Rocks for the garden

Rock bannerWe wanted to include some boulders in our landscape. Our local stone is brown. It’s sedimentary. It’s dull. We visited the local rock and gravel suppliers without finding anything of interest. Tony knew where there was granite that was suitable, but it was all in regions currently covered with snow.

Coincidentally, we were invited to a reunion of cruisemates in southern California. Since we were in the area, we visited Huntington Gardens. The gardens are stunning, and you would be excused for thinking we were interested in the plants. What was our reaction? Nice rocks!

Back home, Tony started phoning for information, looking for granite, learning that the rocks we liked were Gneiss, pronounced “nice”, which made for interesting telephone conversations. (A bit like revealing the location of your favorite fishing hole, there is a big secret regarding the source of rocks.) Eventually, he tracked the rocks at Huntington to a quarry in southern California. We headed south again. And found the objects of our desire at Southwest Boulder.

Rocks at Quarry

On the drive home, my cell phone rang. It was the shipper asking if he could deliver our shipment next morning. No! We weren’t home yet and we needed to rent a forklift! Give us 24 hours.



Two days later:

Rock on loaderPool rocks in place

One might think that would take care of our rock lust. It was only when summer found us enjoying the beauty of Lake Superior that we were struck again by rock fever.

G@MRHarborRocks Lake Superior

We already knew that shipping was an option.

Rocks in rentalShipping Rocks


And soon they arrived at their destination.

Washing Rocks

Little by little, our boulders are settling into the landscape.


New Zealand

San Francisco to Auckland was a 12 hour flight. We landed on the North Island where the botanical gardens were of primary interest and the the main ones in Auckland and Wellington were both beautiful and informative.  Then there was the natural beauty, oh my.  Think of the most beautiful place you know and then add ferns — little ones, BIG ones, tree ferns, silver ferns, black ferns . . .

Metrosideros pohutukawa NZ Christmas tree
Black fern
Cyathea medullaris/Mamaku (Black Fern)

Too much greenery?  Add New Zealand Christmas trees with red flowers on top, and enormous rhododendrons.

rhododendronsRotoruaDrape the hillsides in jasmine, nasturtiums, lupines, and cineraria gone wild.  There were subtropical plants in the same photo as snow capped mountains.  Some trees couldn’t be identified because there were so many other species growing in their limbs.  And in the background, fantastic bird calls.  The trees were full of birdsong and some birds even came to their call on the iPad.  Cheap thrills!!

More Wildlife?  Indeed.

bark, barkWe saw orca whales, fur seals, dolphins, eels, wild parrots, glowworms . . .   We did not see a kiwi.  It turns out they are rare and endangered, a flightless bird threatened by almost every mammal that has been introduced to New Zealand: dogs (“Shot on Sight”), cats, rats, possums, weasels . . . and there is a huge effort underway to eliminate the predators and reintroduce declining bird-life.  On a zip-line tour of a forest canopy we were introduced to efforts to prevent extinction of native birds by rodents.  We were shown a very effective CO2 powered trap that Tony now lusts . . .

Seagulls were protected . . . although cafes provided self-defense.

Red-billed gull Anti-seagull


The architecture suited and expanded our contemporary taste.



We stayed in some beautiful, architecturally significant B&B’s at the price of a Holiday Inn, with hosts that felt like friends.  They enthusiastically shared their local knowledge by emails even before we arrived.  Gail cooked a lamb dinner, Paik made us green-lipped mussels, Angie spoiled us with fabulous breakfasts. Woody took us out on his boat to empty his rock lobster traps and Rose cooked the lobsters for our dinner.

Impromptu dinnerAny place that sold food sold excellent coffee latte and always topped with art — even in a cardboard cup with a lid on it on the ferry crossing Cook Strait.

root vegetables

The population looked fit (we only saw one person with a cigarette), quick with a smile, and generally gave eye-contact and a ‘G-day’ to us. The food was more varied than California (seafood, shellfish, venison, lamb and pork belly too).  Springtime fresh fruits and veggies more diverse than typical of California restaurants, and also colorfully and generously garnished, picture-worthy.

