Is that the sun? 
Looks like we're getting Summer back again at last. We've had four cyclones, and lots of miscellaneous rain. Normally we get a high pressure stuck over the country for weeks, with the occasional front sneaking through. Since the start of the year, it's been the other way round! But it's shifted back for a bit, so we've had some warm weather to help all the weeds grow. (Must get some petrol for the lawnmower.) They had some trouble getting all the hay into the barn; it kept raining. But we've now got two barns full of hay, and possibly some mushrooms.

The winery next door had wanted to put on some events. They did one in February. In past years, it's been chardonnay and nibbles out on the grass. This year it seems to have involved beer and a full on music festival. Ross was called out to pull cars out of the paddock, and got a fair amount of abuse from drunken wine tasters. I notice they haven't had a similar event since then!

Had a photographer and a wedding couple come to visit a few weeks ago. They wanted to get photos with the lambs in the background. It was sunset, which is when the lambs charge madly across the paddock. I call it the nutcase hour. So they got photos with the lambs charging across the background. Muddy bums and all. One of the pet lambs came up and started nibbling at the wedding dress. The photographer thought this was wonderful, so she got plenty of photos!

Rachael seems to be coping better with school this year, although Sarah is struggling because suddenly she has harder work and more assignments. I've been teaching her prime numbers and long multiplication. One answer came to seven figures! And she had to do it by hand.

Rachael likes her physics teacher. He's got Star Wars toys all around the room, and often makes references to The Force when doing lessons. He also had this big silver book titled Quantum Physics. Rachael asked if she could take it home. It's a second year university book, but he lent it to her, along with an Open University introduction booklet, which was a lot easier to understand! I've been trying to understand the Schrodinger equation and atomic orbitals, but haven't quite cracked it yet...

Easter is fast approaching. Bronwyn has been working hard to organise the intermediate's camp, as well as trying to get through her assignments at the bible college. Last year she just took three girls, and a few boys went with another church. This year the number has grown to about 20, and she's been begging for anyone who can lend or drive a large car. Plus all the luggage and the tents!

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Summer has gone damp. My father in law remembers a time when it barely rained for four months, and all the grass died. We had a summer like that about 10 years ago. I remember looking out the window, and something triggered in my brain. Botswana (and the Kalahari). Same colour.

At new years, there was a queue for water. We booked in a tanker for 31st Jan. Didn't need it. Half way through the month it started raining, and it hasn't stopped. Everything's green. We've got rain due tonight, and there's a big cyclone up north that's looking likely to come nearby.

Our internet has been playing up. Today, I think I fixed it. The oak tree by the house has grown around the Vodafone antenna, and having been soaked for four weeks, it's acting as a very good ground shield. I trimmed it a bit this morning. Much better internet now!

The vineyard next door had a concert yesterday. In past years it's been a bit of a wine and cheese afternoon with some live music. Yesterday it was a rock concert with rather a lot of beer. And plenty of rain!

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Quiet once more 
Noticed a bit of a wobble in the car after Christmas. Seemed to be like an egg in the tyre. Went away at certain speeds. So I took it in and had it checked. Just as well I did. One side of the tyre was over a centimetre higher than the other. Would have made quite a noise if it finally blew!

I think we scared Rebekah a little. Having shown her the volcano room in Auckland Museum, and the ruins and empty spaces from the earthquake in Christchurch, we then took her on the train towards a storm on the west coast. Two weeks later another storm came in and destroyed several sections of the west coast road we'd driven down. At least we didn't get any tornados. Don't tend to get them here. Well, not often. One hit north Auckland a few years ago, and our previous hay barn went up one about 30 years ago. Didn't tell Rebekah that.

Had a good trip down to Taupo last week, including a walk up Tongariro. OK, just the easy bit along the bottom. The clouds lifted at the end and gave us a fantastic view. The campsite was also a lot better now they've unblocked their geothermal borehole and built a new swimming pool, with bar and diving cave. Also went for a short kayaking trip and a cruise on the lake. Stopped at the Waiotapu mud pools on the way back, and got the cultural experience in at Roturua. Everyone was then happy to spend the last two days doing as little as possible!

That cyclone that hit the west coast is now right on top of us. Haven't had to water the garden much lately. At the beginning of the year, there was a four week queue for water deliveries. I think it's shrunk somewhat. Our water tank is on a contract from God. The more you use, the more it rains. We've never had to fill it up, except when that possum fell in a few years ago. Having had Nick and family here has ensured that our tank is full. Probably had enough rain for two tanks, to be honest!

