Mercury rising 
I saw Mercury! I've been trying to find it all year, and finally we had some clear (and rather cold) days, and it was clearly visible. I've never identified it before, and you have to be in the right conditions to see it. So I got up early and had a look. I believe I also spotted Matariki (the pleiades) as well. Then I went inside again before I froze.

For the first time this year, we had a public holiday to celebrate the appearing of Matariki, which is the Maori new year and associated with quite a range of customs. I'm not sure if they were reflected in the Karangahape Road Matariki party which Bronwyn took us too, but it was certainly worth the evening out. We spent a while in the cafe where Bronwyn hangs out at work, and met some of the clients. Then we wandered back up the road. The pedestrian crossings were being manned by drag queens. Well, some people in shiny clothes, anyway. Two looked distinctly female! They had big STOP signs, and were dancing about in the road when the lights went red.

Spent three days at the youth work conference in Christchurch (I'm the treasurer for the local trust) and had a great time meeting people and discussing about the issues they had in each school. Probably hugged too many people, because I then came down with a case of Not Covid (tested negative yesterday). Feeling a bit better today, which is just as well because the brass band is in full swing for the national contest in Wellington next week. It'll be fun, but I'm looking forward to the peace afterwards!

We've now got a light grey driveway. Bronwyn ordered some crushed concrete and a digger. Allan did the work. It's difficult keeping him away from a digger, so I'm unlikely to learn it while we're within range of each other! Need to persuade the chickens not to eat the concrete dust. In the process, Allan scraped off a lot of dirt from the driveway and piled it up outside the gate. He's also dug out the drain that runs under the driveway and out to the paddock. So now we have a lovely driveway and several large piles of mud.

Still no lambs, but two of the ewes look a bit on the large side...

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Birthdays, work and fermentation. 
The wine yeast hasn't arrived yet. Perhaps that's a good thing; it's a bit cold for fermentation at the moment. Although my half empty jar of feijoa chutney started bubbling, so I made another lot, mixed it with the contents of the remaining jars, and made sure I boiled it well. Tastes great, though I think I used woo much spice powder! Still have five kilos of feijoa pulp in the freezer waiting for the right moment.

Bronwyn has settled into her new job as Chaplain At Large with the Methodist Mission Northern. She took me round the office a couple of weeks ago. The office stretches across a large chunk of the central city. She's been clocking the kilometres she walks around each day. She introduced me to some of the regulars; the people she works with and the places she visits. They run a cafe where you can get a decent $5 breakfast and where they get to meet most of the clients, and there are housing blocks to provide sheltered accommodation. Bronwyn has been told to just get out and meet people for the first few months, but she's already quite involved and has been making suggestions as well as bringing in spare eggs and home baking. Seems like she's found her dream job; she has the skills in communication (as well as first aid) and she spends half her time helping people out anyway. The only issue is getting in and out of the city, but she's learning all the best car parks and bus routes. So far, they think she's wonderful!

She's still doing her Ministry Diploma. Rach is persevering with Earth Sciences, and Sarah is contending with Year 12 and NCEA level 2. It's been a joint effort working through all the assignments.

My life went through a bit of a quiet patch when Bronwyn started full time. That's fortunate; I've been able to get a number of other jobs done, and I've been available to do school runs as well as jobs on the farm. I've toyed with the idea of getting some sort of accounting qualification, but I've now got some more work for a company I used to work for, as well as some other jobs, so I'm now suddenly busy again. It'll be lambing season soon. Hopefully I'll have time for that!

Sarah is now 17 and Rachael is 22. We didn't get much of a chance to celebrate last year due to all the lockdowns, so last week we had a 21+1 celebration for Rachael. Still getting through the leftovers...

Lockdowns are over. Well, until the next major variant at least. Omicron took over and chased out everything else. As far as I know, we haven't had it yet, although it has many symptoms and we all came down with a cold a while back. It's still taking a long time to work through everyone, and some have had it more than once. But it gradually seems to be dying down. Full overseas travel is opening up shortly...

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More rain at last 
It had just rained when I wrote the last one. It's just rained again. Good thing too; we were down to about 30% on the water tank. Last week it was overflowing. Onto the grass. I'm guessing the cow I mentioned last time had pushed the pipe out. Managed to bend it enough so that I could get it back in. We should be getting to the wet and miserable stage shortly, but for now it's still warm and sunny. And getting green rapidly.

Bronwyn has just accepted a new job. It's been a long process, but she's gone from looking after children and their families at church to Chaplain At Large in the city centre, with the Methodist city mission. It's a full time job, spread out over all hours of the week and involving a lot of walking and chatting to people from the homeless to the business owners. As well as providing input on Council meetings. It should suit Bronwyn to a tee; she's highly independent and she'll have a lot of flexibility to approach and respond to whatever happens to come her way.

