Are we allowed to shake hands now? 
There is one person left. A woman, in her 50's, in the Auckland city area. She's had it for several weeks now, and must be getting tired of it. Perhaps we can all send a Get Well Soon card to the Last Person Coughing.

But no other cases for 15 days. We'll probably be back to level 1 this week. Had 85 at the church this morning. We know their names, we ticked them off, plus a few extras who are marooned here. Had to disrupt our carefully spaced seating in order to fit them in. Pretty much back to normal this week. Brass band started up, plus a pile of other things. We had an extra Euphonium on Thursday with an American who's also marooned.

Hardly any flights in or out, although there'a negotiations going on with Australia, and the Avatar film crew got special exception. But the domestic flights are back on, and we've got some credits from a cancelled trip to the South Island, so we're thinking of going a bit further and seeing Dunedin and Invercargill. Never been that far south!

Bronwyn, is now officially the Children And Families Pastor. She was going to have the graduation for her Ministry Diploma in the conference in Christchurch, but that got cancelled. But after a bit of prodding from several sides, the elders have decided to formally recognise her. I've told Rach and Sarah that she must now be referred to as Pastor Mum.

Finally decided to shut the chickens out of the front garden. It was hard growing anything when it got rapidly undermined and covered in dust. I've cleared some weeds and sown some sweet peas. The chickens are wandering up and down outside the fence. They still have the rest of the farm to dig in! We've had a couple of warm and wet weeks, and it almost feels like Spring already.

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A new normal 
We're now down to Level Two. The road has been busier. Sarah will be on the bus first thing Monday morning. Bronwyn has been out and about. Rachael won't be going back to university just yet though. I'm told there was a sudden rush of people setting out just after midnight on Thursday, and long queues for haircuts, but largely it's still rather quiet!

At the beginning of lockdown, Bronwyn and Sarah painted some bits of wood and pinned them to the bank to make KIA KAHA (Be strong) and a smiley face. Palm Sunday, Ross put some palm branches on our gate, and Good Friday we had three crosses with Christmas lights on top of the bank. Several times, there have been calls for people to simultaneously stand at their gate and sing. I walked up the hill and played Pokarekare Ana on trombone one Saturday. It was very windy, and tricky to play with the music stand braced against the fence. I opted out of the 6am dawn playing of the Last Post. Dawn wasn't actually until 6:55am, and I'm British. I can wait for November!

Potatoes doing well. Lettuce and spinach might just make it. Plenty of guava jelly left, and apples and feijoas as well. Sarah has been baking as part of her Hospitality lessons. The cheesecake was excellent. As were the Afghans, brownies, chocolate cake, decorated fairy cakes and today, Madeleines. Haven't been hungry lately!

We've finally had some decent rain, and the tank is comfortably over half full. Auckland is running out, and water restrictions have just started. The ground is still sucking up all the rain that falls on it, so the dams are still empty, and will still be for a while yet.

So the water has run out, the economy has tanked, but everyone seems to think we've done remarkably well here. I'm afraid Jacinda Ardern can't run for president, and although we've got a spare room, we can't accept any Covid refugees because the only planes are emergency evacuations. No idea what's going to happen here without overseas tourism, but at least we've got plenty to eat, and the hairdressers are happy!

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Home, home on the range 
...where the chickens and lambs roam. Bones has recovered, and is back in the paddock with his friend Runty. We briefly had another lamb in that had been attacked by a dog, but it escaped through the fence and bounded off to join the others. Bronwyn checked on it; it seems to have escaped serious injury. Bronwyn's brother Allan camped out on the paddock that night, but didn't spot the dog, and it's been quiet since.

The chickens no longer roam on the compost heap. Or the potatoes. I used some spare wire mesh, and it seems to have foiled them for now. We've got the first row of potatoes growing well, and the next two rows are starting to come up too. No sign of any carrot seedlings, but the lettuce and other vegetables that Bronwyn planted are doing fine.

Bronwyn's mother handed me a kilo and a half of guavas. "You can make guava jelly!" she said. I've never made any sort of jam or jelly. But I looked up the recipe, and gave it a try. Neither of the recipes I looked at had a temperature, but just had vague references to different stages of gloopiness. So I took it up to about 113C when it started getting sticky. It set solid. Spoonable, but not spreadable. So I dissolved it (with two more kilos of guavas) and took it to 108C. This time it hardly set at all. OK. I tried 110C. That seems to have worked!

Church online has been an experience. The first Sunday attempted to mirror the normal service with four Youtube songs, three audio clips, the sermon on Youtube, various readings and the group Zoom chat as well. Last Sunday was a bit simpler, and we seem to be adjusting to a different routine. Friday nights, we have a general get-together, which seems to devolve into discussions about chocolate consumption and how desperate we are for a hair cut.

Sarah is back at school, on the dinner table. Rachael is doing assignments on the sofa. Bronwyn is getting up very early to watch lectures because they've made the internet free before 9am. I've been working five or six days a week trying to finish a project that seems to get longer as we go along. Nobody is bored, which is probably a good thing. And Sarah's laptop got repaired, and we got a new TV delivered. It's been busy!

