A Construction of Convenience

Posted by Nick  | 17 Dec 2014  | 1 comment

The main entrance to our cottage is located up a ramp on the side of the building. So whenever we want to go to the garden, laundry, or tool shed (located on the other side), we have to take an inconvenient and indirect route around the house. It can be a little annoying because we’re always having to pop back inside to fetch, say, a drink bottle or a hat, or take a mid-morning poo.

There’s a small deck on the north… Now wouldn’t it have been smart to include some stairs there?

So, one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I decided to build some.

In the above picture you can see the small deck on the north of the cottage. You can also see the cloak room attachment on the right, which has the main entry on the south. Doesn’t seem like too much of a hassle, but when all your activities are undertaken on the other side of the house, it can become a little tedious going back and forth.

Luckily, thanks to the supply of wood left from the previous owner, I was able to scavenge decent scraps for what I needed to build some simple stairs. I had a rudimentary plan in my head, and was confident I could pull it all together on the go. The first step was pencilling the forty-five degree cuts in the supports.

I then took a skill saw to it. Mmm, don’t you love the smell of sawn macrocarpa?

I used the first one as a template and made a second.

I dug a post into the ground and tamped it firm, then nailed on the first support.

Before putting on the second, I made sure to cut five equal lengths of the correct dimensions for the steps. They’re old and rough but solid, and will come away with a good sanding.

After taking some measurements and fluffing around with a cumbersome drainage pipe, I dug the second post in and nailed on the second support. Then came the easy part of biffing on the steps.

I called it a day at this point and beckoned Char to come see. She’d had no idea what I’d been up to, as I’d wanted to surprise her. I was a little nervous, because I had made a structural change without first consulting the Woman of the House. Lucky for me, she was impressed by my work and excited at being able to access the yard more easily.

The next afternoon I set out to add a railing for safety and support. I made measured cuts into the steps to secure the railing post.

Yus, it fits!

I then counter-sunk some long screws to secure the post.

I hurt my brain trying to get the angles right for the railings, but I came out on top in the end.

All it needs now is a bit of a sand to smooth those hard edges and faces. I was surprised at how easy this little project was – I expected to run into more trouble considering I hadn’t made a proper plan, let alone ever built stairs before. It’s super solid, and although forty-five degrees is a tad steep for stairs, it’ll do the trick for now. It is a temporary solution, after all, until we renovate for real. I look forward to doing it all properly in the future and getting my build on!

Since the creation of this construction of convenience, we’ve rarely used the main entrance. The porch slider is preferred ninety-percent of the time because of the stairs now; the main entrance only ever being used to fetch gumboots. It’s great, because it means we’re more inclined to just pop out to visit the garden or chuck on another load of washing. It’s funny how such a small convenience can impact your motivation like that.

What the Duck?!

Posted by Nick  | 09 Dec 2014  | 12 comments

Oh dear. We have acquired a duckling.

It’s not our fault! We forbade ourselves from having any kind of pet until next year, after we’d had time to settle in. We surely don’t need more commitments during this busy phase. But this little fellow dropped into our laps on the very day we moved to the farm! Such serendipity is hard to brush off.

A duckling is one of the most adorable baby animals – everyone knows this is fact – so how can we be expected to have turned it away? We take no responsibility for our choices in light of such will-crippling cuteness.

That’s Char’s little sister, Aria. She and her mum were en route to the farm, towing a horse-float filled with our furniture. When they stopped for lunch near a pond, Aria found the duckling abandoned “in mud and covered in bugs”. She briskly rescued it, and when she turned up later that day at our farm, presented us with the sweet little orphan. As they live in the city with a dog (who had a taste for duckling in the past), it was decided that the best place to rear the little guy (we’ll assume its a dude for now) was our farm.

The duckling survival rate is pretty low, and without proper attention it’s quite easy for them to perish. We immediately jumped on the net and did some reading. The most common cause of death, it turns out, is hypothermia. You’ve got to keep your duckling warm! Without the comfort of a mumma-duck’s insulating down to snuggle into, it’s imperative that the duckling is kept toasty, usually under a heat lamp, or, if you’re willing, in your perpetual embrace:

We didn’t have anything suitable, so for the first couple of nights we kept it in the hot water cupboard atop a hot water bottle in a box. It was fine the first night, but the second night it somehow fell out of its box. When we found it that morning it was limp. Couldn’t even hold its head up. We were distraught. We thought we’d lost it. For an hour or so we sat with it in the warm sun and administered egg diluted in water with a bit of sugar mixed in. To our relief the poor little guy came right. That day we took a trip into Hamilton to pick up some chick-starter food and a few supplies, including a lamp to keep the duckling warm overnight.

