One Crazy Drive

Hello, again my dear readers!

At last, I bring to you our tale of the journey over the mountains to the West Coast of New Zealand.  We had bought two chicken coops on Trade Me, and they were for collection by the buyer. Victor got up bright and early, and nipped down the road to collect a car transporter, as there was no way our ordinary trailer would hold even the bigger of the two coops by itself, let alone both together! Would we be able to collect them both and bring them back in one day? Would they fit, and would our vehicle be up to the task?

Our drive over was uneventful, except for a heavily laden cyclist on a tricky hill, but we were happily entertained by the use of the age-appropriate children’s radio broadcast Adventures In Odyssey by Focus on the Family as we drove through sunny hill country, grand beech forests, and remote farmland. We had a few stops for toilet breaks and for food (plus one to collect our old chicken water barrel), but our adventure didn’t really start until we arrived in Stillwater, on the outskirts of Greymouth.

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We stopped to pick up our first coop, the larger of the two, and were asked to wait around fifteen minutes for the front loader to come from next door. We spent the time mostly looking over our purchase and talking to the man who built it.  He is a retired builder, and we could tell that he puts his heart and soul into whatever he does.  His other coops, dog runs and other sorts of small but well-designed buildings were all over the small farm section.  He even offered us some extra things like a bag of clean wood shavings to line the coop when we got it to our home.  When the front loader arrived, the builder took time to make sure that the coop was properly loaded, and he and his grandson helped to secure ratchet tie-downs and add orange flags to the coop to make it stand out more on the road.  He offered a little advice on driving such a heavy load that was also very much appreciated.  We left feeling very happy with our purchase and wondering strongly if we might see the kind old builder again.

Our second big stop was to pick up the little colourful “maternity coop” as Victor calls it.  We waited what seemed like forever to find someone who could help us load it.  We had tried to call in advance to tell them when we would arrive, but no one had picked up.  We certainly had arranged to pick it up that day in any case.

Honeybee and Stargazer spent their time wandering around looking at the ponies, climbing random things, swinging on the little two-person swing and generally having a good time.  Duckie spent most of the time waiting asleep.  Victor and I wandered around mostly just talking about the big coop.   It wasn’t that the little coop wasn’t nice… it just isn’t quite as grand as our big coop.  Eventually, the landowner was able to get his forklift and helped to load the coop.

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They Both Fit!

By now it was getting dark, even though the West Coast is supposed to be only three hours drive from home and we had left at ten o’clock in the morning. By mid-April, the days here are getting noticeably short. We certainly wouldn’t have wanted to go on such an expedition any later in the year!

We had originally expected to be home in time for dinner. In typical Kiwi Homesteading style, where everything takes longer than expected, that didn’t happen. So it was dinner in Greymouth, where the golden arches came to our rescue, and then off down the highway. Ducky’s cherished blanket toy was a casualty of war, sadly, lost (we think) on the side of the road.

Now there are two main roads over the Southern Alps between Canterbury and the West Coast. The longer, gentler, more northerly route is the Lewis Pass, which we took on the way over. Since it was already so late, we decided to come back over Arthur’s Pass, the more direct route. As we headed east along Highway 73, we passed grim signs: “Ye who bear heavy burdens, beware the road ahead,” and, “Turn back now, lest thy carriage prove unworthy,” and finally, “Fly, you fools!”

Well, actually the sign may or may not have been more mundane like this: “STEEP GRADES. NOT RECOMMENDED FOR TOWING VEHICLES.” But this is Middle-Earth, after all.

At first, we wondered what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t until we left the gentle valley of the Taramakau and started up the Otira Gorge itself that it became evident that the warning was not in vain. Victor watched as the gear counter, which started at a healthy 5 out of 6, went inexorably down to 4, then 3, then 2… the accelerator was on the floor… the engine toiled manfully as we crawled, inch by inch, up the perilously winding road and the long slope of the dreadful Viaduct.

Just as we thought that the engine was at its final gasp, we started to climb faster, and I exclaimed that it couldn’t be the car doing this, it was God pushing us up the hill! The girls and I all praised God as we continued to gain speed in our climbing efforts.  Each time the car seemed like it would slow we in earnest prayed loudly something like “Please! push this car up the hill, God!”.  Stargazer yelled “You can do it, God! I know you can!”.

Not long after that, the slope lessened, and we soon saw, standing tall in our headlights, the Dobson Memorial, marking the summit of the high pass.

