Thursday, July 7, 2016

Selling Homer & the Japanese Soaking Tub

I showed a house the other day that had a Japanese Soaking Tub in its master bathroom. I have to admit, I looked at that thing with a bit of longing. It's been 20 some years since my last soak in an Ofuro and it got me wondering why they're not popular in Alaska.

One thing that I love about Hunter is that if I really want something - he'll find a way for me to get it. He's sweet like that. Told him I wanted a Japanese bathtub so now the search is on. Of course with a new tub comes a whole new bathroom. (I'm pretty sure Hunter's rethinking the whole Japanese bathtub idea, but wait until he tries one!).

Really though, what's not to love about a Japanese tub? Especially if you're 5'10". Sitting in a standard North American bathtub is kind of unpleasant, really. The bottom half of you is submerged while the top half of you gets cold. Never mind being folded in there on account of your height.

Ofuro's are much deeper than our bathtubs and about half as long. Instead of lying in the tub, you sit up in neck-deep hot water. Neck deep! Some of them come with lovey head rests so you can sit back and relax all warm and cozy. Imagine that at the end of a winter's day.

There are all sorts of places to acquire an Ofuro. There's even a maker of Japanese bathtubs in Haines, Alaska. I'm going to have to call them and see about getting one. However, based on their Web site, I'm pretty sure Hunter won't go for one as expensive. Good news is that with a bit of sleuthing and a Washington State shipping address, I can soon be blissfully soaking in hot water up to my neck!

Poor Hunter. I bet he's wondering how much my new Real Estate career is going to end up costing us in home renovations.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Selling Homer

It's been a full month since Alaska gave me the privilege to help people buy and sell houses. One month in and I'm really enjoying this.

One of my most favourite things about this job is getting to meet other Alaskans outside of my circle. There are some quietly fascinating people in this town and it's exciting to me to get to meet them. Like the home builder who's constructing gorgeous Alaskan homes that are heated with unique passive solar systemw that will save home buyers many thousands of dollars in heating costs. It's smart for the planet, it's smart for the homeowner and it's savvy of the builder. As a Real Estate Agent with an interest in alternative energy, this is great stuff!

I have a deep admiration for people who take the road less traveled. I can say that my life really began when I stepped off the beaten path. Working in Real Estate in Homer, I now meet people every week who have either left the path long ago or are taking their first tentative steps in a new direction. I mentally high five a lot of people who come and go from this office.

Being in this business is not all sunshine and roses. Even a month in, I can see where it can get tough. There are a lot of things you need to know as a licensed Realtor and I find myself often misquoting Donald Rumsfeld when I tell the broker I'm working with, "I don't know what I don't know. Educate me, please." The learning curve is steep and there are a great many pitfalls but the more I work through them, the more I see what value a great Realtor can bring.

Being an RCMP brat does really help. I've watched many a Realtor in action in my life and I've heard many often hilarious stories of what not to do. Families go through a lot to relocate to a new city or town, especially in Alaska. Understanding where they're coming from helps.

Lucky for me, I get to work with a couple of exceptional people who are generous with their time and knowledge and really good at what they do. I'm a lucky person, I'll say that for sure.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Milton's Home

Hunters first order of business (after checking his plane) was go to fetch Milton from the amazing people who had been watching him all year. He was pretty excited to see his furry friend and I think his furry friend was just as excited to see him.

I've been entertained by the changes to Milton and the changes to Hunter since Milton's return. For starters, the two have become even more inseparable. Milton now occupies a permanent space in the truck's passenger seat. Where once Milton was relegated to sleeping in the garage, he now sleeps happily on his dog bed beside the heater in the living room. He's even been allowed to climb into bed with Hunter - something that's never been allowed.

In our defense, Milton used to be a pacer. He would wander the house at night, patrolling the halls, and very regularly checking to make sure we were still alive. He would do that by landing his front paws on our bed and blowing in our faces as best as a dog with thin lips could blow. It was annoying and he refused to stop. So he slept in the garage.

Hunter's been working in Kenai a few days a week while he works to get his practice up and running. He loves it but I think he misses the dog more than anything. I joked about getting Milton a therapy dog certification so he could come along. I was half-kidding and I figured Hunter would tell me all about how that would be a bad idea. I braced for a lecture of sterility and liability. I didn't come. I could tell by the look of Hunter that he was wondering how he could make that work.