By this stage we had affectionately named the wee thing “Echo”. Echo loves egg. We boil it and mash it up for him and he gobbles it down. We’ve also made a blend of spinach, oats, corn meal, and chick-starter feed. We chuck some brewer’s yeast into the mix, which contains niacin. This is to prevent a deformity called “Spraddle Leg”.

His favourite food, hands down, is live blowflies. They’re dopey enough for us to catch by hand, and he gets beside himself with excitement when he sees us reaching down with a fat crunchy insect for him to devour. Better yet, if there’s blowflies on the windows, he can catch them himself, providing you hold him like a little duckling gun:

Echo is super active. He’s quicker than you’d think, and runs around us so fast that we lose sight of him. When he loses sight of us for whatever reason, he immediately sounds his ear-piercing alarm, and continues to do so (annoyingly) until he feels safe again. Sometimes I think he does it just to be a little shit.

When he’s not snuggling into a poop-covered towel in a little box we made him, he frequently accompanies us on trips to the garden. He’s an avid gardener himself. Oi, not the basil!

When he’s fully-grown, hopefully he’ll stick around to keep our garden free of slugs.

He took to swimming like, well, like a duck to water. He’s a boat with legs.

The first thing we do in our nice new pool is, of course, poop.

When we’ve had enough of swimming in our own faeces, we find the most awkward and alarming way to get out.

Feeling sorry for the lonely little guy, we put a mirror in his crib. He pecked it a few times, but quickly made friends. We catch him from time to time peering longingly into his twin’s eyes.

We’ve had Echo for two weeks now, and it’s amazing how fast he’s grown. He doubled in weight in three days. He’s beginning to shed his soft duckling down and starting to look like a gangly teenager. He’s preening with the use of his oil gland now, too, which makes his feathers hydrophobic. It’s fascinating watching water just bead off him. When he dives under, his body is encased by a thin film of silvery air. It’s great that none of this instinctive behaviour needs to be taught.

What a pleasurable waste of time it is caring for a duckling, or any defenceless baby animal for that matter. You can watch them explore the world for hours. And what a handsome photographic subject!

Echo’s getting big. He’ll be too big for his little cardboard box soon. He’s taken to sifting his water, which seeps right through the cardboard to the floor. He poops A LOT. As such, this cute little nightmare is starting to stink out the house. Egg, poop, water, feathers… it all adds up to one pungent duckling. So, yesterday I built him a run. Outside.

Yes, that’s Char in there. I’m keeping her outside, too.

He has some steps up to his own swimming pool, a spacious area for running around, and a watertight home filled with straw for keeping cosy. Not a bad pad for an orphaned duckling! He’ll start by spending the day outside, but we’ll continue to bring him in at night while he’s young. In a week or so he’ll be big enough to sleep out there. Hopefully like any teenager he will relish his independence.

What will the future hold for little Echo? Will he hang around the farm once he’s come of age? Will he remain tame and affectionate? Will he fly off to mate and return every now and then? Will he be a “he” at all? As is the business of blogs, we will keep you posted!

In any case, what better way to celebrate our new path in life with new life itself.

Welcome to the farm, Echo!

Goodbye Auckland

Posted by Nick  | 30 Nov 2014  | 4 comments

We did it! We actually made the giant leap we’ve been dreaming about for years. Yay – and yikes… There’s mixed feelings. Anxiety. Glee. A sore neck. Optimism overall, I think. The adjustment period commences.

This is the first post written on the farm. I sit here housebound by weather, a little before midday, glancing out at the ceaseless drizzle from our new study. Much like Auckland in springtime, our little farm seems trapped within a perpetual cloud. If only the wet weather would spread itself over the inevitably dry summer soon to hit. Char sits quietly nearby, clicking and clacking away studiously at her work. There are no traffic sounds, only birds. There are no street lights at night, only stars. There’s a distant hum that’s missing. I’m not used to this much tranquillity. It almost sets you on edge, as if at any moment there could be a startling noise like police sirens racing by or an impatient driver honking their horn. Or the commotion of unrelenting road-works. A part of you expects the disturbance, but it never comes.

