Allow us to introduce…

…the newest member of our merry band, the vivacious Bella!

When we first decided to get a large block of land, and considered running stock on it, our minds turned to Man’s best friend. What better time to look for a helper? We — and by “we” I mostly mean Grace — thought long and hard, but not too long nor too hard, about breeds and such like. We wanted a dog who would be fast, energetic, easy to train, loyal, good with children, and quiet (mostly; we have to make some concessions to reality). And while we’re at it, why not world peace? But we were pleasantly surprised. We went on Trade Me, which is New Zealand’s answer to eBay for our international readers, and found a family who were selling a border collie / huntaway cross for a relatively inexpensive amount.

It would seem that the family dog, the border collie mum, had some unexpectedly personal contact with Nana and Grandad’s unfixed huntaway. The result was a litter of no less than eleven puppies, which was a bit much for a town family to keep at home! So we stopped by for a visit. Most of the pups were mildly curious about us, but mostly just wanted to sleep, eat or play. One of them, though, a very little girl, climbed into my arms and nestled herself there. To this day, I say that she chose us, and Grace is quick to correct that to, “She chose you.”

Bella was born in March 2018, and we took her home in May. This is how she was about when we first got her:

And last month, when she was about ten and a half months old and had been living with us for nine months:

Bella is very much a puppy. She enjoys chasing frisbees and balls, and doesn’t always bring them back, preferring to run rings around us while holding them in her mouth. Grace remarks that the one thing she will catch and bring back to us is her own tail, which is frequently seen swinging rapidly from side to side. She will absolutely lick a small child to death at the slightest opportunity, much to the displeasure of Honeybee and, to a lesser but still significant extent, Stargazer. Ducky, on the other hand, doesn’t seem unduly concerned, and likes to put her fingers in Bella’s nose! Our life with Bella has been in some ways as much about learning ourselves as training her. For instance, we spent part of this evening trying to teach Stargazer that when Bella gets in her face she has to remind Bella who’s boss. Collapsing on the ground and crying is not an option unless you wish to be licked even more fiercely.

On the other hand, with grown-ups and other dogs, Bella is remarkably submissive, even timid. It’s not because of any harsh treatment from us; we think she was the natural runt, and we were told she was picked on by her litter-mates. She has started to come out of her shell a bit as she’s grown, and we hope she will be able to keep spending time as appropriate with other well trained dogs. In the meantime, she very much enjoys going for a run with me of an evening.

Over and out,

Victor

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Investigations into rural internet

One of the aspects of our due diligence investigation into our land was the availability of internet. Since I work in IT, and since an online presence is important to our various endeavours, getting a good and reliable internet connection was necessarily important to us. We had already pulled out of one block of land because it appeared that internet was thin on the ground out there, and so it was important for us to check this out.

New Zealand was a relatively early adopter of the internet, as could be expected given our remoteness. However, while our people love to be online, we don’t necessarily get good speeds. Our links to the rest of the world are few in number, and internal infrastructure (or lack there of) is an obstacle. We love to hate Chorus, the telephone lines and infrastructure company, and it’s almost certainly true that some decisions they have made over the years have exacerbated the problem; but the biggest challenge is our population density. New Zealand’s population density is said to be about 18 persons per square kilometre, only a little more than half that of the United States (and that’s with Alaska and other sparsely populated areas included). The Government has spent several years leading the charge to bring fibre (“Ultra Fast Broadband” or UFB) to homes and businesses, but that is only really in the cities and large towns, though there is a plan to bring fibre also to smaller towns especially where there are schools and hospitals. Word on the ground, naturally, is that Chorus has no plans to do fibre to the home outside urban areas; and they can’t really be blamed, as putting what might be tens of kilometres of fibre in the ground to look after only a few hundred customers is not really worth their time. They do offer a process for “Next Generation Access on Application” (abbreviated to NGA on Application, or NOA), but the ball park figures typically end in four or five zeroes.

So where does that leave us? Well, in rural areas where phone cable exists, VDSL is available (for customers very close to the cabinet), or ADSL (for customers moderately close to the cabinet). But we were told on enquiry with ISPs that our property is either just beyond the effective range of ADSL, or just within it but far enough away from the cabinet that we could expect poor and slow service. Scratch that, then.

That leaves us with three other options: The so-called rural broadband initiative (RBI), which uses the cellphone network; terrestrial wireless; or satellite. The good news is that both RBI and terrestrial wireless are likely to be available where we will be building, because satellite is not a desirable option: one pays through the nose for very limited bandwidth allowances, slow speeds, and weather driven outages. RBI and terrestrial still have quotas and speed limits, but the speeds are comparable to what one might hope to achieve with VDSL in the towns, and quotas are what they are – it is just one of those things about living in rural areas. If your lifestyle absolutely requires unlimited internet, the lesson is that you really should live in an actual town.

