Winter Wonders: Life, Volume 9, January 18 – August 15, 2008

Okay, so so much for my monthly recaps. Good lord, I just looked at my blog history and the last recap I did was in January! And I’ve only written eight posts since then. Tragic! Keeping connected to people via the blog is a priority for me and so, I resolve, here in the midst of winter, to start writing more frequently and to incorporate time into my schedule for writing. Yeah, that feels good. Kind of like a winter New Years resolution. Done.

Where do I begin?

We are spending more and more time at our place in Wainui. Since we returned from our May stateside trip, we’ve made an emotional shift in our thinking; Wainui has become our primary home and Clyde Road in Christchurch has become our getaway/2nd home. And that feels good. We feel like we live here, ‘here’ being Wainui, and we’ve slowly shifted some of our beloved belongings like our fridge and Bruce’s bed here. Our schedule is still somewhat haphazard; we spend anywhere from 7 to 12 days in Wainui at a go, and then 3 to 7 days in Christchurch. We’re still trying to sell Clyde Road, having actively marketed and shown it all throughout summer and autumn, to no avail. A lot of lookers and only one offer which failed because the buyer could not get financing. For the last three months, during winter, we’ve stopped doing open houses and advertising because it’s cold and the house doesn’t show well. But we’re gearing up to go at it again, having just reduced the price by $50,000 to reflect current market conditions which have deteriorated over the last six to eight months. Already in the last two weeks we’ve have four parties come see the house; we’re hoping this is a sign that it will actually sell this go around. Keep your fingers crossed and say a little prayer for us.

Meanwhile, our redevelopment plans for Wainui have shifted dramatically. You may recall that we were of the mindset to put an additional dwelling on the property, one that would become our primary residence while the existing house would become guest accommodations. We hired an architect, spend time with her, gave her the go ahead to start designing; we talked with a planning consultant; we met with the area’s resident greywater treatment expert. We were chugging along until everything changed abruptly in late April when I noticed that the site for the potential house was not getting much sun. As we were moving towards winter, the sun was setting lower and lower in the sky, and was blocked by some very large eucalyptus trees and a grove of pine trees on a neighboring property. This is a very serious problem when one is hoping to build a passive solar warm home!

So we put the kabash on the architect and said we needed to experience the property in winter and keep careful watch on the sun’s rays. We’ve come to realize that the existing house is already situated on the optimal spot, so we’re now exploring the possibility of putting on an extension and/or adding a second floor. In some ways, trying to ‘fix’ the existing house will be easier since we don’t have to apply for a resource consent (because you’re only allowed to have one dwelling per 100 acres and we would have had to petition the council to get special dispensation to add another house which would have cost a lot of money to go through the application process); and harder in others, as it may be more difficult to ‘modernize’ a beautiful old farmhouse, keeping the style in tact yet trying to employ the current techniques/technology for creating a ‘sustainable’ home. But we may not have the choice, so we’re now going down this path. We’ve only this week made contact with a structural engineer who we’re hoping will come out and do a site survey for us and tell us whether some of our ideas are feasible. On the plus side, being here all winter has allowed Bruce and I to see what building projects need to get done and which ones first. It’s conceivable that we’ll first rebuild the garage/barn and add a second story to it and then do the house renovation later.


Oh, and the garden. I’ve been too busy being in the garden and not sitting writing about it. We had a wonderful crop this past summer/autumn of fruits (peaches, walnuts, apples, grapes and pears); veggies (zucchini, pumpkins, peas, tomatoes, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, jerusalem artichokes, and loads and loads of potatoes); and fungi (Bruce’s stropheria experiment worked and we got beautiful large mushrooms!).

Bruce & honeyHoney!Bruce

And Bruce harvested our first batch of honey which gave us eight large jars (enough to last us about six months). We went through a comical few days when all the fruit matured at once, especially the peaches of which we probably got over 200, trying our hand at making jams and jellies and baking a lot of crisps and cobblers. A couple of batches came out quite good, while others came out rock hard. You only learn by doing they say, so we hopefully won’t repeat this mistake next year. I also got first hand experience in seed-saving as I let our celery, swiss chard, onions and parsley (all of which are biennials which means they take two years to produce flowers/seed) go to seed. I now have hundreds of each!

