The election 
Or both of them. It might be the first time that the New Zealand election got so much publicity overseas. We even appeared on Spitting Image. And here in the Super Kiwi Socialistic Empire of Jacinda it was already a foregone conclusion. She had successfully handled three major crises. She showed empathy and decisiveness without a lot of self interest. Our covid cases are currently around 40, almost all from recent arrivals. And National had gone through three leaders and didn't show any sign of suddenly becoming competent. So she got re-elected.

I'm watching it play out in the US. I'm hearing screams of denial, and people so fed with lies that they are unable to believe the truth, even when it stares them in the face. I do hope my American friends can stay safe and keep out of sight. We've got a guy who was stranded here in the first lockdown, so he borrowed a euphonium and has been playing in several bands ever since. He's from Nevada, and not sure he wants to go back.

So our Auntie Jac didn't quite manage to pass the cannabis referendum. Probably a good thing, I thought it was rather vague and full of loopholes. I'm sure there would be plenty of people with their regulation 4 plants in the front garden, and the other 100 in the bush somewhere. But the euthanasia referendum did pass. However, it actually pretty well thought out. There's about six conditions you have to meet, and as far as I know, nobody has yet met them. Conversely, I don't believe there are many doctors who are prepared to, either. I did a tactical vote. Yes, Jacinda, you have been a beacon of common sense in a very turbulent world. But I'll be watching your policies carefully!

It's curious to watch the conflict between left and right. There have been some calls to restrict religious education in schools, but also the admission that nobody else really has any answers. We've actually done rather well in our youth work trust this year. We've already taken on two more people, and could have room for several more next year. Several contracts have arrived from different directions. It's like they've realised that faith based organisations are actually a lot more effective because they believe in what they do. Not that they care to admit it.

Here's hoping that Biden is able to reach out to both sides and get them talking. Otherwise I'll just have to continue learning Chinese.

We're into the silly season, only this time we've had several delayed events squeezed in as well. Last week was our Light Party, and we handed out 280 goodie bags, and as far as we know, each child only got one. So that was bigger than last year, despite the threat of lockdowns. The committee couldn't decide on Superheroes or Space so we did Superheroes In Space. We had everything from unicorns to Princess Leia, plus several Spidermen and Supermen. My Splat The Rat game became Splat The Alien, and I painted the tennis ball as an eyeball. We turned a huge cardboard box (from a fridge freezer) into a mock photo booth, and decorated it with shiny paper and LED lighting. It was tricky transporting it 10km down the road and back, but it survived. It had quite a queue to use it apparently. Someone cut bamboo and we built an entrance tunnel (with black polythene and more fairy lights) to pretend that you were entering a spaceship. The police and fire brigade turned up, plus a couple of farmers with various animals, sausage sizzle, two bouncy castles and face painting. There was probably more; I didn't get to see it all!

The next day was the delayed Matamata Music Festival, which is about 2.5 hours away (in good traffic). The brass band was one point away from getting a gold award. We played Oregon, by Jacob De Haan. It's a really descriptive piece; you can imagine the rolling scenery, the cowboys, the Indians and the prim ladies in impractical dresses. I wanted to understand what each section meant, but I couldn't find anything, so I imagined the scenes myself. I wrote to him afterwards and described it, and he wrote back and thanked me for my imagination. I suspect that he deliberately didn't describe the music because imagination (and emotion) are very much part of the music for him. Hope we get the chance to play that sometime soon.

We've got the delayed brass band AGM plus several playouts and carolling. There's several Christmas parties, and a walk up the Coromandel mountains. Plus a number of other things. The calendar is getting busy.

But for now, it's getting warmer, and after a rather heavy downpour it's also getting greener. The lambs are enjoying the paddock. And the front garden, when we're not looking. I've almost cleared half the farm of blackberry, gorse and thistle (I'm getting fit). No sign of any sugar cane growing. Perhaps it'll grow now that it's warmed up a bit!

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Spring has sprung 
Police car, lights flashing in the outside lane. Then another, and a fire engine. Then two men in fluoro jackets staring down a hole.

Apparently a duck had attempted to get her family across the motorway. This was going to be impossible to start with, because there's a metre high concrete barrier down the middle. Somehow, the police managed to corner them into a storm drain and then climbed down and fished them out. Made it to the NZ Herald...

Auckland is back in level 2. Gatherings of up to 100, social distancing and way too much hand sanitiser. Had our first church meeting for a while. We were a bit thin on the ground, probably due to Level 2, torrential rain, and the fact that our clocks just went forward!

I've got into the habit of signing in everywhere. There's an official Covid-19 app, but it only works from Android 6 onwards. My phone is still 4.4.2, and I'm certain that I'm not the only one! Especially when the latest outbreak hit a food storage factory where everyone has numerous jobs and even more numerous kids, and go to huge Samoan and Tongan churches in South Auckland. You need 100% coverage. So they make an app which needs Android 6, and scans an enormous QR code that would have space for most of Shakespeare. I got thinking. Why can't I take a photo, and it logs the GPS? How about a short code? A four letter code would have room for 456976 different combinations. OK, make that five just in case, and add another as a check. Now you just have to type in six letters, and it would work on Android 1. I'm guessing they never thought of that!

Spring has arrived, and I've been busy in the garden. One of the supermarkets has been giving away little plant pots with vegetable seed, so I've been sowing and transplanting, as well as planting out some leeks that survived the winter, spraying the roses, and planting sugar cane. While in Kenya I was rather surprised that cakes were unheard of. Or anything remotely sweet. Perhaps that's a good thing! Apparently sugar is expensive, but sugar cane is easy to get hold of. So I'm going to grow some and see what it's possible to make with it!

