Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Greatest Gift

P1030196‘Every gift from a friend is a wish for your happiness’ – Richard Bach

The last Best Present Ever that I received is Enid (my bike). Yesterday, the above arrived in a package from England. A leather-encased professional writer’s journal, branded with my logo and containing a beautiful, hand-drawn sketch of The Royal Courts of Justice in London and an elegantly crafted card full of warm and wonderful words. Where do I even start?


Some of you may recognise the masterly hand of my illustrator, Nicki Whetstone. I read a blog post by Kelly Roberts recently that really gave me pause – its message was about appreciation. As I wrote in a comment to the post, ‘I should definitely be taking a moment – lots of moments – to appreciate the people who support me and are there for me and actually Do give back. Every day. Like the partner who has to listen to me moan about everyone else. And who takes the brunt of it when other people put me in a stressy, frustrated place. To one of my best friends back home, who fits in illustrating for me alongside the ridiculous hours she works and gets me excited about our projects. To the dozen beta readers who are reading my novel and providing me feedback, just to help me make a better book.’ That evening I read my partner-in-crime a list of things I love about him. And I planned a postcard to my illustrator friend. I received my present before even having a chance to write, never mind send it. So on top of doing everything that makes her one of my topmost appreciated persons, she then goes over and above in showing her appreciation for me – I’m just humbled.

I’m lucky to own more than one gift that has blown me away. They’ve done so not just because of what they are but because of what they mean. The thought and execution that have gone into them mean that I matter to someone. That I am valued. I only hope that my own gifts and words and actions make my friends feel the way I’m so often made to feel.

The greatest gift is friendship. And I strive to be worthy of the friendships I am blessed with. It’s friendship and love that make my life one of happiness and fulfilment. And I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for that.

What’s the greatest gift you’ve ever gotten? The greatest you’ve ever given? Take a moment today and tell someone how much you appreciate them – that can be a gift in itself. 

Sara Wars – A New Visa

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 10.58.46 AM“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

My hands are so chilly I can barely type. But I must. I need to tell you the news 😀 Partner-in-crime and I have finally been granted New Zealand residency.

That’s right. After a year and a half in make-up, I now look like this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 1.06.18 PM

Some of you may have heard more than you care to of the trials and tribulations that have brought us to this point. A hefty sigh of relief was blown over my bubbles last night! I’m so happy to be here, with all the battles fought and the war finally over.

To those who may not have an appreciation for the pain of immigration admin, let me walk you through the process. Last January, we decided to go for residency. Due to my prowess with paper, we decided not to go for an immigration lawyer (they cost a crazy amount. I’m almost tempted to become one). Before you can even apply for residency here, you have to submit an application asking to be allowed to ask to be invited to apply. This ‘Expression of Interest’ cost $500 and involved a large form, covering all sorts of background, proving that you have 100 points plus. You get points for qualifications, an offer of employment in a ‘skilled’ category, years of relevant work experience etc. These things I have, so I thought it would be a straightforward road to travel. First up, your EOI joins a pool, from which the higher pointed applications are selected every fortnight. Having started to gather evidence and prepare the app in Jan, we submitted in Feb and received an Invitation To Apply in March. So far, so smooth.

Then the real work/expense began. It took another 3 months before we could submit an application (at a cost of $2k) because I had to have my accountancy qualification assessed by the NZQA (at a cost of $1k). I had everything lined up ready to go, but alongside certificates and transcripts, they then asked for my school qualifications (GCSEs and A-Levels), which I hadn’t seen for a wee while (ok, a long while, I’m aging). We had to have full medical checks, bloods and x-rays (at $450 each). We had to have full police checks and certificates from any country in which we’d been situated for a combined total of 12 months over the course of our lives (thankfully just the UK – NZ do their own sneaky check – and thankfully clean 😉 at $100 each – and they only accepted UK based payment, thanks Mum & Dad). We also needed proof of partnership, which would have been easier had we not been living in a van 12 months previously, with no idea that we would have been doing ourselves a favour if we hadn’t thrown away all proofs of address to lighten the load on the road. Initially, the first employment reference I requested (for my 4 years at Ernst & Young in London) came back stating I’d only worked there as an intern for 6 weeks. Awkward. And getting the right evidence was only a part of it. Referencing it and writing it up was a whole other kettle of kiwis.

