The year of secrets 
I think I must officially describe this as The Year Of Secrets. I can't believe how many times I've heard the words:
"This is just between you and me"
"This doesn't leave the room"
"This doesn't leave the table".
It started with The Saga at Watchdog, which had been simmering for a while, but came out with the announcement that KnowledgeNet had been sold to the Aussies. There followed a few months of me working part time for them and also for Dave, who used to be my boss and had left last year under circumstances which will remain under wraps. Or preferably buried on a windswept island somewhere south of Stewart Island. We've also had a Very Interesting Year with the youth work at the local college, which has left me as treasurer and anticipating a huge change in direction next year. I've lost track of who knows what and how much I can say to anybody. Which is fortunate because I don't talk a lot.

Turns out that Dave's poor dog has also been put down. I remember Pepper from when I first worked at his house. Very quiet dog. I'd be sitting, focussed on the laptop, and suddenly notice a rather doggy smell coming up from under the table. But once Rhea came along, they'd bark furiously at just about anybody walking past. Pepper went downhill fast, and her lungs were full of cancer. Dave was really upset.

Sarah has done really well at school this year. Since they gave her yellow tinted glasses, the letters have stopped jumping around the page, and she's been able to learn to read and write. She's almost caught up with the others. Meanwhile Rachael is doing well in just about every subject. Hopefully she'll be in the accelerator class next year again.

Ten days until Christmas. Baking hot and humid. Three sessions to go playing carols outside the supermarket, one carol concert at another church and one session on trombone at my own church. I can play most of the carols blindfold.

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RIP Princess 
Buried our dog today. She had cataract and glaucoma, and arthritis. The medicine had eased it a bit, but she wasn't her old self. There comes a time when all that's stopping you from letting go is your own selfishness. Today we let her go.

We tried to give her the best weekend we could. I'd combed out all the matted hair as much as she'd let me, and given her a bit of a trim. We took her out to the beach, the whole family together. I had to leave early. I turned round as I left the beach, and saw them several hundred metres away, walking off into the distance together. I like that memory. That evening, Bronwyn cooked up some best steak and gravy, and Princess wolfed it down, along with the last of the dog food.

The vet came round early today. He hung back as Princess picked up an old tennis ball and dropped it for us. One last ball. Ross came round to help out. As the vet said, "She's gone", I'm fairly sure I heard the tough old farmer give a whimper. We buried her in one of her favourite spots, beside the house, under the sign saying "Watch out, Border Collie about". Bron and Rach are off now buying something to plant there.

They say that a dog can't hear commands beyond about 70 metres. I can remember her barrelling down the hillside from at least 150 when I called out her name. She never did get the hang of herding sheep. But she'd always want to jump up on the tractor to have a ride. At night, she'd sometimes let off this eerie howl. She did it just last week. As if she was calling, calling.

Princess was born pretty much when we arrived here. A whole lifetime for a dog. A whole chapter in our lives. Both good and bad. Princess was there when we came home with Sarah in our arms. And Princess was there when the ambulance came up the drive. More than once.

A whole chapter. Where next? Much has happened, and this last year or two has seen a big turnaround for us. I think there's more for us here yet. And much that we've been able to let go.

Christmas is in full swing. Tuesday - church music get-together. Thursday - church rehearsal. Friday - band rehearsal. Saturday - Westgate parade. Sunday morning - trombone at church. Sunday evening - carol service in Henderson. My lips are turning to hardened rubber...



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More on chickens 
Funny things, chickens. Never realised how inquisitive they can be. They can spot you digging the garden from a mile off, and come in hoping for a fresh worm. Then they start the vocalisations. There's a range. There's the familiar "b'krr buk buk buk" which means "I've just laid an egg". There's the "BUK" which means "clear off, that food has my name on it". Then there's this pleading sort of "brrr? brrrrrrr? brrrrrrrrr?" which means "can I have a worm", "can I demolish your flower bed?" or "can I come in the house and poop on your carpet?". Amazing things...

The lambs are worse. Sasha has learnt how to climb through just about any fence. She then runs up to you baaing loudly and standing on your foot. Until you feed her. We're trying to wean them...

Christmas is upon us. First parade next week...

