a journal by stephanie claire birr & carson andrew maule.
WI to NZ & beyond.
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nothing to hide, leave your pride at the door

we slept on those self doubts and fears. woke ready to leave those behind, ready to suck it up.

the patterns of the farm show themselves right away. a dog wanting a walk and food. seedlings beg for water and are bursting towards the sun. the chooks make their way home at sundown no matter where they are on the seven acres.

i make an effort to take explore the land and have my camera with me every night. i’m usually followed by a couple of chickens and a dog.

after errands around town and making a game plan for the week, we start to relax. to believe we deserve this and we can make it work. we find ourselves sipping beer on our porch, reading and watching the sunset. taking turns playing “stick” with the pup. we try the outdoor shower. we start to find places to keep things in our new home.



"we have inherited the keys to a broken castle…

and now we get to fix it up.” Carson

after checking out our new beach and meeting our neighbor Sally and her horse Spider, we dropped Tana and Charles off at the ferry to their Auckland home for the week. They would be coming back Friday night, so we had a full week ahead of us with our winter farm.

we headed to a restaurant called The Cove which brews its own beer and overlooks Oneroea Bay. we were exhausted and felt like we had a lot to learn quickly. our minds were spinning with thoughts, our bodies wanted beer and sleep.

i knew we were about to embark on a week of growing pains and challenges. we are really giving this first year of marriage a run for its money.

weary, but not broken,


driving on the left side of the road to see about our dingy: day one at Uma Rapiti

we awoke early; we were too excited to sleep in despite our world being flipped upside down. it was a good thing too because Tana was at our door ready to teach us how to drive our new car, a bright yellow Honda Jazz… on the other side of the road.

poor Carson got there first so he had to drive first.

he did awesome and Tana worked him - we made lots of stops around the island:

  1. Count Down, for groceries
  2. Place Makers, just like a Menards or Home Depot
  3. Up Sell Shop, you guessed it, a thrift store
  4. Planet Cafe, to grab a frame for a new table in our yard
  5. The Post Office
  6. Transfer Station, to show us where we gather supplies and get free cardboard
  7. A coffee shop, because duh
  8. At the home of the dingy owner (remember the free dingy were were going to look into?)
  9. Back home

phew. i told you Tana gets it done. i mean, done.

from there, we spent the rest of the day around the farm getting to know her a bit better. we met our chickens, chooks, as we call them here. four unnamed hens (sometimes i call “them” Henny Lane, Seana Hen, Hen and Teller, you get the idea..) and one beloved chook named Pirate. she lives separately from the other gals because they tend to pick on her. she is called Pirate because she has one black eye and one white eye. she produces the most beautiful brown egg in the exact same spot everyday. Carson cooked us dinner (yummy grilled cheese) and we had beers at the main kitchen.

the second photo up there is our outhouse, our composting toilet. we are encouraged to pee anywhere on the land and just use the bioloo for number two. it’s going to take a little getting used to, but i think we’ll manage. in the same photo, you’ll see a white tank with an orange ball on a wire, that’s one of our water tanks, where we get our water to shower and cook with. pretty cool, huh?

later that night we watched our first rugby game, the New Zealand All Blacks verses Australia. we’re going to have to do a bit more research on rugby, but it’s pretty cool.

driving on the left side of the road AND rugby? we just went all in, huh?

in NZ, you call coffee to go, “take away” and i find that adorable,


down the rabbit hole: our new home, Uma Rapiti

i really don’t know how to talk about it. i thought with more time, more space in between our first time seeing the farm and now that i’d have words to share with you. i just don’t.

Charles drove us on the winding and hilly road, past the vineyards, the colorful houses with their tin roofs, palm trees and olive groves. we would alternate from seeing Auckland in the distance to rolling hills. We reach the shared driveway to our farm and to our hosts’ home and turn into Neverland/Wonderland. The front drive is packed with succulents and weird, curvy trees; some are draped in colorful fabric. We past our new chickens and the orchard to come up to our little yellow home and a sign reading “Uma Rapiti Farm”. Betty Blue (our blue heeler) is sitting, waiting for us.