More diversity?  Maori culture.

Maori canoeThe Maoris are active in tourism opening historical villages and glowworm caves, for example, cooking traditional feasts, selling carvings and weavings.  They seem to have been treated correctly from the beginning with land disputes settled by treaty and payment.  Attempts to integrate them into schooling are sometimes veering back toward separate schools and language, with either choice being acceptable.


We declared the Bay of Islands the ideal place to live and New Zealand the cleanest country we ever visited, and the most civilized.  One of the most curious aspects of our adventure was pondering the differences between people in New Zealand and people in California.  We decided over many coffee lattes and a few beers/wines that New Zealand people seem to treat each other and their surroundings with more respect than we observe at home.  What that says about people in the US, we are still debating.

A major observation in comparison to California is the preponderance of “Public Spaces“.  Town budgets allocate plentiful spaces enjoyed by all generations that are well maintained and considerate of needs. These include elaborate playgrounds and skateboard ramps, hi-tech sealed stainless steel BBQs, bowling greens, racetracks, walking trails, and obvious public toilets (with extra toilet paper) exactly where they should be when they were needed, e.g., in every town and park; next to a few parking spaces on a remote road leading to the largest kauri tree; and on a hiking trail, halfway up a mountain.  Civilized.

Wee Toilet
Wee Toilet
Camper with Attitude
Camper with Attitude

Beautiful beaches, snow-capped mountains, fern laden hillsides, waterfalls… oh yes, volcanoes and thermal springs — bubbling steaming, nasty smelling mud pools but also crystalline blue bathing pools.  We stayed in Rotorua where the motel pool was subterranean-heated to 95 degrees, naturally.  We went to volcanic Hanmer Springs with its assortment of pools of varying degrees of warmth and by the way, a waterslide.  We 70 year-olds elbowed our way up the platform among the  kids,  and whizzed down and up and around and dropped into the pool at the bottom. Then we picked the shortest line and did it again. That tunnel was DARK inside and way faster, out of control, and scary!  It dunked us, splashed water up our noses, and ejected us at the end coughing and spluttering and laughing.

Bungee jumping?  No…

We ran out of time and did not get to the glaciers or the rain forest or Milford Sound or Queenstown or Dunedin or …
maybe we will go again someday.

In the beginning

In the beginning, circa 2008, there was an old brown house with an acre of garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuilt in the mid 1970’s the house was pleasant but plain.  The two gentlemen that previously owned the property created the structure of the garden over the previous 17 years.  Almost 8 years hence, many changes have occurred.

Exterior paint



Lighter and fresher, paint made a big difference.




Tony raised the sunken living room floor and installed bamboo flooring. He changed the tile and cleaned and sanded and painted and polished throughout.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe kitchen was showing its age and demolition began:






The old kitchen needed renovation more that we realized. It was stripped to the bare walls.






We found a plumber with untapped skills. No leaks.

There was lots of debate about choosing a cooktop. Eventually, we decided on the Miele induction unit and we have been really pleased with it ever since. It’s hot and fast and settings are repeatable, no excess heat in the kitchen, easy to clean, and it does double duty as extra counter space when not in use.

Even during construction, we cooked everyday. The kitchen sink made numerous moves from garage to kitchen with everything being functional at dinnertime.


Marble countertopsIt was a big day when the marble countertops were installed!


Peke makes clever Swiss cabinet hardware for corners and drawers. Our best distributor was in Mexico. Good prices, good availability, fast delivery, no hassles.

Upper cabinets

The upper cabinets slid into position perfectly.






And then one day it was finished, and they both cooked happily ever after.


Whew! That was a big project! Now for the bathrooms . . . Let’s be quick.

Work in progress                            Work in progress.

bath left

Guest bath is ready









The guest bath is ready for guests.








The interior has been updated from the 70s. There is an acre of garden outside. Now can we go outside to play?