Small Family in Six Suitcases

Hi. How are you? We're a family of three who moved to New Zealand from Seattle in July '05. We sold or gave away pretty much everything except what we could carry onto the 'plane. We thought we'd write a bit about it. We'll love it if you can join us for a few moments.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Farming people

When we go up our street a few yards and turn right, there is a bare section between the houses where four pigs chew grass, bathe in mud puddles and, if you stop to say hello, trot over to the fence to do the civil thing. Round the corner from them is a big corner lot with piled-high firewood and a... what? Cow? Bull? It has horns but that's no decider of its sex, apparently. Anyway, round the next corner are some cows, for sure -- so we're on safe ground there -- and from our own living room we can see sheep in the paddock just beyond the house opposite.

But to say that we are in farming country is quainter than, though not as accurate as, saying that we are in a farming country. I could be describing hundreds of towns and villages in NZ. In Te Kuiti one evening we were strolling home along a very residential street... parked cars, playpark, neat lawns, Sky dishes... when we saw what looked like two big dogs milling around in a front yard a few feet from us. As we drew level we saw that they were not dogs but calves, who were presumably saving the householders money on a mower.

Our local paper carries ads for tractors and 196-hectare rolling contour properties. In the jobs pages, farm-assistant-wanted classifieds talk in terms of "420 cows through a 38 bale rotary... Option to live in/out" (not for the cattle, probably, unless Housing New Zealand now accepts hoofprints in lieu of signatures on their tenancy agreements. Come to think of it, though, and on the assumption that if Housing NZ did accept cows as clients they would have to provide cows among their staff, I'd love to see one of them at their desk on their lunchbreak: just that steady sideways cud-chewing as she stares into the middle distance trying to remember if she set her cow video-recorder to tape South Park in case karate class runs late...)

Are we going to get the hint and put livestock -- a goat, anyway, say, or chickens or runner beans (are they livestock? Ed.) -- on our 1/4 acre? I dunno. Sounds like a challenge for a fellow who is just beginning to master the reality that a boyhood spent cutting his mum and dad's lawns does not actually work like an interest-based savings account, sparing him from having to do his own lawns now on the 'previous-prudence-pays-today' principle.

Vera did organize our little composting bucket this week for our kitchen scraps, though, and yesterday I saw outside the local hospice's charity shop a rack where folks have donated the spare lemons from their own trees and the shop sells them for 20 cents a bag. And as we have a very productive lemon tree -- will we ever shut up about it, for crying out loud? -- I think that doing the right thing would pretty much entitle us to hitch up our jeans with our thumbs and look any 38 bale rotary roundly in the eye.

If it has an eye.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

ANZAC Day is today

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Riveting reading

Tuesday was very wet and cloudy right after the sun and blue skies of the Easter four-day weekend. Today is warm with cloud cover and sunbreaks. Winston is next to the front door on the lime driveway scooping the stony chips into his toy digger, because yesterday's heavy rains made the lawn too wet. Vera is out training for her new, second job, which is a lot nearer home than her Auckland work.

Winston and I are both pretty nearly recovered from the throat bug we have both had for a couple of weeks: blimey, it did stick around.

Had a nice visit yesterday from the real-estate company who dealt with selling us the cottage. They brought the spare key and a wicker basket that was full of lovely relishes, choc eggs, bits and pieces and a card. Very nice but it makes a bloody big key ring :-)

That's about it so far today. We really set the blog alight some days with these thrilling entries, don't we? ;-)

Oops, hang on. Stop press. I've just posted today's entry but felt obliged to come back to report another chapter of rollercoaster excitement:

have you ever had a pair of disposable kids' training pants split open on you? Not that you'd be wearing them, I mean, but you might -- like I -- have been changing your child and had to deal with it. As you know, Winston was just outside playing and I noticed a wet spot on his trousers that shouldn't have been there so soon after he'd put a fresh pair of disposable trainers on (we sometimes have him in these during the day because keeping him dry is important right now even though his broken-leg cast is waterproof). So I investiagted and, golly, it was a bit as though a bean bag factory had exploded... the covers had split apart at the seams and some of the absorbent stuff had spilled out over him. I've heard dark things about what happens if you prise open one of those magnetic sketch machines, and I reckon that these training pants run them a close second. I think -- I hope -- it was just a rogue pair. Anyhow, I suppose it's an excellent track record that this has never happened to us before. Er... yay.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter, Kawhia, and a list

Above (click to enlarge pics) Winston opens his Easter gifts and, later, digs on Ocean Beach at Kawhia.

We waited until this morning to give Winston his Easter gift from his Nanny and Granddad in England. It was a toy recycling truck and containers and, man, was it a hit! Thanks so much, Nanny and Granddad!

Later we drove to the west-coast ocean town Kawhia, where Winnie dug in the black sand for an hour. The drive to Kawhia was much, much more full of severe bends and dips than we had imagined although, on the way back, turning off to Pirongia seems to make the drive a bit milder. Anyway, a lovely day for the journey and it's a magnificent part of the coast. On the way home we chatted with Winston about what Easter is and why it is celebrated. You have to take quite a bit of care to explain the concepts in an okay way. He's three but he listens and asks questions, as you might expect. Fantastic.

