Just photos

About a year ago, we looked like this:

Yesterday, we looked like this:


We're buying a house

Still, it is such a weird situation to be in.

Randomly throughout the day, me or The Man turn to face one another and say, "We're buying a house." Then we giggle a little and continue discussing where we would plant a lemon tree, and whether it would even survive here.

On my chest of drawers a pile of books is stacked.

The ironic thing is, it's not for another 2-3 months that we actually get to move in, and not for another month that we even get to buy the place, yet me and The Man keep having discussions over where the plants would go.

We are in house-buying limbo-land. The solicitor's away on holiday, the council staff are away on holiday, the real estate agent's away on holiday. The only one working is the bank home loan advisor, but he's already got all our paperwork sorted, so there's nothing else for him to do.

To be fair, we cannot even be 100% sure that we'll get to buy the place. Nothing's 100% sure until names are on the title and everything's done, yet me and The Man talk about veggie patches.

But we can't help it, neither of us. We think we're buying a house and we're excited!

How do we fix antibiotics?

I turned on the radio in the car and very quickly had to ask the kids to stay quiet for a while because the programme they were playing was absolutely fascinating. 

It was about antibiotics. They were talking about gathering saliva samples from Komodo dragons, about getting sloths off trees in the rainforest to see if they can find new antibiotics, about drastically reducing weight gain promoting antibiotic usage in Holland...

Just fascinating. Absolutely fascinating!

I couldn't listen to it in its entirety though, I had to get out of the car to go shopping.

Then I came home and just about cried because turned out, the audio wasn't available on Radio New Zealand's website so I wasn't going to be able to re-listen to the lot. It was one of those BBC programmes Radio New Zealand sometimes plays, and from experience I knew I'd have a lot of trouble getting access to it from New Zealand because as soon as I'd try opening the website it'd say, "Sorry, the audio you are requesting is only available to listeners from UK."

Or something along those lines.

But then, heureka! It's available :). It's freely available!

The Inquiry: How do we fix antibiotics?

I strongly recommend having a listen. It's good stuff!

Invercargill, actually, has a lot to offer

I've been thinking a lot about Invercargill these past two days.

With the onset of Christmas holidays we've been able to take the time to explore much more than we do otherwise in our weekends - which, at least for the moment, tend to give us just enough time to heal, but not really enough time to enjoy our surroundings to the fullest as, in case I haven't been clear enough earlier, we've been tired a lot. Moving houses with small kids can be gruelling, and setting up life in a new place with small kids can be just as gruelling, even if there isn't househunting involved.

But I digress.

This past week we've moved around Invercargill, exploring places at our own leisure and I've kept thinking to myself how wonderfully lots there is actually to do.

Please understand that I don't say it lightly. For all the marketing-type information I read up on prior to us moving here, I still expected the place to feel pretty average to me. I knew that I would probably grow to like it, just as I did with Christchurch, but I didn't expect to actually feel the way I am feeling right now, which is, in a nutshell, impressed.

Yesterday we drove down Sandy Point peninsula which on Google Earth looks about this:

It's that blob of land sandwiched between a river and the ocean at the forefront.

On the way to our spot at the beach, we passed:

* a designated bike park with jumps and trails,
* a designated forest with trails for riding horses,
* several boat, raft and kayaking clubs,
* hiking trails,
* a golf course, a football field,
* a shooting range etc

I mean, there was even an area for training sled dogs. Here, have a look at the last page of their brochure, it lists all the activities run in the area - I'm not making this up.

We were driving past and I said to The Man, "I didn't know Invercargill even had all this stuff," and he replied with, "Me neither."

It made me think about all the other things I've thought about, man, I didn't know Invercargill even had this.

A large swimming centre with several pools and recreational facilities such as sauna, water slide, kids' area etc. To those interested, kayak polo classes are available, in addition to all sorts of other aqua zumba and whatever else they do in the pool...
A designated gymnastics hall.
A publicly funded, free-to access aviary and zoo.
An adventure high-wire course.

