My new life: Vol 1; Oct 11 – Nov 9, 2006

Ah, we’ve just completed our first month back in New Zealand. And what a month it’s been. We’re absorbing new information at such a rapid pace — my brain is like a sponge and I’m exhausted most nights. We’ve now taken most of our CPIT classes (12 hours of Earth & Straw Bale Building, 12 hours of Intro to Web Design, 6 hours of Know Your Plants, 12 Hours of Permaculture Design, 5 hours of Easier Gardening + Bruce’s additional classes of Bee Keeping and Organic Horticulture); we spent an afternoon at the Canterbury Home Show where we perused and gathered all sorts of information on heating systems, we’ve been to two green building seminars where we’ve heard architects talk about the need for better & ‘greener’ building techniques, and we’ve spent an enormous amount of time ‘moving’ and ‘settling’ into the house.

The emotional pendulum has swung back and forth frequently this month and I’ve come to realize that that’s just how it’s going to be for a while. We’re in transition and with that comes some turmoil.

This has been a month of adjustments.

First, I have to talk about the weather. Everyone does it, and now, so do I. The weather turns on a dime – daily temperature variation generally spans 15 degrees C (about 27 degrees Fahrenheit) with the average daytime temperature this month probably around 15 C and evening temps dropping to 6 or 7 C or lower (59/43 F). Wind is a big factor here too. You need to know your Easterlies from your Southerlies from your Nor’westers. Easterlies usually bring wet weather, Southerlies bring the frigid cold from Antarctica, and the Nor’westers bring warm but howling winds sweeping across the Canterbury plains. They say the winds can get up to 140 km/hr.

Houses here are not insulated well, and our house, built in the late 70’s, definitely was not built with proper insulation. The downstairs (which contains 3 bedrooms, office, living room, dining room, and kitchen) gets virtually no direct sunlight and retains no heat. It’s cold. Our upstairs (which contains 2 smaller bedrooms, a big sitting room and the unfinished attic space) has several great skylights to let in the sun and usually warms right up. It’s hot. There’s no happy medium. It’s like living in two different houses. Since the house is large (2000+ sq ft), we choose not to heat the whole thing, and so, I’ve found myself on some days sitting in my downstairs office with the heater and my long johns, hat & fingerless gloves on and then later in the day sitting upstairs with shortsleeves, basking in the warm sunlight. Yin and Yang. Does not make for a pleasant day-to-day existence especially since we’re home all the time. So, we’ve found ourselves talking about the weather A LOT and how it’s affecting our home life. We know that our time here in this house is temporary, but we don’t know how temporary (a few months or several years) and so we’re struggling to figure out just how much money we should invest into trying to improve the heat distribution and insulation of the house. Double glaze the windows? Put in more heat pumps? Invest in some sort of ducting/fan to move the upstairs hot air into the downstairs cold space? All open for review and needs to be resolved within the next few months. I won’t be happy going through fall & winter here unless we find some solutions.

Bruce in Living RoomAnd so we’re learning to be in our house. Bruce has steadfastly been working on setting up the home theater system in the living room and has spend HOURS trying to get all the equipment working. He’d bought a projector, amp, and 8 ft screen right before we moved, but it’d never been set up. So this is all new for him. Wires are everywhere, the projector mounts from the ceiling and is wired through the attic space, he’s trying to network one of the computers to it. It’s going to be sweet once it’s done. I, after having had my office and bedroom in two downstairs southern exposed (read: cold) rooms for a month, decided the other day that I needed to change both of them. So I moved my office upstairs into the light and warmth and shifted the bedroom to the north facing side of the house. I think it’s going to be better.

We’ve been very involved with the folks who are organizing the KiwiBurn festival which is happening in February. There’s about a dozen folks in Wellington who are working non-stop to make this festival happen. Although this will be Kiwiburn4, it is the first ticket-charging Kiwiburn occurring on public lands, and, so comes the need for liability and consents to conform to local regional laws. Kiwiburn is now a non-profit entity. The site has been selected on the north island and they’re hoping for a 350 person attendance. Bruce/I are going to do an installation — looking like it’s going to be The Green Fairy Black Light Lounge serving homemade absinthe with a smile. Bruce is fashioning a geodesic dome out of reclaimed recycled materials (there’s a very cool recycling place here in CHCH where we can get free castoffs from various businesses – Bruce picked up a few hundred pieces of 1 ½ meter PVC and some plastic containers which he’s using to cut into strips as fasteners for the dome struts). We finally got the back building all organized so we could get the workshop going and today he cut & drilled the pieces and did a test run building one of the hubs. It looks cool. Once the dome design is figured out, we need to work on the actual aesthetic and presentation of the installation, so we’ve been busy batting around ideas and shopping the thrift stores for cheap material which we can use for the lounge or for costumes. Today I got my sewing room organized so I’m ready to go. And then there’s the homemade absinthe that needs to be produced. Bruce has sourced all ingredients necessary to make and distill his own spirits; tomorrow he meets up with the local brewstore owner to talk about how to actually use the still we own.

