We survived Christmas ... only just. A flaming roast pork on the barbecue nearly set the house alight, even cracking a window from the heat, and gave us a bit of a fright.

It was a tangible reminder to be grateful for the most simple things.

Our Christmas wasn't simple, though, and we went overboard on our children - I felt sick about how much we gave them. Next year, we're going to pull it in and give more to children in need instead of lavishing gift upon gift on those who already have so much.

One Wanganui family did lose their house to fire just before Christmas and kind people have rallied around them. It seems easier to give in the face of tragedy than to those who quietly struggle along.


In 2013, I discovered a book called The Spirit Level, which describes the consequences of an increasingly unequal society, with the resulting social ills that impact negatively on those just getting by and those doing well (if you need a more selfish motivation).

Politics was the theme of my year. For me, the review of the Resource Management Act triggered my dormant activist DNA - and for that I am grateful to the National Government.

I was deeply unimpressed with the quality of the discussion document and proposed changes and it pushed me into stepping up and getting involved.

That meant going public with my previously private political views. I joined the Green Party and my first meeting was their AGM in April which, somewhat nervously, I braved alone.

They said bring food to share and I wondered whether I should be fronting up with a vegan, organic chickpea curry - but pulled out my trusty favourite, a cheese plate. I didn't need to worry, though, because as I walked in the door I saw pizza boxes on the table and haven't looked back. They are a welcoming, intelligent, positive and caring group of people.

Local government elections were up next and my short-lived decision to stand for council, which was withdrawn with our shift to Taranaki. That disappointment gave me the chance to have a public voice in this column, initially to comment on the elections but now at column number 17.

Being able to maintain a professional career, working part-time from home, is another highlight of 2013. My employers at AECOM have been supportive of my work-life balance and highlights include success with fundraising for the Red Cross response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, setting up a workplace giving programme and sending young professionals to India to support a solar energy charity working in slums.

Closer to home, I am grateful for lovely neighbours - here in Oakura and those in Wanganui. Having people you can call out to over the fence is fantastic and creates a sense of well-being and community.

I loved being back in Wanganui for my niece's first birthday on December 23, fitting in some last-minute shopping at the Christmas market.

I saw our hard-working mayor, Annette Main, there, promoting Wanganui in her way - face-to-face, showing first-hand this city's strengths in produce, food, arts and music beside our awa.

My goals for 2014 are taking form, and getting my head around fracking is on the list. Living in Taranaki is challenging as it's stunningly beautiful and under intensifying pressures from oil and gas exploration and dairy farming; two industries facing harder questions from many New Zealanders.

As someone who appreciates and uses modern technologies daily, I know we can't simply switch off our carbon dependence. But I'm increasingly frustrated at the lack of action - it's time for strong leadership to repair our now fragile clean, green reputation.

Yes, we need agriculture and industry, but do we need more ...? Do we actually need less? Where is the balance? Where is our investment in alternatives; our investments in the future?

These are not easy discussions to have, but thanks to my children letting me get a bit more sleep and the ongoing support of my husband and parents, my brain has a bit more room to engage on these critical challenges. Please join me.

Nicola Young is a former Department of Conservation manager who works for global consultancy AECOM. Educated at Wanganui Girls' College, she has a science degree and is the mother of two boys.