Milton the therapy dog. He might have himself a new job. Stranger things have happened.

Friday, February 5, 2016


Actually, the best gift you could have given her was a lifetime of adventures...
~Lewis Carroll
Alice in Wonderland

About a month ago, I bid farewell to New Zealand. It was harder than I thought, saying goodbye to a group of amazing people that I had the good fortune to call friends. Saying goodbye to a country I could have easily called home was just as hard. I loved just about everything about the place and I'll carry a bit of it with me wherever I go.

Back in Homer, things are upended. Some idiot (me) thought it would be a great idea to sell our living room furniture before we left so we didn't have to store anything and so that we'd feel propelled into completing the home renovation we kept saying we'd do. I didn't think about what it would look like before we got around to said renovation - because starting a new career and starting a new dental practice are time consuming things. So for now, if you're coming to visit us, bring a chair.  

We started Pea at the school down the hill. What a gift that was. The teachers and administration have been amazing at welcoming our girl and setting her up for success. I've been so impressed with how they've handled things and beyond impressed with her new teacher. I count our family lucky.

So, we've turned our living room into a play space. Hunter's spending more time with his kids than he has in the past few years. This working for yourself thing is working for our family. It's great for him, it's great for the kids, it's great for me.

I'm busy waiting on a Real Estate license to arrive from Anchorage - if they deem me acceptable enough to join their ranks. Frustratingly, I'm back to stalking mailboxes. That seems to be my lot in life. When I was born the universe declared that I should have to wait, due to high volumes or unforeseen circumstances or for new laws to be enacted for good things to arrive in the mail. In the end, they always do but not after I've run the full emotional gamut of waiting. In my private misery, they are:

1. Excitement
I've sent my application, oh my goodness, this is really happening!!! 

2. Crazy Anticipation
I can't even begin to document the crazy that was waiting for my K-1 Visa. I was ditching the corporate world to move to bush Alaska. I was so excited. I could NOT WAIT for that visa to arrive.

3. Serious Impatience
It's been a week. Why haven't I heard anything? Shouting, "come ooooon" at my computer screen as I press refresh on whatever agency's Web site for the third time in an hour.

4. Panic and Paranoia
In this phase I try to come up with reasons why I won't get approved for whatever visa or license I'm after. If I look hard enough, I can always deem myself unworthy. This phase usually ends with a bottle of wine and a reality check from a patient friend.

If you're wondering why I'm feeling crazy these days, I'm in the throes of stage 4 panic while waiting for this license. Sorry new guy at Kachemak Real Estate and thank you for talking me down in your awesome Aussie accent. Sorry mom's new boyfriend for asking you if you were high the very first time I talked to you on the phone.

5. Resentment
I did all my training, I paid lots of money, now where iiiiiis it? This phase isn't pretty, either. I won't say what's involved because I'm still in the throes of phase 4 and "they" might be reading this.

6. Dead Inside
My visa will never come and I'm doomed to a life of stalking my mailbox for something that will never come. All joy has been sucked out of life as I wait for something that will never be. My hopes and dreams are crushed. I am but a shell of my former self.

7. Lingering Hope
Despite feeling dead inside, there's a lingering hope that today might be the day! My mail is delivered at 1:00 p.m. This lingering hope vanishes at 1:01 every day and somehow tries to rekindle itself overnight.

8. Shock and Awe
But alas! What is this envelope in the mail, addressed to ME!!! Could it be?!? Could it actually be???

9. Bliss
Wahoo, it's here!!! Happy dances, bubbly and joy! It arrived!!

So for now, as I wait for the lovely gals in Anchorage to fish my application from the file, I haunt Story Real Estate's office. I've spent my days plotting and planning my new career and trying to get the Bluetooth speakers to play calming, reassuring tunes.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

What Doesn't Kill You

Month seven in New Zealand and we've run into a serious patch of bad luck. Here's what happened:

After a few months of looking for a job that would help support the family and offer some sort of challenge, I found a great job doing sales and marketing for a local manufacturing company. Working through a recruiter, I went through the interview process, got hired, signed employment agreements, and found day care for the kids, bought new clothes to fit the company's strict dress code...I was ready! Two business days before I was to show up for work that the offer was rescinded through no fault of my own. They just "couldn't hire me."