Simultaneously, it also feels unsettling to know that we can’t go back to that little Auckland unit in which we’ve lived for four years. It can no longer be called “home”. The farm is certainly a far better place to create a traditional “home”, of course, and it already holds dominion over our hearts, but saying goodbye to the familiarities of our cave-like dwelling is a bitter-sweet ordeal. We spent half of our relationship there, we grew there, we gardened there.

The move itself went smoothly. No hiccups. I wish we had some funny story to tell, but it really was an unencumbered transition. We had Char’s mum and sister help out. They drove a ute towing a horse-float, which, along with our two vehicles, managed to fit all of our remaining items. Couldn’t have done it without their help – thanks, guys!

It always astounds me how much crap people amass. And it really shows on moving day. I feel ashamed. Do we really need all this? Certainly not. Yet we have a policy of not owning anything which isn’t useful, so I don’t know. As I was carrying the heavy loads I pondered the weight of “ownership”, the obligation and responsibility to have “stuff”, and how what you own ends up owning you.¬† Seeing it all piled into boxes gives me the urge to go truly back to the land and carry nothing but a bow, a knife, and a satchel. You can laugh, and you should. I do. Call me a romantic idealist. The ironic thing is, even though we’re setting out to lead a “simpler” and more self-sufficient life, we will need so much more to do so. The number of tools we’ve compiled in the past few months alone illustrates my point. The reason I mention this is because the idea of freedom is largely what’s propelled our dream, yet freedom, it seems, is not so black-and-white. I guess this doesn’t bother many people, but it kind of bothers me.

Our “big move” doesn’t feel as momentous as it seems like it should. Maybe it has something to do with our weekly trips down to the farm since May. It’s not like we made the move in one giant leap, after all. The farm has been a second residence for half a year.

What will we miss most about Auckland? Lots. It really is a great place, even to introverted hobbits like us. It may be noisy, it may be dirty, but it’s beautiful in its own way, and its convenience and entertainment is pervasive. Most of all, of course, we will miss the people. Our people. We’ve never really felt at home in Auckland, either of us, but it’s still emotional leaving the city we’ve both spent most of our lives. Our families are there, our friends are there, and so many memories are woven into its urban expanse. We met and fell in love in the heart of that metropolis. For all these reasons and more, it will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Personally, and somewhat ironically, an aspect of Auckland that I will miss most is Cornwall Park. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Cornwall Park/One Tree Hill¬† is a massive public green space and farm smack-bang in the centre of Auckland. Because it was my surrogate farm before this one and kept me sane over the preceding years, I feel it at least deserves an honourable mention. It’s a stunning place, dotted with towering fig, oak, kauri, sequoia, and many other hundred-year-old specimen trees which give it a distinctly English appeal. I visited it at least once a week, and sometimes daily since it was only a short bike ride away from where we lived. Being the site of an ancient Maori settlement (once the largest in NZ) and a prominent volcano, it is one of the most interesting and magical parks I’ve ever visited. Scratch away the dirt anywhere on its terraced banks and you will discover an archaeological trove of midden. The life of the park quickly became my main subject as a budding hobby-photographer.

Goodbye, Auckland… You and your inhabitants will be missed. But it isn’t goodbye forever. In fact, Char will be taking regular trips up for work meetings and I’ll probably tag along (until I’m chained to certain farm commitments, namely milking the cow). In the end Auckland’s only two-and-a-half hours away, so it’s no big deal. New Zealand is a pretty small place after all!

Although sadness at leaving the comforts and familiarities of the city will inevitably befall us from time to time, we are more than ready to begin our new lives in the country. We were ready a year ago. We’ve been on the farm for a whole week now, and it really is so blissful out here. Time flows differently. We’re both much more productive and generally at ease. We’re excited about our lives here on the farm; there are so many opportunities to be creative and to connect with nature. There’s a hell of a lot of hard work ahead, but the setting in which it will be done is all the assurance we need that it’ll be worth it. Here’s to the future of country-bumpkinism!

One Week

Posted by Nick  | 17 Nov 2014  | 6 comments

This post is a few days late. Oops.