Rachael had a fantastic, but very full on time at her pre-school camp. Hopefully that means she'll settle in well, which is going to make a big difference to her final year. Sarah has been on a couple of induction days, and I'm not sure if she's looking forward to the 7:30am bus. But so long as she wakes up in time and stays focussed, she's usually fine.

Having spent rather a lot touring New Zealand, we're going to need a quiet couple of months to recover before I head off to Kenya. I note there's still issues with the politics in Nairobi, but at least Qatar has gone quiet. Must bring mosquito repellant. Possibly also taxi driver and random street seller repellant as well.

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A quick tour 
Just back from a whistlestop tour of the South Island (including the train). Or at least part of it. It's a big place, and we didn't get to see Nelson, Picton, Dunedin, Fiordland, Invercargill and everywhere in between. Took raincoats, waterproof trousers, shorts, umbrella, cardigan, walking shoes, sunblock and mosquito repellant. Used them all.

Christmas was quiet; a large chunk of the family had already gone on holiday! But we got plenty done; the back yard and the spare room are now cleaned and cleared and the lounge and kitchen actually look tidy. Had a go at digging the front garden too; after the builders and the painter had stood on it, it was rather solid. At least most of the house is painted now. Just need to sort out the sticking windows, the missing posts on the deck, the kitchen window held together by putty and the front entrance. The concrete area at the front is so full of weeds that we have to mow it!

Had a great party with Nick and his family for our joint 50th birthday. Had a lot of old friends come back, plus neighbours and family. I think we had just enough to make it a good gathering, but not too many that I didn't get a chance to speak to them all! We then set off the day after for the trip round the south island. We had excellent weather for the train ride from Christchurch to Greymouth. We had reasonable weather on the next day too, however there was so much rain that the Fox Glacier path was flooded and closed. It was quite impressive watching the amount of water (and ice and rock dust) coming down from it though! Back on the coast road it wasn't too wet though, and by the time we got to the Wanaka valley, it was bone dry!

Spent a couple of nights in Arrowtown. Did attempt to visit Queenstown, but didn't find one single parking spot. Managed a brief visit in the evening though. But we managed to find quite a few spots out of the way of the tourists. Sarah tried gold panning. She was given a small handful of dirt and found seven good flakes. I must try and find out where that dirt came from...

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Golly. Last post was in October. Never mind.

After a rather wet November, it's now sunny and dry. Half of Auckland is already heading up North. Rain forecast for Boxing Day. The farm pump has been playing up. The motor has a thermal cutout, which keeps cutting out. The belt keeps slipping, and the pump itself was making a terrible racket until Ross had the gearbox serviced. He's also fixed the seals. There's a leak in the line somewhere; we've had to turn off one pipeline to avoid it running all day. It would cost $3000 for a new one, so Ross is doing all the fixing he can!

The brass band had an easy time apart from last Sunday. I did four gigs in one day. Trombone at church, a full concert down the mall in the afternoon, then two carol concerts in the evening. They'd scheduled for the same day, so we did half an hour playing some party pieces and then left four behind to play carols while the rest headed on for the other one. Another mini concert, followed by the obligatory carols. We got up to Good King Wenceslas, and the conductor asked if they wanted all five verses. "Yes Please!" someone shouted. There was a bit of a silent groan from the band, and we battled on bravely before devouring the mince pies afterwards (hadn't had a lot for dinner!)

I sent a Christmas letter out to a few people by post. Here it is for the rest of you:

Dear all,
It’s been a long time since our last Christmas newsletter. I suspect it was 2014. Not certain, but it’s high time for another one! We’ll be having Christmas on the farm as usual. Much of Auckland will then flee to the beaches and the landing stages, and the fields and hills, but not the streets, thus it’s a good time to get a parking spot in the CBD. We’ll be heading off a few weeks later, once everyone is back home!

The highlight of last year was the trip to England to see family and friends, and to travel up to north Wales and down to Disneyland Paris for a few days. It was our first time that all four of us had travelled back together. We spent tome time with Tim’s mother in Oxfordshire and with his brother’s family in Chelmsford. We also had a bit of a reunion in Coventry, in what has become of our old church there. The old church has gone. The perfectly good, modern replacement has also gone. It’s now a huge building with four floors and room for 700, which they have to split over two sessions on a Sunday!
Didn’t get to see any snow (apart from in the distance, higher up Snowdon) but it was pretty chilly, and down to -6C in Paris. Disneyland was fun – we had dinner in the hotel with various Disney characters. Goofy nearly tripped up the waiter, and Pinocchio took a liking to Rachael and enjoyed sneaking up behind and giving her a fright!

