It’s a beautiful world

The equinox has just passed us by, and in true Canterbury style the nor’wester is back, like an old friend. The birds are happy with the warmth, though, and laying in earnest, and the house continues to make rapid progress. It’s said that the windows and doors were supposed to go in today.

Last night, though, a wicked southerly change came through. Grace texted me, exhorting me to take care on the roads, and saying that the animals – our dog and two cats, that is – were rather distressed by the thunder and lightning. Nevertheless, I resolved to go out to our block and check on the birds. It was as well that I did so: unexpectedly, the chicks had eaten nearly all their food, and the big birds had drunk nearly all their water.

Having decided to drive by the back way, I was treated to the two ends of a rainbow, framing the Waimak as it flowed out of the gorge onto the plains.

This morning, too, I was treated to a dusting of snow on the top of Mount Herbert, and also the North Canterbury foothills. The last of the season, perhaps, and the storm went as quickly as it came, with a fine warm day today.

All seasons have their joys, but Spring is a favourite of mine, a time of new life and hope, and fitting for where we are in our journey.

Advertisements

Still alive.

Winter is not an easy time of year for the Kiwi Homesteaders. The coughs and colds come out in force, with three kids in kindergarten. We’ve also been house-sitting for Grace’s parents, and that has at times felt like a mission, with maintenance items coming out of the woodwork and a lot of floor space to deal with.

So this blog took, once again, a back seat. I’m sure that, like exercise, blogging requires a slog of commitment until a habit is formed.

Less than halfway through winter, though, our Araucana hen, Mary Hen, decided to start laying very pretty blue eggs, and our rooster, Robbie (yes, based on Robin Hood and the maid Marian), rose to the occasion. So we had high hopes that we would welcome a batch of pure-bred Araucana chicks.

But, alas! Disaster and disappointment were our lot! Grace had bought an incubator off Trade Me in April, and it passed its first test, but when she turned it on again it failed badly, going into an endless cycle of rebooting, and shocking me while I attempted to investigate the problem. Time to invoke the warranty.

So what to do with the eggs? Eat them, or try something else? Well, in business, there’s no sense doing anything by halves.

So off to Chook Manor we drove, to equip ourselves properly. We spent about five times as much, but instead of a product of indifferent quality that could just as easily have died in the middle of a batch of eggs and lost us hundreds of dollars worth of livestock, we now have a Brinsea Ovation 56 EX, reputed to be one of the best on the market for small to medium-sized batches of eggs. And because it has a thermostat and a hygrostat, we don’t need to worry about the temperature or humidity, once we figured out one or two knacks to operating the equipment.

And so, between Mary Hen’s contributions and a number of Waipahi eggs (the Waipahi being a recently developed breed from Southland), we started our first incubation batch of 20 eggs. It turned out that four of the eggs were duds — infertile, perhaps, or the avian equivalent of a miscarriage — and another two were stillborn, and a seventh died a few days after hatching. But the remaining 13 are healthy and happy, and we moved them into our chick coop today at four weeks old.

And Mary Hen, not content with her efforts, is still laying. She seems determined to be a mother one of these days.

Don’t worry!

It is, “Situation normal, completely crazy,” at the Kiwi Homestead right now. I don’t believe we’re called upon to practice Zen-like detachment, though. This world is real, the battle lines are real, and we’re in the thick of it.

Grace fell a month or so ago and hurt her leg. By God’s mercy it wasn’t fractured, but a good couple of months, at least, of recovery are needed. For our readers who pray, prayer for swift and complete healing would be much appreciated.

Our builder applied for a building consent (the current New Zealand term for a building permit) for our house a month ago. The Council has come back to us twice wanting clarification on many points. Peace and patience are the order of the day, and they sometimes feel like a tall order. We hope to hear back within a few days.

Grace’s parents, with whom we have been living, are off overseas for several weeks, and we are house-sitting for them. No sooner did they leave than a leak in the plumbing became apparent. Cue calls to plumbers and builders to stop the leak and repair the damage already caused by it.