And the rain has finally arrived properly. This is good, because we can't pop down the road to borrow someone else's shower!

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From midnight Wednesday we have been on level 4. All non-essential travel is banned. The police are running checkpoints - not sure where - I haven't been to the end of the driveway yet.

The TV stopped working at 8pm Wednesday. Last night we rigged up a monitor to watch Doctor Who from a laptop. Not quite the manner to which we have are accustomed, but it worked. Just so long as the internet holds up. I asked to reduce our cap from 200 to 120GB. I suspect they forgot. Probably just as well; we're going to need it now!

In a previous universe, Mimoko came from Japan to stay with us near the end of February. She had just turned 15, and barely spoke a word. But she slowly opened up over the two weeks, and the smiles began to appear. We took her to the zoo, the aquarium, two beaches and several other places. I also tried to give her a different way to school each day. She particularly loved the road through the forest. She brought us a pile of presents, including a paintbrush for painting Chinese characters which she demonstrated to us with great care and skill. She left us a wonderful card with drawings of a crane and a lovely message. I don't think she wanted to go home.

The day after, we had the house sprayed for spiders. The guy told me I was fine; it would just smell of paint for half an hour. Unfortunately it irritated my nose and throat, and I came down with some sort of infection. Not a good time to be coughing in public. I'm not sure what the infection is, but I've hardly left the house just in case! I'm not too bad now; I decided to crack open some antibiotics, and now I'm just a bit tired and croaky. Rach has now got laryngitis. None of us have dared to go down the road to the doctor yet!

Money has been an issue; I've had hardly anything coming in for two months. Fortunately we've got enough now to keep us going, and we still have savings. I planted all our old potatoes after Bronwyn managed to get a fresh bag, and she also found lettuce and brocolli, and several packets of seed. We've had a bit of rain this week, so the water tank is up to half full. Just as well; we're not able to go down to the church office to have a shower any more!

Sarah is in the lounge doing her schoolwork online. Rach is in bed recovering, but she'll be doing lectures remotely next week, as will Bronwyn. Bronwyn is making endless phone calls to keep in touch with our group from church, and they're trying to think of ways to look after everyone. Not easy when you can't just drive over!

We'll survive. I was reminded of an old photo that my grandmother showed me once. She was sitting on the steps at the seafront, with a four year old boy and a seven year old girl. My uncle and mother. That was the day that war was declared with Germany. I can't imagine what that family had to go through; it was never really spoken. But they responded, and that love of growing your own vegetables is still in the family.

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The big dry 
Haven't had more than a brief sprinkle since, um, mid December. There's a five week wait for our local water supplier, and many of them have stopped taking bookings. Several towns have stopped allowing tankers to fill up from their supply, so it's getting harder to find water, let alone buy it. Up north, Kaikohe has just three days of water left. Actually, that was three days ago!

Auckland is OK for now; they've got massive reservoirs in the hills, although the high temperatures have increased demand for power showers and designer swimming pools, so they've been urged to stop watering their agave plants and clandestine avocado operations.

We're in the queue for a truckload of water. We did this last year, and by the time it was our turn, it had rained substantially. We've joined the queue again just in case, but we're not likely to get anything until March. We're OK for now. Bronwyn took a big bag of washing to the laundry in town this week, and we've been using the showers in the church office. At our current rate of water usage, we could last six months. Might get a bit smelly though!

Looks like Australia has had some rain for now. We had a lot of smoke from all the forest fires, on several days in different areas of the country. There was a day in early January when the sky turned yellow. Dark yellow. I was putting in a couple of beams for the base of a treehouse, and dropped the drill key on the ground. Had to get the hunting torch out to find it. It was darker at 2pm than it was at 8pm. It was also really eerie. Apocalyptic, as Rach put it. Made you realise just how bad it was over there, well over 1000 miles away.

But now the farm is sunny and crunchy. Most of the grass is dead. Apart from the paspalum and kikuyu grass. They both do well in very dry conditions. Kikuyu comes from Kenya - I spotted some when I was over there. Kenya has had the opposite end of the Indian Ocean dipole and has had lots of rain. The April rains have come rather early. Or perhaps the November rains haven't gone yet!

The farm is OK for now. The dam is only 15 cm below full, and it's probably got enough water to last several years. Ross's dad built it, and made it a bit bigger than really necessary. The ducks are not complaining. We had a bit of a crisis recently though when the pump broke. A thick ring of cast iron had worn so much from the constant thumping that it had a big chunk taken out of it and eventually broke. Bronwyn filled up the troughs with all the containers she could find, which she filled up, put in the back of the car and drove around the farm with them. Next day, Ross brought the tank on the tractor instead.

Had to round up the sheep yesterday because some had signs of fly maggots. Me and Sarah chased them out of one paddock, and Rach guided them over to the sheds. In the car. Amazing what you can do with a rather small shopping car.

Hopefully we'll have enough water for the end of the month, when we'll have a Japanese student staying with us for a couple of weeks. She's 15, and we haven't got a lot of details, but she looks reasonably harmless!

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