Old technology 
Rachael has been practising with her bow and arrows. It's a compound bow; quite a fearsome looking thing with a pulley system that lets you put a lot of force into the arrow with little effort. We've got a large round bale set up in the paddock with a target painted on it. It's a wrapped bale, so it's quite compressed and solid. I tried one shot and it went in six inches. The arrows go so fast it's hard to see them. Fortunately we're on good terms with Rachael.

Nearly lambing season. We've been patrolling the paddock daily checking up on the ewes. They can sometimes wind up upside down or suffering from exhaustion. One of them looks like she's having triplets. She's absolutely huge, so we've nicknamed her 'Wide load following'.

Dave, my colleague, has gone off on honeymoon. On his own. His wife went a month or two ago, and has been touring the US with her girlfriends. Now they've met up and gone to Nicaragua in order to start the honeymoon properly. It's getting tricky having our weekly Skype meetings with with people in three different time zones.

Chaos in the church this morning. The musicians were all set up and ready. A couple of minutes before the start, the power went. A large contingent of blokes huddled round the ancient power board (warped and mouldy hardboard with only three screws) trying to work out the problem. Meanwhile, they grabbed another acoustic guitar and continued regardless. Funny that one of the songs was 'When the music fades'. I then realised that the lights were still on, and went round looking for a working power socket and a long extension cable. All the sound equipment, the amplifiers, the speakers, the two computers (and I later discovered, the coffee grinder next door) come off one rather overloaded plug. I connected it to the cable and sat back, waiting for it to go pop when they played a loud note. Fortunately it didn't.

I reckon one of the phases has gone. The same cable is now in the kitchen, routing power to the fridge and freezer from another socket in the room next door.

Meanwhile, Bronwyn tried the heat lamp this afternoon. We've got it set up in the outhouse for any orphaned lambs. The trip switch went. And refused to go back in. Bronwyn's dad came round. He couldn't reset it either, and in the process took out the farm pump as well. By the look of them, they're probably all full of years of grime. Fortunately he found a couple of spares. The heat lamp still overloads the circuit though. Probably too much organic material in the socket making it's home for the winter...

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Music in the cold 
Can be tiring playing trombone. I have seen plenty of old boys marching with cornets and horns, but not trombones. It uses up quite a bit of oxygen.

Last week we had a pre-contest concert with three other bands. Sounded pretty good, apart from one spot where we appeared to be in sync with the horns. This was bad. We were supposed to be alternating. But it's such a weird piece of music that I doubt anybody noticed. After our spot, I watched Waitakere play a couple of pieces, then picked up the trombone to leave. "Ah, aren't you going to hear us play" said a red shirt from Howick. I mumbled something, escaped to the car, then felt guilty and came back to hear most of Howick. After that, I was so tired I was having concerns about driving home!

I guess I must have been fitter this weekend, because I drove all the way to Rotorua and back for the contest itself, and then did trombone in church the day after. But it paid off. We're down at the curry house on Friday to celebrate thrashing the D grade. By one point, I hear. I didn't think our performance was incredibly special, but I think we must have got enough bits right to make the difference.

Bronwyn's GPS appears to be set on "Scenic" mode. It took me along some very interesting routes. Plus there was one spot where it told me to turn right. I couldn't see anywhere at all to turn right. Then I spotted a massive trench in the paddock. OK, so maybe in a few months I'll be able to turn right...

The Antarctic has been gripping Auckland. Snowflakes were seen up north. Terrified locals had to put a coat on. But fortunately the icy blast has eased, and we're due for more rain.

School holidays. Rachael has hardly left the sofa. Sarah has been out at the YMCA programme a few times. I just hope they don't complain that the holidays are too short!

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Cold, wet, chickens and a tavern 
It's our 18th anniversary. so we had a really nice meal off at the Riverhead Tavern, where we've never been to before. It's right next to the river. Apparently you can arrive by boat, so one day we might try a trip along the river. OK, tidal creek. It used to be a major transport hub in the days when roads were in short supply and most transport went along the coast. I'm guessing the tavern played a major role!

Rachael has been off again on an overnight camp with the guides. Now she's tired. New Zealand seems to have two camping seasons. The canvas house with built in refrigerator in summer, and the cold and damp survival camp in winter!

