bignoseduglyguy

Update Four: Life on the smallholding

I haven’t written much here lately so what follows is a rough visual timeline (one picture for every 2½ days) of some of the things we have been up to.

1. Standing outside the garage wondering about which little patch of chaos to tackle next.

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2. Joining the dog on the couch in the garage with a cup of tea, knowing the chaos can wait.

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3. Worrying that I’ll never mow the steep back garden without injuring myself.

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4. Spending a chilly early evening zeroing my new pest neutraliser.

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5. Collecting firewood, stacking firewood, chopping kindling and bagging kindling.

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6. Popping over to the neighbours for a few hours messing around in Jeeps.

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7. Fixing windows for the tenants.

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8. Buying SWMBO the nice shiny red sports car she’s always wanted.

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9. Flying to Sydney and back  in 24hrs for 1 sleep, 2 meals, 3 meetings, 6 taxi rides & an interrogation at Customs at 3 a.m.

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10. Learning from my mate Johnny how to dig post holes, widen a gateway and string No.8 wire.

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11. Chuckling at doing a little light gardening Kiwi-style i.e. with a big blue tractor.

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12. Wondering (repeatedly in this very rainy winter) if our access road will flood.

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13. Taking a family time out to help our eldest move out to a house with new friends.

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14. Collecting  and stacking more firewood, chopping and bagging more kindling.

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15. Working with my youngest to build a new, wider gate for the new, wider gateway.

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16. Sharing the satisfaction of a job well done – and a gate that fits!

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17. Remembering to go to the day job that (mostly) pays the bills.

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18. Admiring the decorating prowess of SWMBO (and assembling some furniture).

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19. Rescuing a sadly fatally traumatised birds from the woodburner flue. 

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20. Sampling a taste of the old country.

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21. Relishing a homemade egg and bacon muffin containing our first home laid egg.

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22. Assisting Johnny move his flood-bound flock to greener, drier pastures.

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23. Knocking myself out in the basement and bleeding a lot.

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24.  Making time with SWMBO to continue running our youth group – like when dissecting pigs’ eyes!

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25. Prepping the rentals for letting.

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26. Re-enacting ‘Fahrenheit 451′ with the kids’  old school work.

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27. Researching local history and finding that valley floods (No. 12) are par for the course.

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28. Retiring old power tools and buying their replacements.

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29. Buying a car – and then selling it again (long story).

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30. And revelling in the daily beauty of views, skies and rainbows (more of which soon).

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Update Three: The House

We have flicked through the property papers and attended a good many realtor open homes over the last year or two and I was pretty much over the idea of ever finding a house and smallholding that would suit us as a family and that we could afford.

We looked at a place in a nearby township and I asked my friend Kevin, who is an architect, to give me his opinion. While he didn’t actually say ‘don’t buy’, it was clear he had reservations as he outlined the stuff he saw and the potential expenses we might incur.  He also gave me a piece of advice that he always bore in mind when buying a place; namely, you’re buying the vendor’s reason to sell and, if you don’t establish what that is, it can be an expensive mistake.

As we chatted outside the place, he told me we were setting our sights too low. By only looking at places we could afford and not considering other more expensive places we could haggle over and bargain down, we were unlikely to get anywhere close to the kind of place we were looking for.  This turned out to be sage and timely advice.

For a laugh, the next day we went and looked at a millionaire’s mansion with 10 acres and had a hoot imagining ourselves living there with the galleried bedrooms and the kidney shaped swimming pool; the power bill and pool maintenance costs would have seen us bankrupt within a few months.  Even so, I was tired of the whole house-hunting thing and, driving home, I had decided I’d had enough of looking.

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Two days later, SWMBO asked me to go view another property after work. It was the last thing I wanted to do but I begrudgingly agreed.  However, it turned out that the property was close by my friend Johnny’s farm and as we passed his place, turned onto an unmade road, through the gate and up a drive, I has a sense that this place might just be different.