That same week, we found out that the furnished house that we are renting has been sold and that the owners wanted to come in and take the furniture. We have no idea when the furniture is going - we still have to figure that out. Nonetheless, we found ourselves looking for a new place to live in a tight rental market and only once piece of houseware to our names. Appropriately: a wine bottle opener.

Weekis horribilis to the maximus.

Looking to lighten the mood around our house, I suggested we take our kids to Dunedin to the Moana Pool. The Moana Pool is a complex like nothing I've seen before. It's got something like seven pool including a wave pool for kids, a fast flowing river to float along, a separate kids learner pool, lap pools, a diving well with spring boards and another lap pool with high diving boards. Most impressively, it had water slides.

Big water slides are new to Pea and Little Hunter. They were excited about the slides but didn't exactly know what to expect. So while the boys were getting dressed for the pool, Pea and I decided to try them out together. She and I climbed to the top of the slide and I could tell she was about to chicken out. I suggested we go together and I'm so glad we did. What absolutely blissful fun it was to hear her scream with glee.

I found Little Hunter who had just come out of the change room and I brought him up to the slide. He liked the idea but was nervous. He insisted I carry him up the ramp to the slide. I told him I'd do it once and once only. After that, if he wanted to slide, he had to do the work.

Once he got to the top, he grabbed my neck like a monkey and wasn't letting go for anything. The look of horror on his face that his own beloved mother was going to take him down that slide and worse yet, looked like she was enjoying it was priceless.

Two turns down the slide later I heard screamed into my ear, "This is fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun!"  He was hooked: running up the ramp and careening down that slide like a machine.

Sunday at the pool reminded me of the most joyful, blissful parts of being a parent. There's nothing in the world like an afternoon of good times and good laughs with your kids.

We'll work on our New Zealand adventure. Weekis Horribilis aside, I refuse to leave this place without a great story, a great experience or a great lesson. Certainly, I'm having a great time with my kids.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Chillin' down Under

I know a few people who split their time between New Zealand and North America, never getting to experience winter. I see the method to their madness because I tell you, winter in New Zealand isn't as lovely as it is in North America.

I am going to grouse a bit... I can't feel my toes (I tend to grouse when I can't feel my toes.) I was living in a land of Cadbury-fueled nirvana until the weather turned. That's when it dawned on me just how uninsulated New Zealand houses actually are. I know there's a good reason for uninsulated houses down here, I just don't know what it is. Nonetheless, it doesn't make for comfy living.

Hunter said to think of it like winter camping. I gave him the stink eye because one of the big tenents of our relationship is his superior camping skills. If I was winter camping with Hunter, I'd be warmer.

We're adapting like good immigrants do. We layer up the kids, wear our wooly socks and slippers in the house and we've taken to retreating to our toasty, electric blanket heated beds earlier than normal to keep ourselves warm. I'm doing a lot of reading, spending more time on Facebook than I'd like and my Pinterest board is looking pretty snazzy! Yup, the upside to this is that I feel tremendously informed.

Actually, I feel a little tinge of jealousy over my dog's fantastic summer. While I'm huddled under an electric blanket, Milton's touring Alaska in a motor home with his new family. He went to Denali - I've never been to Denali. He went to a waffle wedding - it looked like fun. He's panning for gold today. Lucky dog.

On the good side, there are some neat things going on in Oamaru. A good friend introduced me to an amazing yoga class. She and I have a standing wine and yoga date every week. I look forward to Tuesday like Milton looks forward to dinner. I'm sure yogis would frown on my wine before yoga routine but I think it's what keeps me from falling over.

Pea has gone back to school after a two week break. We had lots of fun being tourists in our own town. She and Little Hunter went to art classes, swam at the pool almost every day, visited the Steam Train rail shed for a tour, played with friends, fed the ducks... we had a lovely winter break.

Time to add another layer and pick Pea up from school and take her to the pool for her next lesson. It's warm there.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Hostel that Stole the Show

So Hunter and I have been working on a plan to see as much of the South Island as we can on the wee little travel budget we have. It was Easter last weekend and for Hunter, that meant a four day weekend. So I got to work on a trip to the South of the South Island.

