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

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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