Pressing submit on 21 June last year was *amazing.* Subsequently waiting 7 months for an immigration case officer was not. Her first contact was to request us to provide a statutory document, which we’d need to request from a government body in the UK, in 3 business days. Was she on glue?! That took 4 weeks. I later ended up providing her with 14 months of payslips and background to why partner-in-crime’s nose was broken when he was 15. No joke. She asked so many technical questions of my employer, the response took 4 pages of A4. At more than one point, the future did not look bright. It seemed they were trying to make an example out of me. They wanted answers in tiny timeframes, but wouldn’t respond to my communications. There was a distinct lack of friendliness about the process. It was like being in a trial, where you’re not welcome until proven worthy. So you can imagine how it felt to outgun them :p (ahem, I mean, thank you so much for letting me stay in your country). Now all we need to do is coax them to put the stamps in our passports within the year – and pay a $600 migrant levy.

Just as I’ve learnt with the path to publication – it’s better not to be an island. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. There’s nothing wrong with people sharing and supporting your goals and letting them assist you. Yep, we didn’t fork out for a lawyer, but I *drowned* in paperwork. Half a metre had to be couriered off. I stressed and worried and triple-checked things every step of the way. Being qualified to do something alone doesn’t mean that you have to. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do the same again – just that if money is no object, an immigration lawyer is a swell team member to have :p I became a paranoid pest when dealing with my immigration officer. With a lack of lawyer, I couldn’t have done this without having friends to bounce off and whine to. We couldn’t have done this without the 18 people who wrote us letters of support for our partnership and posted them from all over the world. And we couldn’t have done this without timely references and recommendations from employers past and present. So I’m not just triumphant, I’m grateful.

Are you struggling with anything at the moment? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be too proud to ask for help (just don’t ask me – I’m fricking exhausted :p). A win is a win – sometimes we need support to get where we want to be. And it’s so lovely to see so many people happy for us. A genuine thank you to everyone who has shown their support in so many forms, during this and many other long, arduous battles. 

Lies, Lies, Lies

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 4.26.04 PM“You can’t handle the truth!” – A Few Good Men

This week, I have been mostly becoming addicted to Suits and considering the nature of truth. Laughably, given the triumph of the pending reversal of the bank-charge-to-be, partner-in-crime and I were almost immediately robbed on TradeMe (a Gumtree/Ebay equivalent over here).

We handed over $1720 last Tuesday, expecting delivery of goods by Friday. On Saturday, I received a message saying said goods were broken on Thursday night. Having spent all our money buying a car on the Wednesday, the seller says they don’t have the funds to pay us back straight away. But there were assurances our money would come back to us asap. A week later, I followed up. They ‘honestly’ don’t have the money to pay us back. But will. By 1st April if not before. Never mind that we’re paying credit card interest in the meantime and have effectively loaned this guy 2k for a month for free to buy a car. Having said he’d send the goods on payment, why did he even still have them at the end of the week? Couldn’t he have posted the item when he went out to buy a vehicle with our money? Is it even broken, or is this whole thing a scam? This could just be an unfortunate situation. I’m trying to be patient, putting myself in the seller’s shoes. But I just can’t tell how truthful those shoes are.

I dropped a line to TradeMe to let them know the situation. But even if it becomes evident that the seller’s leading us on and not planning to return our funds, they can’t actually do anything to enforce repayment. Like so many things, online trading is all based on trust.

I don’t think I would have made a very good lawyer. I only ever wanted to be a movie-star lawyer anyway (Tom Cruise in The Firm, Tom Cruise in A Few Good MenTom Cruise in Cocktail… wait…). Anyway, I’m unsuited to a life of Suits. I just can’t hack lying. I’m not saying that lawyers lie. But when there are two sides to a dispute, lies are all around.

