Dun Roaming 
We're back home after a week touring the far south, and that should be the last of our trips for a while. Nothing else planned, anyway.

Had an action packed three days in Wellington with the youth work conference, which very nearly didn't happen. The week before, someone came to visit from Australia, spent the weekend visiting museums and restaurants in Wellington, and then went home. And tested positive for the Delta variant. So Wellington went into level 2, and we were on edge - any actual cases and it would have gone to level 3. We dodged a bullet, and somehow no cases were found. So the first two days were at level 2. They had prepared for this, and we had to meet in two different churches to keep the numbers below 100 each. On Monday night, we had dinner in shifts, and they disinfected everything in between. On Tuesday night we had a dinner in the cathedral. With a huge curtain down the middle. North Island people one side, South Island on the other.

Day three we were back in level 1, which meant we could have the dawn visit up to the hill and a gathering outside Parliament all together. The National Archives building is next door, and is a stunning Victorian building of polished granite. The next building is almost as stunning. I understand that they spent a lot of money on those two buildings. The actual Parliament building (nicknamed the Beehive due to its circular domed shape, and the amount of noise and hot air it generates) looks like something they threw up in the sixties with lots of grey concrete and glass. We got a photo shoot outside the middle building. My MP was officially greeting us and recognised me. It's not hard to get to know your MP in this country.

Took a few days to recover from Wellington, and then we were off to Dunedin. Day one; a trip up north to the Moeraki boulders, where we stopped at the Moeraki Tavern and I had a Moeraki burger. Very nice too. The boulders are almost spherical, made of limestone and about 2 metres across. Spent a while hopping boulders and then back home, with a stop to spot seals on the rocks.

Next day, Dunedin peninsula, Larnach Castle and the Albatross sanctuary. Larnach Castle was built by a wealthy banker and MP. He started well, but it was a tragic tale. After three wives, business disasters, and a family scandal, he shot himself and the castle was largely abandoned. A family bought it in the 70s, and have been restoring it ever since. We climbed up to get the view from the top. At the Albatross sanctuary you have to keep out of sight, so we were in an observatory room looking out of the windows. These are Royal Albatrosses, which aren't the biggest, but still have issues landing!

Day three. Paid homage to the World's Steepest Street. It was only half a kilometre from where we were staying, which was also very steep. Dunedin is in a big old volcano, and the hills are all quite steep compared to the rolling hills elsewhere. They have an annual race every year where they roll chocolate balls down the street, and the first one past the line gets a prize. On our visit, there was black ice at the bottom. We didn't try driving up it! Had a very long and scenic drive down to Fortrose. Nice place there. Very quiet and well away from any towns!

Day four. Went as far south as we could get at Slope Point, where after navigating a very muddy paddock ("Enjoy your visit - Antarctica View Farms") we reached The Signpost (and the trig point and lighthouse). On to a beach that was known for seals. We walked all along the beach and didn't see any. So we walked back and got cornered by two that had just arrived. You're supposed to stay 20 metres back. Nobody told the seals that. On to another beach where we spotted one yellow-eyed penguin (my only wild penguin). And then off to Invercargill.

Day 5, had a quiet day around Invercargill. It's the southernmost city in the world, although it's not all that big. We were next to the park, which had a little zoo and botanical gardens. Rach has become obsessed with plants, and spent a while looking for anything she recognised. Our house is getting full of weird cacti and other oddities.

Day 6. Bluff. Southernmost town. A surprising of industry down there, and a port, with a large container ship. It's also famous for oysters, although we didn't try any! More climbing over beaches, and back for dinner in Invercargill.

Day 7. Very long day. Out west first to Gemstone Beach, where we didn't spot any gemstones but a huge variety of coloured pebbles. Came home with quite a collection. Then a bit further west to Tuatapere, which is about as far as you can go before reaching Fiordland, where there are no roads. And a long drive back to Dunedin. Decided to have lunch at Gore. The GPS took us down a rather odd route. I believe it was trying to avoid traffic. We reached the main street and immediately got stuck. Seemed odd to have so much traffic in a rather small town. Then we saw some horse drawn carriages, and a guy riding a horse up the street. And tractors. Lots of them. And utility trucks with dogs on the back. And lots of people and sign boards. "Ah", said Bronwyn. "It's the farmers' protest!"

After crawling along the main street and finally finding a parking spot, we had lunch in a cafe and watched the tractors go by. Apparently there were 800 of them. Plus two combine harvesters and some tankers. They were protesting about the pile of regulations over land use, diesel vehicles and other things that The City People had put on them. Bronwyn was on the phone to her Dad giving a running commentary while we sat there tractor-spotting.