Charles and Tana drop us off and take us on a quick tour. My heart felt so full.

They let us unpack and get ready; they were taking us for Indian food and to see a movie at the local theater (it’s a bunch of couches piled together in front of a stage, so cute). the film we saw is a New Zealand film called Dark Horse and I promise you it will be one of the best films you see.

after, we were bloody exhausted. Charles and Tana bid us goodnight; we turn and smile at each other, then to our new home.

our new home.

curiouiser and curiouser,


by the end of this post, i dare you to not quote Tommy Boy: last day in Auckland and taking the ferry to our new home

we made our way up early to Clear Water Peak cafe to order (again the delicious coffees) and Carson his eggs benedict (best he’s ever had) and me gingerbread pancakes with raspberry chutney, bacon and ice cream syrup. (best, best, best)

ended up being late to check out, but we got out, found a taxi to take us to the wharf, gate 3 for the Waiheke ferry. we had a good 5 hour wait ahead of us, but we took turns guarding our pile of shit (“pile of shit” took a much different meaning come weeks end) and sat reading; watching to boats and people. it was perfect.

we didn’t know what Tana and Charles looked like but we texted how to spot us (orange backpack, two guitars, American) as the time got closer and closer to the 3:00 ferry, we became nervous we weren’t going to make it. suddenly a women with a dolly of crates comes running through, with a short man in a Indiana Jones hat a few feet behind him:

“are you Stephanie!? pleasure to meet you!” she says still running to make the ferry.

Carson and i both had our hands out ready to shake, but filled them instead, with our bags and ran to catch up with them. (me with a backpack, tote and guitar in each hand, Carson with a backpack, large duffel bag and the bag that could fit 4 dead or alive adults in it) we get to the entrance of the ferry and this is when we receive a kiss on the cheek from both Charles and Tana. (we have come to learn Tana is always at this speed, she gets more done in a day then people have in a year, Charles is the steadfast, the quiet support, both sweet as can be) We throw our belongings on top of a pile of suitcases and duffel bags. A look of terror comes over Carson’s face as he thinks about the Martin guitar just sitting out on the lower deck, he grabs it and we make our way to a little table with our new land-mates.

Tana talks quickly, moving from topic to topic, while Charles is extremely soft spoken - Carson and I must have looked like penguins bopping our heads yes in agreement back and forth between Charles and Tana.

Topics ranged form music to jobs to politics to composting and to inquiring about a dingy someone has advertised in the Gulf News (our new bible) for free. During the commotion, Tana has gotten in contact with the owner and said we can stop by tomorrow morning to see if it will work for us. (what, a new home and a dingy all in one afternoon!?) (did you quote it!?)

The ferry ride was suppose to be 40 minutes and maybe it was but it was over in what felt like 5. We get to the ferry dock on Waiheke and a huge wave of happiness rushes over me. Tana helps us get down to grab our stuff and get off first, of course, because she is a superhero. and we step on the the ground of our new home. Carson and Charles go grab the car and Tana goes back for something she had forgotten on the ferry so i have a moment alone, again guarding our pile. Wow. Wow. Wow.

we fucking made it.

the strangest stranger in a strange land,


our Auckland home, the Brown Kiwi.

some moments from our time in Auckland.

baby, you deserve that side of bacon: Auckland Day 2

it was a beautiful day. we started it at a cafe called Fred’s which could be straight out of a wes anderson film. i had coconut porridge and carson ordered more muesli (with a side of bacon - that got quite the look from the barista and a “you must be Canadian” comment) again, deloucious coffee. we ordered a second round of drinks and this time carson got a mocha (which he dropped a whole sugar shaker into) and i took a chance one earl gray tea. this was like no other earl gray, it was drinkable, not like we have at the states.

we made our way down again to the Sky Tower which the day before did not have very good visibility. the man told us it was a 6 out of 10, today, he gave it a 10 out of 10. we made our way, 597 feet up into the air to look out at our new home. we are both terrible at heights so we made our way down one floor to have bloody marys on top of the bottom of the world. here we really began to feel the freedom sink in. we pulled out our touristy maps and guides and i convinced carson the Fish Market on the Waterfront was were i wanted to go.