I figured we'd hit up the south end of the South Island before Winter set in and head north as it gets colder. So I booked us a trip to Invercargill and the Catlins. The area known as The Catlins is a sparsely-populated, rugged and exquisitely scenic area on the South Island between Dunedin and Invercargill. It's not a particularly touristy place to be though there are endless places to explore and things to do.

I found a great deal on a hotel in a little town called Owaka. It's the largest community in the Catlins, tucked alongside the gorgeous Southern Scenic Route highway. Thomas's Catlins Lodge and Campground. Looked rustic and well kept from the one and only picture I saw. Besides, the price was right for a family of four and it was smack dab in the middle of where we wanted to be.

The day before we left, I Googled the place to see what I'd gotten us into. Turns out the place was a 100 year-old former hospital turned maternity hospital, turned retirement home. It was also haunted.

We had a fabulous drive down to the Catlins. We stopped for a picnic lunch along the Balclutha River and took the kids to a nearby park for a play. The Southern Scenic Route was definitely scenic and there was so much to take in along the way. We stopped for a quick hike to some waterfalls then made our way over to Jacks Blowhole in the Tunnel Rocks Scenic Reserve. It took us about 45 minutes to do the short hike from the parking lot to the blowhole to accommodate kids who wanted to stop and play along the way. We ended up missing the high tide but the blow hole was pretty cool nonetheless.

It was warm enough for the kid to play at the beach by the parking lot so after our little tramp, we helped the kids into their swimsuits and let them loose. By the time they were through, they were awfully tired so we made our way to the Lodge.

What was great for us was that Thomas's was more hostel than hotel. It is a fabulous place for kids. Parked in the hallway were two scooters and one tricycle. The owner of the lodge invited my kids to grab one and go for a ride down the halls. They were pretty excited. I wish they had a bike for me, it looked like fun.

The lodge had a huge communal kitchen and we were able to make dinner and eat in the dining room. What really worked for Hunter and I were the other travelers there. We met some new people and learned more about where to go and what to see with kids. It was refreshing to be around people doing the same thing we were. Family hostels are a new thing for me and a bit of a revelation - I'm going to travel like this more often.

The next morning, we made our way down to Invercargill. We stopped for lunch and then had a long walk around the Southland Museum and Gallery. I didn't expect that to take as long as it did. There was a lot to see and learn about this jumping-off point to Antarctica.

On the way back, we stopped at Slope point - the most southerly point on the south island. It was quite windy but we hiked through the sheep inhabited turnip field anyway and were rewarded with a great photo op and some beautiful scenery of the rugged coastline.

We tried to visit Cathedral Caves on the way home but once again, we missed the tide so we headed back to Thomas's where the kids played their little hearts out until bedtime.

The next morning, was Easter Sunday and the kids woke up to find chocolate eggs hidden all over our room. (Easter in the land of Cadbury: what a treat!) We checked out after breakfast and took our time getting back home to Oamaru.

We stopped at Curio Bay and this time, we didn't miss the tides and got to see the petrified trees. That was very neat. Pea used to love the PBS series, Dinosaur Train and she still remembers a lot about the show. She understood perfectly what she was looking at which made me feel less badly about letting her watch so much of it. I'm actually glad I did - she's fascinated by fossils. I didn't think an interest she had at two would still be there years later.

We stopped at an old abandoned railway tunnel and walked through it with flashlights. It was also a fun lesson in echos. One of my guide books told of another railway tunnel along the way home in a town called Milton that had glow worms so we went to check that out. Luckily, it wasn't far off our route. The hike to the tunnel was lovely but there were only about a half dozen little glow worms in the cave. Not really the wow I was going for.

After our glow worm escapade, we made our way home. Great weekend altogether! Though the Catlins were fantastic, the star of this show was the Hostel. The kids are still talking about it!

Next stop: Wanaka.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Kiwi Rings Twice

Three months in and we're finally getting a handle on life in New Zealand. While Hunter and I navigate all the complexities of setting up a new life down under, the kids adapted in no time.