We'd had good weather all the way. On the last day, we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Dunedin botanical gardens (more plant spotting) before the weather closed in as we headed home. Pity there wasn't any snow, but virtually all the rain was in the night.

One day after we returned, our first lamb was born. Then four the next day, and then lots. We've got three in the back yard, and I try to leave by the front door to avoid getting trampled on by the delightful but rather muddy and leaky little bundles. We've been out round the paddock checking on the sheep, and delivered several in the paddock. Lost a couple of sheep and at least one lamb, but otherwise going OK so far. We've had a lot of rain, which might explain the sudden arrival of lambs. But it hasn't been too cold, and the grass is making the most of it!

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Things that go boom in the night. 
It was about 12:30am. There was a loud boom, followed by a clatter. Bronwyn and Rach went all through the house but couldn't see anything. Or outside either. Then Rach noticed that the cupboard smelled of ginger beer.

After making the feijoa wine, I had half the yeast left over. So I put some in three bottles of the next ginger beer batch. The yeast powder comes with its own vitamins and minerals. What happened was that the minerals effectively woke up the yeast in the ginger and left it to use up all the sugar. The first bottle I tried tasted like ginger flavoured soda water - no alcohol, very little sugar, and lots of CO2.

The second bottle exploded. The blast shook the two shelves above, and knocked over a jar of chutney and several empty bottles. It also blasted into the bottle next door, which also went off. One bottle top landed behind the hot water cylinder. No idea where the other went.

Fortunately they were in a polystyrene fish box and most of it ended up in the bottom. Still smells of ginger in there, but I managed to sponge up most of it. I released the pressure in the third bottle (which had somehow survived) so hopefully we won't get any more surprises. At least I now know what a bottle looks like when it's about to blow up!

Had a large crop of borage in the veggie garden. I had a go at making borage jelly. I wasn't impressed, so I pulled out the rest of it and gave it to the cows. They weren't impressed either!

The film crew arrived, and filmed a goat peering at its reflection in our water trough. They had wanted a herd of cows, but nobody told them about the tuberculosis regulations. So it had to be a goat instead. Well, two actually. They're extremely social animals, and they had to bring another goat along to keep the main goat happy. They also put green stickers around the trough and some tennis balls down the paddock. Apparently they will get replaced with computer graphics. It's an advert for Sky TV, so it'll be interesting to see it if and when it comes out.

Bronwyn had a good time at the youth leaders conference in Rotorua. Sarah's St John's training weekend in Taupo didn't go so well - she set off at 3pm, got to the bus south of Auckland at 5pm and discovered that she wasn't going to get any dinner, and the bus wouldn't get to Taupo until 9 or 10pm (after picking up lots of others). She also had to be out and ready at 6:30 each morning, and got told off at 6:25 for being late. So Bronwyn had some words with them, and drove from Rotorua to Taupo afterwards to pick her up rather than have her go home on the bus.

Bronwyn had a group assignment to do as part of the block course she did last month. She did her part (and a lot of the rest) and left it to the others to finish off. Apparently they never finished it. Fortunately she had plenty of evidence of her work and her messages to the others, so she certainly won't be getting the same grades that the others do. But that was quite a bit of stress this week!

In two weeks I'll be off to Wellington for my youth work conference, and in July we'll all go to Dunedin. This will be the last of our travels for the year...

The band had a joint concert with North Shore Brass to show off our music for the national contest, which is at the same time as our trip to Dunedin. So that will be my last time with the band for now, although I'm sorting out the hotel and flights payments, extra concert shirts and probably several other things. Pity. It's been great fun playing next to three good trombonists; it's probably the strongest we've ever been!

And Rachael's car has finally been fixed. I watched her confidently drive it forwards into the shed. This I took to be a good sign, because for three months it hasn't been capable of going backwards and we've had to leave it somewhere outside with a clear path forwards...

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The birthday zone 
Sarah is now 16, and Rachael is 21 today! So far we've had a couple of family get-togethers (and far too much cake). I've switched the photo frame to show Rachael's pictures instead. Celebrations will continue. And Sarah has passed her theory test and has a learner's license! Now she just needs some real driving lessons...