Darek, Bruce, MarkStarting the Kaikoura Coast Track

We did a lot of entertaining as we do. Besides hanging out with the regulars – Alex, Tobi, Maggie, Roelf, Marie, Tom, and Briar — we had a few good friends from the States come for a visit. Our dear friend Darek came for a couple of weeks in February. In addition to hiking the Kaikoura Coast Track and going on a dolphin swim (one of my all time highlights ever) with him and additional friends Mary and Kelly, Darek spent a week with us in Wainui where he was instrumental in showing us how to chop wood! Friend Mark also came right around that time for a few days and we enjoyed showing him around the sights which included Wainui and the surrounding Banks Peninsula. And of course we then went to the States in May where we spent the month enjoying our family and friends.

Mark & Kathy Banks PeninsulaChopping Wood

And so we come to winter, and winter it has been. Temperature-wise, it hasn’t been too bad – days are often in the high 50’s while evenings drop to the low thirties and often lower. We’ve had many frosts and a couple of snows which only last on the ground for a few hours. It’s been unusually wet and damp and torrential rains have pummeled both the north and south islands wreaking havoc, causing mudslides, power outages and the like. The farmers are none to happy as there’s not a lot of fresh grass for their stock and farmer Dave recently told me about several cows which had to be put down after slipping and falling in the muddy steep banks of the hills.

July 4 stormJuly 4 storm more

However, we’re relishing the cold, short days; we sit by the fire every night warming ourselves and the house. It’s been two years since we’ve experienced a winter; our bodies have been in need of rest. We’re taking pleasure in our quiet solitude, reading, weaving, listening to music, reading our seed catalogues and placing orders, making plans for spring.

Outside, there’s winter work to be done. I just spent the better half of the past week pruning over 40 rose bushes in addition to pruning the flower beds. Compost making is high on the list and we spend a lot of time gathering all the ‘ingredients’ to make hot compost piles: seaweed from the beach, cow & sheep manure from the neighboring farm, grass clippings, dried leaves, buckets of food scraps which we collect from our friends. Over the past couple of months we’ve made four 5’x5’x3’ piles and they’re all coming along nicely. The first one which we did in December is now ready for use and looks and feels marvelous!

Seed Sowing

Today was a big seed sowing day. In biodynamic philosophy, planting by the full moon aids in seed germination and growth. And we’re upon the full moon and a lunar eclipse in just under 48 hours. So Bruce & I made the seed sowing mix (3/5ths compost, 1/5th peat, 1/5th sand) and filled 12 large 2’x1’ trays and sowed over 25 types of seed. Then we covered them with plastic to create a ‘glasshouse’ effect, hoping to raise the temperature to 80 degrees Fahrenheit which is needed for germination.

MisadventureMisadventure 2

Oh, and we’re not short on having a few adventures or misadventures I should say. Last week, while en route from Christchurch to Wainui with a fully loaded van, as we came up over the pass, the van came to a slow crawl with the gears not shifting properly. We barely made it up and over the hill. Clutch problems. We stopped at the nearby automotive shop where they said it would take a few days to fix and wouldn’t be able to get to if for a few days. So we drove the van in 2nd gear the 12 kilometers to Wainui, failing to make it up the last 300 meters to the property. We parked the van by the side of the road, grabbed as much stuff as we could and walked up the hill to the house. We then each took a wheelbarrow and wheeled several barrows of stuff (groceries, clothes, computers, tools, booze) up to the house. Quite comical, very physical, all taken in good stride. Just when I was down at the van filling up my last load, farmer Dave and his faithful dog cruised by on this ATV, giving me a curious look. “Need help?” he asked. “Why yeah!” So we piled the stuff onto the front of his ATV and I jumped on back and he cruised me up the hill. Sweet as!

After we settled in and as I walked around the property, I noticed that there were deep cow tracks and a lot of cow shit all over our lawns. Calling on farmer Dave, we walked around the property to see if we could find them (for it definitely looked like there’d been more than one). No luck. The next day Dave stopped by and said he’d talked to our other farmer neighbor Gavin who’d said that he’d seen the cows and gotten them out. Now all this is a mystery since we keep our front gate closed and usually locked and our property is fully fenced. So there’s a breach in our fence somewhere and farmer Dave suggested we add some barbed wire along the top of the fence which runs parallel to the road and he even suggested we install a cattle prod at the gate. Hmmmm, damn cows. Good thing Bruce and I are off to a fencing class this weekend And I do mean fencing of the rural kind!

Steph, Pete, BruceMoving the Fridge

Later that evening, friends Steph and Pete came for the evening and rescued us, strapping the fridge onto the boot and hauling all our compost up the hill in his car! Thank goodness for Kiwi ingenuity!

And that, my friends, is our life in a nutshell.

Stay tuned as more will be coming soon!

PS: We’ve got a mailbox now and can receive mail in the country! Email us for the deets.