There's also things that I take somewhat for granted in a modern town: skateparks, fenced-off dog exercise areas, museums, children's playgrounds. Being a district centre there is also a large hospital and other "perks" that come with being the main servicing area for such a large block of land.

Bottom line is, unlike Queenstown which is an exciting! place to visit but not necessarily such a wonderful place to live in, Invercargill has started to feel like a nice place to live in. More and more I am finding that it caters for such a variety of needs and interests that regardless of what my kids will get interested in, there will be a way for them to get involved in it, and I myself am already part of two writers groups, will start part-time study soon (also, publicly funded!), about to buy a house we will probably be able to pay for comfortably and just generally feeling rather upbeat.

Genuinely, upbeat.

Yeah, okay, weather sucks and so far it doesn't even feel like it's summer yet with the amount of cold wind and rain that's been getting around. Our hazelnut tree has actually decided that winter is coming and she has shed a lot of her leaves, which prompted us to bring her into the shelter of the house a bit more. Fortunately even the locals are saying that the weather is shocking, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that this is not a norm, because if it is, I will most probably never need singlets in my wardrobe, unless it's for indoor use.


Another thing I have noticed, though I am not sure if the impression's correct, is that - I think - Invercargill has decided on a different tourism demographic than the nearby adventure "capitals" of Queenstown and Wanaka are drawing in.

Rather than trying to "compete" with them and creating adrenalin-fuelled adventure activities which, to be honest, will probably never stand on the same leg as Queenstown due to its topography alone, Invercargill has put funds towards developing things that attract 50-60 year olds instead.

You know, as in, the people whose children have (finally!) left home and who are now free to do things for themselves and have the money to do so.

There is a large transport museum which has such a variety of done-up vintage cars that to the men entering its doors (where they will probably spend hours!) they should give a few clean napkins to go, so that they can, you know, clean up the mess when they're done, if you get my drift.

Next to the transport museum there is also a motorcycle museum dedicated entirely to everything motorcycle related. (And that's in addition to hosting several motorcycle events that are already drawing in people from all over the country, kind of like Warbirds over Wanaka bring in aviation-enthusiasts world over.)

I walked down main street the other day when a large group of those motorcycle enthusiasts were parked out next to a restaurant, all decked out in fancy-looking gear and starting to dig in to their main meals, and I thought, well, kind of makes sense, doesn't it. These people, unlike backpackers of Queenstown who leave large chunks of money on all things adventure-related but keep their living costs to bare minimum (hence the abundance of hostels where you can bunk 6 people a room), Invercargill's motorcycle and vintage car lovers stay in proper hotels, eat out at proper restaurants and probably, per capita, leave a good chunk of money in a town that seems to very much appreciate it.

It's an eye-opening experience to see it and to start to understand the dynamics of what feeds such a town in the bottom of the world where winds whip trees into diagonally-shaped creatures.

Which, by the way, is why even before I've researched how much it would cost, on average, to replace windows in our new house or to put in ventilation, I've read up on what sorts of hedging plants would survive the winter here.

Just saying. Because, man!, we would need good hedging if we are ever to grow a garden here. Jesus!

What Christmas in New Zealand is like

Location: Sandy Point peninsula.
Fun to be had: a lot!

And all through the afternoon, Stewart island was beckoning in the distance, inviting in its mountainous skyline. I'd really like to go check it out one day.

Say whaaaaaaaat?!

Our offer has been accepted.

We are buying a house.


He likes it

Quivering with anticipation

Nine o'clock on a Thursday evening, I am sitting on the bed and I do not dare to move.

The Man is laying next to me and he is snoring loudly. The Kid has finally stopped singing and talking to himself in his bed and is, I think, asleep. The Girlie has been asleep since before 7.

It is such a weird feeling.

Today we officially signed another offer to buy a house and unless something unexpected happens, I think we will actually end up buying it. As in, for real. An actual house. With land. For us to keep.

