The Hobbit: remembering The Shire

Just a bit in advance of the December 14th release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, Rick, Jim and I are fondly remembering our 2011 sabbatical in New Zealand and, in particular, a day at Matamata when we visited The Shire. Really. In the movie trailer, where young Bilbo is running down a grassy path with high banks on either side, declaring that he is about to go on an adventure, we were right there! In fact, we had a fantastic day trodding all around Hobbiton, the magical home of Bilbo, Frodo, Sam… We visited all the hobbit holes, wandered amongst the hobbit gardens and orchards, stood on the hill overlooking the mill and lake, and danced under the Party Tree. Well, of course, it was a movie set, but so intricate and real the details, you could almost believe that hobbits just might be real after all. We aren’t allowed to show you photos (we took oodles) since the film company demands no pictures taken can be shared or they will send the Nazgul after you. But I happened upon a lovely man out moving sheep when we first arrived. He was about as quinqutessential a kiwi farmer as you can get. I’d like to introduce you to him since without him, this idyllic rolling countryside would never have become The Shire. This is a blog post we wrote from New Zealand to friends and family about our adventure.

“We thought it might be touristy, but it was great! We visited Hobbiton near Hinuera/Matamata this week and took the tour of the set for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. The farm is a long drive off the beaten path on Buckland Road in a stunningly beautiful valley. The movies do it justice. We had to sign confidentiality contracts agreeing to not show or post any photos or movies taken at the site or pass on any details we heard about the filming. We got to visit the hobbit village built recently for the prequel that’s in production now and Peter Jackson would be very grumpy if photos of that got out. But we can share some around the Shire’s Rest and Wool Shed. When we arrived, an older guy and his dog Kate were mustering some sheep so we visited a bit with him. We figured he was a hired stockman on the farm. Karin talked to him for awhile inside the shop and then he went out to chat with her while we waited for the bus to take us to the site down in the valley. Great old guy–that’s him in the hat; he wanted to hear all about her cow milking days at Ohinewai [New Zealand in 1979-80]. They discussed the high prices of lamb in the store, what weeds he’s battling, and talked farming. She soon realized he was Ian Alexander, the farmer who owns the entire 1250 hectare sheep & cattle farm. When a location scout found this site, the Alexander family eventually gave permission to Peter Jackson to use their land for the movies way back in 1998. Ian and his sons still operate the farm, but also worked out a deal with the movie company to run visits to the Hobbiton set. Sets built for the movie in other parts of the country were dismantled after filming. Anyway, the tour was fantastic. Ours was a small group and we walked around for 2 hours; Teresa was our fun tour guide and had loads of information. Wish we could tell you more, but we don’t want lawyers knocking on the blog door. Afterwards, we came back to Shire’s Rest to watch Craig shearing a sheep (Jim liked it) and got to feed some very hungry lambs. Jim even gave that a go. Karin could have sat for another hour over a cup of tea to talk with Ian.

A wonderful day. If you’re ever in this part of New Zealand, and even have a remote interest in the J.R.R. Tolkein stories, you really should do this:

And look what I just found on the making of The Hobbit trilogy.




From an old friend

Jim has a childhood friend named Jeremy who is turning 36 this month; we share the date and he always reminds Rick and I that December 27th is also our anniversary so “we are twins!” Jer’s mom Maxine got a copy of Flourish recently and wrote me this lovely note. Like the last post, this is how I hoped Flourish would touch readers:

“I just finished reading Flourish and I wanted to say thank you so much for writing it. I started to read the book, stayed up half the night and finished it first thing in the morning. Didn’t even read the paper! It inspired me to look into how we were not always working hard to help Jeremy realize his dreams. Then I remembered that his most consistent dream over the past five years has been to live with his friend Devan in their own home, like so many of their friends have done recently. We’ve had to modify that plan many times and are nowhere near giving it up, but Devan’s mom Karen and I feel that we have somewhere to start. They should move in early next year; Jer tells everyone January 1st. I am very glad you wrote the book and provided me with a bit of a wakeup call. I am always inspired by personal stories–they encourage me not to become too complacent. Flourish is so inspirational and I will be telling other parents to get it.”

Jim and Jeremy at Persephone Theatre recently.


Just what I was hoping

As I write in the opening of Flourish: People with Disabilities Living Life with Passion, the book began as a way to think about what a good life looks like for our son. So, in the beginning, it was all a selfish persuit. But when the thing comes together, your fondest wish is that it will strike a chord in someone else (well, your fondest wish is that people with buy it and then it will strike a chord…) It seems to be doing that for people who have written to me after reading it, which is wonderful. This from parent, writer and steadfast advocate Nicola Schaefer in Winnipeg:

“I need to tell you that Flourish is absolutely first rate, from the opening one-line paragraph of your Preface right through to the last line of Earl’s story. Sir Ken Robinson’s description of the blossoming in the Mojave Desert (which was such a clever jump-start for the book!) has had a profound effect on ME. I’ve realized two things: one, that [my daughter] Cath’s life, while fine, needs to be FULLER…of people, in particular, and I’m going to make that happen as soon as possible; and two, my colleagues and I in L’Avenir [the small community agency that supports Cath and others] need to put more effort into welcoming into the community folks who are still languishing (“unwatered”, as it were!) in the big institution here. One of the rhetorical questions that my friend Dave Wetherow frequently posited was, “Are we wasting people’s lives?” and I can’t help but say yes, we’re not doing our best to prevent that. Bless you for creating a most important book, one which I’m sure will have a profound effect on anyone who reads it.”

That’s Jim and me with Nicola recently at her home for a cozy evening.