There are some very simple things that are new for my kids. Things that I took for granted growing up but as Alaskan kids, Pea and Little Hunter wouldn't have access to. For example, sidewalks. The street we now live on is basically one giant oval and there is a new sidewalk that goes around the whole thing. For two kids with fresh access to scooters and tricycles, it's heaven!

Doorbells are another thing. We didn't have a doorbell in Alaska. We do here. Two of them, in fact. One on the front door and one on the back. I don't know why there's two.

My kids LOVE pressing the doorbell. They think it's a hoot. They never press it just once. What two year-old does? The problem is that Kiwis seem to like doorbells as much as my kids do. They don't press it once, either.

You know what they say about making assumptions?

I was trying to book a campervan the other day while the kids were outside riding their bikes. I was feeling frustrated by what was available and the lengths I had to go to ask a few questions from the rental companies. Suffice it to say, I was feeling irritated that I was getting nowhere in my efforts. Then the doorbell started ringing.

Frustrated and peeved, I shouted (pretty loudly, not very attractively and full of irritation), "NO! NO! GET AWAY FROM THAT FLIPPING DOORBELL! I AM NOT ANSWERING THE DOOR AGAIN! ARRGGGGHHH!"

Pea walked into the house, looked at me and calmly said, "Uh, mom, it wasn't us. Willow's dad came over to introduce himself."

A little girl who lives on the next street has been playing with Pea for the past two weeks. She comes by every day after school and the two play their little hearts out until dinnertime.  I love it. I love that Pea's got neighbourhood friends and I encourage Willow to come by as often as she likes. Days earlier I told Willow I was going to wander over and introduce myself to her parents and make sure we had each other's phone numbers. Didn't think her dad would beat me to the punch.

Classy move, Sarah. Reaaaal Classy.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Breaking out the Stretchy Pants

We've been in New Zealand for a month or so now. I still love it here.

Before I left, my uncle told me two things about New Zealand: the internet is horrible and so is the food. While I can agree about the internet (it took us nearly five weeks to get internet hooked up) I have to wonder what he was eating.

New Zealand takes eating to a whole new level. For starters, they have Cadbury and lots of it. As I type this to you, I'm sucking on a velvety, rum-infused dark chocolate. Quietly. Because I don't want to share.

They have all sorts of delicious Cadbury chocolate down here. Pea's learned that if she goes to the grocery store with me, chances are we're going to finish our trip with chocolate in the parking lot. It's summertime after all, we wouldn't want it to melt on the way home, right? Yes, that's right.

The dairy down here is out of this world. Yogurt, cheese, ice cream, butter: it tastes real. Like it's got, to coin a phrase from wine, terroir. You can almost taste the barley, grass and sunshine that went into it.

Not to let Alaska down, we brought our appetite for ice cream with us. (According to my realtor, Alaskans consume the most ice cream per capita in the US.) They have this flavour down here called Hokey Pokey. It's deadly: Vanilla ice cream with these amazing specs of honeycomb toffee. Like a Crunchy bar in ice cream form. Dangerously delicious stuff.

And the beer! Kiwis have beer nailed. There's a brewery down the street from us, Scott's Brewing. They make an amazing pale ale. They also make a killer non-alcoholic ginger beer. Ginger beer is a big thing down here and it seems like every brewery makes a version. My kids love it so we've started taking them "out for a beer" once a week. We really ought to call it something different but it is what it is.

It's taking us a while to get over having easily accessible farm-fresh food. The butchers have the freshest cuts of grass-fed meat and deliver to your door. There's a farm stand 10 minutes drive from the house and pretty soon I can start getting hazelnuts from a friend's tree. I'm excited about the hazelnuts.

Hunter's been slowly getting into the hunting and fishing scene. He went out Wallaby hunting with a coworker. It's considered a pest in these parts and hunters are encouraged to go after them.

A deal's a deal, even in the southern hemisphere. So if Hunter kills it, I've got to grill it; no matter how cuddly the critter. Never thought I'd ever say this but Wallaby's as tasty as it is cute.

We met a really neat guy who spear fishes and he offered to take Hunter out one day soon. He brought us some Moki and Butterfish to try last weekend. I'm excited about what's out there. Hunter's madly shopping for a wet suit. I told him to make that two - it sounds like fun, I want to go.

