Friday, June 30, 2017

In Defence of the Hobbit

It was duty really.  The Shire wasn't calling me, i was in no hurry to go to New Zealand's number one tourist atTRAPtion.  One of my besties came to visit me and we debated about whether it was worth spending a day there.  In the end, it was her SON who wasn't even with us that made us do it.  Her kids were stuck at home with dad thousands of miles away while she was here.  She knew he would be devastated if mom was so close didn't stop in to the Shire.  If nothing else, we'd find good souvenirs there.       

i remember reading the Hobbit in Mrs. Wiebe's High School English class.  i'll be honest, i didn't like it.  i read it but just couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.  I'm not a fan of fantasy genre and although i love a good adventure myself, i was quite disappointed Bilbo set off on his own quest.  In my humble opinion if there was anything appealing about the book it was Hobbiton where Bilbo lived and should have stayed.  To have him vacate his charming cottage on page 31 was huge disappointment to me.

Fast forward *ahem years ahead* and i have 2 guys in my life who love The Trilogy, books included.  i find myself living smack dab in Middle Earth so i feel a bit of a traitor to not have some sort of affinity for the little Hobbits.  Parts of New Zealand truly transport you into the pages of some wild fantasy from a far off land with its stunning and sometimes surreal scenery.  i have found myself a bit more taken with fantasy now that i live here.  And yet, i was still in no hurry to visit the HOBBITON tourist trap.  "Tickets are expensive, the tour is only 2 hours long but the drive itself is about 2 hours from my house one way," said in a whining voice.    

Regardless, we arrived at the ticket office and were slightly confused.  After all that driving we were ready to WALK The Shire but there was no Shire to be seen ANYWHERE only a gift store, some woolly sheep and a parking lot.  No Hobbits in sight.  We paid for our tickets and got in line to board a bus, trusting at some point they would take us to the Hobbit Holes.  

We quickly discovered how clever the whole scheme was.  You can't get to The Shire unless you know the secret way.  There's no drive by, get a peek and say you've been there.  You have to commit!  Pay your money and get a golden ticket, and board the bus to enter the Shire.  Which may be why Bilbo was so surprised to see Gandalf..?

However, once you find your way in it is completely MAGICAL, even for a skeptic like myself.  

Once i stepped into the Shire i was suddenly and completely smitten.  i didn't want to just READ the Hobbit, i wanted to BE a Hobbit!

During the the tour they give you all sorts of fun movie facts which one would think i could care less about since i am not a fan.  Not true.  i may not be a fan of fantasy however, i do love me some good trivia.  #1 Hobbition is a working farm aside from all the tourist that come through.  Although the farm had 13,500 sheep, it is said Sir Peter Jackson preferred a different variety so he brought in Suffolk sheep for filming instead of those already there.  

#2 Sir Peter Jackson (SPJ for short henceforth) flew around various locations trying to locate a spot for the perfect backdrop for the Shire.  Can you imagine the windfall of the farmer when SPJ knocks on his door and tells him he wants to use his land for this little movie he wants to film??!

The hills are dotted with sheep and upon entering it truly is another world.

Enough wool here to clothe many hobbits but not glamorous enough to make the cut for the big screen.

#3 SPJ secures the location and contacts NZ prime minister at the time Helen Clark, requesting a budget to build roads for this endeavour.  She says NZ doesn't have the budget for something like that but instead provides him with the NZ army to assist him.  #4 In return he thanks the army by using them as extras in his battle scenes only having to remind them at times they are supposed to LOSE in particular scenes NOT win, so calm down the fighting.

 # 5 The original set from 1998 was made from plywood and didn't hold up for the second filming in 2009.  #6 When SPJ returned to film the Trilogy, the farm owning family was clever enough to convince SPJ to build more permanent structures for the Hobbits and the future paying tourist who may want to visit them. 
It is EXACTLY like stepping into the movie!  Every where you look it is picture perfect.  After a few minutes here we are convinced Hobbits DO exist and we WILL see them!

It's as if they have gone out for the day and we have just missed them.

#7 There are 5 full time gardeners (more in the summer) who care for the Shire, we never once saw them but i am sure they have big feet and are quite short.

44 Hobbit holes in all.
You will be happy to know i didn't take a picture of every one.  It was hard though because the detail of each one was so inviting!  You couldn't help but want to move in.

This from the "Not a Hobbit Fan."  i can only imagine what a die hard would think.
# 8 i know you are wondering...What's inside?  Nada, nothing inside, not a thing.  It is a just the back of the hillside :-(
Those sets are all in Wellington.