It's the same house we offered on before, and were declined. The thing is, the other offer (that was accepted instead of ours last week) has been withdrawn and so we have been given an opportunity to offer again, which we have, with the exact same conditions as before, and now it's a Thursday evening at nine o'clock, I am sitting upright in bed with The Man snoring loudly next to me and I am thinking, jesus, we may actually end up buying a house.

It is such an unreal feeling.

I do not know what to do exactly. I have a long list, as usual, of things I could be doing but... I don't want to. I am just sitting here, quietly, and I don't want to do anything in the anticipation that it may actually happen.

We may actually buy a house.

I guess you could say I am soaking it in.

If the offer is accepted, which it probably will be tomorrow, then it will still be almost a month before we will know for sure if we'll get it or not. Almost everyone that has anything to do with buying houses will be stopping work tomorrow and going on a 2 week holiday, as is customary in New Zealand (city council officials, solicitor, housing department), which means that for about two weeks we won't be able to do anything other than relax and grin widely in the anticipation, and then from about January 9th onwards we will actually continue with our paperwork and inspections.

And in those two weeks that The Man won't be working either we will be doing a lot of sleeping, hopefully, and getting used to not waking up at 5:45 am, damn the alarm.

It is weird. It is absolutely, thoroughly weird.

And, man!, I could've so easily said a few harsh words about the real estate agent again today, but I'll leave it. Instead, I will just soak in the feeling of having made an offer on a house which I think will be accepted, and quivering with excitement over something we've worked towards for several years.

Buying our own home.

I'll keep you posted.

Weird fish... uhm, marine creatures

Like thousands of other people in the world, apparently, I got sucked into looking through Roman Fedortsov's Instagram account today and... wow.

The dude's got some weird creatures on his hands some days.

He is a Russian fisherman working, from what I can see, around the Arctic ocean off Murmansk: Svalbard, Franz Josef land etc. I dare you to see the photos and not think, oh, I want to see more! :)

Here we go again

Another offer. Off we go!


Thought for the day

I would not want to become a real estate agent.


Edited to add: I feel I should elaborate a little.

Basically, whenever I meet another real estate salesperson, I immediately become unlikable.

Like, to myself.

I'm suspicious of them. Like, really suspicious of them! I've grown to resent the way they - to almost no exception - can have a serious face at some point and then, as soon as they catch me looking at them, they put on an ungenuine-looking smile. A kind of a real estate salesperson's smile.

As soon as I see that smile, I cringe.

I'm not here to be smiled at. I'm not here to be met by people in fancy-looking Mercedeses, with their white dress-shirts on, handing me flyers that have all the exact same information I have already gleaned off internet.

What I want is for them to know about the houses they're selling. 

But they don't. Sometimes, some of them, do - but in general, they don't.

I am tired of this game. I am tired of seeing real estate salespeople and thinking to myself, come on, Maria, give them a break - maybe this one's different. Give them a good, genuine chance at doing this right.

But again and again, ten minutes into meeting them I find myself thinking, again and again, how suspiciously unlikable I find real estate salespeople. I am trying so hard to be nice to them, but inside I'm thinking, what a load of crap this is.

I am getting to a point where I don't want to ask them questions any more. The first time I asked about electrical wiring and the agent said, oh, it must be new because the meter's new, I actually e-mailed their supervisor and said that, look, you need to talk to them because they should not be telling people stuff they don't know about. A new meter does not mean there's new wiring.

But today when I asked about electrical wiring and I heard the "at least some of it is new because the meter's new", I didn't even say anything. I'm tired of talking to them.

The agent I met today, I asked them if there's insulation under floor and they asked me back, was there insulation in the roofspace when you looked up there? As in, they first want to know from me if there's insulation in the ceiling before they answer my question about insulation under floor.

I am tired of hearing them talk about capital gains. I am tired of New Zealand housing in general being about capital gains, capital gains, capital gains - people buying and selling houses at a profit, for the (sometimes sole) purpose of making a profit. To the agent I met today I at some point actually said, quite grumpily, that I am not here for capital gains. I'm here for a home.