In (under) one week we will be bidding farewell to Auckland and beginning our new lives out in the boonies. This Friday. Holy crap! It’s actually happening…

These past few months have raced by. And these past few weeks of intense busyness and preparation have been dizzying. We’ve tried to pack as much as we can every trip down. I even took a trip down mid-week with my friend, Dingus, who proved invaluable help with loading some awkward pieces of furniture, not to mention making an otherwise lonesome journey fraught with good conversation and boyish laughter.

Last weekend my task was to jam all of our garden things in the ute, which included such unwieldy items as an old picnic bench and all of our compost. Yep, not letting that go to waste. It’s coming with us!

In the end I had six big black plastic bags of the stuff to contend with, each weighing damn near thirty kilograms! Ah well, worth the effort – our veggies will love us for it and that’s a couple years of food scraps that won’t be going into the landfill.

It took me a while to pack this load single-handedly. Manoeuvring a picnic table through a seventy-centimetre wide gateway by yourself is no mean feat. After the cargo was on board I stood back and admired my 3D Tetris skills.

Less than a week remains now before the “big move”. There’s so much to organise and to do that the time will fly by. Keep your fingers crossed that our next post will be punctual! And the next time you hear from us, we’ll be fully-fledged country bumpkins. Or maybe just naive city-folk who have dug themselves in way too deep… Bring it on!

A Friendly Visit

Posted by Nick  | 24 Oct 2014  | 4 comments

We’ve been itching to rope friends and family into visiting our new farm, but currently our humble rural abode can only accommodate a small number of guests at a time. Last weekend we arranged for a couple of good friends to come down, offering the meagre comforts of a blow-up mattress and bare rooms.

Arriving Friday afternoon we wasted no time in giving them the grand tour of our blank canvas, including a battle through the bush to the nearby waterfall. In my excitement I annoyingly left the camera at the cottage. Luckily, Dingus had his phone.

Saturday’s weather was mostly poo, but that didn’t stop us from bunging the remaining trees in the ground that we’d bought for our border.

As a matter of record and sentiment, the first ever trees planted on our farm by our friends Dingus and Lauren were a snazzy pink manuka and a giant-to-be kahikatea, respectively.

The first-time visitors seemed thrilled by the idea of seeing their tree-planting efforts grow over the years. How much bigger would they be in five years? In ten?

Two extra pairs of hands saw a third of the border completed in half the time. Our hard-working guests were rewarded with bacon sandwiches.

Here is a happy Char. Why is she so happy? Because bacon. Bacon is the life-force.

After lunch we called it a day and settled in early, driven inside by the relentless rain. Both nights we stayed up far too late playing Monopoly. The theme of the board we used was based on the Hobbit films. For a first-time player, this was an odd experience. Purchasing “properties” the likes of Legolas Greenleaf and Bilbo Baggins felt as if I were somehow partaking in a Middle-Earth slave-trade… Nevertheless, the game had us enthralled to the wee hours, resulting in a wake-up time that would mortify the sensibilities of any farmer.

Sunday thankfully brought clearer skies for viewing the farm in a more charming light. We did a spot of archery then casually goaded our guests into chopping some wood. Maybe if we brand this as an “authentic homesteading experience” we can score some more free labour… Muhaha.

The grimace of manliness:

The girls decided to clean up the mess I’d left when I’d last cleaved carbon. Thanks girls – oh, and Dingus too at one point when Lauren was wielding the maul. While everyone busied themselves, I hung back and stuck to the laborious task of snapping photos.

The girls soon wandered off to go thistle grubbing. We men continued to contend with the wood pile. Dingus found splitting the rounds quite meditative and satisfying once he got into a rhythm, which seems to be a common appreciation by most who give it a go.

A little while later when I scanned the distant paddocks to see where the girls were, what I spied was not thistle grubbing. No, something else had caught their attention…

Donkeys! Needless to say, we found them just as irresistible and made a beeline straight for them. These sweeties are our neighbours, and are very friendly. We hadn’t met them before. They were quite keen on introducing themselves with kisses.

The friendliness of these gentle burros made us long for some of our own to care for.

Quite a lot of thistles were grubbed in the end. We all had a fair whack, probably annihilating a couple hundred of the prickly bastards altogether. The satisfaction of this task, likewise with the wood chopping, did not go unnoticed by the friends. The novelty hasn’t worn off for us yet, either, but I’m sure it will over the coming years. Hopefully it will remain an entertaining pastime for our infrequent visitors.

We had a blast sharing our new country home with some of our closest friends, despite the weather being pretty lame. Thanks for the help, guys – come back any time!