And I was right, it was away from suburbia but close to the school bus route, was one bedroom short but had space to create another, had good land but not too much, was more rural but the commute was still realistic. Over the following weeks and months, we jumped through the usual and some not-so-usual hoops as we slowly but steadily worked our way towards making an offer we could afford and the vendor would accept. 

Built on the side of a hill at the end of a koru-shaped drive, the house overlooks a valley which leads to a small estuary on what is one of the largest harbours in the world.  We found the custom-built house cleverly thought out, well-designed and built with an eye for detail and a quality finish. You can imagine the goosebumps we got when the owner told us that the architect he had commissioned to design the place was our friend Kevin!

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The house is North facing with the rooms and decks laid out to make the best of the day’s sun.  The large roof catches the currently-plentiful rain and routes it into two 5,000 gallon tanks buried beneath the back garden for our water supply.  The windows give us amazing views of the surrounding farmland, fantastic skies and spectacular sunsets.   

Fanning away from the house are three paddocks: a narrow scrub-filled gulley dropping away to a small wetland area, a larger sloping grass paddock and a home paddock just below the house, where we keep our chickens and lamb. Across the drive, we have an acre of wetland reserve, a mini-ecosystem of native trees, plants and fauna bisected by a little brook. 

Halfway up the drive and opposite the wetland area, there is a small one bedroom rental cottage. Imagine our surprise when, on one of our visits, we discovered that we knew the folk renting it!  Sadly, they have moved to housesit for friends so we’re currently in the process of showing the place to a slow trickle of prospective tenants.

Adjacent to the main house is a self-contained one bedroom flat, which will provide space for visiting family and friends.  In between such visits, we will offer it as a home stay for international students or something similar to bring in a little extra income.  

Between the flat and the house is a large double garage or, should I say was, as we had a local builder convert part of the space into a bedsit for our first year uni student daughter, leaving the rest for a workshop and storage space. In fact, storage is one thing we’re not short of, as we’re blessed with two lofts, a wet room, a large basement, an under-deck store/animal shelter and a feed store in the back paddock.

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Update Two: The Animals

One of the attractions of moving to a smallholding is being able to keep animals. While we have no desire – and are far too lazy – to be self-sufficient, we are keen to build up our husbandry skills, get involved in the local farming community and know a bit more about the provenance of our meat & eggs.

Oddly enough, it was ‘Harriet’ the hedgehog who greeted us on our first morning on the smallholding.  When she wasn’t bustling her way around the back garden, she’d retire to the large, over-grown rosemary bush where, I suspect, she continues to live. 

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Meanwhile, we prepared to bring our first livestock home and, as SWMBO has wanted to keep chickens since forever, this entailed building up a chicken coop we bought online. After Maisie and I had completed that job, I fenced off a portion of the home paddock to provide an enclosed run for the much-mooted chickens.

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A week or so later, the local A&P (agricultural and pastoral) society’s showgrounds hosted the annual Auckland Poultry Show and we went along to have a look-see.  I have to say that I wasn’t aware that so many people were so passionate about breeding, raising and showing poultry and game birds and we were staggered by the variety of fowl on show.

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Beyond the showing cages, we found a sale room full of poultry for purchase and spent an hour or so wandering up and down the aisles, nodding sagely and trying to look like we knew what we were looking for.

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Though we had already made tentative arrangements to start with some chicks later in the spring, we were keen to do all we could to build up our bird husbandry skills and we left the show with three mature laying birds and a scrawny-looking Silkie rooster packed into the back of the car.

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Since then, the chooks have settled in well and starting to lay the occasional egg, with yesterday seeing the height of production thus far when Wendy returned from chook duties with three clutched in her hand.

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We are blessed to have our good friend Johnny and his family as neighbours.  Johnny has lived on his farm all his life and his willingness to share his knowledge and help us in a 101 way has blown us away.  Whether it has been a cooked meal on the day we moved in, the ‘permanent loan’ of a chainsaw or hours of hard labour to get a job done, Johnny and his family have never once been anything other than a blessing.