For a bit of an Easter laugh, and as we have been in NZ for pretty much exactly nine months, we thought we would jot down a few of the differences and NZ idiosyncrasies we have noticed since we arrived. Anyone who wants to drop us a Comment with more very welcome... maybe we'll post in a few days' time with any additions. Here goes:

We dry our clothes outside, on rotary and straight-across drying lines. We have no drying machine. We usually start with the rotary line, dashing out and switching the clothes to the straight lines under the carport if rain threatens. We have a good old familiar 'Gentle Annie' washing machine made by NZ favorite Fisher & Paykel.

Our only loo -- as in almost all the Kiwi homes we have seen -- is in its own little room just off the laundry room. Talking of toilets very many Kiwi loos have two flush buttons: the one on the left is for shorter flushes, the one on the right for longer flushes.

We have stopped buying juices for Winston because he now has a drink made from lemons from our tree (boy, aren't we proud of that tree?!)

We have no central heating but our wood stove heats the cottage nicely after 20 minutes or so.

Our light switches get flipped down for 'On', and up for 'Off'... opposite to what we were used to in the USA.

DVD players here are powered by votive candles. (Sorry, this one's not true.)

We buy officially stamped garbage (rubbish) bags for NZ$1-2 each, at the local supermarket. This is how garbage collection is funded around here. If you put out an unofficial bag, they won't collect it.

Underneath the slot for letters in NZ mailboxes is a bigger space. We think this is where the milk used to be put to give it a bit of shelter from the sun.

Some public libraries charge a small upfront fee for each book borrowed. But this does not seem ever(?) to apply to children's books, and even among adult books some libraries charge only for, e.g., very new fiction. Videos, CDs and DVDs, though, almost always attract a fee, up to about NZ$5 per item. But I'm sure this is just to make these items available: it's necessity given the library's funds, not opportunism.

It really is true that some houses, some days, can seem a lot colder inside than outside. This isn't just a wry joke: it exists. Our new cottage is carpeted in the bedrooms and living room and is insulated quite well, so we think it probably will not happen here. But other places we have lived in (including an Auckland house) could sometimes feel very cold first thing. Getting outside was quite a pleasant surprise. Put on an extra t-shirt at bedtime, or have the heater no more than a sleepy arm's reach away for the morning!

Vera was looking through a clothes-store flyer this afternoon. It was advertising its late-Autumn goods. She laughed at one panel that showed "Winter School Shorts"! Hmm... are those akin to a summertime parka?! Nice oxymoron. Anyway, Kiwi children do wear school uniforms and, yes, shorts are often worn by boys even at draughty times of year.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A couple of favorites

Photo on right is a nice one from a few months ago. Winston and Vera in Queen Street, Auckland.

A quiet couple of days after the rush of Thursday.

Good Friday and today were very warm and sunny. We stayed at the house all day Friday and today the only trips were for Matt to take Winston to the library and, later, to go by himself to buy a few groceries and Easter eggs.

NZ libraries tend -- amongst a healthy range of other books -- to have many hundreds of NZ titles, especially autobiographies and fiction. That's noteworthy because relatively few NZ books seem to be easily available in other countries. (Tip to folks interested in NZ: contact one of the thousands of NZ public librarians to get an inkling of what I mean, and jot down some author names. If you really need to do your reading before you get to NZ you will thus be able to order via an international online book-buying site or arrange an inter-library loan.)

Today, looking for a book for Winston, Matt stumbled on a book about the making of a NZ film that is revered in our home.

The film is Alex and, as soon as I've typed that, a generation or two of Kiwis are nodding in familiarity. Many of them read the book by Tessa Duder on which it's based, as adolescents. Alex is about a 1950s Kiwi teen girl who is working for a swimming place in the NZ team for the Rome Olympics.

We love Alex, us.

While we were going through the months of applying to NZ for residence, we watched it time and again:

"I can beat Maggie Benton!" Lauren Jackson, the ex-Auckland-Girl's-Grammar pupil who plays Alex, probably didn't realize that that line, which she pushes out though tears as she sits on her bed with a broken fibula after being whacked by a hockey ball, would be chanted with all its intonations a buh-zillion times by an idiot couple living near Seattle.

And if there's a more winning, cuter ten seconds in film than when Alex is treading water in the practice pool, mischievously cuckoo-ing "Si, senor... Si, senor... Si, senor" to her coach's goadings, we want it brought to us on wholemeal toast.

Back to the Easter weekend: Winston and Dad found at least half a dozen books for Winston, including one all about excavators. He loves construction and wants to know all about each vehicle. And at the moment there are diggers and loaders crawling all over our neighborhood. As you might know, we had one in our own backyard a few days ago.

Come to think of it, if you could fit a digger with a beer holder and a mini DVD player showing Alex, you could leave the three of us happily for about six months.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Photo on right is of our new house, with Winston and Vera discovered sitting.