While my uncle was spot-on about the miserable internet, I'm too busy eating to really notice.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

It’s been five days and New Zealand is amazing. There are so many things to love here.

We arrived in Auckland on Monday morning. To put it mildly, we planned poorly for our arrival. We had a two-hour layover between our arrival from the States and our connecting flight to Christchurch. I thought that would be more than enough time. Turns out it wasn’t.

We brought a mountain of luggage along for the ride. Air New Zealand allowed us each a 60lb bag and two carry on pieces. We packed that, plus a duffel bag full of fishing gear and one hunting bow in a ridiculously awkward case.

We landed after an overnight flight from Honolulu with two tired, cranky kids. We got through customs uneventfully with our freshly-minted visas and were moved along into the inspection area. New Zealand takes its biosecurity seriously and, because of the duffle bag full of fishing gear and the giant hunting bow, we had to move into a special area to have our luggage inspected. Fun.

After going through that luggage inspection area, we somehow walked around the place where bags are dropped for connecting domestic flights. So we had to haul our bags and testy children over to the domestic terminal ourselves. We had a lot of heavy, wobbly luggage. Wobbly luggage piled high on two carts, each topped by a whiney child. One of whom, all of a sudden smelled really foul.

One look at the connector bus and we quickly realized we had way too much luggage and way too little time. Besides, Little Hunter really smelled. Inflicting him upon a bus packed full of people would be cruel.

So, we quickly hired our own mini bus, loaded our stuff and bolted to the domestic terminal. We heaved our luggage inside, checked it, dashed through security and sped to our gate. They hadn’t called final boarding yet so we speed changed Little Hunter and boarded in the nick of time.

We arrived in Christchurch and checked into a hotel to stretch out and rest. Our plan was to buy a car at the local car dealer/auction. So, I hung out with the kids while Hunter went to check out a car. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the kids to stay awake. Three in the afternoon and they were out.

After a great evening sipping delicious Kiwi beer and eating real authentic Chinese food, we were all in bed for the night. It was 6:30. Our plan for the morning was to finish the purchase of the car and drive down to Oamaru.

The next morning found us at the car dealer ready to test drive our new car. They drive on the other side of the road in New Zealand. I’d never done that before. What fun!

I got into our potential new car, ready to start my test drive and noticed that there was no steering wheel. Oh yes, I got in the wrong side. The sales guy snickered. Can’t say I blame the guy.

I quickly forgot the car. It drove just fine. Instead, I made the sales guy give me a crash-course in driving on the other side of the road and New Zealand road rules.  

First thing I learned - the turn signal and the wipers are also opposite. There’s nothing more embarrassing than turning on the wiper blades to indicate to your fellow drivers that you mean to turn. Oh wait, there is – doing it a second time. And a third. Oh yes, and a fourth.

You work the gears with your left hand, of course. So yes, I smacked my right hand on the door while trying to put the car in reverse. It was not a good morning for my self esteem.

Mercifully, New Zealand has little blue arrows that point to which side of the street you’re to turn onto. Without them, I’d have been lost those first few days.  If you’re turning, look for the arrow, no doubt put there for people like me.

Hunter and I have been teasing each other mercilessly about our driving. I still try to get into the wrong side of the car. I make sure I bring something with me to the garage so I can pretend to be putting something in the car. He sees right through that trick and makes fun of me. No matter, he still turns on the wiper blades to indicate a turn.

For a while there, Hunter thought to solve the wiper blade issue by driving like an Alaskan – without using a turn signal. I guess that’s one way not to get teased. The award for first honk of the trip went to Hunter who took a quick right with no signal. He got the next few honks, too. Now the wipers are back.

It’s clear to me how much of the act of driving I do without even thinking. At least once a day I startle at a driverless semi truck full of sheep barreling straight at us. Of course it’s not. Just looks that way to my subconscious.  

Those who know me know I can’t tell my left from my right at the best of times. Now that turning left and right are muddled (you cross an intersection to turn right down here), I’ve had to resort to “my side of the car and your side of the car” to give directions to Hunter. It’s awful. I have no clue which way we’re turning.

After a few days, I think I have this down pat. Just keep the centerline beside you and you’re good. I still have to stop and think about U-turns and roundabouts but at least I haven’t been honked at. Yet.