Didn’t get to send a letter last Christmas either, due to various events. Tim was diagnosed with Lymphoma a year ago, and had to go through chemotherapy. He’s now in the clear, but will be going back for checkups for a while. He was bald for a while, but is now definitely in need of a hair cut again. He’s still working mainly at home doing websites and programming work, and has recently been learning about 3D graphics, both for work and for an Android game that he’s been meaning to do for a while.

He’s still with the local brass band, which managed to win their national contest two years in a row and have thus been promoted to the C grade, having been sitting at the bottom for most of their 70 years. Of course, several key members then moved on, so as happened in the 90’s, they may end up back down again. But their current conductor has links to a number of local schools and has brought in a steady stream of young talent. That’s just one band – they have three. The juniors are still picking up quite a few trophies in the solo competitions, and the older members who started a practice session on a Thursday afternoon are currently about 40 strong and want to make the building bigger!

Bronwyn’s major news starts with her full registration as a pre-school teacher about two years ago. It has been the fulfillment of a lot of hard work and creativity, and she had to submit her records, all cross-referenced to the syllabus as evidence of her work. She’s been working part time at The Little Castle. (The building has a small turret with some castellations, and looks quite a sight from the road!) However, having embarked on a career in pre-school education, at the beginning of this year Bronwyn started a job as children’s leader in our Baptist church. She’s been busy organizing activities and curriculum, as well as trying to keep her team working to the schedule. Our pastor did want her to start a course at the local bible college immediately, but with everything else that was going on, she decided to delay a bit. But this next year she’ll be doing a paper or two as part of her training.

She’s also busy helping out on the farm, and often dashes out to sort the sheep or the cows. It’s now haymaking season, which is a lot of hot dusty work and generally takes twice as long as expected. She’ll often be seen driving slowly up the driveway checking on the lambs, and she’s just rescued a newborn calf that slid under the fence and hadn’t had milk for several days. He’s now camping out in the back garden. His mother sometimes stands by the fence and bellows angrily at us, but won’t allow the calf to feed, so we’ve had to take over. Didn’t need to mow the back garden last year – the lambs did it for us!

Rachael is now 17, and has survived 6 years at a Catholic girls school. She was officially diagnosed with autism a couple of years ago, which has enabled us to access a lot of help and mentoring, particularly at school. She has found certain things difficult, particularly with the teacher’s understanding of the sensory issues she faces. She has good friends at her old school, but has decided to move to another school for her final year. Coincidentally, her best friend is now living just down the road, so it won’t be a long trip to meet up any more!

Japanese is her favourite subject, and she really enjoys learning the curious grammar rules and the stories behind different words. Tim is able to help with Maths, Physics and Chemistry, but she’s on her own when it comes to Japanese! As yet, she’s barely made it behind the wheel, but we’re still working on her. We need someone to drive the tractor for haymaking…

Meanwhile, Sarah (now 12) is also booked to start at the same school as Rachael for next year. Both of them know a number of pupils who happen to go to our church, so we’re hoping they both settle in. At least we can put them on the same bus! Sarah has continued to enter lambs into the annual agricultural competition, and has a bag crammed full of ribbons from numerous prizes. This year she won a large trophy for the diary and research project she did. She wanted to know what happened to our wool after it had left the farm, so we got her to write to the wool scourers down in Napier. She wrote a lot of questions, and then we waited. Then one day we got a phone call, and then a big box! There were detailed answers to all our questions, plus some photos of the bales and machinery, a woolen T-shirt, a couple of bags of wool (one raw, one washed) and a pot of raw lanolin. (The lounge smelled of sheep for quite a while.) It turns out that most of our wool probably gets mixed with coarser wool and made into carpets for Cavalier Bremworth. It gets shipped to China in highly compressed bales, each weighing about 400kg. We’ll have to pay a visit sometime when we’re next down that way (Napier, that is. China will have to wait). She’s fond of arts and crafts, and has been working with Mum to make Christmas angels out of pasta and metallic paint.

Next year, it’ll be Tim’s 50th birthday. And Nick’s of course. So he’ll be coming to visit with wife Rebekah and daughter Esther, and we’ll have a couple of trips around the country, including a train ride across the mountains and trips to see the glaciers and the volcanic hotspots. Then in April, Tim is finally Returning To Africa. He went about 25 years ago, and had always meant go back for a visit, but never quite made it. He’ll be in Kenya for a couple of weeks, teaching brass instruments and meeting up with old friends.

Hopefully we’ll be able to get this posted in time! We wish you all a very happy Christmas from a rather hot and humid New Zealand. Summer has come early. There’s a two week queue for water deliveries…

Tim, Bronwyn, Rachael and Sarah.

Plus Diamonds the cat, Marshmallow the calf, and a number of wooly monsters who enjoyed their time in our back garden and would dearly like to return given half a chance…

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