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Fireworks, drama and fish. 
I didn't memtion the fireworks last time. There's a small rural school down the road that does a fundraiser every year. It's grown into one of the biggest fireworks events in Auckland, if not New Zealand. We came prepared with tarpaulin, picnic blankets, food and drink and claimed our spot about three hours in advance. Not sure that was necessary since it was a bit damp and there weren't so many people. But it was worth it. We had a few light showers but it cleared up for the fireworks. It was loud. And impressive. They have police on the road to keep the traffic moving after one year when everyone stopped to watch the fireworks from there too.

Fireworks last night as well. Claire's 40th birthday. Far too much food too. The boys cooked a whole sheep on a spit. They also demonstrated their technique of lighting a bonfire remotely by soaking it with petrol and firing fireworks at it, Not sure that makes it any safer!

Sarah has been doing drama lessons all year, and yesterday was the Big Performance. She did really well, but I'm going to have to watch the DVD because I didn't recognise her dressed up as a tin soldier! Sarah was really pleased afterwards. It's quite a lot for the lessons though, so unless she's a lot more interested in iti next year, we might quietly let it drop. She's also doing guitar lessons, and has acquired quite a collection of small guitars and ukuleles. Wonder if she's ready for a trombone...?

My mate Dave phones me up on Sunday and invites me out fishing. So I'm out at his house at 7:30am, having dosed up on ginger. Fortunately it was dead calm most of the day. We went out quite a distance, hunting for seagull activity. It's quite awesome being out in the middle of nowhere and there's a huge shoal of fish splashing at the surface, with dolphins circling and four hundred gannets and seagulls divebombing it. Our trick was to try and get upstream, and fish for the big ones on the bottom. I caught a nine pound snapper - the biggest one of the day. And a baracuda. Vicious looking beast, but apparently it's full of worms and not good to eat so it went back oveerboard. Then Dave sails back south and rigs up in full scuba gear. Looked like something out of James Bond. He disappears underwater looking for scallops, and we're left there waiting on the top. An hour later we're getting nervous. Just then, another boat comes along and points him out as he surfaces again. Only half a bag full, but very tasty.

It was a very long day, and it's taken all week to recover! But now we have several bags of snapper fillets in the freezer. As well as the remains of Claire's party!

Hmm. Ah yes! Bronwyn now has a new car. It's a VW Polo, and very similar to the Caldina, but some of the controls are in bizarre places. Now we just need to get rid of the old one. And one sofa. Dave offered an old desk so he didn't have to share mine when he comes over to work once a week (I go to his shed on Tuesdays, he comes to my desk on Fridays). This means we're rather short on space in that room, and the sofa needs to go. Pity. It came with us from England. Probably cost a packet to ship it!

Mmm. And Bronwyn has some new teeth. A new upper denture. Now she can eat anything again! Except peas. Anything but peas.

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Chickens. And a tank. 
Kristyna Tlhzvbkp and Michael Rt%qp{dzfg stayed with us a week and now they're off in Auckland looking for jobs to pay for the rest of their trip. Great people, and very practical. Cleaned all our windows and did some heavy weeding. Having had half the planet send us emails within a week, our Singaporean girl now can't make it in November, so we might have the month free.

Chickens. Bronwyn has been working hard arranging chain link fencing around the old kennel patch, so both pairs of chickens have their own runs, with access to grass. We had them on concrete for a while, but we were getting eggs with no shells, so maybe the addition of slugs and dirt to the menu should help with their nutrition.

Sarah took this year's chicks out to the school Agricultural Day, and came back with TWO TROPHIES! One for the chicken diary she's been keeping, and another for the overall chicken cup. She gets to keep that for a year, and it'll get engraved. We've already had one of the certificates framed.

It's been a busy week. On Thursday there was a rally outside our house. They closed off the road completely, so we weren't able to get out until after 10am and the girls had to stay home from school. Poor them. We were at the start point, so we watched them start the cars off one at a time. Some looked like they were built for the conditions, others could probably have done with a push. Several were backfiring quite a bit. We could hear them as they went across thw hills behind us. Kim Dotcom was driving one of them. Apparently he burst a tyre on a kerb further along!

That evening we had a Light Party. It's an alternative Halloween event. Twice the size of last year, and we had at least 200 children. I was assigned the Paper Aeroplane Throwing contest, where I tried to remember all my designs from boring engineering lectures. We also provided some hay bales and a rope for the tug of war. And our mate Johnny brought his tank. It's an Alvis armoured personnel carrier, and it weighs about 15 tons. I've driven it over his farm. Great fun, but I wouldn't do it if there were sheep running around!



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