Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nico and Pien

wwoof workway new zealand christchurch
High country
New Zealand
The best Comfort to Actual Chair ratio
After a tearful goodbye to Elizabeth and the kids, Nico showed us around their farm a bit. They had a lovely property with a hazelnut grove, an ample vegetable and flower garden, large pastures with two milk cows and about 20 young beef cattle, and a sizable field of forage kale. Nearby farmers would pay to board their cattle on their field until all the kale was consumed. In New Zealand, kale is strictly grown for animal feed, and is not as delicious as the kale we are used to (we tried it once, and were a bit dissapointed). We also met Sam, Nico's border collie who was an integral part of their operation.
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Sam wrangling

The remainder of the afternoon we relaxed and settled in. Later Pien came home from her job at a hospital, and made a delicious dinner for us, which we ate while we became acquainted around the cozy fire. Nico and Pien were originally from the Netherlands. They both work part time in the medical field and hope to expand their farming operation.
The next morning we helped feed the four weaner calves that they had in the barn. The calves were given the leftover milk that Nico collected from a local milking operation. They would gulp down the milk hungrily and then spend the rest of the day complaining about how grain is a poor substitute for cow juice.
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No one enjoys taking medicine.
After moving an electric fence to make the day's portion of fresh grass available for the twenty or so cattle near Nico and Pien's home, we headed over to their nearby land to drench the two dozen steers pastured there. While there, we saw Sam in action. It was impressive to see him maneuvering a skittish group of cattle, anticipating their moves, recapturing stragglers, and finally bringing them to his master. Randy asked Nico how he had trained Sam so well and Nico answered that most of the dog's actions were hardwired and stemmed from a strong desire to please humans by bringing things to them (steers in this case).
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One of those days
Nico was eager to let us drive between his properties. We were tentative to drive on the "wrong" side of the road at first since we'd barely gotten used to looking in the correct direction while crossing the street. The hardest things to change are the ones you do a hundred times a day without thinking. Luckily, the surrounding area was pretty rural and we had empty roads to practice our right hand turns. We were thankful for the opportunity, eventually getting the hang of it, although we wondered how our driving back home would be effected.
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Grazer's paradise
On the third day we went to a third, rented location where they keep the bulk of their herd (another 60 or 80 cattle). Our intention was to drench the herd, but with three cows unaccounted for, it would be impossible to keep track of who had already been treated. Searching the next day only yielded one of the missing steers but Nico decided it would be best to treat those present rather than wait for the missing pair to turn up. The mystery of the missing bovines continued to play out over the next few days.
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wwoof workway new zealand A slow drive around the property yielded nothing. At this point, we all assumed the steers had found a hole in the fence somewhere and flown the coop so Nico printed up some fliers asking for any information regarding the fugitives and we distributed them to the neighbors. Days went by and still we had seen neither hide nor hair of the lost livestock. Our frequent searches of the area had not turned up any cows but they did reveal a profusion of rabbits. Every New Zealander we talked to considered rabbits a nuisance and Nico was no different, so one night around dusk he and Randy set out with a rifle to cull the colony. The first (and only) rabbit they found stayed still long enough to establish that neither hunter was a very good shot and then leisurely hopped out of range. Determined not to come home empty-handed, Nico and Randy hiked through the fields in search of more prey. It often seems that the key to finding something is to start searching for something else and this proved to be true as the search for rabbits only turned up the missing cattle. They had been hiding out in a stand of gorse, a viciously spiked shrub, and had not made a peep for almost a week. When all was said and done it was a happy night for everyone involved; the steers were reunited with their herd, Randy and Nico got a sense of accomplishment without having to hit a moving target, and the rabbits lived to enjoy more days of being rabbits.
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Does this make me look fat?
One of the tasks we had to tackle was clearing an embankment of unwanted trees and shrubbery. All the plants then had to be burned, and what should you always have close by when tending a large, day-long fire? Even more important than a garden hose, even more satisfying than a comfortable lawn chair, that's right, s'more ingredients. Randy was even more determined to craft the tasty fireside staple after Nico and Pien told him that they had never heard of the treat. Unfortunately, the local grocery stores didn't have marshmallows, at least not the marshmallows we're used to.
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Subcutaneous shots for everybody
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Our reusable bean
trellis design
The New Zealand version is more of a puffed, strawberry flavored candy. They also don't have graham crackers. And chocolate is rather expensive. Randy managed to cobble together a s'more-like pile using tea crackers, those weird pink puff candies, and chocolate chips but the resulting "s'more" helped explain why they aren't as popular among the Kiwis.
Pien is an amazing cook and her delicious dinners were a highlight every day. She gave us a few of her recipes, including a wonderful moussaka, and even taught us how to make halloumi cheese (see the recipe here).
wwoof workway new zealandNico had recently pruned their hazelnut bushes, resulting in a large pile of thin, straight suckers and he and Pien asked us if we could possibly weave a gate out of these branches. Always up for farm engineering challenges, we gave it a go.
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The finished hazelnut shoot gate
We used a little wire to hold some of the structurally integral pieces together, but the majority of the work was done simply by weaving. This was a bit tricky, especially when some of the branches were less pliable than others, and it was pretty cold and rainy, but we ended up with a beautiful woven gate. We also made simple bean trellises out of these hazelnut branches, but were only able to make a few before it was time for us to leave. We learned a lot with Nico and Pien, and had a great time getting to know them. Our time in New Zealand was coming to an end, and we were heading to our southernmost (and final) New Zealand host.