we wandered around the market and stopped to see names of sailboats. we stopped at Miss Clawdy’s for an early beer and lunch. ready to quit the big city and cozy up in our little neighborhood, i suggested a different way back to Ponsonby, via College Hill. big mistake, for it was a huge hill. we were exhausted and spent the next few hours reading and resting at the Brown Kiwi until we made our way to Little Easy for dinner. What I loved about this place was that in neon lights on top of the pub they had a sign reading “these are the good old days.”

we had a great meal, good wine and a waitress we wished we could have tipped she was so sweet. they were having an open mic, well one dude with a super smooth voice singing covers of john mayer songs. not just one, multiple songs. we tipped our waitress anyway, for putting up with us and the john mayer songs. (i still love you john mayer)

we headed home early to rest for our big day. in less than 24 hours we’d be at our farm, our new home.

all of our bodies are wonderlands,


Conch Records & Cafe on Ponsonby.

you don’t tip in New Zealand: Auckland Day 1

upon our arrival the night before, we had been given a package with a cell phone in it and we were able to get in touch with our boss and owner of the farm, Tana. she greeted us with a “welcome to New Zealand!” we thought we were only going to be at the backpacker one night, but she said she’d be meeting us friday afternoon at the 3:00 ferry to Waiheke and to get out an explore Auckland. Carson and i were very excited.

however, 2 free days… alone together? with nothing to do? we couldn’t remember the last time we had that. with our busy two years of work and the summer of wedding/moving out of the country, every spare minute was packed with things you could do at the same time - you want to hang out with me? why not meet me while i get my hair cut and pay bills online. i could feel my body both relax and feel anxious about the freedom.

like any good New Zealander, we woke in search of coffee. we’re not talking coffee like we have in the states. it’s not in a pot with a coffee filter. it’s the real shit. i thought i was a coffee snob, but they take it very seriously here. i was worried i’d have to give up lattes, but i had the best one of my life day one in auckland. we choose Conch Records & Cafe as our first exposure and we sat outside in a beautiful wooden booth in a fancy court yard. that’s the other thing we came to notice, every cafe and restaurant is beautiful, modern and funky. something you’d see in an issue of kinfolk or whatever you young kids read. carson order muesli and i had the crepe.

sidebar: Ponsonby would be a perfect place for my brother, ashley and anda. it is very cool, yet approachable. you feel like you’re camping and going to a fancy restaurant at the same time.  men dress sharp - skinny slacks, dress shirt, sweater and nice jacket. sometimes a hoodie as the outside layer. women wear black and white, if there is pattern it is very purposeful. shoes are for men: dress or fancy kicks, women: oxfords or ankle boots. chucks are everywhere. people love them here. even knock offs (which i got for 9.97) are just as popular since chuck taylors are pricey. people of all ages dress well. make up is very minimal, you either go for a funky colored lip, well pronounced brow or eye, not all at the same time

after that we made our way down Victoria street and to Auckland’s downtown. lots of walking, lots of bewilderment. lots of being in love and trying to relax. like by watching people walk and jump off the sky tower. we ate in a little pub and made out way back home into time to fall asleep by 6:30 auckland time, 1:30am madison time.



the flights: going so far from home we almost came back

our flight from LA was exactly what you’d expect a 14 hour flight to be. we boarded in LA at 10:35 and were scheduled to land in Sydney at 6 in the morning (we lost a whole day in there, that’s why it was a 14 hour flight, i’m not even sure how to explain it) we watched bad movies (i watched one good one CHEF and i found it delightful, could have been the lack of sleep) i had vanilla waffles at 5:00am and carson had the eggs. you couldn’t really read, you couldn’t really sleep. the woman behind me must have watched every movie you could and would laugh abruptly, scaring me. however, i did the same as i bawled through “chef”) we later shared a moment watching the sunrise together:

"look at the sunrise." "what?" "the sunrise." turns head to look: "sure.”

however, the flight was smooth and the sunrise was fantastic as we touched down in Sydney.