There were two remaining questions for us. The first and most vexing was that of fuel. There are very few petrol stations in the Southern Alps, and even though we had filled up in Greymouth, our car needed lots to drink to get over Arthur’s Pass and the gentler but higher Porter’s Pass, and on the further side of Porter’s there was still a long road over the plains. Mercifully, the petrol station at Springfield was still open.  It is fairly rare petrol stations to be open late at night in the country.  Victor certainly sighed in relief when we pulled up and noticed that it was actually a 24/7 pay-at-the-pump type petrol station.

The second was whether we would fall asleep, especially Victor, whose eyelids were starting to droop. I wasn’t in any better shape myself, and my eyes were sore and my vision blurred. The roads were almost deserted, and the river mist lay thick on the land. The music was either grating on our ears or sending us to sleep. Finally, we were resorting to trying to name animals, chemical elements, books of the Bible… anything to keep our minds alert as we drove those last few miles.

We made it home in one piece, and after cleaning up a carsick Ducky and putting to bed the older two, we were only too pleased, after a successful but very tiring expedition, to collapse into bed ourselves.

I hope you have enjoyed our story for the evening.  We will follow this up with a post with more photos of our coops and the work we have done to set them up.  Please follow us on Facebook if you haven’t already as we will likely post quite a few more pictures there than on here. You may also get a few sneak peeks at our new animals.

Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

~Grace

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

De fine incepti

Dear Readers,

Thank you very much for sticking with us all these months as we’ve been working hard to find our permanent home. As you might be able to tell from the above Latin phrase, we’ve reached the end of Step 1, and we now own a beautiful farm block! Our new land is 4.65 hectares (roughly 12 acres) in the heart of Canterbury, just northwest of a little country town called Cust. Our property has a fairly gently rolling, but mostly flat landscape but it is surrounded by mountain views!

We carried out our final inspection of the land on Saturday 23 February. This inspection is properly called the “pre-settlement inspection”, and if you buy real estate in New Zealand using the normal contract, you’re entitled to one such inspection as late as the day before settlement day. We’ve found these to be very useful, as you can check that the property is in good shape and that all the chattels you’ve bought are there and in good working order. Apart from the odd deceased sheep — another farmer formerly used the land as sheep pasture — we found nothing untoward, and it was full steam ahead. Settlement itself was very smooth, as our lawyer has taken good care of us, and so the magic spells were uttered and the land became ours about midday on Thursday 28 February!

Now I would very much like a suitable name for our lovely new block of land. I like the thought of something to do with the three prominent hills around us (Mount Oxford to the west, Mount Thomas to the north, and Summer Hill to the south-east), but Victor is still waiting for that flash of inspiration. We welcome any suggestions from the readership, so feel free to post them in the comments section. The winner (if there is one) will get exclusive bragging rights and a shout-out on the blog.

No sooner had we settled on the land than we got right to work. Victor took Friday 1 March off from his day job, and we met with no fewer than four contractors on the site.

The farm came fully fenced around its perimeter, but we decided that we wanted to have a few different little paddocks fenced off and needed some water lines put in, so we could water any animals we acquire. Thanks to Austin of Homesteady for the suggestion; a water line out to the middle of the section has proven remarkably inexpensive, and is sure to be a lot better than carting water barrels around with a tractor! We also wanted a new driveway put in; all the services (power, water and phone) are in the south-west corner of the section, and the existing vehicle gate was in the south-east corner. We didn’t want to have to construct 200 or more metres of driveway; that would have been both costly and wasteful. Victor found a local fencing contractor who has done excellent work; more on that below.

Another contractor was the environmental engineer, who was there to help us design a suitable septic and stormwater system. The fencing contractor helped her by digging a test pit, since he needed to do the water trenching anyway. We’ll say more about her work in due course, but will note that this needed to be done early as a wastewater design is a necessary part of building approval.

The two other contractors were a driveway contractor, who just came out to have a look, and a water pump supplier.

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I found a “local” who was in need of a few acres of land to graze her horses, so the big portion of the grass that we don’t need right away will be kept clean and earn us some income at the same time. The pre-existing vehicle gate has come in very useful: it gives her a means of access without having to go through the home paddock.