Sickness has been rampant, with back to back viral illnesses brought home by our children in kindergarten. Everyone is, though, getting better.

It is the shortest day today, and winter is definitely here, with long nights and crisp frosts. Serotonin and Vitamin D are at their yearly low.

And yet, in the middle of the chaos, the sun is still shining, the world is still turning, and God is in control and will see us through.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. — Philippians 4:6

Chicken Coops

One of the most difficult things for Grace to do when we started renovating our old house was say goodbye to our six brown shavers and three chicks. They went to a good home with some friends of ours, but we missed their personalities and their eggs, which we used ourselves and sold surplus.

Now that we have our block of land, we were in a bit of a dilemma. Did we try to build a chicken coop from scratch, or buy one pre-built or even kitset? We thought the former would be how we would have to do it, as getting a decent sized chicken coop in New Zealand is not particularly economical. On the other hand, to buy building materials, transport them to site, cut them to length, fit them together, and so forth is a significant hassle, and although we have most of the tools by now we don’t yet have power to the site, nor a workshop. And we didn’t want to wait until our house was built before we started our chicken farm. Lead times are big: the egg must be hatched, then the chick grown to point of lay, which process takes approximately eight or nine months.

So, this morning we hopped on Trade Me and looked for coops. And lo and behold, what did we find but an as new coop that would hold up to 20 or 30 hens, and a slightly older and smaller coop that would be fantastic as a maternity unit! And both are on the West Coast, only a shortish drive from us.

Shortly, therefore, we will be taking a trip with a big flatbed trailer to collect a couple of chicken houses. Watch this space…

Over and out,

Victor

Good Friday

Hello readers!

I feel that I have gone completely silent of late. It’s the time of year: 31 March is the end of the New Zealand tax year, and I, Victor, was up to my eyeballs in dealing with several months’ worth of financial data. That little project is still ongoing, but there was a bit of a time crunch for our Goods and Services Tax (GST) return (for our American readers, this is our version of sales tax, but more like a European-style Value Added Tax). Anyway, I was finally able to pause and draw breath about half-way through this month.

On top of all that, we had to refinance, due to a lame bank that said it would offer us enough funds to build our house and then refused to do so. Apparently, that particular bank prefers to deal with “dinkies” (double income, no kids) like my and Grace’s parents. Having three kids and only one full-time income earner made us into a big risk from their perspective. And policymakers these days wonder why young adults aren’t marrying and having kids the way they did back in the day… but I digress.

In better news, we have finally signed the building contract! Which feels like the end of a very long process and yet only the start of another. Still, we should start seeing real and measurable progress shortly, once the builder has drawn up the full plans (much more comprehensive than the “scheme plans” done so far) and they have gone to the local council for a building consent. It all takes time, but we will get there, God willing.

And speaking of God, it has been good for us to take Easter off, as is the law and custom in New Zealand, and to pause and reflect on what God has done for us in Christ. Again, for our American readers, Easter has the same role, in some ways, as Thanksgiving, being the “other” big holiday (apart from Christmas) and a four-day weekend. Of course, most use the time for general holiday purposes, but for us, Good Friday is first and foremost a day to pause from the stresses and bustle of life, and remember.

1 Who hath believed our report?
And to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of a dry ground:
He hath no form nor comeliness;
And when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men;
A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:
And we hid as it were our faces from him;
He was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:
Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities:
The chastisement of our peace was upon him;
And with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned every one to his own way;
And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
Yet he opened not his mouth:
And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,
So he openeth not his mouth.

He was taken from prison and from judgment:
And who shall declare his generation?
For he was cut off out of the land of the living:
For the transgression of my people was he stricken.

And he made his grave with the wicked,
And with the rich in his death;
Because he had done no violence,
Neither was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him;
He hath put him to grief:
When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin,
He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied:
By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great,
And he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
Because he hath poured out his soul unto death:
And he was numbered with the transgressors;
And he bare the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

 

Peace,

Victor

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

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.