Have a wonderful Easter, everyone!

Here, we have daily home Internet access again after several weeks. Yesterday, when it was installed, was also the day that we closed on selling our Te Kuiti house and buying our new cottage 45 minutes further north. Today is a sunny public holiday and so we are typing this blog entry happily and gratefully, in what is now officially our house.

Lemons wait to be gathered from below the tree on our front lawn. Winston is playing cars in his new room. Vera is busy deflating the trusty queen-size air mattress that has been our bed for six months. The lady who lived here before us has left us some single beds, and we also now have our own queen frame and 'proper' mattress that we received -- wrapped and brand new! -from a second-hand store in exchange for a fridge that we had to spare. (That's enough about beds. This isn't a side alley in Siam. Ed.)

The last few months have been a little tiring, although in terms of the house deals things have gone pretty much as smoothly as we could possibly have hoped. We felt so strongly that we wanted to buy this cottage -- it was the first and only property we inspected after it crossed our minds to move nearer to Auckland -- and we are extremely grateful that we found a buyer for Te Kuiti so soon after making the offer on this address.

By the by, having a crunchy stone driveway is working a quiet but powerful effect on Matt. Hearing that resonant sound under his feet as he walks is making him feisty and squire-ish. After snapping the photo you see above he was striding up the drive to download it.
"Get some good shots?" asked Vera sweetly.
"Apparently, as I'm walking back into the house" spat Matt back at her, and probably with a sneer, although Vera couldn't swear to it as the sun was in her eyes.

Well, it's time for that imposing gentleman to go and sit outside with Winston to play. Community opinion is that Matt should take things easy this Easter anyway. He has been Ingenuity personified this week, and it has taken its toll. On Tuesday, embarrassed for an iron to press some clothes for a job interview, Matt glanced around the house for a substitute device. He spied a saucepan and a hob and a tap, heated a splash of water in the pan, and used the hot metal underside on his trousers. After taking them off, of course.
After that piece of swift thinking and swifter action he finds himself needing rest, rest, a modicum of rest. He might even parley up Pant-Pressing Tuesday -- as it becoming known -- into a book, he says, or at least a novella. Either way, airy nothing will be given a local habitation and a name that it won't forget in a hurry.

It'll all depend on how the mood takes him.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What's Been Keeping Us Out of the Pubs

Thanks so much, everyone, for taking the time to wish Winston all the best with his broken leg. Here is a photo of him sitting on a digger that was parked in the back garden a week or two ago!

What has been keeping us off (or, rather, on) the streets is that we have been moving house again. We love Te Kuiti, and our house there was sound and tidy. But on our way up to Auckland a few weeks ago we found a smaller house -- though on a neat 1/4-acre plot -- in a village near Te Awamutu and Hamilton. It seemed to click so well for us. Although this was a bold move so soon after moving into Te Kuiti, we feel that it makes sense. Indeed, moving more or less straight out of a property is quite practical as things are still pretty much packed and there has been little time to put down roots.

So we have been getting the move underway and looking after little Winston. He is too young to use crutches, and for 4-6 weeks is not to put his weight on the leg, so we have been helping him get around. But now he has his 'permanent' red cast he has, typically, adapted wonderfully and now scoots himself around the house and garden. Also, ACC (the NZ accident-care system) sent him a wheelchair this week which is great: his leg rests on the seat nicely and he does not get the pins-and-needles he did when sitting in his umbrella stroller with his broken leg.

This week has also seen some encouraging signs re. work. Might have more to report soon.

Last weekend Vera's parents, who live in the US, were able to stay with us for a night in the middle of their NZ tour. Their trip started in Northland and the weather there and in Auckland/the Waikato was very good. On Saturday we all went to the Te Kuiti Running of the Sheep event, when 2000 sheep run along the main shopping street (Rora St.) as part of the annual Te Kuiti Muster. A great weekend.

A quick NZ-migration thought:
As I (Matt) write this blog entry I am listening to my beloved UK-based radio shows via the Internet. Although, with the house move, our Web access is a bit difficult at the moment, it remains very important to me to stream or save some shows by Tommy Boyd, Bob Mills and Danny Baker. It's not so much a touchstone as a real love I have had since I was a lad.
I mention this because it seems to fit with an inkling we had as we went through the move to NZ in the first place: which is that part of knowing oneself reasonably well is knowing what small selection of possessions or pursuits to bind to yourself with hoops of steel during the process of relocating to, and settling in, NZ! Migrating is not the time to cut yourself off from the one, two or three most enduring and important parts of personal furniture for which you know you always reach. Migration has enough huge changes of its own. While I think it's probably v.dangerous and daft to try to lift and drop every feature of pre-NZ lifestyle into NZ, there is a strong need to keep a couple of choice interests or items in your personal 'belt kit'. Discover what they are and protect them. And if you really don't value them anymore, deep down, you'll slough them off easily and naturally anyway.
(Obviously, being physically away from family and pals is what we'd most like to remedy. I'm talking above about an individual's own passions and possessions).

More very soon! Thanks for reading.