House hunt: Unconditional

13 December 2016

Wowie. I’m sitting beside mama in our wee office, it’s 4:23pm, and she is transferring the deposit of $10,000 for OUR NEW HOUSE.

Yep, you read that right. We have a new house.

There’s no going back now.

Mama just asked if I was writing about her being ‘freaked out’. She’s feeling a bit jittery. Papa is away earning money today (just as well, ’cause we’re spending).

Mama and I are going to go down to the house spot in this late afternoon glow and hopefully get mama re-inspired.

Mama signing the deed. ‘Unconditional’ is both a scary and beautiful word.
Mama mourning her trees. They have to go to make space for the house.

House hunt: The hunt is over?

12 December 2016


That’s what today was, at least in our corner of Aotearoa.

And no, it wasn’t the fact that it was my first day back in Northland, or that mama and I (plus brother and sister) chose an impossibly fragrant green Christmas tree and strung it with six sets of lights (yus), or that we had 20 of us here tonight playing volleyball and eating pizza.

The significant was an email from the building inspectors. I walked into the wee office while the others were hooting over a game of crokinole, and found mama and papa  reading through 48 pages of details about the architraves, joists and moisture levels in our Manukau orphan house.

There are five pages of writing titled ‘Marginal’. Those are the not-so-scary pages. Then there are two pages of red writing, titled ‘Defective’. Those are the scary pages.

Mama nervously asked papa if we would go ahead. He said there wasn’t much in the report that he hadn’t already noticed (this would surprise no-one who knows my papa – he is frustratingly hard to frighten).

So, we’re going ahead.

What now? We work out which company will saw the house in half, put it on trucks, drive for 2.5 hours, cross the notoriously treacherous Brynderwyn hills, and set it on its new foundations. Sound difficult? Yeah.

Also, I want to visit our orphan soon and run my own hands over the floorboards and imagine new paint and kitchen and doors and bathrooms.

Orphan Manukau, we’re coming for you. You won’t be an orphan much longer…

The new Appletree bungalow. Hmmm, might have to change the name of this blog?

House hunt: An important text

9 December 2016

It’s late afternoon.

I just got a text from mama about the orphan house in Manukau. I quote:

“Hi darling. We put in an offer for 12000 he came back with 14000. We’ve signed. 🙂 Building inspection on Monday. xxx”

And that says it all really. Pretty excited on both ends of the island. I’m about to have my farewell party in my delightful wooden house in Wellington… the cheesecake is made, the fairy lights are on, and Bon Iver is whispering music.

My little plant family. You do what you can when you aren’t allowed pets.


8 December 2016


I scrawled the word on the back of a receipt yesterday, while waiting in a little Wellington cafe for a friend.

Cafe scribbles

Yesterday, I handed in my thesis. For the last two weeks, there has been no space for anything in my brain, except for my research. I’ve had thesis-flavoured dreams, thesis-tainted food, and a thesis-clouded brain.

But today – today is my first day of freedom.

Meanwhile, mama and papa went down to see a new orphan house in Manukau in the big smoke. She’s a 20s bungalow (it kind of blows my mind that the 20s were nearly 100 years ago). I talked to mama yesterday and she said that she liked it and that she ‘didn’t go all floppy’ at the thought of the work involved (that’s mama’s test for whether she’s up for a project).

Meanwhile, I’m jamming all my possessions into my car on Saturday, and driving 12-14 hours (depending on how many snack stops are required) up the globe – all the way from the cold end of the North Island of Aotearoa to the warm end.

I’m going to miss Wellington. I’ll miss the orchestras and my clan of friends. I’ll miss the museums and cafes and street festivals where thousands of humans dance on the road under wreaths of bunting and lights.

But. Whangarei offers other attractions. They say it has 100 beaches, so maybe I’ll take on the challenge of going to each and every one. Pohutakawas, my favourite native trees, line small turquoise bays, with their barked arms sprawling just right for climbing and making swings.


Classic summer days

My clan in Whangarei go waterfall-hunting every summer. We collect up anything that floats, jump off verdant waterfalls, and float lazily down rivers.

And, this summer, there’s going to be a project. I LOVE projects.

Here’s hoping this Manukau orphan is ‘the one’.

House hunt: Disappointment

17 November 2016

Today we lost the Mt Albert orphan house.

I called mama and papa to see how the signing of the paper was going, and when papa answered, his voice was limp.

