Another week, another lockdown 
The days are getting shorter, the rains have returned, the grass is greener and the lockdowns are back. We were about to go into full steam with two at college and Sarah at school. Bronwyn had the timetable all worked out. But we had another week to get into the swing of things. And get up late!

They're talking of prioritising South Auckland with the virus rollout. The last two outbreaks have started there, probably because there's a lot of port and airport workers as well as low income families. It makes sense, because an outbreak there is much harder to trace.

Bronwyn's postponed graduation is in a fortnight on Saturday. The Kumeu Show has also been postponed to the same Saturday. We could have had church all together today, but there wasn't the time to plan it, so we had it in separate houses instead. It pays to be adaptable at the moment!

I tried making oven-dried tomatoes yesterday. Seems to have gone well. Good thing too; I've just picked another bowlful! Also time for the next batch of ginger beer. And the guava jelly season is coming up soon. Huge bag of potatoes under the sink. And one of our friends has swapped peaches for our eggs. We've recently bought three young hens, so we've now got a good supply of little brown eggs. Spent a long time shelling radish seeds in front of the TV. Pity that I'm the only one here who eats radishes!

We now have a new dishwasher. Within weeks, the drain hose started leaking. So we had to pull it all out again, dry up the floor, and get a friend in to fix the pipe, which had probably been eaten by yet another mouse! So having fixed the pipe, we identified the hole that the mice had come through, and stuffed an old stainless steel scouring pad mixed with putty into the hole. I then found some bits of wood and made one barricade to stop the mice getting from the hole to the sink. More steel wool and putty to fill the hole around the drain pipe, and another barricade to stop them getting from there to the dishwasher pipes. We also have a piece of drainpipe hidden outside containing two blocks of rat bait held in by nails through the pipe.

One block has been eaten already!

Haymaking season is in full swing again. Tractors are breaking down. Allen had to keep swapping batteries over in one because the alternator had stopped charging them. And another refused to work beyond crawling speed because the temperature was below minus 10 centigrade. Dodgy connector on the thermometer! And the 1968 Fordson Dexta? No problems. But the hay is pretty much all in now, and we had some friends over to bring in the bales to the shed. And Bronwyn worked hard to make her Dad a new seat for the Dexta!

Bronwyn has been working hard delivering craft supplies to mailboxes, which we can do at Level Three. She's now attempting to book people into e-Camp (the Intermediate version of Easter Camp). She had anticipated a surge in interest, so she pre-booked 30 places. She's now filled them up and needs room for another 7 plus the leaders of that group. The website won't let her book more places until she's registered the first lot. Those places include the leaders, but the website won't let her register them because they're too old. The option to register leaders appears to have disappeared. Once she's done that, she then needs to work out how they're all going to get down there!

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A quiet month. I still haven't got used to it. Everything goes quiet. That's because everyone goes on holiday after Christmas. Or even during Christmas. We wait for Auckland to come home again, and then we set off. It's much quieter, and no traffic!

This year we were back at the same campsite just north of Coromandel town. Rach has been studying geology, and we spent a while looking through mineral guides and trying to identify rocks. We also went fossil hunting, but just found some tiny fossil seashells and a bit of quartz. There was also the visit to The Waterworks, which is full of water powered contraptions made from all sorts of things. And we had a trip out on a glass bottomed boat, spotting fish and exploring the sea caves.

It was a quiet week away. Well, mostly. On the way over the mountains, the car began to smell funny. Roasted brake pad, possibly. And the handbrake light was on, even when the handbrake wasn't. Bronwyn is skilled in the art of driving ancient tractors with dodgy brakes, so she took over and got us there and back using the gears. She managed to find the one mechanic on this side of the Coromandel that had a free slot, and he changed the brake fluid. It had got a bit low, apparently!

Meanwhile, I was walking back from the beach, when someone called my name. Didn't recognise him at first! It was a friend from church. He took me out surfcasting. This involved a 1km walk across the bay, and another bay, and oyster beds and sinking mud. In the dark. We didn't catch anything legal, but it was certainly an experience! He later tried to teach me how to throw the line myself. I nearly got the hang of it, but we lost three weights between us! Fortunately he had a metal detector, so we went out with that, found one weight plus someone else's and 70 cents. I also found a pile of bottle tops, two rusty nails and what might have been the blade from a large mower!

Bronwyn and Sarah are off to a Christian music festival for the weekend, so it's just me and Rach. Work is getting busier again, and I've also been out in the garden watering and harvesting tomatoes, blackberries and potatoes. There's plenty of potatoes this year. And the sweetcorn is looking very promising. But it's very hot and dry now, so mostly I'm just watering! As an experiment, I've also planted ginger in the little greenhouse that Bronwyn bought me...

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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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