And who knows? In years to come, it might even be cost-effective to do fibre in rural areas, but I’m not holding my breath. Still, we will put a duct in the ground just in case, because one never knows what tomorrow may bring.

Of mushrooms

Growing up in semi-rural Canterbury, one of my joys was the occasional opportunity to collect wild mushrooms. These were typically the field mushroom, which I’m told is Agaricus campestris, though some of the larger specimens may in fact have been the horse mushroom (A. arvensis). Even then, I wasn’t one to turn up my nose at free food, and in these days of getting all kinds of food and drink from the supermarket, there is something special about finding fresh food in the wild (these weren’t the only ones; we would occasionally harvest mussels from rocky beaches, or catch fish).

It so happened that the other day I found a wondrously large mushroom (though not nearly as big as some, such as the giant puffball, large specimens of which have been rumoured to be mistaken for sheep) growing in the overflow car park at work. So naturally I brought it home, as both a learning and a culinary opportunity.

A cluster of horse mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis). Copyright Wikipedia user “Luridiformis”.

Stargazer was delightfully mercurial in her response, one minute declaring that she didn’t like it, and the next completely changing her tune! That girl definitely responds well to a courageous example. Having eaten some bits of it fried up with butter and a little garlic, she declared that she loves horse mushrooms. Honeybee on the other hand cut to the chase and demolished her portion. The truly reluctant members of our little band were Grace’s parents. Apparently, they aren’t really to be blamed: the wilds of North America are full of toxic fungi of all kinds, and children there are told that distinguishing between the toxic and edible specimens is all but impossible unless you’re a mycologist. Myself, I think that’s probably over the top, at least as a lesson to carry into adulthood when the more subtle distinguishing characteristics can be observed; but I digress.

I would of course be remiss if I didn’t point out that gathering wild fungi is not for the unobservant. Even in New Zealand, we have instances of the aptly named death cap, Amanita phalloides, which in one of God’s little jokes looks more like either the field mushroom or the horse mushroom than most other species of edible mushroom do in New Zealand. But it doesn’t look extremely like either if you know what you’re looking for:

  • The field mushroom and horse mushroom are white to light brown on top; the death cap is pale yellow-green.
  • The gills (on the underside of the cap) of the field and horse mushroom are pink or flesh coloured, darkening to a dark brown as the cap ages; the gills of the death cap are white.
  • The death cap has a bulb at the base of the stalk; the field and horse mushrooms do not.
  • The death cap has an upwards opening collar on the stalk; the field and horse mushrooms usually don’t have a collar at all, but if they do it opens downwards.
  • The death cap when bruised, cut or damaged turns vivid yellow.
  • The death cap emits a foul, sulphurous odour while being cooked; the field and horse mushrooms smell, well, like mushrooms.
Amanita phalloides, the death cap. Do not eat! Copyright Wikipedia user “Archenzo”.

Having said all that, if you’re unsure what a mushroom is, do yourself a favour and leave it alone. This is especially important if you have young children with you at the time, as it’s important to set a good example!

Happy foraging,

~Victor

Tempus fugit

A major challenge of starting any new initiative, like a blog, is incorporating it into the rhythms of life, and time flies by, so a weekly update is the order of the day. Grace is asleep next to me as I write, battling a cold; we are both looking forward to a restful break over Christmas as this has been a demanding year. We are also looking forward to celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary. Time flies when you’re having fun, and marriage and family are a great adventure.

Our week was thrown out of gear when Grace’s dad became seriously ill and was rushed to hospital. Coming home from work to find an ambulance parked in the driveway is an interesting welcome, but panic is for other people. By God’s grace he has pulled through and is now back at home recovering.

Meanwhile, negotiations on the block of land we mentioned last week went very smoothly: our offer was accepted and we now have to complete a due diligence investigation. This is multifaceted, and I think each aspect of it merits a post of its own. Nevertheless, we are greatly encouraged, and look forward to next steps.

Grace, meanwhile, is looking into the raising of birds. The conventional option is of course chickens, but we’re looking at other options including turkeys and various kinds of game bird.

Meanwhile, the year draws to a close for Stargazer and Honeybee, who have their kindergarten’s Christmas party next week. Our children have a love for learning and taking on new challenges, which we think will stand them in good stead for our adventure.