After Clay’s birthday, the reality set in that we HAD to find a place to live. Not only did we HAVE to, we WANTED to. As much fun as all the traveling had been, we were growing really, really weary of the packing/unpacking/motel lifestyle.

This was pretty much us during our first few months of traveling. Except it was just the two of us, and not a car full of people…

I mean, if you have traveled with me (even to the beach for a weekend), I bring two suitcases, as well as multiple “odd and ends” tote bags. I stay up all night, standing in an overwhelmed daze in front of my closet, and think of every “what if” situation, and then proceed to pack for it. “What if I feel like my big straw hat one day? In it goes. What if I decide I want to tackle the first ten books on my must-read list? In they go. What if I feel like doing yoga in the sunshine one morning? In goes the yoga mat. What if I want to make piña coladas one afternoon? Better bring the blender and ten cans of coconut milk! Literally, everything but the kitchen sink goes. And by the way, I would have brought my old kitchen sink to New Zealand if Clay had not put the kibosh on all the madness…it was a LEGIT sink (1920’s, massive, cast iron, two-compartment, farmhouse sink).

Clay’s belongings consist of two pairs of shoes, his contact case and solution, his toothbrush, and his razor. The rest of the things you see belong to me. The lovely French man that ran the hotel in the photo below was clearly amused watching us unload our car. When we finally made it to the front desk, he gave it all a nice look over and said, “Well…eet seems zat you brought enough for all of Afreeca! I sink you are going to need a beegger room zan zee studio I booked for you. Let me see eef zair eez somesing available…ah yes! You are een luke!”
Voila! This was the typical scene in a hotel room of ours. Notice all of my shoes and Clay’s two pairs. My black robe hanging to dry after I washed it adds a nice, creepy touch to the room, doesn’t it? Clay kept saying, “Please take that thing down… Every time the wind blows it, it looks like some dementor from Harry Potter!”
Here we are at the West Meadows Motel! This was our home for a couple of weeks until we found a place to rent. We became friends with the awesome couple who own the place, as well as with their sweet team of ladies. Every morning around 11am, they pause their cleaning duties to enjoy a tea and coffee break. This photo was taken after one such tea-time that they invited us to, because on that particular morning, they were giving one of the girls a little wedding shower. I gave her a gift card to a lovely shop that sells pretty lingerie and pajamas, then I started second-guessing myself and worrying after giving it to her. I never researched appropriate wedding gifts to give a Japanese bride, so hopefully she was not insulted! If she is anything like me, she probably used the gift card to buy something way more comfy than lingerie…like, the biggest, most baggy t-shirt she could find, or some comfy lounging pants.
Sunrise out our window at West Meadows Motel. I love being in a room that is flooded with sunlight in the morning. Unfortunately, the place we are now renting gets zero sun in the bedroom, so we never know if it’s 3 a.m. or 8 a.m., making it VERY hard to wake up!
Donald and Fay (the owners of the motel) are the type of people that when you ask for another bag of coffee, you come back to your room that night, and they have put the whole bloody box of coffee bags in your room. Or you ask for an extra roll of toilet paper, and you find twelve in your room. Aren’t generous people the best?

Donald used to manage a vineyard called Scott Base (one of Allan Scott’s wine labels), and he and Fay invited us to an event called Grape vs. Grain, hosted at the vineyard. Allan Scott owns the vineyard, but his son went in another direction and started a brewery called MOA. With each course that was brought to the table, they would pour a different wine and beer, and you could decide which you preferred with that particular course. Dad, you would have loved it… You could just skip the wine and enjoy the beer!



