February 2023

20 Feb Having A Go-Bag

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 20.2.23


The other week, I turned up at yoga without my yoga mat. Not a disaster – there’s a cupboard full in the studio and, while they are not orange like the one I love for my down-dogs and Salamba Sarvangasanas, you can still have a brilliant time on them. Namaste.

Still, the annoying bit was I’d forgotten the one thing I needed to remember – the rolled-up hot orange mat, placed carefully at the front door to make forgetting difficult. And yet. As I flew down the stairs I’d been distracted by a text and this was all it took. Lucky I had my pants on already, right?

We forget stuff. Often, we forget stuff because our brains are busy. There is a popular theory that we make 35,000 decisions a day and, while most of these would have to be below the level of consciousness, I can see that what to wear/eat/say/do/read could easily reach an astronomical tally in between choosing to hit the snooze button in the morning and deciding when to turn out the light at night. Just getting this page in front of you probably involved dozens of choices, so well done, you.

To reduce Decision Fatigue, people create hacks, shortcuts for avoiding unnecessary choices. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously filled his wardrobe with identical blue jeans and Issey Miyake black turtlenecks so he wouldn’t have to decide what to wear on the daily. Basically, he picked looking like a boring middle-aged dude and stuck with it. Instead, he took the time and energy the rest of us would use up on, “Does that top go with that skirt or is it a trousers day?” to do something else, like imagine an iPad into existence.

My favourite life hack is one I picked up from “Criminal Minds”, a TV series about profilers who work for the FBI tracking psychopaths and sociopaths wreaking havoc on society.

Dealing with psychopaths and sociopaths is not what we have in common – though if you saw who comes to find me on Twitter some days, you’d wonder. What we mostly share is frequent travel.

And so, like them, I keep a “Go-Bag” – a few essentials packed and ready to scoot off with anywhere, anytime. It is possibly not so different from the thing you packed in the last weeks of pregnancy ready for the hospital run, back when you believed being “organised” and “ready” was possible because you didn’t yet have kids. Or the Baby Bag you kept later with wet wipes and spare nappies, always enough of them in there until the day you found yourself out of range of a supermarket.

My Go-Bag involves a complete toiletries kit. I have, over the years, bought two of everything you need in the bathroom because I got tired of having to think my way through the ablution process to ensure I had a hairbrush, toothbrush and moisturiser, not to mention plasters, tweezers and Savlon.

It has all the things you might assume plus some surprises, perhaps. A tin with soap, because I hate this new hotel thing of liquid soap on the wall. Scissors, because you’d be amazed how often you need to open impossible things. A vegetable peeler, because the carrot is my favourite snack.

I am still, though, capable of leaving stuff behind. Until I made a travel makeup bag, I would frequently turn up to do an event without mascara, or foundation, or powder. I often forget pyjamas, but not often enough to make them the first thing I pack. Though I once went away with no undies at all, and can confirm this is not a thing you do twice.


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13 Feb Getting My Steps In

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 13.2.23


I like to walk to the shops on Mondays because that’s when the gelato place is shut. A walk plus a gelato is less efficacious, by my calculations, than just a walk. Though still better than a gelato sans walk, of course.

But if the walk is the point then taking it on a Monday when there is no risk of gelato seems wise. I have willpower, I just see no reason to test it unnecessarily. Certainly not when they’ve put the pistachio and the salted caramel right there at the front of the cabinet.

“Getting my steps in” is how we talk about it now, this conscious moving around to reach a daily target we’ve set ourselves.

My phone has been quietly keeping track of how many steps and flights of stairs I’ve been taking for years, even before I knew what it was up to. Now it delivers unasked for statistics about my current activities and how they compare to last week, last month, and even last year.

And yes, it is creepy that this app on my phone has been gathering data on me since 2016, but it’s also fascinating to have all that information available in an orange bar graph. I can swipe through and spot the holidays at Disneyland (sudden columns tall as skyscrapers) and lockdowns (rows of tiny boxes) and the year I wrote a book and barely moved.

There was a time when I didn’t need to think about getting my steps in. This was long ago in an era when we didn’t carry water bottles because we didn’t know we were thirsty, or that being thirsty between locations was bad.

Instead of “getting my steps in”, I just “walked to things” – school, or university, or a job. In my first year in Wellington I lived on one side of the city and studied on the other, and public transport involved two bus routes that didn’t quite mesh so on days with less than torrential rain or gale force winds, it seemed easier to walk.

I reminisced about this when I was back there last month, staying down one end of the city and working up the other, cheerfully ambling along the waterfront several times a day. (The Capital, unlike my home city, has been having A Summer, which is both enviable and weird.)

Those earlier years of walking were curbed by work commutes, and taxiing kids, and fetching (and fetching for) aging parents. And generally squeezing so many things into each day that the only viable option for getting from A to B was the fast one, even for short trips – like a hasty nip to the shops.

Now I’m replacing as many of those drives as I can with a walk, which leads to “a think”, and possibly also an admission that this tedious nonsense about exercise and how it makes you feel good turns out to be – snore – quite correct. Endorphins and whatnot, who knew? I mean, everyone, including earlier versions of me, but I’m joining the party once more.

Even when you must take the car, this pro-walking ethos takes the anxiety out of finding a car park. Two blocks away? That’ll look good on my bar graph.

