At least it's Christmas 
Had a shock last Sunday. Our dog had grabbed one of the kittens and was swinging it around. Bronwyn separated them, but it didn't survive long. The vet gave us a box for her, and we buried her in the garden. I made a little cross with a proper cross lap joint, and Rachael wrote 'Saphire' on it. Diamond is a little lost, but coping better now.

We had a lot of rain this week, well over an inch. I've been firming down the soil around all the trees, and it seems to be working. I've been putting soil in a bucket of water overnight to make it soft for working into the holes. Seems to defeat the pukekos, but not sure how the trees will cope! Regardless, I'm growing quite a few from seed, so I'll concentrate on putting lots of trees in, and not worry too much about the ones already out there.

We've received a bumper crop of presents this year. Must have done something right. We had 19 for dinner at Bronwyn's mum's - all five children, all 5 spouses/partners and all 6 grandchildren. Plus our old friend Mirko, who never married, and Janet and Ross themselves. They had to borrow one of our tables and bring in two wooden benches from outside. Plus quite an assortment of chairs. Don't think I'll eat much for dinner. Lunch was big enough.

I'm anticipating a quiet few weeks, as is the custom over here. I won't be idle. It'll take a day to clear and tidy the house.

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I'm pretty certain it's pukekos that are pulling up the trees. I found a rabbit hole, and saw a rabbit, but after stopping up the hole, there was no attempt to open it. I also put a trap out for the cat, but all I got was a hedgehog. Earlier this year we had a black cat that ran away, and we had seen a black cat up there by the barn. But I think it was a different cat, since we caught another earlier that was female, not male. However, that still leaves the pukekos.

Pukekos are swamp hens, and apparently common around the world. They dig around in swamps, and pull up plants looking for roots and other food. I worked out that if I cut up plastic bottles, and put them round the trees, they didn't get uprooted. I also found that replanting the trees with lots of wet mud pushed down well also seems to stop them. So hopefully I can rest easy, once I've secured the rest of the trees!

The brass band has the final parade on Friday, and several sessions carolling. It's been a busy few weeks, but at least I didn't get ill like I did last year. Next year the national contest is in April, so I guess we'll be right back into it when we start up again next year...

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Christmas chaos 
I've had another busy weekend, hence the lack of entries last week. I took the Friday off and managed to plant most of the trees. On Saturday I went up to visit the youth camp, and stayed until midnight.

The morning was easy enough; everyone was messing about on the sea or up the hillside doing target shooting. It's a very shallow beach; it's more or less possible to walk right across the harbour at low tide. In the afternoon we went up into the hills for the main activity. This was a five mile course, involving blindfolds, tyres, sliding down hillsides and trudging through swamps. One girl had an asthma attack, so I ended up walking her back. "Just go along that track, and round the beach" they said. The track was fine, but when we tried to cross the beach, we ended up in deep mud. It took a little cooperation to get unstuck. We continued to trudge on as the teams passed us one by one.

After a big meal, and an evening sermon, we gathered for the evening activity. This was located in a long narrow valley above the campsite. The game followed the usual pattern of catching your opponent's flag, but had numerous additional rules that left us rather confused. As predicted, it descended into chaos for an hour or so until someone announced that we'd won. Not sure how - we couldn't see a thing!

Finally, we managed to light the camp fire (which by now was in danger of getting flooded by the tide) and sat down exhausted. Except for a short interlude when someone produced a sackful of sawdust and started throwing it into the fire. It made quite an impressive flash when thrown right!

On Sunday, I set off early because I was running the computer at church. I had to leave early, since I was due to play in the central parade in Auckland. Got home at 3pm, and slept the rest of the afternoon!

We've now got a lamb, which was abandoned by his mother. I'm not surprised - he appears to be rather slow, and we nearly lost him from dehydration a couple of times because he didn't know how to feed. But he's managed to learn, and was feeding quite well today. Bronwyn has named him Ralph, and has taken him into work twice. She's been doing a lot of 'nature' programmes recently. Today, she went to work with several tree branches in the back.

