Monday, April 05, 2010

Step 5 - Find a Place to Live

Chicken House
Chicken House
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Two weeks of poking around all the neighborhoods near Auckland left the entire family frustrated, exhausted and irritable. All the advice provided by all those lovely people familiar with Auckland was sound and interesting and helpful... if we were moving directly here from Seattle. Blockhouse Bay is similar to West Seattle. Howick is similar to Issaquah. Ponsonby reminds me strongly of Capital Hill. It's all good. We recognize it. Had we moved here directly from Seattle and our busy lives there, it would be perfect. 

But we didn't. Betwixt here and there are years of living on a boat, living small, and ... perhaps more importantly... living away from city life. Every time we would point the car north towards the city, shoulders would hunch and snippy comments resound from the back. So on a lark one day, we turned the car south to the country. We drove away from Auckland and away from our house hunt, escaping into the surrounding farmland and rural communities. We weren't looking for a place to live so much as quiet, sunshine, and fresh air.

After a half hour, we arrived in a town called Pukekohe which is about 20 minutes south of DrC's office and about 40 minutes south of Auckland proper. Now, like all the other neighborhoods we've visited, Pukekohe is a mirror world parallel of a community with which we were familiar when we lived in Washington. Like the equally unpronounceable Puyallup, Pukekohe is a rural town, the county seat of a predominantly agricultural district. The primary schools are sharply divided between those on the right side of the tracks (in this case the south side of town) and those on the wrong side. However, the town is too small to maintain that separation at the Intermediate and College levels where the decile drops to middle ranges reflect the fact that absolutely everyone in town goes to the same schools. The box stores have been relegated to one road out of sight. The center of town includes a city hall, incredibly large and lush parks, and all the major schools backed up against each other. 

Pookies -- as incredibly enough these people call themselves -- pride themselves on not really being a part of Auckland. However, Pukekohe is the fastest growing urban area in New Zealand. The schools have nearly doubled over the last decade resulting in facilities with many new buildings and all new computer, science, art, and music equipment. It's about half Pakehas and half mixed other. As part of our walk about town, we visited all three of the schools the girls would attend. At the intermediate, the principal and his wife went of their way to spend time talking with us and answer our questions. With no transition and all but perfect unity, we immediately started driving by all the available rental properties. Something about the town, the quiet, the charming prettiness of main street, and the fact that the sidewalks completely and utterly rolled up on Sunday afternoon appealed at a bone deep level.

The girls and I fell in love with Chicken House. Chicken House is about two blocks from the town center on the edge of the main park in the south part of town and when we drove by the first time, someone's domestic chickens were snacking in the front yard. It looks like a funky little chopped up Victorian era working class house with a backyard, a front yard, and three odd little outbuildings. Which is exactly what it is inside plus a whole skanky tangle of cat piss laced carpet. The layout is higgledy piggedly, haphazard in the way that only old houses with parlors and solars can be. Despite the smell, the family fell in love and threw in our lottery ticket with the realtor.

We got back to our hotel room a little dazed with what we'd done. In four hours, we had completely upended our housing hunt, shifting from an apartment in the city to a bizarre little house with chickens in the country. Everywhere in Auckland you can see the water or boats. In Pookie, we could live for months and never see a body of water larger than the bird bath in the back yard. But the vibe and the need were so strong that the family stopped looking north entirely; We canceled all our appointments to look at properties near the city.

When the broker called the next morning and said the house was ours, cheers broke out. Cruising is about going where you want when you want, about not being tied to a convention that says, "Do this because you're supposed to…" Apparently, what we want is to again send our lives careening off at an angle completely orthogonal to all our prior experience. None of us have ever lived in the country before. In Pookie, we're likely to sample lots of other new experiences: small town life, raising chickens, growing veggies in the back yard, drying our clothes on a line, and walking to school.

I might even try baking cookies for the kids when they get home from school. I draw the line at wearing a June Cleaver skirt, however.


inklenaomi said...

small towns rock.

El JoPe Magnifico said...

Chickens! We has chickens. Now you can has chickens, too.

judith said...

Now I have the green acres song in my head.