The fencing contractor is Andy Smith, who runs a business called Rural and Lifestyle Fencing. He also does lifestyle block irrigation and stock watering. As you can see from the image to the left we’ve chosen to add three 80 litre ball float valve filled stock troughs, one for each paddock (except the home paddock, which came with its own trough). It took him less than 5 days to complete more than 300 metres of new fence lines, drive the gate posts, and do the irrigation lines and set up the troughs for us. Everything looks very professional and we think it will last for years to come.

Whenever we go out there, Victor and I feel our spirits rise. Stargazer keeps asking where our house is, and of course, that is going to be a whole journey in itself. Honeybee likes picking up objects of geological significance and seeing how they taste. I don’t know if she’ll get any beneficial minerals from that or not; Victor thinks probably not, as those rocks are likely to be mostly silica. In the end, at least she’ll have a robust immune system! Little Ducky has yet to express any certain opinion on the subject of the new property. She seems to just want to drink her goat’s milk and spend time in her Daddy’s arms. Our Bella absolutely loves it of course.

Isaiah 40:30-31 says:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I hope you find rest, renewal and comfort in this passage as I have in the past few months. I feel that God is leading us on a very big journey and I hope you will continue to support us as we follow in His steps!

God Bless you and your house

~Grace

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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

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.

New beginnings

Dear friends,

Well, it has been a long time! And of course much has happened in the world outside, and in our little family too. When we last posted it was the depths of winter, and all felt dull and dreary, with sickness and stress… and now it is the first day of summer (as New Zealanders reckon these things) and it feels like everything is full of life and hope. For those who follow such things, tomorrow is also the first day of Advent, which means in some sense it’s the start of a new year… what better time to reboot this humble blog!

Anyway, since we last left, we have these updates:

  • We understand better Grace’s health condition, and she went in for the procedure that had been postponed. It revealed nothing structurally wrong, which is good! We have also been able to test out some new alternative therapies that look very promising.
  • We finished and sold our house in the city! That has at times felt like a real mission, but God has led us through it. We opted to sell privately (i.e. without using a real estate agent), which turned out to be a very good decision in this particular case. It won’t necessarily work for all people, though, so use your best judgement if you need to sell a house – but if you are selling privately we’re happy to share something of our experience. By God’s grace, we got more for the house than we had put into it (including improvements we made), so we are now even better set up for our next steps (and, as Grace has reminded me, for our nest as well).
  • Not only have we sold, but we have settled and moved out. This itself was a massive undertaking, and made even more tricky by the fact that we had only two weeks from “confirmation” (the contract going unconditional) to settlement and possession, and the first of those weeks I was out of the country and Grace was recovering from the aforementioned surgery. What a pickle! But with the help of family and many kind people from our church, we got there in the end.

Now for the really fun stuff. While all this was going on, we put in two offers on land, both of which fell through (Boo! Hiss!). But we believe it was for the best. In one case, the property was really in the sticks, the boonies, what have you… it was a beautiful plot of land, but internet would have been by satellite if at all, and it was quite a way from the nearest sizeable town though doable. More awkwardly, though, the people trying to sell it to us didn’t own it themselves yet. It was very complex, and by the time they could confirm to buy it, we were moving on to other options and had to withdraw.

The other property turned out to be a bit of a trap for the unwary. The owners were subdividing their land, and didn’t want to go to the trouble of running electricity to the boundary fence. Instead they said that on the other side of the road was sufficient. No big deal, right? Just as well we checked with the electricity distribution company in the area! They said it would be probably about $30,000 to put in a new transformer and jump the street. With that kind of commitment needed to even start developing the section, we offered a lower price – as you would do – and the owners wouldn’t have it. It’s their choice, but we definitely think we dodged a bullet there.

And now comes the really encouraging part. Grace had spent weeks bashing her head against the keyboard, so to speak – I think she probably has a permanent QWERTY indentation on her left temple by this time. Finally, she tried a different approach, by going on to Trade Me and looking specifically for private vendors, after getting frustrated with real estate agents who don’t call back (though some of the real estate agents we dealt with have been exceptional, like Linda, Jessica, Glen and Kate). The rest of you, some friendly advice – don’t take on too many listings, for the sake of your vendors! Anyway, we found a property advertised by a fellow who has put a lot of work in to develop it and it seems to be just what we want – a little over four hectares, stunning views on all sides, and a complete lack of covenants. We aren’t going to go into detail yet, because we’re putting in an offer – but watch this space!

Take care,

~Victor