You are supposed to stay with your tour guide and group for the one and half hour tour but you can't help but be tempted to wonder off.

The details are extraordinary.  Evidence of Hobbits are everywhere.  There are clothes, tools, laundry and food items left behind as if the Hobbits have gone into hiding once they realized the humans arrived.  
The gardens are immaculate.  #9 Each Hobbit hole is said to have 30-200 plants around it.    
As if we need ANOTHER reason to want to move in!?

About the Tree...
It had a bit of makeover.  
#10 SPJ didn't care for the color of the leaves so each leaf was individually painted and attached to his liking.
 The party scene!    

A posting would not be complete without a picture of Bilbo's home. 
His sentiments haven't changed.
(But my kids have!  :-/)

After a wonder through The Shire we meander back towards the Green Dragon for a refreshment.  

Lest you think we had The Shire to ourselves...

The Green Dragon is recent addition to Hobbiton.  It is a tavern that serves drinks to wanna be hobbits. 
Our tour concludes with a "free" pint of Ale or Ginger beer.   (Trust me, we paid for it in the ticket price) We cozy up to the fire with a cat and enjoy our drink at the table all the while waiting for the arrival of other hobbits.
Sadly, after a short time our group is summoned to board the bus and return back to reality. 

      i leave a enchanted and the newest Hobbit fan.  We revisit the books and movies all over once we get home.  

i know Bilbo HAD to leave but should another adventure arise, we would be happy to house sit for him!

You can read more about Hobbiton at their homepage here.
If you would like to learn more interesting facts look here 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Magical Mangawhai

i am always up for a local experience.  i can be a sucker for "touristy" things as well but if i get the chance act like a local, i am all about that.

We had some friends graciously invite us to their "bach" for a kiwi experience.  Bach is one of the first foreign words we learned when we moved here.  Pronounced batch, it is know as a small & modest summer home.  Originally it was often a very tiny home with very basic and minimal construction.  At times more of a sleeping shelter without running water and electricity.  Today these homes are certainly more modern but still usually small in size and still referred to as a bach.

During the summer, beach loving kiwis (who likely already live near the sea) pack up their things and head out to a different beach and stay in a bach or campground for weeks at a time.  It may seem odd to leave your local beach to live at another beach only an hour away.   However the beaches and weather here can differ so much in such a short space of distance.

For example, on the west coast of Auckland you can find black sand beaches with no trees, big surf and dangerous undertow.  

This beach called Piha and has a tide and current/rip so forceful it is an extremely dangerous place to swim.
It is a popular tourist location the local Surf Life Saving Club is extremely busy rescuing clueless tourist and overconfident locals.  Some days on the beach you can watch as they film the "Piha Rescue" TV show.  Think Reality Baywatch with a lot less Hollywood glamour and a lot more swimsuit.   

However, on the east coast 45 minutes away at "our beach" as we fondly refer to it, there is little to no surf, bendy pohutukawa trees and light coloured sand.
To get to our friend's bach, we drove about an hour north to experience a different bit of NZ. 
Mangawhai Heads 

It is another stunning place!

We were looking forward to a local experience and have never been to this well known area referred to as Magical Mangawhai.  A beautiful NZ summer day filled with kiwi activities and a meal of freshly caught pipis (Pip-ees) was what was on order.

The first part of the day was spent hunting for our dinner.  One must wade out to the pipi spot when the tide is going out. 

Look for the spots where pipis have buried themselves in the sand.

Celebrate finding the first one!  It is a bit trickier than one might think.  

Collect a bucket but remember the limit of 150 per person.  (Ha!  Not a problem, only wanted a tasting not a years supply.) 

Take a swim break from the pipi search.  Did i mention it is hard work? 

Let the kids sand surf into the water.

The last time they did this was in Dubai except there wasn't any water at the end of that run.

Next take the boat out for some "biscuiting" a.k.a tubing and wake boarding.    

Quaint little fact about NZ:  tractors are the common source of transportation for the boats here.  We find them parked at various places around the beaches.

We discovered NZ doesn't have the same boating regulations as CA.  Chris and i used to be so annoyed that we were required by law to have at least two people ages 14 and up IN THE BOAT.  One could drive and the other must hold up the orange flag to warn other boaters of the skier in the water.  We thought it put a real damper on our ski fun when the kids were younger and we couldn't find a last minute 3rd person to come with us.  NZ doesn't require this and i actually felt quite uncomfortable about it, especially when my kiddos were out in the water with no orange flag to protect them.  To ensure their safety,  i thought i would hold up an orange life jacket so other boaters would obviously know i was signifying we had someone in the water so 
Keep a Safe Distance.    