Bronwyn was out last week for two nights at a block course, sleeping in a spare room at the college. The week before, she was down in the south island at the Baptist Leader's retreat. And she'll shortly be off to Rotorua for the Baptist Youth Leaders conference. They're now opening it up to intermediates teachers. But then I'll get the chance to escape to another youth work conference in Wellington for the trust I'm involved in, and we'll all be going to Dunedin and Invercargill on holiday in July. At the same time as the national brass band contest in Christchurch unfortunately! I did look at travel options, but it's still a 4.5 hour drive on Google maps. Fortunately we've brought in another trombone, so I'm off the hook for now. We're all hoping the Covid alert levels stay at 1!

I played my first solo at the regional contest yesterday. I played Cavatina, which has a very high note. Last time I tried it, I couldn't quite manage it, but this time it was fine. And loud. So I'm happy even if I didn't get a placing. Not sure what I'll try next year. Nobody entered the not-slow contest for two years running, so I'm tempted to give it a try.

Having made jams, jellies and far too much chutney, I still had lots of feijoas left. So I tried making feijoa wine. Thanks to Rachel for the fermenter, I now have about 9 litres of rather sweet alcoholic fruit juice. Might try a bit less sugar next time! Still, it doesn't taste too bad, and works well with the ginger beer. There's another ice cream tub of feijoa pulp in the freezer, and a tub of cherry guavas. I'll leave them for later!

We've had a fair amount of rain. That's good, because a few weeks ago one of the pipes came loose and we lost most of the tank. Apparently Sarah complained about being kept awake by the water squirting out by her window. Pity she didn't tell us! But it's now full again, and the hills are green.

Should get a film crew up this week. They wanted some rolling hills to film an advert. They're going to bring in some cows, too. Apparently, they wanted to clear out the murky water from the cattle trough and put some fresh stuff in. We suspect they'll also have to give the trough a good scrub too, otherwise it won't look any different!

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The season  
...when every feijoa tree in New Zealand decides to drop bucketfuls of the things. I went over and filled a bucket last week. You wouldn't have noticed - there must be another 10 large bucketfuls turning to compost everywhere. Last year I made some guava jelly. Guavas are the same family as feijoas, so I tried making some feijoa jelly. Two and a half jars. I also thought I'd turn my hand towards making some feijoa chutney. The recipe called for lemons, but there was apparently a shortage (they were back in the shop today though!) so I tried limes. I made 15 jars. I took one to the in-laws, and they gave me two jars of 2019 guava jelly in return, since they haven't been able to use it. So now I have a box full of jars. Feijoas have a bit of an acquired taste. So do limes. I'll have the stuff coming out of my ears for years!

Guava season coming up soon. Unfortunately I'm running low on empty jars!

I'm alone in the house. Sarah has gone to Easter Camp with the youth group, and Bronwyn and Rachael have gone to the intermediate e-Camp. Piles and piles of stuff taken down, and not sure how it's going to get home. Bronwyn went down with Rachael on Thursday, and left her there. I took Sarah to her bus in the afternoon, and another parent dropped her daughter off to spend the night and set off early Friday.

I haven't been idle. It's Sarah and Rachael's birthdays next month, so I've been sorting through photos. Church on Friday morning, and hot cross buns in the afternoon. Dug some gorse, thistle and blackberry (I'm still finding more!) Cleaned the chicken coop and helped out at a friend's house to spread some earth. Need to sort out my sermon for two weeks time. Zoom call to England tomorrow followed by church again. Might get some spare time by Monday.

Rachael passed her driving test! It's only for her restricted license, but it's a full hour. Unfortunately, the car she was planning to drive has broken down. Actually, it goes perfectly well forwards, but does nothing backwards. So she was really upset, and was going to cancel the test and try next year instead! But a very useful friend lent us her car, and she got a couple of extra lessons in it. She did make a couple of mistakes but recognised them, and did the manoeuvres fine the next two times. And passed. So now she has a license but no car. Unless she can work out a way of only going forwards. Bronwyn's brother Allan has insisted on fixing it. Knowing him, that could take a while. But I'm sure there are plenty of people who would be willing to buy a cheap car that doesn't go backwards!

I remember my twenty minute driving test. It included the theory as well. Possibly harder that way, because one little mistake and you fail. Sounds like the lengthy system here is better, but there are still plenty of idiots on the road. Not all have licenses of course!

Rach has been buying plants. I suspect it's some form of therapy. She's gone for some cacti and succulents, plus a pitcher plant and a venus fly trap. The tiny cacti are on the window ledge next to Larry. Larry also used to be tiny but is now huge, and can be difficult to repot. The future will be interesting!

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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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