the Sydney airport was terrifying. not because of anything they did; it was probably due to the jet lag and Carson feeling his nicotine withdrawals - we were not at the top of our game. going through customs had me shaking and nervous because it always does (my camera is going to be ruined. i lost my shoes. what if i am carrying a bomb?) it was fast paced and a million people speaking a million different languages all trying to do the same thing. it felt like the farmers market at 10:00am. we found our way through and into what appeared to be a giant, expensive mall. we couldn’t use American money nor our credit cards so we had to exchange some money for Australian money (which is beautiful). we went to McDonalds (i know, lame, but wait for it…) they had macaroons. that’s right my friends. 6:50am on a tuesday and we’re sipping on cokes and knocking down macaroons.

we found our gate and boarded the smallest Virgin Airline plane in the early afternoon. the flight was a little bumpy, but the sight of the clouds and nothing but ocean made up for it. we had a little coffee and tried to read, but both of us were exhausted and anxious to touchdown in Auckland.

damn, did New Zealand look pretty from the air. night was upon us, but you could see mountains and homes and coastlines. the airport was very modern and clean. we arrived to wait in a line to get through to customs. i had all the normal thoughts in my head that my visa was a joke (since applying for it was easier then becoming ordained online, which I am if you need me for anything) and that my passport somehow expired. but the handsome gent at the counter just said, “ah wwoofers!?” looking over documents…”ah Wisconsin! cheese, yah!?” we sighed and laughed and were on our way.

the next stage of the Auckland airport was to find our bags. we were really nervous about it. we had two guitars and a huge bag with all of our clothes, shoes and some other fancy things like a recording mic. we found the large bag (I’m talking 4 dead or alive bodies could fit in it) instantly but couldn’t spot the guitars. they ended up being a few terminals down waiting for us. we couldn’t believe it. it’s happening.

lastly, we had to get through the bio-hazard line. signs all around you say LAST CHANCE TO CLAIM OR DISPOSE OF MATERIALS. it felt like any movie you’ve ever seen with a deadly decease or zombie theme but it was very calm and went quickly. one thing they have you do on international flights is fill out a card about the crap you’re carrying with you or what kinds of viruses you could be carrying in that hot bod of yours. have you been on a farm in the last 30 days? did you steal a sloth? those kinds of things. a man took our cards and gave us the look down and with a nod sent us on our way. cheese man from before warned us we could potentially be quarantined due to the nature of our visit. (yikes) lastly, you stick all of your belongs through another x-ray and people ask to see the bottom of your shoes.

we got through the x-ray and we were almost home free. a little beagle was sniffing bags and i had a thought that all our years of… having friends around who smoked things… could come back to haunt us. what if someone gave us a “gift” and stuck it in our bag? we have thoughtful friends who don’t always think things through… the beagle couldn’t come up with a reason to keep us so we were safe. out some sliding doors and mobs of people and we swallowed up our first breath of New Zealand air.

it was raining and dark, it is winter you know. but we easily found a bus shuttle that seemed to know right where our backpacker was located. about 10 minutes later we found ourselves in the midst of a quirky part of town called Ponsonby on the doorsteps of the Brown Kiwi. we lugged our American sized luggage up the front steps, rang the door bell and were greated by a tall drink of water named Hanes. he talked fast and we were exhausted but he showed us around the little home, twenty somethings of every country were sprawled about the kitchen, living room and back patio. a multinational choir chirped out “hello!” instead of sleeping on bunk beds with 15 other people we found we had our own room (with our own double bunk bed) through the back court yard on the second floor. (photos to come)

we had made it.

the rest of the details are fuzzy now. we were hungry so we walked back to the main drag and pass hundreds of cafes, bars and restaurants. we found solace in a joint called Burger Wisconsin, which didn’t have burgers like Wisconsin but they were delicious and fresh and dare say healthy? an old man from out back said Seymour, Wisconsin was the inspiration, but that’s all he said. we didn’t mind.

full, we walked back eager to sleep. we brushed our teeth together in our little outdoor bathroom. grinning at one another in silence.

we had fucking made it.

sorry/not sorry for the dropping the f-word up there,