I find it astounding that when I work with doctors, solicitors, teachers - even home goods salespeople at a department store - their strength is in the amount and the depth of professional knowledge they have. Their job is to make sure that I benefit.

With real estate salespeople, it's the other way around. I feel like I am dealing with people who, on purpose, are trying to let me know the least amount of information possible so that the process of buying a house can instead become laden with emotions and start to feel like a game.

How much money they can squeeze out of me by making me feel that I need to bid faster or higher.

As soon as I see a real estate salesperson step out of their car, even if I've never met them before, I tense up. I tell myself, Maria, be nice, maybe this one's different.

But it is becoming such a rarity to meet one I genuinely like as a person.

In fact, it feels like people who become real estate salespeople are almost entirely made up of the type of people who I don't get along with, and it's so sad to feel myself feel this way.

But dammit, I do. I do feel this way.

And I'm so tired of feeling this way.

A weekend in Wanaka

Seven years ago, four people flatted together in Wanaka's Matai road.

One was Dutch, one was Australian, one was British and one was Estonian.

Our Christmas dinner 2009

In seven years since, between them they've had three children, have moved houses twelve times and countries twice, have bought two Labrador retrievers, have got married and attended other's weddings, have saved towards houses and applied for mortgages, and have aged considerably.

Which is not surprising as between them, they have three preschool-aged children and all know how difficult many things become once children are involved. All four have bags under their eyes on many mornings.

But somehow through all that, they've kept in touch.

On the weekend a whirlwind trip to Wanaka was made to see each other in person before another international move takes them thousands of kilometres apart.

It was fun, and incredibly tiresome. Both me and The Man feel like collapsing into bed tonight.

But, man!, I am glad we made the trip. So, so glad.

Checking out the land where one day their house will stand.

A windy morning at Lake Hawea

An offer declined

In some ways, when I got the message yesterday that our offer on a house hadn't been accepted, I felt relief.

I mean, I still wanted the house. I was still interested in it.

But I was also relieved, because it meant that I wasn't having to go through the butt-ache of dealing with buying a house over the Christmas period when most government departments go on holiday and it takes weeks to get hold of people that do things, all the while the conditions on a sales agreement, ie you have ten days to sort everything out, still hold.

To those of you that are interested, here is the story in a nutshell.

Over the weekend we found a house we wanted to buy and we made an official offer - through a real estate agent, on paper, with signatures - that we wanted it. In the offer we lined out that we were prepared to offer the seller the full "asking price" (ie the price that they asked for in the listing) on these conditions:
1) that the house is insurable,
2) that the bank gives us a mortgage on it,
3) that we are allowed to check the LIM report (in Estonian: kinnisturaamat),
4) that we are allowed to check the house for methamphetamine contamination, and
5) that we are allowed to get the house checked by a builder, electrician and a plumber...

... before we officially buy it, pay the money and register it onto our name.

The offer was declined. Apparently, there had been two potential buyers, both offering the same amount of money, but those other people had had fewer conditions on their offer and so their offer was accepted, and ours wasn't.

I wonder if I should feel a bit bummed about it, but I'm not.

We offered a fair deal. All the conditions we had on it - insurance, finance, LIM, meth, builder - are the ones we'll continue having on every single offer we make for the foreseeable future, and we offered the asking price. If they took someone else's offer then, well. We'll find something else.

Because as much as I wanted the house, I also knew that had the offer been accepted, it would've been a major headache trying to get it all sorted during Christmas when not just government officials, but even insurers, bankers and solicitors take holiday time and are difficult to get hold of.

So we'll continue looking.

But it was an interesting experience to have done it. Once.

The stuff kids say

The Girlie is sitting on the toilet, careful not to lean too far back as to fall in, and announces: "I not fall in the toilet! It make me a bit dead."

My head goes, bang!

My fridge looks like a mission control centre.