The agent had a strong reaction to mama and papa’s request to withhold some of the moneys until the move was completed. He said that was a dealbreaker, and quickly ended the phone call. Our agreement is over.

My thesis called me to my office. I sat for a while, thinking about how disappointed I was that we lost Mt Albert. Of course, the weather in Wellington was Hollywood-style dreadful (in the past week, we have had a 7.8 earthquake, over 1100 aftershocks, severe floods, thunder and lightning, hail and gale-force winds. My four-storey vintage office building was shaking, but I’m not sure if that was the earthquakes (I joked to a friend: one born every minute) or the howl of the earth: Wellington wind.

It’s times like these I knowingly romanticise finding the perfect orphan house, moving it onto that gloriously green house spot of ours, and living in the north of New Zealand, where the winter doesn’t dare do more than poke its nose in the door. And yes, I also knowingly romanticise all the wonderful parts about renovating a house.

However, if we didn’t romanticise something before beginning it – we probably would never start.

So yes, I’m disappointed about losing the house. But I’m hopeful too. Hopeful we’ll find something worthy of romanticising and daydreaming about, in between the next two weeks of mad thesis writing.


The grass is always greener = The view from our land.
Mama and Papa take a walk

House hunt: A Mt Albert orphan

11 November 2016

So. The Mt Albert orphan.

Mama, papa, the agent and I walked in, and around, and out, and in again, discussing the structure, checking for rot etc. (Ok, I defer many of these not-so-aesthetic investigations to papa).


The front of the house has a big bay window, with stained glass panels up the top. The rooms are spacious and have wardrobes with the best spaces on top – mama said they’re perfect for putting your vintage leather suitcases on (I do agree), but my first thought was that they would make the best hidey spaces for little mattresses and duvets. I grew up sleeping in lofts with my cousins and siblings in my aunt and uncle’s rustic mansion.

The laundry would be difficult… We would take out the existing basin to replace it with French doors, and either build an extension to the house which included a laundry, or hide it somewhere in the kitchen.

But there were all these sunny bay windows, rimu floors (pro: already stripped = much less work, con: some borer in the non-heartwood), and a big interesting living space with a woodburner. Yus.

We liked it. A lot. More than Mair St? Maybe. It would fit our house spot better than Mair St would.

And you know how I said we were writing our budget for Mair St? Well, when we got back in the car to hit the highway once more to Hamilton, we went through a new budget – for Mt Albert.

There would be less structural work needed (aka walls knocked out), less work on the floors, no need for a new kitchen, and we hoped insulation below the house (we couldn’t check – there was a padlock on the under-the-house hatch). On our highly improvised budget, we would be saving up to $60k on Mt Albert.

So, it works financially, and it looks good. Next step: pay $700 for a building inspection. They’ll also check to see if it was ever used as a meth lab.

We’re trying not to get too excited, but this could be the one. Is this what finding a spouse is like?? Ha.


House hunt: A ‘Grand Farm Villa’

10 November 2016

There’s a tree in the back-seat with me.

We are en route to the big smoke: Auckland City, with a gift for my friend who is getting married tomorrow. While mama and papa picked a baby oak as a wedding gift, I checked out what the nursery woman called the ‘grizzies’, also known as griselinia littoralis, or broadway mint. I want a hedge of grizzies at the back of the courtyard that will be at the tail of the house.


While we drive, mama is writing a budget while papa and I jostle numbers about. Papa is budgeting big… he says we should ‘make a realistic budget’ and then ‘do without – pare it back’. I say that mama and I are good at paring back. We have skills in finding things for 80% off. Mama has skills in finding things at the local dump that have life in them.

We are visiting more orphan houses today. 40 minutes south of Whangarei, we visited one that was called “Grand Farm Villa” on the listing. We were interested to hear the house sellers say that if we wanted to adopt a house with mama’s character, we would need to pay 150 thousand dollars.

Grand Farm Villa was perched on a hill, someone had taken off her back wall, she had gaping holes in the living room floor and when we opened her cupboards, we could see the mud and sunlight below. She had a kind of muddy, broken potential. Mama thought the potential was for a load of back-breaking work.

So that was a no go.

We’ve just about reached another orphan house. This house seller is a cheeky one over text. The orphan house we’re going to see is under contract, but the seller man says he can wriggle out of it.

What will it be like? How will it measure up to our Mair St orphan?