Managed to plant the last of the trees. Something has been pulling up the trees - probably one of the larger birds near the lake. I've been going round checking them and watering. So far we've lost two, but they look as if they were dead to start with. It's been very hot and humid today, and we're all finding it hard to get anything done. I'm hoping for some rain next week; it'll make my job a lot easier!

Late news: the lamb died yesterday, probably of pneumonia. We buried it at the back of the garden under some wild flowers. (Parts of our garden are looking like a hay paddock due to not having the time to mow the lawn.) Rachael was quite OK about it; I think she had accepted that it might not live long.

Still in a battle to stop the trees getting uprooted. I suspect it's a rabbit...

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Trees and kittens 
My grandmother died this week, at 97. She had a minor stroke last week, but it sounds as if she had another, which was more serious. She had been in a lot of pain, and found it hard to do anything, so in a way it was a relief. My oldest memories of my grandparents were from when they had already retired. I can't remember either of them working, although Granddad was always out in the garden, and Grandma was always sewing or knitting something. She reckoned she made a thousand aprons to sell at the WI stall. She was always generous, and I would rarely leave with less than I arrived with!

Granddad is fine. He can't remember a lot, so he's happy. He can walk a little too, so Mum has been taking him into town. She considered bringing him to New Zealand, but my uncle wasn't sure if he'd make it!

Didn't mention that we got two new kittens last week. A ginger tom named Diamond and a grey queen named Sapphire. I think that's the right way round. The names don't bear any connection to the colouring! They have spent the week shut up in the kitchen, and have largely behaved themselves, so we've let them roam the house a little.

Bronwyn's mum gave me some money to buy trees (as I said, it's their land, and they promised the council to plant trees on it several years ago) so I made the most of the current bargain price and bought 104 trees. That's 100 standard native trees, and 4 assorted ones I bought as an experiment.

I've planted 30 so far. Bronwyn's dad Ross strengthened the fence this afternoon after a cow got through. Fortunately it didn't do a lot of damage, and must have only just got in.

We've had a friend to stay the night this weekend. We met her on beach mission six years ago, but just recently she's got back in touch. She was going to a 21st party of a friend of hers. The party was over on the east coast about 45 minutes drive away. Since I also knew this friend (he'd been on the same beach team) and since it was quite a journey, I crashed the party and stayed until our friend decided to go home. It was a really good party, mostly friends from church and school, with the obligatory embarassing stories. And there were three others from the beach team there, so we organised a quick Beach Mission Reunion photo too. Got back at 1am.

Got up early to take our friend Michelle to catch the bus. However, she'd booked the bus from the east coast, and we decided to pick it up as it stopped in the city later in the day. So, after a short visit to church, we went into the city. Arrived in good time, put Chelle on the bus and then had an interesting time exploring the new underground train station. Turned out we'd parked right on top of it!

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Spent all of yesterday (from 7am to 11:45pm) out with the brass band. Went in early to set up the display boards with all the photos. I also had some of the old uniforms on display, and quite a few photo frames, certificates and other bits and pieces. Got some of it done, then set off for the first Santa parade. This time, we were playing carols rather than marching, which was just as well, because it was a really hot day. After fighting my way back through the traffic, I finished setting up (and scoffed my packed lunch) just as people started to arrive for the reunion.

We had a total of five mini-concerts during the afternoon, and I was playing in three of them. Somehow I managed to keep my strength up after several litres of water, juice, coffee and anything else I could find. We then had the dinner (after the speeches) and Bronwyn and the girls came to stay for the evening. I was just about the last one to leave; there were two of us loading stuff back into the band room, bleary eyed, and not really bothering where it got put.

But it all went well, partly due to the preparations I had made in loading up the car the night before. I had just about everything imaginable, although I forgot the clothes pegs. Very important when your music is blowing in the wind. It was fascinating to hear the stories of how the band started 60 years ago. Right now, I'm enjoying a quiet day recovering.

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