There's such a plethora of organisations and people I am dealing with at the moment that I just cannot keep that information in my head any more.

It doesn't fit.

Which means that on the fridge there's a variety of lists, calendars and information sheets; on the kitchen top nearby is a daily to-do list that I make anew every evening - every day I go, tick, tick, ticking things off the list.

Insurance companies, builders, electricians, rental agencies, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, Ministry of Education coordinaators, brokers, solicitors, tutors, speech therapists, tool repairsmen, potential employers, student loan managers...

Like, jesus.

My head feels, bang!, but I know I just have to stick with it and eventually, it'll all be done and over with.

It sucks that at the moment all of it is happening at the same time, but we'll get there.



We're putting an offer on a house.

Edited to add: It got declined.

Hey, I know you!

It's still early days, but... how funny would it be if we actually bought a house through a real estate agent who is my teacher's father, and the house itself belonged to a woman who is my teacher's sister.

Basically, I am starting to get to the stage in Invercargill where I mention people and they're, like, oh, that's my neighbour! Or, hey, I know that guy. Or, so you're that Estonian they've talked about!

Small places.

Amy & Louis

Santa brought The Kid a new book today and I am absolutely taken by the illustrations!

It's Amy & Louis by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood. In the US it sells under the name Half a World Away.

Apart from the fact that the story itself tugged at my heart and made me tear up a little in the end, I was so taken by the illustrations that I actually e-mailed Scholastic, the publisher, and asked them if I'd be able to order prints of the illustrations and frame them to hang on the wall. (The artist has an Etsy page, but it's currently down.)

This page, especially, reminds me of The Kid's little friend in Christchurch who he is still asking for - and apparently she is, too, still asking for The Kid, although they haven't seen each other since October and are unlikely to see again for a long, long time. They miss each other, and I so hope they both find a new friend - for the sake of both of them.

Wonderful book. Absolutely wonderful!

Family life

It's not a big deal, really, but I just thought I'd share :)

Last night reminded me of what stage our family is in: the stage where little kids are involved, where people work a lot, where time for doing things just gets carved out, casualties or not, and where tiredness is a familiar companion that we have learned to accept and live with.

After a hot and humid day, the kids were in bed by 19:30. I walked The Dog, had a shower. Me and The Man spent the evening on the bed playing Komodo until by about 21:30 I just could not function any more - the game got set aside mid-turn and by ten, everyone was asleep.

By one o'clock I was up for the first time. I drink so much water at the moment that I never sleep through the night and instead, get up mid-sleep to empty my bladder and then zonk back out within a minute of getting back in bed.

At three o'clock, The Kid was awake and crying. Each evening he chooses one toy to take to bed with him, and last night it was a Duplo figure which, by 3 am, he had lost somewhere in the room or the sheets and was crying about. I grumbled whilst searching for a Duplo figure, and thought how I really have better things to do at 3 am than search for a Duplo figure :).

But I found it, and he went back to sleep, and so did I.

At 6 o'clock in the morning, The Man was up. It's a season of Christmas parties and today, his company drives up into the mountains to then come back down a river in a jet boat, stopping along the way to barbecue food and get eaten alive by sandflies.

I, meanwhile, have plenty to do, too. The kids' preschool is hosting a Christmas party with Santa visiting, the playcafe we sometimes visit is hosting a Christmas party, our friends from Tumbletimes have invited us for a playdate in their back yard and in the evening, if The Man gets back home early enough, I want to go the gymnastics class again. There's plenty more injuries to have on the trampoline :)

Which is basically to say, I probably won't go to the playcafe Christmas party, I probably will sleep well tonight - apart from getting up with a full bladder, of course, and maybe comforting any other children who have had bad dreams or have lost toys in bed - and then tomorrow morning we will go through this thing again where we will get up from bed even though we would really rather stay there for another two hours and one day I will find myself old and my kids grown up and I will think, huh, that wasn't too bad.

