left. There is also a house with a reasonable size quince tree. They don’t pick the quince and they fall on the ground every year. Each year I say to myself, “next year I am going to knock on their door and ask if I can have them before they go rotten!”

The large date palms on X street, always make me think of the cover of Hotel California (an album by the Eagles).

(I included that detail because the person doing the interview was very young and possibly not a 1970’s music fan!)

I cut across the little park on the corner of X Street and my joggers get wet from the grass.  The Bird of Paradise flowers catch my eye and a few spiders’ webs in the neighbour’s garden are glistening with rain.

I am home and it’s time for a cup of tea!


[1] Glass that gets washed up onto the beach and has been made smooth and translucent by the action of the sand and waves.


A Win-Win!

I’m a bit of a research study enthusiast and this study combined a few things I like to do, walk, take photos and write! In addition to that I was helping someone out so it contributed to my happiness! Doing good for others boosts your mood! As I said I have not seen the student’s finished work or even really understand the purpose of her study. However, having to stop and think about how I interacted and experienced nature in my urban setting was interesting and made me feel a real sense of connectedness.

Apart from this study I am also participating in a two long term health studies. One called the 45 and up study which has a long questionnaire every 5 years; and another 3 year study on dementia and lifestyle which has frequent questionnaires which alternate between eating and exercising habits. Once each year there is a comprehensive set of cognitive and memory tests.

I have also just done a five week stint being a “patient” for a trainee medical professional to assist them with their tele-health skills.

Being a writing frugalist, I wasn’t going to “waste” an extended piece of my own writing without including it here! It was a win-win! She got some observations for her research: I got a blog post! (Maybe 2 more if I publish the others!)