Bad things come in threes

I fear I angered the insurance gods.

I decided a couple of weeks ago that, as part of my plan to save money for building on my estate, I would review my insurance cover and see if I was getting a good deal.

I called another company and got quotes for car, house and contents. He asked if I wanted the optional windscreen insurance ($69 extra). I said no. I’ve had a car for almost 30 years and never had to replace a windscreen. The house and contents insurance was a few hundred dollars cheaper and I made a note to call my insurance broker and switch the cover over.

About two days after I received the quote, we had a big storm blow through, the kind where the weather service puts out alerts about minimising travel and tying down the trampoline. It was very windy and very noisy and at some point during the night I was woken by a very loud bang. I didn’t get out of bed to investigate.

The neighbour is in the midst of replacing his windows, and for some days a rather large window frame with three sash windows (minus glass) has been propped against his front wall. It was this frame that had blown over onto the footpath and created the midnight bang.

My car was parked outside his house. The frame had missed it by about a centimetre. I left the frame where it was, checked over my car, it was unscathed so I went off to work. I returned to find the window frame restored to its previous position against the wall.

A day later I went to drive it and discovered that the side of the car was scratched, and the windscreen had a long crack in it. I was very annoyed about the scratches as no one had left a note but it was clear they’d done it when lifting up the frame. The crack could have been done by anything. So I called my broker, got the okay on the windscreen replacement and took the car in.

Two days later I came downstairs to find a pool of water on the kitchen floor and more dripping from one of the recessed light in the ceiling. There is nothing worse than finding a leak inside because it’s such a Pandora’s box: you never know what horrors will be revealed as you open things up to find where it’s coming from.

Not having a regular plumber I called my builder instead, who, god bless him, came over within the hour, recommended a good plumber (who miraculously appeared about 30 mins later) and between the two of them they traced the water back to its source – mercifully not the toilet as originally feared but a cold water inlet pipe to the handbasin.

I now have a series of holes in walls tracing what looks like the destructive path of a giant rat in search of the fountain of youth. To mix metaphors. The siding is off the house to let it all dry out (luckily no rot: the water can’t have been there for long) and we’ve had four days of nice weather.

I called my insurance, the wall repairs etc are covered so it’s just a question of whether it’s more than the excess.

What did I take from all this? Three life lessons:

  1. A tradie who you trust and can call on in an emergency is worth his or her weight in gold particularly when you live on your own and have no one to turn to in moments of crisis
  2. Bad things do come in threes – I’m counting the windscreen, the scratches and the flood
  3. Insurance is not to be messed with

I have abandoned my attempt to save money on my insurance. I have good cover, I pay good money for premiums, and I’ve never made a claim before this past week. But I’ve also stared into the abyss of what can happen after a major catastrophe like the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, so I know the value of a good policy.

And I can take a hint from the universe.

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The satisfaction of small things

Odd jobs are strange things. They’re always small, and they hang around for a long time because they are inconsequential. Nothing bad happens if you don’t do them, and the benefit of doing isn’t great enough to drive action. So they hang around, on the margins of consciousness.

Occasionally I get all David Allan (he of Getting Things Done fame) on myself and empty my mental list of odd jobs onto paper. This is both a relief and completely disheartening because the list is so long, and so full of trivial things that I should have taken care of.

I look at these incidental things and think, that’s a 1 minute job, why on earth haven’t I done that? But instead of just doing it, I either ruminate on what has led me to not do this job for so long (answer? Ruminating on why I haven’t done it) or I realise I’m missing some vital bit for the job and put it off until next time I am at the appropriate store.

Today I knocked off one of the jobs on my mental list of minor repairs needed around home: my letterbox. Ever since I moved in (and Facebook tells me it was 6 -six! – years ago), the letterbox has lacked a latch. I have at various times used a twig or a wodged-up bit of paper to wedge it shut but clearly this has been a low-rent solution.

So yesterday I decided I would do the job. I put the drill on the charger and by morning it was charged. It takes 5 hours according to the sticker on the charging unit. Next, I drive to the hardware store, a 5km round trip, to get a single nail. I suspect this reinforced every stereotype they hold of women and DIY (men would probably buy a box of nails even if they only needed one) but God love them, they gave it to me for free.

I returned home and got the right size drill bit, measured the relevant distance and drilled the requisite hole. This took maybe 10 seconds. I inserted the nail and the letterbox is now latched shut.

This is typical of odd jobs and explains why they never get done: it required a car journey and charging the drill for 5 hours to do a job that took 10 seconds to complete. And what is the benefit? My bills no longer fall out of the box and blow away. Which they didn’t do when the paper or twig wedged it shut either. So really, it’s just a more permanent solution if a completely inelegant one (a nail through the side of the box into the flap, which I simply pull out to open).

But for all of that, I feel like I’ve Done Something this weekend, and when people at work ask what I did over the weekend I’m going to say proudly that I repaired my letterbox.

Lifelong eating habits

I come from a family where sitting down to eat together was simply the way things were done. We sat together at the dining table for breakfast every day: home made muesli or porridge, toast with marmalade or marmite (jam was a treat), and milk or coffee.

Lunch was of course at school or work during the week, so we carried lunch boxes packed with wholemeal bread sandwiches, usually cheese and lettuce, always a piece of fruit. We made and packed our own each morning. I don't recall morning or afternoon snacks at school except at primary school where it was usually a small box of raisins. We never had bottled drinks, juice or otherwise, and we only ever had fizzy drink like Fanta (never Coke on account of the caffeine) on birthdays. Schools had water fountains.

Dinner was home cooked and always eaten at the table. Always. I recall going out to a restaurant three times in my childhood. Meat was a small component of the plate (a single drumstick or wing each for us kids) and there was a minimum of three vegetables. Dessert was usually stewed fruit, occasionally a small scoop of ice cream with it. After-dinner coffee for my parents was accompanied by a single square each of dark chocolate for all of us. I learned to savour that square and to this day I can eat just one square without craving more.

Looking back on it, this seems remarkable when compared with current practice. Two things stand out: the home made nature of the food, and the small portions. I don't recall ever being hungry but I know that the quantity of food we ate was about half or less what a current serving is. No one in my family was overweight. I've been the same weight my entire adult life.

The lessons of childhood have stuck with me. I still have porridge for breakfast, or toast with marmalade. I sit at the dining table to eat it. Most nights I cook, and lately I've been very vegetarian in my recipe choices. I usually make enough for two so I can have leftovers the next night. Where I fall down is lunch, which I have got into the habit of buying at work. I would like to break this habit as it's expensive and I could use the money for my house ventures.

By and large, these lifelong habits have served me well. I'm not prone to orthorexia or adopting fad diets. I still love dark chocolate but stop at two squares.

A lifetime of eating en famille has, somewhat counterintuitively, set me up well for a life of eating alone. I recreate the plates I've been eating from all my life. Habits carry me through.