Well, we'll see about that last part, but everything else sounds pretty solid to me :)


The Girlie has hardly enough hair to even put a hairtie on, but she demands a hairtie regardless and this is what we end up with. She loves it :)

I love how most trees in Invercargill are shaped like that. Can you guess which way cold Southerly wind is blowing from? ;)

The Girlie just decided she was going to ride an adult scooter, and that's that. Only two years old, I guess she'll be riding a full-on bike by the time she's four.

You'd love to see how my kids play in the bath when they're getting along well. You also wouldn't want to be in the bathroom when they aren't :), but that's another story.

I love my family.

Three great TED talks

No, the enthusiasm's not gone

Several people have remarked that we must've lost the enthusiasm for our house hunt. They say, isn't it so that at first it feels so amazing to be able to look for a house to buy! But then you realise how difficult it actually is, and how not fun.

I can understand why they'd say that. A few weeks ago I was bubbling with house-viewings and thoughts on real estate, and now there's silence.

But it's not because we've lost our enthusiasm. I've definitely not lost it.

It's because there aren't any new houses for sale.

I've a set of search criteria I use to see what houses are for sale in Invercargill and for the last few weeks there's been hardly any new listings at all. The only thing that's changed is the number of houses - it's going down, and down, and down. Every day I see how more houses get taken off the market, and I think, damn it. 

I've even spoken to the real estate agents. What's the deal?, I've asked them and they've explained to me that it's the pre-Christmas silence - people don't want to deal with house sales during Christmas. Basically, if someone's wanting to sell their house, they'll probably hold off until January when a glut of new listings will hit the market again, and, man!, I'm looking forward to that.

Because for the moment, all the houses that were potentially "ours" have been looked at and dealt with. Some are wanting more money than we think they're worth ("Let me know when they're ready to drop the price, and we'll talk," I've said to the real estate agents.) Some are too big, some too small. Some won't fit under our bank's mortgage criteria (replacing wiring, plumbing AND scrim all at the same time takes money - as in, more than the house would end up being worth at the end).

Which means that for the moment, yes, there's silence because there's, literally, nothing else out there. I'd love to move, but I can't. I have to wait.

Caterpillars cocooning at home

I hope the photo's author doesn't mind me posting it here, but when I read this blog post and saw what an excited little face was behind the caterpillar...


Having a mom who brings home a bunch of caterpillars and then writes about it (so that this mom's friends can read about it from Invercargill and go, "This is so cool!") - is cool.

Very, very cool.

Because if I, as a 5-year-old, had had caterpillars cocooning at home, I would've been WAY stoked.

Way stoked!


PS. Probably a little too much excitement, but... This is so cool! :)

Bryan Stevenson "We need to talk about an injustice"

I'm surprised I'd never heard of Bryan Stevenson and his TED talk - until today.

And yet it's been 4 years since he gave this talk. Wow.

It'll be one of those days

It's a sort of a day where I will breathe in deeply at 7:30 am before I start doing things... and then I won't breathe out again until 5 o'clock at night when everything's done.

I have the whole day planned out: where I go, in which order, drop off who to where, pack what, and whilst it's exciting to face a challenge I'm also aware that by the evening, I will probably be very tired, though content, and...

Not even sure why I'm writing it here, apart from to say, we're good, and busy :), and thanks for stopping by.

A morning at the beach

I think the photos kind of speak for themselves, so I won't add much more than to say: everyone slept well afterwards.

PS. I won't show you the photos, but there was also a dead tagged seal closeby whose details and photos we've already sent off to DOC (Department of Conservation) which is kind of a New Zealand organisation behind national parks and stuff, alongside Fish and Game who, I think, manage the hunted animals in them.

I found the experience quite interesting, actually, because it was the first time I'd ever reported a tagged animal and DOC have a detailed page built on their website precisely for that purpose, www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/marine-mammals/marine-mammal-sightings/marine-mammal-sighting-form . It's easy to find, easy to use and detailed. And useful, I hope!