I was in court last month for a contractual dispute, representing my employer. It was a fool’s errand because, at every turn, I was confronted by lies. The respondent was lying; the witnesses were lying; disgruntled ex-employees were lying; or more current employees were lying about what the ex-employees had been told. Some lies were blatant, while other lies I’m sure they had told themselves with such conviction that they were convinced they were the truth – but that didn’t help me. I ended up pulling the case, because I couldn’t produce enough evidence that everyone’s lies were just that.

I wrote notes on how frustrated I was at the time – I’m looking at the garbled mess of hyperbole as I type. I couldn’t face a collusion of lies with an unsupported truth. And it killed me. Bear in mind this was just a small-fry contractual issue, not a life-changing criminal court charge. But I cried with frustration.

People lie. They cheat. They steal. They hurt. They maim. They kill. But we have to move through life with a little trust. There are good people who act in good faith and we can’t look upon everyone as the enemy. My hope is that in cases more important than my company’s dispute, truth overcomes lies and justice is done.

My hope is also that I get my money back from my TradeMe perp. Perhaps he is in good faith and really does just need some time, for genuine reasons. Hmm.

Let’s take a poll – am I getting my money back?! Who else has a problem with the lies other people tell? What’s the worst lie you’ve ever been told and how did you handle it?

Sara Wars – The Phantom Bank Charge

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 10.51.38 AM

Always pass on what you have learned – Yoda

Soon for me to have another post it is. But Kristen Lamb suggested blogging about my latest triumph – and what kind of padawan would I be if I didn’t listen to the master?

I got paid today (yay). I logged into my bank account, only to find I’d been overdrawn for a week. Not having a lot of them, I’m a little anal when it comes to my finances. I *hate* getting failed direct debit / automatic payment fees. I *hate* going overdrawn when I haven’t seen it coming. So it doesn’t happen much. These incur fees and fines that are more lost money on top of that already lost.

Last week, I specifically called my internet company because I knew the funds weren’t currently where they needed to be to pay my direct debit. I paid by card from a different account. And then confirmed at least 3 times that the direct debit wouldn’t go out this month.

Having checked and doubled checked on the phone – I then didn’t check my bank account to see if they lied to me. They did. They overdrew me. Meaning bank fees would ensue at the end of the month. So I called the bank to find out when these would occur and how much they would be ($15 – but that’s not the point!). I then called the internet company to have a fight and try to reclaim the fees that hadn’t yet happened. And I’m usually epically nonconfrontational (which apparently isn’t a word – but should be).

We had a little row about whether the customer service person I spoke to previously even know I was on a direct debit and wasn’t just paying by card. I explained that the whole reason I called was to make sure the direct debit could be averted. I had even asked if it was too late and if I should physically move cash around by foot from one bank to another (quicker than an internet transfer here in NZ, trust me) to make sure the payment could be made as usual. I was assured it would be fine.

The lady on the phone shot me down. But said she would review the call to see if my wild claims had foundation. My account being in credit, I could ask for a a refund. By this time, I’ve been paid, so I’m not overdrawn. I don’t mind being in credit with them, I just mind the impending fees for having been in my non-existent overdraft through no fault of my own.

There’s a lot going on at the moment. I’m a bit overwhelmed with work and life… The lady on the phone upset me far more than she should. By this point, I knew it was a case of $15. It was not the end of the world. I’m not even sure it met the threshold to be a matter of principle. But for some reason, it was. I was disproportionately incensed at the injustice (first world problems, ey?!). This reaction was the first hint that I need to take a chill pill, a step back and possibly a valium and calm down. And address the real issues I’m upset about at the moment.

The second clue was the unreal jubilation I felt when the lady called back and, apology in her voice, backtracked and said she’d refund the bank fee, having listened to my call of the week before. Could I send proof of the bank fee? Well, no. It hadn’t even happened yet.

But when it does, I’ll get it back 🙂 Victory is mine – I have won the battle!

To win the war, I’m going to have to get some perspective. Not to belittle my jubilation, but there are bigger victories to fight for right now.

Is anyone else outraged by unjustified bank fees? Has anyone had a similar little triumph give them a boost at exactly the right time? I think it’s ok to do a little victory dance. I definitely did one… And it was fine, since I then resolved to regain my perspective and get back to work! 