There is another app on my phone that tells me when I’ve done enough exercise for a treat. I downloaded that app on purpose. Turns out, two walks to the shops almost equals one gelato.

I love Tuesdays.


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07 Feb No One Actually Owns the Tupperware

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly, cover date 6.2.23


After years of summer barbecues and winter dinners at each other’s houses, I have finally come to understand that nobody actually owns these plastic food containers we all have. There is just a pool of them that exists in the universe and, from time to time, various ones will come to visit our kitchen, and then move on.

I took a proper look at the shelf-full of food storage boxes in my pantry recently and realised with shocking clarity that I didn’t actually buy any of them. Not only this, but the ones that I have bought aren’t here.

We haven’t talked about this before, but we all know how this works. I take my homemade salsa round to yours and we don’t quite finish it that night, and it feels rude to take it home again, and no-one can be bothered tipping salsa out of one container into another (probably identical) container at leaving time, so the whole shebang belongs to you now.

Swings and roundabouts. You’ll come round to mine with marinated chops in a leak-proof plastic thingy which ends up in my dishwasher and the cycle isn’t done before everyone goes home, so obviously that’s mine now. Until I take something moist and chop-sized round to Joyce’s.

Or not. Here’s a confession: my favourite plastic box in terms of shape, size and satisfying lid-closure was left here by I can’t remember who, can’t remember when. And I am ashamed to say this is not one I will use when I am taking things to other people’s houses because I couldn’t bear to leave it behind if that’s how the evening went. This one feels, weirdly, much more “mine” than any that I’ve bought.

But yes, I am aware that taking it out of circulation is mean and grabby, and very much against the rules. Because really, this is a kind of socialism in action – from each according to their onion dip, to each according to their tabbouleh. The boxes belong to all of us and none of us, and it is a law of nature and humanity that you will find, each time you open your cupboard, there will be enough there.

Or too many. Because of the constant inward/outward flow, it can be hard to keep them organised. Periodically, a cull is required. A friend will say, “I can’t come out because I’m sorting my Sistemas / tidying my Tupperware / co-ordinating my Click-Clacks,” and we recognise this is not an excuse of the “I’m washing my hair” kind. This is a real thing and there are days when it has to be done.

I like to store mine lids-on, because I feel like not being able to find the lid for a box you have chosen is a depressing domestic failure, and possibly speaks to other failures in the wider world. Consequently, my storage collection takes up much more space than if I stacked bottoms inside each other and piled tops separately nearby, but I like to think we are all happier this way.

There are days when we will say to a friend, “You look terrific, Jane, what’s your secret?” And Jane will tell you her boxes and jars are so organised that she can’t stop opening the cupboard to gaze at her perfectly contained containers. And we’re happy for Jane but there is also a hint of envy and we itch to go home and make this happen in our lives, too.


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05 Feb Stink Weather, Might As Well Work…

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover date 30.1.23


I have decided I only want to work when the weather is lousy. Fortunately, it is another grey old day out there so I am more than willing to stay indoors and elaborate.

Think of this as my personal contribution to the global movement towards Flexible Working Hours. FWH looks like it will be the biggest change to how we arrange our lives since the invention of the 8-hour working day in 1840. So not exactly a sudden move, right? But significant.

Which is why I want to get in on the ground floor while we’re still designing how FWH works in practice.

The current thinking goes that for lots of workers, being present in the workplace from nine-to-five, Monday to Friday, is less important than actually getting the job done. And if you can do the job in four days rather than five – more efficiently because you’re happier and therefore more productive – then everybody wins.

It feels important that we’ve finally recognised that being happy makes us better workers. This “happier” bit is generally about having more time with family, managing childcare better, and giving space to non-work activities you find fulfilling. Turns out we’re raising generations of Millennials and Gen-Zers who have been watching us work every hour god sends and they have decided, No thank you, they’ll have a bit more Me-Time in their week, that glassy-eyed hypertension doesn’t look as much fun as we talk it up to be.

Hard to argue against any of this given three years of a pandemic has provided ample evidence that you don’t even have to put your pants on for a meeting now it’s via Zoom. Though we should note that pants are still preferred at in-person meetings and do remind me to tell you that story sometime.

My personal preference for flexible work would be not to nominate particular days of the week to engage in the business of business. I just want to work when it’s raining, or windy, or bleak.

This is because I am fundamentally solar powered. True, a bit of caffeine is good for a boost, but it’s the sunshine that fills my tank. Give me a blue sky and I fairly bounce – not just out of bed – out of the house and find lovely things to do.

Though not before putting a load of washing on because wasting precious drying hours offered up for free by Mother Nature is rude. If someone said they’d pay your power bill you wouldn’t turn up your snoot, so I don’t know why you wouldn’t peg out your sheets and smalls under every available clear sky. It’s just manners.

Now, I appreciate the unpredictable nature of weather forecasting could make my work schedule equally capricious – you might worry I wouldn’t get a task completed during say, summer. And yet…

Think of how much work I would have done this particular summer – I’d barely have had a day off. Can I emphasise too greatly how many bleak days, stormy days, days of flood and ferocious winds we have had this January? Have you ever had more occasion to ponder that “global warming” was the most egregious misnomer ever coined, and that maybe we would have fixed it by now if we’d named it “climate disruption” rather than something sweet? Because honestly, never has a January felt so much like June.

Still, the kids are back to school in a minute. It often fines up around then.



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