Ross is concerned that he won't have his personal assistant on the farm, but now that Sarah is bigger than me, we have three others he can call on. I managed to fix a trough last week. The cows had bent the ballcock. I bent it back. Need to grab a bucket of staples and fix the fences too!

The Omicron wave has reached us. It's already peaked in the city and gone right down again. But it's obviously taking a bit longer to roll out across the country, and many parts are still yet to reach the peak. But a lot of the mandates and restrictions have been relaxed, and it's beginning to feel more like normal again. Someone laughed at me for scanning in last week. It's no longer required (or useful) but it's a bit of a habit!

The parliament protest lasted for about 4 weeks, and finally they were moved on after things got a bit too violent. I understand that they were complaining about coughs, fevers, aches and sore throats. Someone managed to trace it to the concrete roadblocks that the police had put in, and they decided that they were being targeted with radiation. There were calls put out for donations of tin foil in order to make more hats for everyone. Don't think it helped the sore throats.

Rach is still working from home, and spends long hours in the spare room hunched over a laptop. Bronwyn has been sorting out all the church stuff from the spare room; I suspect we'll end up with a lot more space! Sarah is back at school, but bumped her head again recently and has been fighting some bad headaches. So long as things are quiet she's generally OK. I'm still working from home, but the brass band is back in action again and we might fit in a few playouts before winter. Slowly getting back to normal!

Feijoa season again. Tonnes of fruit suddenly coming online. I've been scooping out feijoas and freezing it for later. Made some Feijoa and Ginger jam, which went down well. Ordered some wine yeast for more fermentation experiments (last year's product smelt distinctly of glue) and it's probably time for some guava jelly. I still have plenty of chutney so I won't be bothering with that just yet!

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A long hot summer 
Cyclone Dovi just went past. Rather high winds and lots of heat and humidity, but not a lot of rain. We've lost an old peach tree and the old telephone cable fell off the pole at the road. But all is calm again. And it's a lot cooler!

We didn't have any rain from mid December to just last week. The tank was getting rather low. Fortunately, we've got a huge dam to water the garden (and the farm) with. And now that it's rained, the tank is looking a lot healthier again.

Omicron arrived a couple of weeks ago. It was inevitable that we'd get it eventually with all the cases coming into the border quarantine. It took a while to take off, but we've just had 810 cases. They've lifted quite a few restrictions; we've been able to meet and travel around. They've recognised that they can't stop it like they did with Alpha, and even with Delta. So it's a case of slowing it down, and getting people boosted.

There are a lot of people who have lost their jobs due to the vaccine mandates. Several smaller schools have had to close down due to lack of staff. Large events have been cancelled (the limit is now 100 if all are vaccinated).

There's been a protest running on the grounds of the Houses of Parliament, against vaccine and mask mandates. The Speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard, is in charge of the site, and decided to try and make their lives uncomfortable. He turned on the garden sprinklers, despite the rain. The protesters dug trenches to drain the water, and put out plastic duck decoys to try and lure the Mallard out of hiding. The Mallard started playing the Macarena and Barry Manilow hits on repeat. The protesters have retaliated with their own music. Now that the grounds are full of mud, they've also laid down hay bales as well. Sounds fun, but I'll be staying at home!

We had a quiet few weeks, and then a holiday by the beach, followed by another one a week later where Rachael had wanted us to visit some limestone caves. This was an experience. We were told to wear clothes that we didn't mind getting wet and dirty. Of course, "wet and dirty" meant wading through an underground stream for a kilometre, snd squeezing and crawling along a rather narrow section. But we all managed it. And it was worth it. The cave was filled with glow worms, stalactites and stalagmites all the way along. Some were huge (ok, the glow worms weren't huge, but there were lots of them!). I've been in bigger caves, and caves with numerous branches, but this one was really rather special.

Rachael was gushing over the Jurassic sedimentation (I think we should name the place Jurassic Park). We found fossilised sticks and layers of pumice. And fossilised worm poo. At least, that's what Rach said it was. Apparently this Jurassic layer goes underground and emerges way down in the Catlins where we were last year. Covered with hundreds of volcanoes all over the place.

Sarah has been back at school, and it almost feels back to normal. At least until someone at the school gets Omicron of course. The weather should be more in season too, now the blast from Fiji has headed off again. We've had a good crop of potatoes and tomatoes. I've dried a lot of tomatoes on the car dashboard, and Bronwyn has been making pasta sauce. And still there's more out in the garden. Although the cows got into our paddock and briefly into the back garden, so it depends on whether we can stop them eating our dinner as well as theirs!

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A rather late Christmas newsletter! 
A belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all. It’s been another year of frantic activity and long lockdowns. Apart from a short lockdown in February and a brief scare in June, all was going well. Until the Delta outbreak in August of course, and we’re still feeling the after effects of that one!