Chickaboo has started laying eggs again! Must be the cat food. I've been throwing them the odd handful as a protein supplement. Now they're all looking distinctly plump. The other two treat her with a lot more respect as a result. That's a huge change from just a few months ago.

Minus two last week. There was ice 5 millimetres thick. That's nothing by England standards, but it's about the coldest we get here. Much milder now. I've been digging the vege garden. Beans grew well, but nobody eats them. Potatoes seem to be the only thing that both grows well, and get eaten. And sugar snap peas. So I'll focus on them next time!

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Rachael is doing a Duke of Edinburgh Hillary award. Bronze level. It involved a hike through the forest last week, involving crossing the same river three times and climbing the same hill twice. She then went off sick for four days with a sore throat and no voice. It was quiet. She'll be walking the Pinnacles next month. That's the mountains I nearly did my legs in going up earlier in the year. Of course, she'll be doing it in winter, with a full pack! And this is just bronze level. Silver and Gold involve some real mountains in the south island.

Sarah's moved up a group in swimming. She's getting really good; she's much faster than me now. She just had to learn butterfly in order to move up. Partly, it's because she's scared of whacking someone in front or hitting the end; she tends to keep stopping to look! Rachael's always struggled with swimming, and her teacher has gone overseas for a few months, so she's given up for now. But at least she knows what to do if she falls in. That's the main thing. It's a big issue here because much of the activities revolve around water. That and sunscreen!

Bronwyn's been organising music groups to visit the local old peoples' homes. We used to have a group going from our church, but several people left, so it was down to one person. She's been organising the other churches and forming up teams, and trying to get everyone working together. Meanwhile, she's also started playing flute occasionally on Sunday mornings. This means that things have got a little chaotic. We have to sort out who's going where and whether it's feasible to simultaneously get Sarah to swimming / Guides / Drama. So far it's been OK, but we've had to occasionally cancel something!

And it's the national brass band contest in four weeks. They've organised a lot of rehearsals on Sunday morning. Fortunately the church is about 300m from the band hall. Next week I'm supposed to be on the church music, so I could do half of each! We're sounding reasonably good, largely because the conductor has rounded up most of the top musicians from the school where he teaches. I think we may be in for a Rangitoto College takeover.

Lambing season soon. Just need one freezing cold storm to kick it off. We need to clear out the old laundry to turn it into a hospital wing. Meanwhile, Chickaboo, who was down to her last few feathers after being plucked almost bare by the others has grown them all back, and now looks in much better shape than the younger two. I've been cautiously letting them mix during the day, but keeping them apart at night. Sarah's planning on getting a couple more chicks. Must finish that second chicken coop...

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Sarah is now 10. Rachael is 15 TODAY! Meanwhile Rachel is... not telling. Rachel is Bronwyn's brother Neil's wife.

Sarah's party went well last week. Our neighbour came over with some candle making kit so the girls had fun with glitter and fancy glass candle pots, as well as the usual balloons, part poppers and excessive chocolate. We had two staying overnight.

We did the usual trick of putting a mesh of streamers across Sarah's door overnight. For Rachael, Bronwyn made a spider's web out of string and hung a toy spider in the middle. I decided it needed a little more, so I used an old door that we'd never bothered using and lay it across the doorway, plus two trombone cases, a chair, a huge suitcase, and a footstool to wedge it all against the opposite door. Took Rachael a while to escape. If she hadn't had to get up so early, I would have used a few brackets on the door as well.

Rachael is doing a Duke of Edinburgh's course, and this weekend was the training course. So she had to be out early both days. She wasn't too happy about being out on her birthday. Or missing the chocolate fish at church. But they let her off for the afternoon to come to her combined afternoon tea (and the rest) with the other Rachel.

Good to see our Chinese daughter Erica for dinner last night. Hope the weather isn't too bad for your trip to Hamilton today! We've had about 7 cm of rain this weekend. It just rained all night on Friday, and carried on for much of Saturday and today. I haven't bothered digging the garden. Tonight, we're going to a restaurant in the city and meeting up with Yuwen, who's come back to study early childhood teaching in almost exactly the same way that Erica did. It feels like it's happening all over again...

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