Kirsty, I have your duck. 
Happy New Year!

Two ducks waddled across the farm up to our house. They can't fly, and must have walked a kilometre across the paddocks. I managed to capture one duck with the help of the owner, but the other one escaped. Several times. I had some thick netting in a circle, but the duck just climbed up it. So eventually I got some bird netting and baling twine and sewed it right across. Having trapped the duck, I threw several blankets over the trap and phoned the owner (Kirsty). Between us, we managed to catch it and tape it in a box to go back to the others. Kirsty hadn't given it a name, so I suggested Houdini. She thought that was rather good. Mavis the muscovy also got taken home. Haven't seen them since. I suspect Mavis might have led them over here, since she can fly and knows all the nice ponds for a large radius!

After fixing up the dishwasher from the mouse attack, it then almost immediately got shredded by a rat. So it was another water pipe and a whole new cable. The new water pipe has stainless steel armour, and I taped it up as well in case the electric cable gets eaten and sparks on the water pipe. I then rigged up some elastic to hold the cable and pipes off the floor, stuffed some loft insulation and old metal scouring pads around every gap, and put some rat bait underneath.

However, the dishwasher still isn't working. I suspect there's something else been chewed or come loose inside but I can't see it. It's 18 years old, so it might just be time to get a new one!

Apart from that, Christmas all went smoothly. We had a family lunch at Bronwyn's parents' house, and we're still working through the leftovers. It's been unbelievably quiet since then. Everybody who can, goes off camping. Everybody who can't, stays at home and does nothing. It's not a good time to need a plumber! Rachael and Sarah have drifted into Singapore time.

We have had some fun with a certain lamb however. It knows exactly how to jump through a fence. I watched it do a very impressive Fosbury Flop yesterday, with front legs going one way and back legs going the other. It keeps coming into the garden and then calling out for its friend to come over too. Then it heads for the sweet peas. I've barricaded all the flower beds, and wound baling twine around the fence wires. So far, it hasn't come back, but I suspect it's only a matter of time. We seem to have one or two lambs every year who possess what we refer to as the Houdini gene, and can escape from anywhere.

Our camping trip isn't for another two weeks. Bronwyn has arranged a driving roster to give Rachael plenty of practice. She's booked in for her restricted license test in March. Rach has decided to drop Physics and move into Earth Science, which she finds much more interesting, and particularly because New Zealand has a lot of active geology. She's also doing Marine Studies. New Zealand is not lacking in ocean. And Geography.

We have lived in interesting times. We've been spared the worst of the lockdowns and restrictions here, but the tourist industry is suffering, and anywhere that relies on foreign workers or students. And any industry that relies on overseas people having unrestricted leisure activities. Some of this has affected me personally, and our income has been half what it should be. But we have savings, and the farm is not short of food. I might have some changes to report shortly!

We've had quite a bit more rain than we did last year, and everything is still green. Not good for the hay fever but the sheep are happy! My potatoes are doing well, I've got cauliflower growing for the first time ever, and a few other things around the garden. The vegetable garden now has a rabbit proof fence. It was chicken proof before, but the baby rabbits could still get in. I still seem to have an issue with mynahs wanting a dust bath!

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Another day, another duck. 
A couple of months ago, we noticed a duck in our back garden. It was quite large, and we identified it as a Muscovy. It had previously been hanging out with the mallards (and the red eared slider turtle, also wild) on Bronwyn's parents' dam. Obviously it decided that our dam was much better, being considerably less crowded and ten times larger.

We worked out that it had flown in from a property about 1km away, where they assumed it had been nesting in the bush somewhere. The name's Mavis. Mavis has been around daily. I'm not sure if she's been home much! I believe they still have the emu that appeared in our paddock last year. And another emu, so I hear.

Last week, we spotted a couple of white ducks. They must have walked over, because they couldn't fly. After a quick post on Facebook, we identified the owner as next door to Mavis, and they had only just arrived there. Pekin ducks, apparently. Both female. That must have been a 1km waddle. With some help from the owner, we cornered them, but one escaped. So now we're down to one white duck, who I've been trying to feed inside a circle of netting, but so far she's too wary and runs out if I get close.

Bronwyn did a sermon for Advent on the topic of Shepherds. She brought along a shepherd's crook to demonstrate. A real one from Farmlands, not the quaint wooden antiques. She showed how she used it as a walking stick, and to hold out when rounding up the sheep, and how to catch a lamb with it. At this point, she lunged forcefully at one of the plastic chairs, hooked it with terrifying accuracy and sent the chair skidding across the floor. Nobody fell asleep during that sermon!

Three carol sessions last weekend. I've already lost track of the Jingle Bell count. But this should be our busiest weekend, so it's just one session a week from now.

We've been playing "I'll be home for Christmas". Our soloist is from Arizona. He's been here all year. He originally came on holiday, but couldn't get home again. He's managed to get a flight in March, but he certainly won't be back by Christmas!

It's been a bit chaotic this week. Sarah bumped her head again, so she got taken to hospital as a precaution. But it was so busy that she hadn't been seen by 11:30pm, so she came back home again. She hasn't been too bad as a result, so hopefully it won't be as severe as she's had previously. Meanwhile, Rachael went into the kitchen and found a pool of water. Simultaneously, she heard the dishwater switching off and on.

Turned out that the mouse that visited in about September had nibbled through the cold water pipe, and it had started leaking. The reason for the dishwasher cutting out was because the mains cable had also been eaten, and was sitting in the water...

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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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