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Mid-morning tea (and delicious lemon cake), a daily custom we always looked forward to.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Making friends in Christchurch

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Even three years later, some ares are still in need of repair
Our bus arrived in Christchurch around 7 p.m., and we were scheduled to meet Paul, our next farm host, there. This led us to awkwardly sauntering towards and smiling at random passersby, until a few minutes later Paul approached us. As we drove through Christchurch he pointed out how many buildings were under construction, a lingering effect of the catastrophic earthquake a few years ago. Paul had been downtown when the magnitude 6.3 tremor (actually considered an aftershock of the September 4, 2010 quake) destroyed many buildings in the area and took the lives of 185 people. Despite the somber subject we enjoyed getting to know one another on the way to the farm.
Home stretch
new zealand wwoof workaway
Current abode on the left, sweet new dream house on the right
When we arrived, we were greeted by Elizabeth, their two children, and a piping hot dinner. After a delicious meatball feast, we were shown to our cozy caravan. Paul and Elizabeth had lived in the caravan when they had first moved onto the land and now they lived in a nice prefab unit while finishing up construction on their dream home. We helped a little with finishing touches on the house, sanding and urethaning window sills. Paul and Elizabeth had been working on the building for a few years and always joked that they would be done "in about six weeks." but those words were finally starting to ring true.
Making
 "monkey bread"
(banana bread)
with the kids
We really enjoyed our time with our hosts and often split our days between working outside and hanging out with the kids, who were pretty awesome. They were home-schooled, very bright, and free to pursue any creative projects that took their fancy. The latest was building dollhouses and miniatures out of shoeboxes, cardboard, duct tape, and whatever other bits and pieces were laying around. We both tapped into our miniature-making skills from when we were kids, and helped make everything from books made out of newspaper pages, mirrors made out of tinfoil and toilets made out of toilet paper tubes.
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Berry plot
Because of their accent (reminiscent of a genteel British lilt), the kids always seemed proper and well-behaved, regardless of what shenanigans they were actually up to.
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Chicken tractor
Since autumn was drawing to a close, we helped winterize their garden. This included taking the bird netting off the large structure protecting their berry patch, and eating a few super delicious late-season strawberries. We also helped care for their chickens, and did a little chicken coop remodeling.
Christchurch botanic garden specimen
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Chicken dinner
"185 Empty Chairs" memorial honoring the earthquake victims
One day Elizabeth and the kids went into Christchurch, and Randy went with them. He walked around, exploring the botanical gardens and checking out downtown, while Holly spent a lovely day relaxing.
We got along really well with John, Elizabeth, and their kids, and one of the best parts was, we were finally among fellow gamers! Every night we played either Monopoly Deal, Struggle for Catan, Bananagrams, or 10,000 (a dice game). It was great fun, and we were sorry to have such a short stay.
When it was time for us to leave, it just so happened that our next farm was only two miles down the road, and Elizabeth graciously offered to drive us there.

A few murals in downtown Christchurch

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new zealand south island

The Southern Alps