Magic or Madness? Beginning life in the country, Oct 3, 2007

I was having a conversation with a friend in San Francisco only weeks ago about what we would be doing once we returned to New Zealand. My answer went something like, ‘Oh, you know, we’ll probably continue with our land/property search, but who knows how long that will take, because it has to be the right property and we have very distinct criteria; these properties don’t come on the market that often, so, who knows, it could take another year or so. In the meantime, I’m just going to take the time to focus on me, relax, work in the garden, and enjoy myself.”

Many of you know that Bruce returned to New Zealand two weeks ahead of me. No sooner had he arrived than I received an email from him, “Check out this property. I just received notice about it and Maggie (our realtor), friend Tobi, and I are going to see it on Tuesday.” Oh. Ten acres. Moderately sloped land. Turn of the century (1900’s) renovated farmhouse with three bedrooms, 1 bath, kitchen/dining/living area, separate newish sleepout studio with bath and outdoor kitchen, a garage with workspace, woodsheds, small orchard, a few acres planted in blackwood forestry, and a stream. And a to-die-for view which would satisfy our requirement of having a ‘wow’ factor. Bruce gave it a thumbs up first pass.

View from Property

Two days after I arrived back in New Zealand I went out for a look. Bruce’s second look. A glorious day with the sun beaming down. The owners were on site (this was their weekend home) today. We chatted and they gave us a tour, walked the property boundary with us, showed us the spring, viewed the orchard. They were lovely people. I also gave it a thumbs up.

We had two weeks until offers were due. Maggie started doing some research. Bruce & I talked about it. We didn’t see much downside as worse case scenario would be we’d sell it in a year or two if we couldn’t handle it. Me, Bruce, Maggie, and Tobi went out for another visit. Another warm, sunny day. The french doors onto the veranda were all open, a cool breeze blowing through the house, hundreds of daffodils were in bloom, the garden full of color. Just gorgeous. Two other interested parties were on site. We knew there’d be multiple offers.

We cast out our intention to the universe. We said we’d like to have it. We did more research and strategized about how we should write up our offer. Bruce & I felt calm. No agonizing long conversations of pros and cons as there were really only pros. I started moving money over from the states in preparation for the purchase as we were going to use the cash from the Kauai and San Francisco house sales to fund this purchase.

On the day the offers were due, Maggie went into the sellers agent’s office to present our offer. We were told we needn’t be present as the sellers were not going to make their decision for a few days. So it was a great surprise when Maggie called and said to come right away. After some crazy back and forth (we had forgotten to bring a deposit check), we were all in the office and the sellers agent came into the room with a counter offer from the sellers. $30,000 higher than our offer. On the one hand that’s a lot of money; on the other hand, that’s a small additional price to pay for what we believed was paradise and somewhere where we intended to stay for a long time. We thought about it for a few minutes, asked the sellers to throw in all the furniture, and the deal was sealed. We moved into the room with the sellers, signed papers, had a round of hugs, and it was over within the hour. We had two weeks to close escrow and finish raising the cash.

Bruce & I went out yet again to the property. This time it was a cloudy & rainy day. We went to meet with the sellers, Rosie and Alistair, to do a ‘knowledge transfer’, ie: they needed to show us how stuff worked like the two water tanks and water pump, the wetback stove which heats the hot water cylinder, the fireplace, the details of the plantings in the orchard, etc. We were on site for about two hours, we furiously jotted down notes, we sat in the warm house by the fireplace and had tea. We left with a warm fuzzy feeling and really couldn’t believe our luck. Magic.

Wainui houseEntrance

So here I am today, Oct 3rd, the first full day in the house. I’m not feeling the magic. Instead I’m feeling the madness of our decision. We arrived yesterday with the van packed full of boxes of kitchen and glass wear. Our intention was to spend two nights at the house and get the feel of it. The day was brisk and overcast. The house was cold. First things – get the fireplace going. Hmm, no fireplace tools. Neither one of us brought matches and it took a while of hunting around in the van for me to find a lighter which was with our camping stove. I did bring kindling and paper. Bruce fetched some logs from the woodshed and fiddled around for a while and got the fire going. Next – turn on the water pump so we can have water. Third, get the kitchen wetback stove going which would serve multiple purposes – it would warm the kitchen, heat up the tea pot, and heat up the water cylinder. The firebox for the stove is really small and only takes wee little bits of wood. Seems like it would need a LOT of wood and constant feeding in order to heat up a big water cylinder. Bruce went at it for several hours and all we accomplished was finally getting the kettle to boil, but no hot water!

KitchenLiving Room

We had an afternoon walk on the property. Two wood pigeons fluttered past. We heard the song of many birds; I saw a large rabbit skitter across the lawn. Lovely. However, both Bruce & I were feeling overwhelmed which manifested by us being a bit cranky and needing our own space; we each took off for some solo exploration. I toodled around the area where some old veggie beds were and was now growing full of weeds; I cruised around the flower-filled gully; I started to take closer look at all the plantings of roses and flowers in the front lawn and what kept floating through my mind was: Oh my, this is going to take a lot of work to maintain. I don’t have a clue as to how to care for such things. Will I be able to do it? This is madness.

I am a city girl after all. My childhood was spent in suburbia on a nice little section complete with grassy yard and a mom & dad cared for garden. My grandparents were keen gardeners and I know I’ve inherited some of the green-thumb Italian gene, but really, I know jack-sh*t about caring for land and about using non-electrical-dependent devices such as shacklock stoves and water tanks. But I also know, just like when I bought the Kauai property in which I knew nothing about running a vacation rental property, that if I open my heart and act with integrity, that others will help me weather the storms that may come our way.

Ah, and the first storm, literally, came last night. It poured. The wind was furious and at one point the rain was pelting sideways against the house. We huddled in the bed piled high with blankets. All night long the weather furies kept at it. I had wild dreams that seemed to go on forever. I wanted to sit quietly in my pajamas in the house yet when I walked down the hallway I could see random people sitting in my living room. A car drove up and asked it we had a room to rent for the night. I was back in San Francisco and inviting friends out to the property. The theme was people – people centralizing around and enjoying the property. Joggers running past, people on the veranda peeking in the windows. I’m not sure what to make of the dreams but I think it is a good sign. People wanting to be here.

When I woke this morning, I could see snow at the tops of the Banks Peninsula peaks. It hailed for ten minutes, then showered, and then some sunshine. The house was cold. We started the fireplace but gave up on the shacklock stove. We don’t need any hot water right now anyway. We unpacked boxes. We noticed the little imperfections of the house. I napped on the couch and felt calm. We’re now sitting by the fireplace sipping champagne. The birds are singing merrily. What’s there to worry about?


And so it begins…… Magic or Madness? Time will tell.

Addendum {written 5:15 pm, Oct 4}:

This morning I was awoken by the sounds of the earth quaking and house rattling. Only seconds long, but the hairs on the back of my neck rose and I thought ‘earthquake’. Just got home an hour ago and I checked the NZ seismology website. Yup. 5.6 magnitude quake hit about 150 km (93 miles) north of Christchurch – just your everyday wee little rocker and roller.

Our first two days at the property.

And I say again:  Magic or Madness?