Just had the sheep shearing. Bronwyn counted 99 through. Then she left the 99, and went in search of Nibble. Nibble had decided to hang out with the older girls, and had crashed through the fence. Fortunately she's easy to 'rescue'!

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Lockdown again 
Apparently Trump has picked us out as an example of a country that's had a major outbreak. Ms Ardern was not impressed. But it does mean that we're back on lockdown, or at least just the Auckland region, and at level 3 so we still get a bit of freedom. One new case today, plus another two from recent arrivals in isolation. Everyone's hoping that we'll be out of it soon. Well, most people. Sarah quite enjoys not having to get up early for the bus!

Sounded like it came in with food at a cold store in South Auckland. Or a contact with a sailor on the boat it arrived in. It's hard to tell; there hasn't been any evidence either way. Just wash your hands after opening that packet of frozen shrimps, OK?

Bronwyn and Sarah got to go on their whistle-stop trip to the South Island for our old pastor Sam's induction as army chaplain. Quite a few others turned up to support him too. Between the ceremonies, they had chance to wander round the airfield, but it sounds like it was quite a busy day.

Everything else has been cancelled of course. Or postponed. Church is back on Zoom, plus Youtube and Soundcloud. One of the brass band contests has been postponed to November. I don't think many people were planning a wedding this time of year though!

I'm trying to pick the most appropriate time of day to practice trombone, but it's tricky with everyone doing assignments and homework. Rach's maths has begun to go beyond the limits of my orbit, and she's found it hard, but it's quite something to get that far. In turn, she's been helping Sarah with algebra. Sarah's also finding the maths hard, but she's working through it without too much help. Bronwyn has a major assignment due at the end of next week. It's perhaps good that we're stuck at home because we've all got time to get through the homework!

Four lambs in the back paddock. We lost one pet lamb last week, and one of her twins, but the other one survived. A friend has taken a fifth lamb for them to raise, and we've got a few other people who wanted a pet lamb. We've been out regularly checking on the sheep. Sounds like the dog might have been out in the sheep last night, but picked the paddock with the big monsters in it. We've still got the council dog trap, so we'll get that set up again.

I have cleared one whole paddock of blackberry. I've also cleared the garden and thrown in a few potatoes and carrots, plus some lupins. Chopped several hundred thistles too. But it's raining all afternoon today, so I'll write this instead! It's a privilege to have such a huge back yard and good soil. Bronwyn's mum gave us rhubarb, broccoli and a bucket of limes. Bronwyn made rhubarb and apple crumble, and we've been looking up the recipe for lime curd. I'm still working through the guava jelly....

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Covid? What covid? 
Our internet was getting really bad, so I had the idea of borrowing the church's and seeing how well it worked from our house. It's all based on mobile phone signals so you can just pick up the modem and move it. There's apparently a cellphone tower on the top of the hill near us. The church internet was four times faster than Vodafone. But when I rang up. they said that it wasn't available in our area. "But it works! Please sell it to me!" Apparently they're restricting it to prevent congestion. But I can check on the website occasionally to see if it ever becomes available.

After checking a few addresses, Vodafone suddenly went faster. And it's still faster. I suspect I've triggered some sort of alert "Oops - customer is looking at the opposition's website! Switch him over to the better equipment!". I've kept the website open and I'm making a habit of refreshing it at least once a day.

Chaos resumes tomorrow. Rachael is starting up at University after spending most of the year studying from home. The transport costs will rise, but her private flock of sparrows will have food in time for Spring. Sarah has been back at school for a week. Within a few days her laptop died, and had to have a new hard drive. Hopefully the new one will be more reliable!

Early tomorrow, Bronwyn and Sarah are flying south for our old pastor Sam's induction as an army chaplain. She and our current pastor Gareth will be "leading him down the aisle" as part of the ceremony. Everyone has to wear uniform or the civilian equivalent. Bronwyn doesn't have a uniform, so she's gone shopping and invented one!

Five lambs so far. Bronwyn has cleaned the shed in anticipation, although we've got four people who want to bottle feed a lamb so we'll probably just have them for a few days until they're off the colostrum. We've lost a few sheep recently from a dog attack, and also from the cold weather. Allan has positioned a trail camera to try and spot the dog, the council has left us a trap and Bronwyn and Rachael have been doing the rounds checking on them. I'm still clearing blackberry so I'm keeping an eye on the sheep too while I'm out there!

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Are we allowed to shake hands now? 
There is one person left. A woman, in her 50's, in the Auckland city area. She's had it for several weeks now, and must be getting tired of it. Perhaps we can all send a Get Well Soon card to the Last Person Coughing.

But no other cases for 15 days. We'll probably be back to level 1 this week. Had 85 at the church this morning. We know their names, we ticked them off, plus a few extras who are marooned here. Had to disrupt our carefully spaced seating in order to fit them in. Pretty much back to normal this week. Brass band started up, plus a pile of other things. We had an extra Euphonium on Thursday with an American who's also marooned.

Hardly any flights in or out, although there'a negotiations going on with Australia, and the Avatar film crew got special exception. But the domestic flights are back on, and we've got some credits from a cancelled trip to the South Island, so we're thinking of going a bit further and seeing Dunedin and Invercargill. Never been that far south!

Bronwyn, is now officially the Children And Families Pastor. She was going to have the graduation for her Ministry Diploma in the conference in Christchurch, but that got cancelled. But after a bit of prodding from several sides, the elders have decided to formally recognise her. I've told Rach and Sarah that she must now be referred to as Pastor Mum.

Finally decided to shut the chickens out of the front garden. It was hard growing anything when it got rapidly undermined and covered in dust. I've cleared some weeds and sown some sweet peas. The chickens are wandering up and down outside the fence. They still have the rest of the farm to dig in! We've had a couple of warm and wet weeks, and it almost feels like Spring already.

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