Yuwen 
Yuwen went back to China after her grandmother died suddenly. She was really upset - she meant a lot to her and had looked after her as she grew up and her parents were busy working. But Yuwen came back to visit us before going on a tour of the south island. We took her out for a meal and invited Erica along too. It was a wonderful evening, and she means a lot to us. Both of them do! Now she's in Auckland with her friend Gary, who also came to stay for a couple of days after Yuwen left the first time. Then she's off on a whirlwind tour of the south island, and apparently she will be driving. They're going through the Homer tunnel to Milford Sound. It's barely big enough for two cars to pass each other, and there aren't any lights... Her parents and a couple of others will be going round with her.

Yuwen got me to download WeChat. It's very popular in China, so I've got Celia and Nana on too, and I'm getting regular messages. I think I'm turning into a teenager again.

Rachael's been at school for a week, and hasn't exploded so far. Sarah starts tomorrow, and Bronwyn's out early to work, so it'll be 30 minutes of chaos followed by silence, if all goes according to plan...

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Taupo 
Had an eventful holiday down in Taupo. The day before, Sarah was riding her bike down the drive and fell off. Scratches on her cheek and legs, blood on her lip and a rather painful thumb. We spent a few hours in hospital getting her thumbnail seen to. She nearly lost it completely.

So we delayed the holiday by a day and set off after getting the bandage changed. It prevented Sarah from swimming properly (although Bronwyn did work out a system involving a plastic bag and lots of surgical tape) although we were able to go out kayaking a couple of times. Did a boat trip across the lake, and a kayak tour down the river. Several visits to various thermal areas, plus a quick soak in a thermal stream after the kayaking. Plus quite a few other trips. Bronwyn made waffles for my birthday breakfast, and we went out to a restaurant in the evening. You eat free there on your birthday!

It was rather hot though, and also cold at night. We realised that we had forgotten our bedding (the girls were fine) so we went out and got a summer duvet. After the first night, we added some blankets and towels. On the last night we took down the shade tent and put that on top as well!

We haven't had any rain all month, and the grass was beginning to turn brown. But we've had a millimetre or two today. So now it's wet and brown. Hopefully after another splash due on Monday it should be green again!

It's been a quiet month, as is normal for January. But this week things have been warming up at work as the schools try to get things ready for the start of term. Well, they're the proactive ones. Most schools only get round to it after week 2. I'm expecting quite a busy few weeks! The girls start school next week, so Bronwyn's been busy sorting out stationery and Rachael's realised that she only has a few days left to play minecraft...

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Christmas madness 
Funny how everyone asks you if you had a good holiday at this time of year. We don't go on holiday straight after Christmas, largely because everybody else does! Many of the main highways are slowed to a crawl and the police are out in force with a zero speed tolerance, if you can actually get that fast. So we go later in January. We're off next week camping. Bronwyn has already piled up the spare room with camping gear.

Yuwen had a really good time with us over Christmas. Poor girl, she arrived just in time to see Janet & Ross's church group Christmas party. There was some rather unsteady carol singing after half a dozen bottles of wine. She came out with me and Sarah to hold a collection box with the brass band, plus the family Christmas dinner and the actual Christmas Christmas dinner with the few people left who weren't on holiday. We took her out to the beach several times, the museum, the bush on the farm and quite a few other places. Plus various occasions helping with the sheep.

So now it's all quiet again, and it's been warm and dry. Might get some rain next week, but so long as it's enough to stop the garden withering, that's fine by me.

I moved Oswald into the long grass by the fence. He's beginning to dig, so I didn't want him to learn how to dig all the way out...

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Oswald the Mostly White Rabbit. And other Christmas tales. 
We decided that Oswald needed a bit more space. The rather expensive hutch from Animates turned out to be more in keeping with a large guinea pig. So we rigged up some chicken wire and trellis, and gave him a patch by the water tank.

However, Oswald is quite good at escaping, and made it to freedom several times. He never goes far though. He seems to like hanging out under the house, which has plenty opportunities to hide away well out of reach of anything larger than a rabbit. We wouldn't seem him for a couple of days, and then he'd quietly appear around the back somewhere. So he's back in the hutch for now, and we have extra chicken wire and the promise of some timber for when we get time to build a proper run.

Christmas is in full swing. It ends on the 24th December. The 25th will be a quiet dinner followed by an empty space. We have a third dinner tonight with the whole family around. Meanwhile, I've done two hours on trombone this morning, another playout tonight and I'm supposed to turn up to a barbecue this afternoon. I'll have to miss something. I'm playing carols every day until Wednesday...

We've got (another) Chinese girl staying with us for a few weeks (i.e. over Christmas and New Year). Yuwen is from Shanghai, and thinks our hot weather is lovely and cool. And the sky is blue, and you can drink rainwater. She's enjoying it immensely already!

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Escapology and miracles 
It's been a pretty full on couple of weeks. Three Christmas parades and a concert, plus quite a few other events in the run up to Christmas. Plenty more to follow...

Last week was the parade in central Auckland. I borrowed Bronwyn's GPS and set it to go to the one car park that was both free (for the afternoon) and accessible for a quick getaway. The GPS took me to the wrong side of the parade of course, and all the roads were blocked. So I had a fun time disobeying orders while I worked my way around. Afterwards, I made may way back to the car park on foot. However, there were now so many people that it was impossible to even cross the road. I worked my way along until I found a vaguely less populated stretch. I casually mentioned to someone that I was about to attempt to escape. Two other guys immediately said "We'll follow you!". After breaking free, they said they were tourists, and had just decided to check out the city centre and got trapped! They wanted to follow me because I "had a trombone and looked more official!".

Bronwyn's been going to a Tuesday night meeting at the church, where they've been practising prayer and prophesy. It was the last meeting for the year a week and a half ago. One of the leaders said he thought there was someone with hip problems. Bronwyn said she actually had one leg slightly shorter than the other. They prayed for her, and it balanced out and she's been able to walk without feeling out of balance. Then a girl was also prayed for. Her leg grew about 3 centimetres. It was apparently quite freaky. Her dad was standing there gasping. Then later in the week their other daughter went into hospital with an infected knee. The first scan showed a sac of fluid, so they were going to operate. They did one more scan and the fluid had completely gone. No operation needed. She was running around playing touch rugby on Saturday. Think our church is finally going places!

It's been hot, but apparently it's going to rain this week. I picked our first broad bean today. Rachael loves beans. She opened it up and put it down in horror because it was... furry inside... I hope I can find a way to make them look appealing; we've got a lot in the garden and they're growing well!

Christmas decorations beginning to go up. Bronwyn bought two pine Christmas trees, so we have one inside and one outside...

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