But we did manage a trip back to the camp site at Shelly Beach in the Coromandel. We did quite a bit of travelling around, including a trip up to Colville and a drive over to Whitianga. During the drive back, down a very large and steep hill, the brakes overheated and a very nervous Rachael had to hand back the driving to Mum. This in turn led to a trip south to the only available mechanic, who found nothing wrong apart from topping up the brake fluid. While in Whitianga we had a boat trip down the coast in a glass bottomed boat. Rachael was eagerly taking in all the local geology, but alas, we didn’t strike gold.

Back in Shelly Beach, there was the obligatory trip up the mini railway, and the Water Works. Rach also got a session on the zipline with Dad. We also came across a friend that we weren’t expecting, and who took us out on his Canadian canoe. With a little outboard motor attached. He also gave Tim some lessons in fly fishing, including a nighttime session a kilometre out on the beach. He also gave him some lessons in metal detecting, after Tim lost a few of his fishing weights…

Sarah did well at school, with lots of merit and excellence at English, Maths and Science, and a pass with outstanding effort (I won’t attempt to explain the grading system!) at Hospitality. Next year she’ll take up Chemistry (she has a keen enthusiasm for explosives) and a practical and business course. Rachael also did well, and the Earth Sciences and Marine Studies is feeding her natural curiosity, even if the university system can be frustrating. And she’s now got her restricted license. Despite her car’s gearbox breaking two weeks before! A new gearbox was fitted, and so far it’s been fine. Including the brakes.

Bronwyn had her (much delayed) graduation at Carey College in April (she’s already well into the higher level course), and we also had three big birthdays to celebrate. We collected all the old photos for Sarah’s 16th and Rachael’s 21st, and far too much cake. Bronwyn’s 50th was a little trickier since it was in October, and we were already over a month into a level 4 lockdown. But we did manage to provide a few surprises for her!

Bronwyn, on a Moeraki Boulder.

In between the birthdays, we had our trip to Southland. None of us had ever been to the far south before. We started in Dunedin, about 200 metres from the world’s steepest street. Parking was tricky! We paid a short visit to Baldwin Street but didn’t attempt to drive up it. Especially with black ice at the bottom! We did a short trip up north to Moeraki, where we had an excellent lunch in the Moeraki Tavern and then went out to see the Moeraki Boulders. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take them home. We had another trip out to see New Zealand’s only castle and the albatross colony, and then drove down to the far south.

It’s quite undisturbed down there, and a far cry from Auckland. We came across some seals and a rare penguin and paid a visit to Antarctica View Farms to get to the southernmost point of the South Island. After a visit to Invercargill and Bluff, we made the long journey back to Dunedin. Decided to stop in Gore for lunch. Got in a traffic jam. With tractors and horse drawn carriages. Perhaps there’s a parade? No, looks a bit chaotic to me. Ah! It was the farmers’ protest; about the pile of regulations and the way the city people treat them. So (after finding a parking spot away from the farming trucks and sheepdogs) we had lunch, with Bronwyn furiously phoning her family and giving a running commentary on the vehicles going past!

We’ve got into the mode of lockdowns. Tim tried making a variety of jams, jellies and chutney, and some feijoa wine. The yeast packet said it will “contribute a significant amount of esters”. It did. It tasted OK, but did rather have a lingering aroma of Evo Stik. We now have far too many potatoes and a variety of lettuce and other vegetables (along with the three or four eggs we get each day!) We’re also surrounded by sheep and have water from the sky, so survival shouldn’t be too hard. Just need a way to manufacture chocolate, of course.

In August, someone went touring around Auckland and the Coromandel (the same places we’d been in January) and tested positive for Delta. After a couple of weeks, it seemed like the outbreak was under control, but it had now spread into several communities that didn’t want to have their movements traced, and things got rapidly out of control. So instead of trying to stamp it out, they started a vaccination campaign. Now, with over 90% of over-12s vaccinated, we have freedom again. But only if you’re vaccinated; it’s a two-tier system. Health, dental and education workers are required to be vaccinated, and quite a few have lost their jobs as a result. It’s caused a lot of division, but at 92% of the eligible population (12 and over), it sounds like a safe bet at the ballot box…

Tim missed the brass band contest (it was in the same week as Dunedin) but they had a few sessions playing carols after the lockdown. And he had his first ever attempt at surfing. Very briefly. We’ve done our best to celebrate Christmas (Sarah had the tree up on 1st November and to make the most of what we’ve been able to do this year.

We send out our best regards and hopes that 2022 will go a bit more according to plan!

Tim, Bronwyn, Rachael and Sarah.

Cousin Blake gets a tow

Lockdown hairstyling

Sarah, trying to understand physics

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