Yeah, so that didn't translate :-(  Kyle was getting ready to go for a run and in the water adjusting the rope when another boat sped by us WAY too close, catching our tow rope in its motor and ripping it from Kyle's hand only to snap it back to him with the handle barely missing his head.  The rope was originally around Kyle's hand but somehow THANKFULLY and miraculously he was only left with a rope burn rather than a missing hand.   We all recovered and were able to carry on with the fun.  Whew!   

Steamed pipis for dinner.  They turned out to be a smaller and stronger flavoured version of clams.  Next time i personally would do a US spin on them and put them in a chowder.   
None of us were a huge fan of them but we did enjoy the whole experience of it all.  

i always find it interesting and a bit humbling that a day at the beach with seemingly familiar activities can take on a unique twist and flavour when they take place in a different country.   NZ never ceases to amaze us.  

Later that night, we drove back home through dense fern filled forests scattered amongst the patches of rolling green hills dotted with sheep.  

Exhausted, we crawled into our own beds and fall asleep to the rhythm of small slaps of waves out our window, feeling very thankful for our little local NZ life.  


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Chip and Joanna Gaines We are Not

It's been over a year now and the pain has subsided a bit so i feel i can talk about it.  They say time will do that to you, ease the pain.  Mothers venture on to have more than one baby despite the pain of labor so maybe one day we too will be brave enough to remodel another portion of a house.  Still too soon to predict that though.

Over a year ago we braved the real estate market where we searched high and low to find a house that would be categorized as an extra extra large Hobbit home.   We didn't think it was too much to ask.

We wanted 3 things really: 
a home that didn't leak
4 Bed/2 bath 
and a master bedroom that would hold our King Size bed 

We have come to accept that Kiwis just need less space than Americans.  Here many bedrooms won't have closets and a 4 bedroom/1 bath house is completely normal.  Rooms are very small sized and one family sharing one bathroom means less bathrooms to clean.  That is the theory anyways.  On the up side, ocean views are very easy to come by!  

We finally found a place in a great location with only one thing that had to be fixed right away.

This teeny tiny Hobbit sized refrigerator space.  Those are not LARGE boxes my friends.  Those boxes are sticking half way out of that space.  This space was made for a DORM sized refrigerator.  A fridge for a very tiny college girl who possibly didn't eat much, not a family of 4 who actually grocery shop. 

So until the remodel started we kept the fridge in our living room of course.
 Cool mint Green carpet right?!

We started the whole ugly process shortly after moving in and never felt more like foreigners than we did during this time.  We were advised to sell our current OLD kitchen online.  Yeah, that was my thought too... ??? What the what??  

"Oh, yip yip! List it online and someone will PAY YOU to come in tear out the kitchen and remove it."  

i had never heard of such a crazy idea.  The very thought of having some stranger with no construction experience come into my home and start hacking away at my walls made my skin crawl.  That is just a disaster waiting to happen.

This is me photographing & waiting for said disaster to happen.  

The highest bidders to our online auction showed up and got to work.  (There were LOTS of kitchens for sale online.)  This lovely family who knew what they were doing showed up, disassembled and removed our entire kitchen.  All of it!  Hauled it away in a truck.  Bonus, they paid us 800$ and there was no damage.  It saved us $1000+ that we would have paid to have a professional to do it plus additional fees for disposal.   
Kiwi Do it Yourself for the win!


The part i was most fearful about in this whole process was the ONE thing that went effortlessly.  After the smooth start with the sale of the first kitchen i was ready for the paid professionals to get in and start the second kitchen.

    i will spare you all the details but this project which should have taken 6 weeks took a total of 6 months to be completed.  i wish i could say in that time i had custom wood cabinets handcrafted and hewn from the forests of some distant country and marble shipped in from another exotic location.  You can't get wood cabinets here, or if you can, i'm not sure where to buy them and i doubt we could afford them.  i am not entirely sure why but i know Kiwis DO NOT like the look of them and some people told us it won't hold up in the humidity.   i DID have floors shipped in all the way from Australia TWICE.   Nothing exotic though just a laminate and it's not because we are all fancy and what not, it's because NZ has to ship most of their supplies from Australia anyways. 