Socializin’. Not us, though. I just stand there awkwardly while Clay takes photos of strangers.
Hangin’ out with the vines.
That’s the wine man (Allan Scott), and his son, the MOA Brewing guy. How small of a world is this? Clay was talking to Allan after the dinner, and when Clay said that we’re from Birmingham, Allan’s eyes lit up and he said, “ Well then you must know Frank and Pardis Stitt!” Apparently, he and his wife have dined at Highlands Bar and Grill in B’ham and chatted wine.
Nicki, aka Goldfinger, our hilarious realtor that helped us find our rental. She is a hoot n’ a holler. The day we came to her office to sign paperwork, I noticed she was sliding all of the paperwork towards us with both of her ring fingers turned under, as if they were amputated or missing (which I knew they weren’t, because this was not the first time we had met her). The nails that I could see had clearly been professionally manicured, and they were this pretty crimson color. Knowing that she is an open and honest person from previous conversations, I decided to comment, and said something like, “Nice nails Nicki! You’ll have to tell me what nail salon you go to.” (Which I could care less about by the way. I get my nails done maybe once a year, and when I do, I can’t relax because I just worry the whole time if all the tools have been properly sanitized. So yeah, I was just asking because I wanted to know what in the world was going on with her ring fingers). Turns out her manicurist got a wild hair and decided to paint her ring fingers bright, sparkly gold, with decorations. She was so embarrassed by it but hadn’t had time to remove it, so she was going about her day trying to hide her two gold fingers from all of her clients. I wanted to say, “Well it’s a lot more awkward that you’re going around presenting your hands as if you have two nubbins!”
Say “G’day!” to David and Susan, the lovely Scottish couple who own the wee house we’re renting. They escape Scotland’s winter every year and live here from January-March. So when they moved out at the end of March, we said bye bye to West Meadows Motel and moved into this house. Hey, thanks to everyone who gave us awesome reference letters (especially you Miz Paula!). It’s so nice to not be constantly packing and unpacking!
This is David’s beautiful, British racing green, 1953 MG TF (according to Clay the car guy). Clay tried to talk him into leaving it in the garage, promising he would take really good care of it. Unfortunately, David didn’t go for that idea Instead it’s being stored in an airplane hanger until David’s return. Oh well…
In their back garden.
Before winter arrived, I sooooo enjoyed their back garden, which is terraced with apple, pear, peach, and plum trees. We went two months without ever buying fruit at the grocery store! I collected four massive bags of apples and pears for our neighbors and friends. One of our neighbors is a German lady named Inge, and she has a big white dog named Klaus (doesn’t get more German than that!). She was the physical therapist for a long time for the New Zealand Royal Ballet Company. Now she is both my and Clay’s physical therapist…she’s gone down a notch in the caliber of her clientele for sure, ha! Anyway, a couple days after we gave her the big bag of fruit, she made such a delicious apple pie and had us over to enjoy a slice. I quite loved how Inge added raisins to her apple pie. I thought about my pie baking friend and mentor, Miz Ann, and how she would have had us over for some pie or cobbler, had I brought her a bunch of peaches.
Welcome to log burner culture people…a huge part of Kiwi culture. We were not acquainted with this vital Kiwi way of life, but boy howdy did we become acquainted – and fast. By the time we said amen over our first dinner in the house, it had turned to autumn (April) and the air was getting a bit nippy! So we reckoned we better figure out how to heat our house. Practically every house has one of these suckers, and this is our not-so-charming-one: Mr. Magnum P-300. And this is how you heat your house: Your alarm goes off, you blearily open your eyes, and you see your own breath, because it’s freezing! Then you roll over and nudge your husband, and you say with your teeth chattering, “It. Is. Freezing.” So he gets up, throws on his jacket, goes outside to gather wood from the pile, and starts a fire. Once Clay gets the fire going, you can count on me to come wandering out the bedroom in a huge, brown, bear-like fleece robe. I then proceed to hug the chimney until it’s too hot to touch. And that’s the way I warm up in the morning!
Photographic evidence minus the fleece “bear” robe.
Even though it was only April, Nicki (aka Goldfinger) urged us to go ahead and order our firewood for winter. Since Clay didn’t want to run out, we opted to get a full truckload (8 cubic meters). Well it’s now September, and we’ve already had an additional 16 cubic meters delivered. Yep, when your only source of heat is firewood, you burn through a lot.
Merve, the Uppercut Firewood man. Did I mention that Kiwis are a tough, hardy, frugal bunch? Well they are. When I think of a good Kiwi man, I think of Merve. If we were to complain about our house being cold, he would probably tell us to “Suck it up and go put another jersey (sweater) on.” Or, “If you’re cold, go stand in the fridge to warm up!”
There are actually three different types of wood there (pine, fir, and blue gum). Blue gum is the best and the most expensive. It burns super hot and slow. We ration that stuff like water in a desert.
Some of the logs needed splitting, so I threw on Clay’s lumberjack shirt, and gave it a go. I’m pretty wild with an axe. Watch. Out.
My best attempt at badass.
Don’t make me maaa-aaaad. Herrrrre’s Johnny!
Clay’s “lumberjack” pose.
8 cubic meters of wood stacked. I love outdoor manual labor. The hay is in the barn. Ready for winter (or so we thought).