Sara Wars – Return Of The Year-End

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 10.58.46 AMIn a galaxy far, far away…

I wrote a post at the end of the year all about highlights. I love the way we call it ‘new year’ rather than ‘year-end’ – it shows we’re looking forward. The phrase has a hop of hope and jump of joy about it. Year-end doesn’t quite have that happy ring, especially for my alter-ego.

I’m in a saga of split-personalities at the moment. Let’s call the saga Sara Wars. By day (or at least, more often than I’d like), I am Sara the Reluctant Accountant. By night (or, really, at all times I’m not at the ‘dayjob’), I am Sara the Editor, with her own business (one which will hopefully one day make it possible to be Sara the Recovering Accountant). And I am Sara the Writer, soon to be Published Author. The latter give me more joy than I ever hoped to find. But they take time. They take effort and energy.

I am not ungrateful or regretful regarding the fact I qualified as an accountant. I have gained invaluable skills and I have met priceless people. But at year-end, the dark side encroaches on all other aspects of life and I resent it. There is so much to doooo – and it doesn’t get me any closer to building a bigger, more successful business or being published and becoming a better writer – it steals me away from those goals.

This year, I’m committed to more than one entity that needs accounting for. One is the company that employees me. One is a friend’s business. One is a charitable trust. And one is my own enterprise. Don’t even get me started on the personal tax returns on the horizon, an army of Imperial Stormtroopers.

But however thinly we find ourselves spread. However Darth Vadery the numbers become. However much the Death Star of Compliance takes our time and tries to break us… There has to be an accounting.

In all walks of life, for all our alter-egos, there has to come a time, whether it be year-end or otherwise, when it’s time to take stock. It’s time to spend some time reviewing exactly what we’ve done, how far we’ve come, figure out the figures, and plan the best steps to succeed in the time ahead.

Death and Taxes. They come to us all. They are sinister and unfriendly. But we owe them – they come for us and call us to account for our activities. In the meantime, the saga continues. See you on the other side, when I may or may not give you further installments, including The Inland Revenue Strikes Back and Attack of the Auditors.

Do you cope well or choke on resentment when you have to take time away from your dreams? Do you find it hard to account for yourself? Is the Death Star of Compliance ruining anyone else’s day? 

Temporarily Alone. Permanently Lucky.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 12.22.18 AMAm I good luck? Bad luck? Or just too damn cute?

My Dad left on the weekend, back to the UK after his visit to NZ came to an end. My Mum left after her visit a month ago now – how time does fly! Partner in crime is up in Auckland for work for two weeks, so I’m left alone (sniff), cheating on him with books and blogs.

Disgruntled as I am to be temporarily solo (more sniffs), a few things I’ve read and seen recently have made me realise how lucky I am. If you ever find yourself needing a little perspective, look no further than the stories all around you.

Helena HB’s story of the missing two dollars and Laura Bates’s most recent TED Talk on sexism and solidarity beyond borders are two stories that stopped me in my tracks this week. Is it right that I feel ‘lucky’ not to have been abused as a child or a partner? I don’t know. But I do. I feel thankful. So many people haven’t been that lucky. I’m always going to be grateful for coming from where I’ve come from. I feel awful for the people out there who have come from so much darker places and had their trust and human right not to be abused violated.

I’ve always been superstitious. Don’t walk under ladders. No new shoes on the table. Don’t step on the cracks. Never spill salt without flicking it over the left shoulder. Heaven forbid I ever break a mirror… But while I don’t believe in tempting fate, I do still believe in making your own luck. It kills me sometimes that we can’t control the luck of the draw – we can’t control where we’ve come from. We can’t control the horrible things that people can be capable of doing to each other. But some brave souls will always show us that, wherever you’ve come from and whatever has happened, we can still control where we’re headed. And we can still control our own actions.

Can everyone stop, pause and find something to feel lucky about? Are black cats good or bad luck? Remember not to walk under any ladders, but also remember to make your own luck. There’s so much bad in the world. We need to do some good stuff to balance it out.