Hmmm..?  What color should i choose to replace the lovely Spanish tile with?  

One annoying thing about living in NZ is the lack of selection and  having been spoiled with so MANY options in the US.  Here when we shop for shoes, clothing, furniture or flooring it is limited choices and those choices are pricey.  In the States if you want a light colored floor you'd have lots of "light" colors to choose from even within various price ranges.   For us it was pretty much this: Dark, Medium or Light. 

The flooring was going to be the constant struggle in this endeavor.  More precisely the Flooring STORE was my nemesis.  They advised wrongly from the beginning and although they came highly recommended within our area i won't use them again. EVER.   We have since learned they are recommend to BUY your floor through but NOT to INSTALL.   i can't even get into all the dismal details but MY inexperience in the construction world still knew their processes and techniques were all wrong.  Completely backwards.  After weeks of this the floor was finally in and the kitchen company (which i was happy with) had completed their portion and the kitchen was on its way to being done!

The only problem was we didn't like it.  The floor was WAY too dark (obviously NOT the fault of the flooring company).  But also almost every plank of wood had weird marks on it like a defect.  i had pointed this out to the installer at the beginning but he insisted it would wash off.  Three weeks later it still wasn't off AND we discovered the floor had been installed wrong.  i was starting to hate the color.  The "scratch" resistant floor was showing up with all sorts of scratches, every speck of dirt was on display and even puppy paw prints were becoming obvious.  EEEEEKKK!

After much contact with the flooring manufacturer, they had some GOOD NEWS and the BAD NEWS for us!  The bad news was they had sold defective flooring to the local store which had then been passed on to us.  It appeared that 40% of our floor was flawed and they would replace that 40%.  However, when they brought out THEIR expert and realized the entire floor was ruined due to the store's installation the GOOD NEWS was we get an entire new floor!  This was good of course because we could change our minds on the color.  However that meant moving everything out again.  

A different installer came in and pulled out the old floor and prepped it again for the next floor.  In the process he cut a pipe under the kitchen sink.  At this point i just shake my head and laugh. 

This meant my plumber had to come out and repair the pipe AFTER the kitchen people came and took apart portions of the kitchen so the plumber could get to the wounded pipe.  This of course had to be followed up by a reinstallation of that portion of the kitchen and then further prep for the floor.

 In the end the lighter floor was installed and we love the look.  How often does one get to try on a floor and decide it isn't the right color then change it?  

The final step, aside from painters coming in to redo all the baseboards, was to make sure one doorway of carpet was tacked down to the this final floor.  The carpet store said they would come out and nail down the 3 foot section for $250.  Wide eye... WHAT?!  i explained how ridiculous this was due to my situation.  However often things are just policy and can't be changed around here.  

People in the USA.... don't ever take customer service for granted!!  It is a beautiful thing when a company values the customer.  

After bemoaning to this sales person,  he finally said to me, "Well, i can send my mate over who installs carpet and he will do it for a box of Corona beer."  DONE!  

MR. Will Work for Beer comes and has the job done in less than 5 minutes!   Kiwi Do It Yourself for the win!

At this point i must explain one other fault of our house that we didn't discover until AFTER we made the purchase.  We have a very steep driveway, as the majority of homes have driveways that are a nightmare to navigate down or up.  Ours however has an additional bonus if you will.  At the bottom of the steep drive is quite a big dip.  IF you happen to back out at just the right angle you will scrape the bottom of your car.  IF you have a large, low or heavy truck you could possibly get stuck in that little dip.  Because we have lived in this house for over 6 months, i have learned to well advise all my guests prior to their backing out.  On this particular occasion for some reason, i felt obliged to tell Mr. Will Work for Beer 3 times that he needs to back up wide so as to NOT hit the dip.  It was pouring rain that afternoon and after he left my house, i got the feeling he hadn't actually left.  

That would be because he hadn't.  He tried on his own for about 15 minutes to escape my dip.  Unsuccessful, he knocked on my door requesting help.  Upon inspection i see his tailpipe is actually lodged into the asphalt.  In the pouring rain for 45 minutes i try to get him out.  i continue to summon neighbors to help push and we created all sorts of makeshift traction to get him moving.  In the end we free him with the help of FIVE college boys, ONE granny (who is awesome by the way) ONE very annoyed housewife and ONE husband who has just shown up and wondering why he is helping a strange man with a case of his beer leave his driveway. 

But i am happy to say that after all that our refrigerator now fits in our kitchen.