We're in The Birthday Zone again. Sarah is 11, and Rachael's going to be 16. Sarah had a party last week. She wanted lots of balloons, so while she was out at the swimming lesson, me and Rach blew up three bags of them. Added some streamers, set up the chocolate fountain and prepared some food. Bronwyn had also wrapped up a parcel for Pass The Parcel.
The girls arrived. Spent a few minutes at the chocolate fountain, then they decided they wanted to go fishing. And climbing the hay in the barn. And exploring the bush. By the time we got back, the parents had already arrived. The balloons are now in Sarah's bedroom, which caused havoc all week trying to get her into bed...
The decorations are still all up. We has a family afternoon tea today (at which the chocolate fountain made a second appearance). Rachael's birthday this week. She's going ice skating.

The sofa and chair are looking significantly better after I tacked on some fabric. The colours don't all match, but at least there's no vast expanses of foam showing...

Now that we're down to our last chicken, we've been offered a couple of young ones to collect on Wednesday. They're not hand raised, and they're experienced in escaping, so we spent Saturday morning banging in a few more posts to hang up some netting, and make it about 2 metres tall. Plus cleaning and weeding. Still quite a bit to do, but we've been delayed by the weather. It's been wet and stormy, and getting cold. Got the fire going!

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No time to be bored... 
Bronwyn's old car is still with us. Seems to be an issue with the coolant - it keeps emptying and flashing warnings. I suspect it's some form of invertebrate life enjoying a cosy retreat inside the radiator valve.

Down to two chickens. One of them died suddenly. Her friend is now looking very poorly, and has barely moved for a week. So we might be down to just the one soon. Probably time to clean everything down and get some new chicks in.

I think I'm turning into a plumber. Last week, Bronwyn spotted a fountain at the back of the garden, where a fountain isn't supposed to be. It's unusual to hear Bronwyn swear, but it generally involves manure of some kind. I believe the phrase was 'holy crapadoodles'. It was the stopcock on the farm supply. I turned off the pump and once the pressure had died down, I had a look. It hadn't just come loose; it had completely rusted through the pipe. So Bronwyn went to get a new tap and adapter, and I fitted it all on. It involved quite a large wrench. I arranged some bricks around it to stop the cows from kicking it. That afternoon, our neighbours from over the road rand up. "Our pump isn't working. Can you have a look?" Apparently their landlord couldn't come until Monday, they were out of water, and Ross had fixed it in the past. Ross and Janet were off on holiday, so they asked me instead! I went and had a look.

Took a while before I worked out which end was 'in' and which was 'out'. The pump seemed to be working fine. So I removed the 'in' pipe and tried sucking. OK, so the pipe must be blocked. Eventually I worked out that the tap on the tank didn't work when fully clockwise or anticlockwise, but only half way. Odd. But at least they had water again!

Our sofa is falling apart. It has been for a long time. So has the matching chair. I finally went to get some fabric to cover them. So that's another project for the weekend, or three!

Bronwyn did four days last week, plus a course on Saturday. Rachael has been studying Japanese in the car after her first week at school. They're both pretty shattered. Rach now has a new phone - her old one didn't have room for the stuff the school wanted her to do. So now she's either asleep, or fiddling with her phone...

Warm and sunny. Almost feels like summer again. Winter is due to hit fairly soon though!

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Rachael survived her trip up the volcano. There's the Tongariro Crossing, which is a seven hour walk. And there's the Northern Circuit, which takes about 15 hours. That's the one Rachael took. Fantastic views. High above the clouds. But very rough volcanic terrain. At one point Rachael fell to her knees in frustration. Fortunately she only got a few minor scratches, but she nearly slid down the mountain in the process!

I've had a root canal. It's only 11 months since I last went to the dentist, and it was the same tooth. Obviously it was very close to the nerve, and must have broken through. Some days I'd have moderate pain. Sometimes nothing at all. When I got to the dentist I felt fine. Then she showed me the x ray of my abscess and told me I could pretend it wasn't there if I liked. So now I have a small rubber implant down the nerve, and another filling on top. The most painful bit was the bill.

Still haven't sold Bronwyn's old car, but hopefully now we've dropped the price a bit, we'll get some interest. Meanwhile, we've demolished a large chunk of our savings to buy Claire's car. I'm told it's a bargain - it's a much more recent model.

School holidays. Two monopoly sessions, various Minecraft linkups with my brother and his daughter Esther, and regular (persistent, but polite) requests to borrow my best laptop...

Getting cooler. Nasty outbreak of Facial Eczema in the sheep. Bronwyn and her dad have been out treating them. Could be a painful bill, but we don't want to lose so many at once!

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Bronwyn complained that the water smelt funny. So this afternoon I got the ladder out and had a look in the tank. There, floating in the gloom was a full sized possum. A rather dead possum. OK, I'll stop there. I managed to fish it out with a shepherd's crook, plus a fishing net for the, um, bits.

Bronwyn phoned around, and soon we had her dad and brother Allen with a pump truck. Allen drained the tank, and then climbed in with a broom and hosepipe to sweep up and clean the tank properly. Quite a bit of leaf mould in the bottom too. It hasn't been emptied since it was put in, and that was about 1985. Having emptied and cleaned the tank, Bronwyn had already organised the local water guy to bring a tanker load in. So now we're down to half a tank, but at least it's clean...

Rachael has been working flat out trying to finish her assignments.
It's the end of term, and the assignments tend to come in a group. So she spent last week writing an epic on genetically modified insulin. Yesterday was a treatise on the Council Of Trent. Not sure what she's doing today, but she's still stuck in the office trying to finish it.

Didn't have band rehearsal last week. The Auckland Symphony was playing Mahler's third. Our conductor was keen to be there, and invited the band, so a group of us turned up in the city to listen. Mahler's third is about 80 minutes long. It's the longest classical symphony. So there were moments when I began to drift off a bit. But plenty to keep us awake otherwise! David Bremner was playing trombone. He's amongst the best in New Zealand. I met him in the bar afterwards. Long hair, huge beard, random T shirt and I think it was beach shorts. Nice chap.

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Sarah's out in the tent with her friend. Rachael's chilling out playing minecraft. She's just about recovered from the hike two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the house is full of chocolate, including one enormous egg currently sitting on the piano. We've had quite an action packed Easter so far.

Good concert with the band this afternoon. We were at a nearby winery, who tried us out two years ago and have insisted we return every year since. They give us a percentage of their sales. I presume they did well, because they hardly got the chance to escape from the shop in order to hear the music!

Rachael wasn't all that well before she went on the hike, but she went anyway. She needed to complete this one in order to go on the main hike, which goes towards her D of E silver award. That one is the Tongariro Crossing, which is an active volcano with some very rough country. That trek also happens to be the practice run for the gold award. The real hike for the gold award is in Fiordland. There's no roads in Fiordland and it's virtually uninhabited. And very un-flat.

Still warm here. The El Nino was supposed to have brought a drought. We've had regular rain all summer! Normally we get a high pressure sitting right over us most of the summer. This year it's been further east, so instead it's been sucking plenty of weather down from the tropics. The tank is nearly full...

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