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A couple of weekends back, we climbed aboard a stock trailer behind Johnny’s farm bike (quad) and headed up to the top of his farm to watch him work with his two dogs.  Each day, he and the dogs split off the ewes with newborn lambs from the flock and move them to fresher pasture so as to provide richer feed for the lactating ewes.
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Therefore, it was perhaps inevitable that I return home one evening to find, rather than the usual dog greeting me at the door, an orphaned lamb being fed in the kitchen. Poppy, as she has been named, was abandoned by her Mum (possibly as she was lame in one of her rear legs) and Johnny brought her over for us to bottle-feed and wean.
 
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Three weeks on, Poppy is doing great.  The lameness seems to have been caused by septic arthritis.  After refreshing my subcutaneous injection skills (acquired through legitimate purposes, I assure you), I gave her a shot of antibiotics and the leg has now improved to the point where the lamb is now skipping and gambolling about quite happily.  Johnny also helped me ring her tail to dock it and I got another chance to practice my hypodermic technique with a tetanus shot.
 
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Our existing pets (two cats who came with us from the UK seven years ago, a deaf white cat we were gifted and our Jack Russell/Maltese cross, Abbie) had little trouble adjusting to the smallholding.  For Abbie, the acres of space to explore, the masses of cow pasture mud to roll in and the new livestock to befriend are heaven-sent.  Like Abbie, Olive the deaf cat has become chums with the lamb, sees the smallholding as her very own safari park and has spent hours honing her skink-hunting prowess, dragging many a carcass into the house for proud inspection. As for the other two cats, if there’s a patch of sun on a couch or a recently vacated warm bed, that’s where you’ll find them.
 

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Update One: The Move

After a five and a half month hiatus, here’s the first in a number of update posts that will hopefully go someway to explaining why blogging took a back seat for a while.

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The short story is this: we moved.  

The longer story is that, after 6 years, we have shifted from our first Kiwi home, a timber house on a quarter acre section on the edge of a township to our new place, a brick home with granny flat and separate cottage on 4 acres set in rural farmland.

First came the dreaded packing…

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…and more packing…

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..until it seemed like we’d never be finished with the never-ending boxes and brown tape.

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The big day arrived and with it heaps of friends to help us and the movers get our stuff shifted to the new place.  After a day of hard labour and laughs – not to mention a frustrating and expensive wait for keys – we managed to get everything from the old house to the new place, just in time for me to snap the last of the day disappearing over the coastal forest and into the Tasman.

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Family member appears on local Radar

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With SWMBO out at a school meeting, the eldest out with friends and the middle two at dance rehearsals, it was just me and the youngest at home tonight.  Eschewing the usual drivel on the TV, we settled down to watch Radar’s Patch which we have on loan from the great ‘free to borrow’ selection at our local library.

The show, which won Best Information/Lifestyle Programme at the 2010 Qantas Film and Television Awards, follows Te Radar‘s humourous but informative attempt to live sustainably on a typical Kiwi quarter-acre section using methods he picks up from those he visits during the show.  As the house and section is just a few kilometres from our house, we enjoyed some quality couch time watching a few episodes and spotting local landmarks.

Halfway through episode five, as Radar is filmed enjoying the local Santa Parade that rumbles down our High Road every December, we each did an open-mouthed double-take.  We reversed the DVD and played it again and, sure enough, there with her friends yelling ‘Merry Christmas’ from the church float, is the same girl sitting next to me!

A great way to end a lovely ‘dad and daughter’ evening.


On being asked to dry dishes for the second time in an hour

Like many I suspect, I used to wonder what ‘dying to yourself‘ meant when I heard it bandied about in books or conversations about Christian faith and living.  The following helped my understanding when I first read it – and still does.

“I was in San Francisco recently staying at this bed and breakfast place for people who are in the city to do ministry. It was a small house, but there were probably fifteen people living there at the time. The guy who ran the place, Bill, was always making meals or cleaning up after us, and I took note of his incredible patience and kindness. I noticed that not all of us did our dishes after a meal, and very few people thanked him for cooking. One morning, before anybody woke up, Bill and I were drinking coffee at the dining room table. I told him I lived with five guys and that it was very difficult for me because I liked my space and needed my privacy. I asked him how he kept such a good attitude all of the time with so many people abusing his kindness. Bill set down his coffee and looked me in the eye. “Don,” he said. “If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus.”

—Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

The passage popped into my head again a short while ago as I headed to the kitchen to dry dishes for the second time in an hour. I hope and pray that I’ll become more like Bill and less like me as time goes on.


Nice weekend, Mr Bond?

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I slipped a year closer to the half-century in the middle of last week and received cards from friends and family near and far.  In the card that she gave me, there was a small handwritten note from She Who Must Be Obeyed, cryptically hinting that we were to leave our home to the mercies of our four girls plus various invited friends on Saturday morning for a mysterious romantic night away over the weekend.

Well, she must have been salting away the grocery money for years because, after a relaxed and leisurely lunch at The Packing Shed in Oratia, we drove up into the Waitakere hills and ended up at the Waitakere Estate.  The estate is Auckland’s equivalent of an eagle’s nest Bond villain lair – complete with helipad and steep winding approach road – set above the bush overlooking Auckland.

We had a great room with view right across the city and harbour to Rangitoto and the Coromandel beyond. Beneath our balcony was the pool and, following a walk through the bush and tall kauri listening to the call of tui, we had a cool, refreshing swim before relaxing and taking in the view. With a pre-dinner ‘nana nap’ under our belts, we headed to the dining room and a table that gave us a few of the city and Waitemata harbour in the setting sun while we ate a lovely meal and chatted about all sorts.

SWMBO skipped the starter but I couldn’t resist trying soft shell crab with stir-fried vegetables and Asian-inspired sauce, which came with the waiter’s hushed but redundant reassurance that I could ‘eat the shell as well’. After that, we tucked into a main course of fresh snapper for her and 60 day aged Waikato eye filet for me, along with sage-stuffed onion, roast new potatoes and a ‘trio of mustards’.  We finished off by sharing a NZ manuka honey cheesecake with sauteed rhubarb, nut brittle and nasturtium flowers which prompted the waiter to again advise me of the edibility of my meal.

After a nightcap (to aid digestion, you understand), we slept like the proverbial log and awoke to a sunny morning.  After a hearty breakfast overlooking forest and city, we packed up and headed home to see what was left of the house.  While I am not always comfortable in such luxurious surroundings, our getaway was a beautiful gift of time spent together.  I am determined to cherish such times, be grateful that we can experience them when so many have so little and know that we are blessed beyond words when we do.

Heavens above, Mrs D must have been salting away the grocery money for years – that, or we’re on bread and water for the rest of 2012. Just back from twenty-four hour birthday getaway at Auckland’s very own ridge top Bond villain lair (complete with a helipad). Great room with view right across the city and harbour, pool and sauna, fantastic meal and all the trimmings. Determined to cherish such times and remain grateful; feel blessed beyond words when so many have so little.

Of Kite and Cat

The womenfolk of the homestead were all preoccupied with their own affairs yesterday so I grabbed a few hours of bloke time and retreated to my workbench.

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There I discovered that if you mess around for an hour or so in order to find the right combination of drinking straws, tissue paper, glue, plastic string and a paper clip, you end up with a fantastic tetrahedral ‘pyramid’ kite for almost no money.

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Down at the local domain for flight testing, the kite jibed and chopped around madly, swooping and spiralling insanely enough to indicate self-destruction if it wasn’t tweaked to deliver a more stable flight.

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The addition of a tiny tail of two straws and string plus a few tweaks of the bridle, to help it sit on rather than in the wind, worked wonders.  It flew like a beauty in variable winds for 30 minutes – during which I just enjoyed myself and put up a few prayers – until I had to pack up and head to a youth ministry meeting.

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Sadly, in my rush to go out, I just left the kite on the workbench, completely forgetting that we have a mischievous moggie in our home.  Moral of the story?  Never leave your handcrafted pride and joy where your inquisitive white cat can play with it.  That said, this tragic molestation does give me the perfect excuse to head to the store and buy the materials for Mark II!

You can see more photos of the construction and flight phases on this Flickr page and a truly murky video clip here.