Oh, and we’ve been busy with our outdoor projects too. All the horticulture classes we’ve taken have been great. Bruce has really dug his bee keeping class, has gone to the Christchurch monthly bee keeping group get together and is now poised to get a hive of bees. That should be happening within the next two weeks. I’ve really enjoyed my permaculture design course and have spent lots of time sitting in the yard, tracking the Clyde yardsun’s patterns, sketching the garden and learning about our plants, and reading and sketching out the veggie plot. Turns out that the lovely large birch trees lining our north boundary are blocking a lot of valuable light and we may not have enough sunshine hours hitting our veggie plot to grow sunloving plants like tomatoes and zucchini. So, lots of watching, thinking, and pondering. I finally came up with some alternative areas where we can dig out the grass and put in more veggie beds. This little project needs to be dealt with in the next few weeks so we can get the beds planted. I’ve turned the smaller back building into the gardening ‘greenhouse’ and I’ve been sowing seeds and tending to my seedlings. I managed to sprout a dozen or so swiss chard and lettuce seedlings in the last two weeks. Way cool. The greenhouse also serves as the temporary home to the larger seedlings we’ve purchased as they need to be hardened off for a few weeks before being planted into the ground. In the last few weeks we’ve picked up tomato, zucchini, lettuce, leek, cilantro, basil, carrot, chive, horseradish, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, thyme, rosemary, and pea plants. If I can make it all grow, we will have a kick-ass veggie garden this summer!

Lyttleton OutingAnd, last, but not least, we’ve been doing our best to continue networking and socializing. We’ve seen our handful of friends several times. Briar had a party out at her place by the beach; we all sat around a campfire toasting marshmallows, playing guitar and drums and enjoying the seabreeze. We see friends Anne & Scott on a weekly basis and have gone over to their place for a few dinner parties. We’ve gone over to our gaming friend’s house a few times as well.

We’re also experiencing new holidays in a different hemisphere. October 23 was Labour Day, a public holiday commemorating the efforts to bring an eight hour workday to the world. We were invited over to our gaming friends place for dinner (with their five children, the eldest of whom is only ten!) and an evening of games. November 5th was Guy Fawkes day, a British holiday which is embraced here and celebrated with spectacular fireworks shows put on by the various townships. Fireworks are also sold to the public for a ten day period leading up to Guy Fawkes day and throughout GF weekend, neighborhoods are ablaze in a colorful display of bright lights. We didn’t end up making it to any public fireworks show, but heard and saw enough of it in the ‘hood.

This week kicks off Cup and Show week, a celebration of the founding of Canterbury, featuring various horse and dog races, fashion shows, and culminates with the big agricultural A&P show. Apparently this is THE event of the year with thousands of livestock and machinery exhibits. Hmmmm, shiny tractors. Can’t wait. We did start it rightFashion Week by attending the Techno Fashion show on opening night of Cup & Show week. I dragged Bruce along and we sat through 2 ½ hours of hot runway fashion. HA! The emcee was great and bubbly and kept talking about how proud the Cantabrians should be for hosting this first time ever world event with guest displays from Japan and yes, even from Los Angeles, USofA. The Japanese brought “the talking handbag” – ‘smart’ l.e.d. bags that start blinking (ie: talking) once they detect each other. The US sent the techno savvy jacket — the wearer can transmit messages to the jacket which displays in marquee form on the jackets’ back and lapel. The emcee couldn’t help repeating that the jacket sells in the world for $2500 US. Whoo hoo. The main portion of the show featured local designers, from the big department stores to the small boutiques, featuring every day fashion to the wild and carnival-like exotic fashion. It was fun.

And so culminates our month. With all this activity, I haven’t been good at staying in touch with everyone back home, so please do tell, what’s new with you?