The fireplace in the lounge of the Milne family's recently purchased Raumati Beach cottage is set and about to be christened.
Linda and daughter Tommie are looking for matches, unsure of where they might be after the melee of the recent move.
Husband Kevin, the Weekly's consumer columnist, throws open the sliding doors thatlead out onto the front deckand generously offers a tip on fire-lighting. A draught, he announces, helps draw the fire.
But one glance across to where the former Fair Go host is standing, and you can forget the fire, the view is jaw-dropping. Kapiti Island looms directly in front of us and waves crash onto the shore just metres away. You can only imagine the sunsets.
The relocation from the 4.7ha Waikanae lifestyle property they owned for 25 years has been bittersweet for Linda, Kevin and their youngest child Tommie, who, at 18, had lived in the big, two-storey, five-bedroomed house her entire life.
The tight-knit trio had been mulling over a change of scenery for some time. Sons Alex (36), Rory (33) and Jake (29) all fled the nest years ago and the house was, as Kevin puts it, "getting a bit echoey".
"With the boys gone and just the three of us, it was just too big. We were heating rooms we weren't using, crazy!"
While he and Tommie were definitely more at ease about leaving their semi-rural idyll, with its grove of Japanese cherry blossoms and protected native forest, than kindy teacher Linda, Kevin and Linda agree the years spent there were some of the happiest of their lives.
Tommie talks of the private swimming hole they had – the property was bounded by the Waikanae River – and of the many hours they spent there during long, hot summers.
Her dad laughs as he recalls the time he and Tommie went to buy Linda a Mother's Day present – the idea being a fancy candle – when they ran into another Kapiti local, animal handler Caroline Girdlestone.
"We stopped and had a yarn and she said, 'You don't know anyone who would be interested in a beautiful little piglet, do you?' Well, Tommie dropped the candle idea and immediately said, 'My mother has wanted a piglet for years, but Dad won't let her have one,' which is a lie, sort of. Anyway, the piglet turned out to be the Vodafone piglet, so we ended up with this famous pig."
Kevin grins. Linda never did get the candle.
He continues, "Yes, uprooting has been difficult. I loved the river. We would go eeling with the boys or kayaking. Those are the best memories of my life, and the boys' lives I imagine."
Susu the pig is now in Te Horo, as are Linda's two horses, Inky and Clydey, whom she visits every day.
"I've always had horses – there was no way I was going to sell them!"
Linda admits leaving the home the family lived, loved and laughed in for so many years was heart-wrenching.
"It was pretty upsetting," the 62-year-old tells. "It was the right thing to do, but in some ways I could have stayed there forever. At one stage, there were seven people there. My mum Marie lived with us for 15 years – she died just two months before Tommie came along – so it was always a very full and busy house."
Her best memories, like those of Tommie and Kevin, were of family "together time" and of the idyllic rural setting, "the skies at night, the peacefulness, the birds… swimming at the river, cricket on the lawn, meals around the table".
They have left some of their furniture at the old place, largely due to space restrictions. And though Linda has been loath to part with many of the kids' childhood mementos, and Kevin still has most of his vintage radio collection, a big double shed that had accumulated years of "stuff" did get cleaned out.Still, as much as downsizing has been the major focus for the family lately – their cottage has one storey and three bedrooms – 2019 has been a big year for the Milnes in other ways.
Kevin, a stay-at-home dad for much of Tommie's life, turned 70 in April, just months after the couple's 40th wedding anniversary, and in six months' time Tommie, like her three brothers before her, will head off into the world, or in her case Otago University to study human nutrition.
The couple, who have had health scares in the past – Kevin has had open heart surgery and treatment for a pituitary gland tumour, while Linda had a terrifying brain bleed in 2013 – met in London.
"It was my first day at a temporary job I had with the Iranian Oil Company. Linda came wandering in – she'd been at the dentist so was a bit late. I was pretending to work, but I looked at her and thought, 'Gosh, isn't she just the absolute archetypal English girl.'"
Kevin was in a relationship at the time, but when he was a single man, a year and a half later, he asked her on a date.
They married back in New Zealand, after immigration suggested they do so, or risk Linda's visa being revoked.
"It was a bit like a shotgun wedding," Kevin laughs. "There was no down-on-the-knee proposal. Neither of us can remember anyone proposing. There must have been some point where I embarrassingly said to her, 'I suppose we better get married!'"
He is full of praise for his wife of 40 years: "I look at her when I wake up and think, 'You're bloody brilliant.' She's fun to be with and there's something about her that when she's not there, it never feels as good. She's immensely, unbelievably patient, not only with me but the kids, which is fantastic because I'm anything but!"
Linda, possibly the more practical of the pair, describes her husband as "soft and affectionate, warm-hearted and very unselfish".
"He always backs me, always rates me."
She doesn't believe there are any secrets to a long marriage, aside from love and compatibility.
"It's about being kind to each other, supporting each other and letting each other grow individually."
The couple are not sure how they will cope as empty nesters. There is talk of extending the lounge and the kitchen, and Linda is still working at Otaki Kindergarten two days a week, so filling their time is unlikely to be an issue.
Rather, it will be the absence of family, when their youngest leaves, they will find difficult.
Tells Linda, "We're really going to miss her. We've been blessed in as much as she likes to spend time with us and hang out with us. Whereas lots of teenagers ditch their parents, we go for walks; she and I go to the gym together. It's been very special."
Kevin points to a large framed cover of the Weekly from 2001, when he – a new dad again at 52 – and Linda first introduced their wee daughter to the world.
He got some flak for being an older dad at the time, but he reckons his extended period as a dad has enriched his life.
"I know there are couples who say when so-and-so walks out the door we're going to do this or that. When our first kid Alex went – and he was only going into Victoria University, for God's sake – and we got back and his room was empty, honestly, it was absolutely depressing. It was like a funeral with no body.
"As far as what we will do with our time, we won't have any trouble, but we will miss Tommie enormously. With all our kids, when they go, it's a terrible time for us, and when Tommie goes she represents not only her going but the end of our family being with us at home."
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