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 Bay Watch 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 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.  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Joy in the Hard Bit

Kiwis love their tramping or what some might call hiking.  There is a distinct difference between HIKING and TRAMPING.  Hiking is what the Burnett family does.  HIKING is manageable and doesn't require us to become pack mules and risk possible death to enjoy the great outdoors.  TRAMPING involves walking for days into the wild wilderness with all your food, water source, bedding and camp stove on your back.  Some tracks take up to 5 days to complete  (walking the whole time).  There is basic shelter along the way which you must book in advance and involves sharing with other random trampers.   It is advisable to bring a personal locator beacon on certain tramps should you need to be rescued out, in which case a helicopter would have to fly in to get you.  This of course is a service you will pay for should you need it.  (Check out the 9 great NZ walks here *which i hope to aspire to someday*)   Just this month an American mum and daughter made headline news with their brush with death during a tramp.  (Read it here).
Yeah, we don't do that.
We just HIKE.  
Our longest family hike being 26k which is long for sure but easy by NZ standards as it was very flat and we didn't have to carry gear to survive, unless you count water bottles and a cheese & cracker lunch.

i drag the kids on all sorts of hikes.  i love it because it forces the kids to hang out with me in the great outdoors and something about the fresh air causes them to TALK.  We ask random questions of each other about our favorite things, our pet peeves, we talk about the future, memories from the past and what is happening in our lives now.  Big stuff in small hikes.  

A few weeks ago i laid down a challenge... ROYS PEAK in the South Island.  It was a hike i personally wanted to do for both the challenge and the views.  The guide books rate it as HARD and to plan on 5-6 hours to complete it.  It is described as a strenuous up hill climb.  16k (10 miles) and 11258 meters elevation gain (4,127 feet.) 

This the entire way.

OK, it wasn't really a "challenge"... i FORCED them to do it, there was no choice.  Kid 1 and Kid 2 had totally different opinions on the matter.  One was keen (kiwi for "wanted to") and the other had to be drug along.  i could have done the trail by myself and i would have been perfectly content to do so.  In fact it would have been easier in many ways for me.  No coaxing, cajoling, motivating and multiple breaks along the way. 

But it was more than just a walk,  i wanted to demonstrate a true fact:  
Life isn't easy.  In fact it is quite hard at times.  

We have to choose to look for joy hidden in the hard.

All of us are going to at some point encounter trials and difficult times.  i want my kids' hearts to be prepared for the journey ahead.  What better way to train their life muscles than by giving them a tough physical challenging in the middle of breathtaking beauty. 

 It started off easy.  
We had fresh legs, happy attitudes and were forced to yield to the sheep bounding across our path.

Spirit where high

But somewhere shortly after the first hour things changed.  The Keen Kid decided she wasn't so keen after all and the one i was dragging was now leading the way.  

We spent 4 solid hours slugging uphill learning how to encourage each other and how to persevere when it's hard and you want to give up.  
We practiced being patient and kind to those slower than us and to be encouraged rather than resentful to those who are doing better.     
The views were stunning at every switchback and made it easy to find joy and beauty in the hard trek.  
We crossed over from paddock to conservation area where the sheep pellets were no longer littering our path. 

(i can't help it, i must diverge.  Can you believe this is somebody's farm land?!!  Often tracks wander through someone's personal property.)

Up we went.
Learning to lead with humility & encouragement; pressing on when you want to give up. 

The day reminded me of the wise words i was gifted with in college but didn't fully understand until later in life. 

"The Joy is IN the journey."
It is easy to think a final destination is our ultimate goal.  It may be a career, a relationship, a sickness, or a specific aspiration that leads us up a challenging path.  It is easy to lose sight of the journey itself because we are so focused on the end result.  More often than not though, it is in those hard traveled paths where some of the richest gems and joys of life can be discovered.  The more difficult the course the more there is to unearth along the way. 

"Consider it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let your endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect an complete lacking in nothing."
                                                                                                                                    James 1:2-4

 All three of us were on the exact same path that day but we all learned different things about ourselves and each other.  

To keep motivated we would track the shrinking size of our starting point.

After 4 uphill hours of small talk, deep talk, laughing and multiple drinks & snack breaks we MADE IT. 

There was nothing left to do really but sit down and take in the majestic views

We traversed our way down the narrow path to the very tip for the obligatory "We Made It" photo.   

It was the first time i have actually been nervous of heights.  The path was so narrow and all who had earned their right of passage were criss-crossing paths to get to the photo spot.  For a minute i was afraid not all 3 of us would make it back to the bottom in one piece.  
Once we finished our victory pics i asked my kids how mad they were with me that i made them do this
Faces at the top revealed their sense of accomplishment

As we retraced the ribbon of track back down we talked about how we each handled the challenge itself and how we can help others along the way in the hard bits of life.  
Both Kid 1 and Kid 2 said they were glad they did it even though it was the hardest thing they have done so far.  They would even be willing to do it again.  

 Joy in the hard bit

i am REALLY hoping this tracker is off!  The trail was 1km shorter than expected and we only burned 421 calories?!  
We timed our walk down at 1 hour and 45 minutes.  That was downhill at a good pace, no stops.  We felt very accomplished for coming in under the 6 hour mark.  That night we met up for dinner with some locals and of course they wanted to know how we spent our day.  i must admit there was a bit of pride in my voice as i told them the kids did the track in under 6 hours.  Turns out their boys do it in 3.  THREE hours!  They admitted there may or may not have been cardboard boxes used as sleds on the way down.  (i think they added that as an attempt to assuage my wounded pride.)

A couple of days later we took a nice comfy gondola to the top of Queenstown.  

Amazing views again although not as high an elevation.  This time instead of luke warm water guzzled from a water bottle and eating smushed sandwiches out of heavy backpacks, we had an all you eat buffet with multiple servings of dessert.   

We got to luge down the hill and chair lift back up.  
Not ONCE was there any need for coaxing, cajoling, motivating, nor multiple breaks or breakdowns along the way.   

Yet all three of us decided that although the Queenstown adventure was a fabulous time, it wasn't as nearly as satisfying and rewarding as our 6 hour hike.