Golly. Last post was in October. Never mind.

After a rather wet November, it's now sunny and dry. Half of Auckland is already heading up North. Rain forecast for Boxing Day. The farm pump has been playing up. The motor has a thermal cutout, which keeps cutting out. The belt keeps slipping, and the pump itself was making a terrible racket until Ross had the gearbox serviced. He's also fixed the seals. There's a leak in the line somewhere; we've had to turn off one pipeline to avoid it running all day. It would cost $3000 for a new one, so Ross is doing all the fixing he can!

The brass band had an easy time apart from last Sunday. I did four gigs in one day. Trombone at church, a full concert down the mall in the afternoon, then two carol concerts in the evening. They'd scheduled for the same day, so we did half an hour playing some party pieces and then left four behind to play carols while the rest headed on for the other one. Another mini concert, followed by the obligatory carols. We got up to Good King Wenceslas, and the conductor asked if they wanted all five verses. "Yes Please!" someone shouted. There was a bit of a silent groan from the band, and we battled on bravely before devouring the mince pies afterwards (hadn't had a lot for dinner!)

I sent a Christmas letter out to a few people by post. Here it is for the rest of you:

Dear all,
It’s been a long time since our last Christmas newsletter. I suspect it was 2014. Not certain, but it’s high time for another one! We’ll be having Christmas on the farm as usual. Much of Auckland will then flee to the beaches and the landing stages, and the fields and hills, but not the streets, thus it’s a good time to get a parking spot in the CBD. We’ll be heading off a few weeks later, once everyone is back home!

The highlight of last year was the trip to England to see family and friends, and to travel up to north Wales and down to Disneyland Paris for a few days. It was our first time that all four of us had travelled back together. We spent tome time with Tim’s mother in Oxfordshire and with his brother’s family in Chelmsford. We also had a bit of a reunion in Coventry, in what has become of our old church there. The old church has gone. The perfectly good, modern replacement has also gone. It’s now a huge building with four floors and room for 700, which they have to split over two sessions on a Sunday!
Didn’t get to see any snow (apart from in the distance, higher up Snowdon) but it was pretty chilly, and down to -6C in Paris. Disneyland was fun – we had dinner in the hotel with various Disney characters. Goofy nearly tripped up the waiter, and Pinocchio took a liking to Rachael and enjoyed sneaking up behind and giving her a fright!

Didn’t get to send a letter last Christmas either, due to various events. Tim was diagnosed with Lymphoma a year ago, and had to go through chemotherapy. He’s now in the clear, but will be going back for checkups for a while. He was bald for a while, but is now definitely in need of a hair cut again. He’s still working mainly at home doing websites and programming work, and has recently been learning about 3D graphics, both for work and for an Android game that he’s been meaning to do for a while.

He’s still with the local brass band, which managed to win their national contest two years in a row and have thus been promoted to the C grade, having been sitting at the bottom for most of their 70 years. Of course, several key members then moved on, so as happened in the 90’s, they may end up back down again. But their current conductor has links to a number of local schools and has brought in a steady stream of young talent. That’s just one band – they have three. The juniors are still picking up quite a few trophies in the solo competitions, and the older members who started a practice session on a Thursday afternoon are currently about 40 strong and want to make the building bigger!

Bronwyn’s major news starts with her full registration as a pre-school teacher about two years ago. It has been the fulfillment of a lot of hard work and creativity, and she had to submit her records, all cross-referenced to the syllabus as evidence of her work. She’s been working part time at The Little Castle. (The building has a small turret with some castellations, and looks quite a sight from the road!) However, having embarked on a career in pre-school education, at the beginning of this year Bronwyn started a job as children’s leader in our Baptist church. She’s been busy organizing activities and curriculum, as well as trying to keep her team working to the schedule. Our pastor did want her to start a course at the local bible college immediately, but with everything else that was going on, she decided to delay a bit. But this next year she’ll be doing a paper or two as part of her training.

She’s also busy helping out on the farm, and often dashes out to sort the sheep or the cows. It’s now haymaking season, which is a lot of hot dusty work and generally takes twice as long as expected. She’ll often be seen driving slowly up the driveway checking on the lambs, and she’s just rescued a newborn calf that slid under the fence and hadn’t had milk for several days. He’s now camping out in the back garden. His mother sometimes stands by the fence and bellows angrily at us, but won’t allow the calf to feed, so we’ve had to take over. Didn’t need to mow the back garden last year – the lambs did it for us!

Rachael is now 17, and has survived 6 years at a Catholic girls school. She was officially diagnosed with autism a couple of years ago, which has enabled us to access a lot of help and mentoring, particularly at school. She has found certain things difficult, particularly with the teacher’s understanding of the sensory issues she faces. She has good friends at her old school, but has decided to move to another school for her final year. Coincidentally, her best friend is now living just down the road, so it won’t be a long trip to meet up any more!

Japanese is her favourite subject, and she really enjoys learning the curious grammar rules and the stories behind different words. Tim is able to help with Maths, Physics and Chemistry, but she’s on her own when it comes to Japanese! As yet, she’s barely made it behind the wheel, but we’re still working on her. We need someone to drive the tractor for haymaking…

Meanwhile, Sarah (now 12) is also booked to start at the same school as Rachael for next year. Both of them know a number of pupils who happen to go to our church, so we’re hoping they both settle in. At least we can put them on the same bus! Sarah has continued to enter lambs into the annual agricultural competition, and has a bag crammed full of ribbons from numerous prizes. This year she won a large trophy for the diary and research project she did. She wanted to know what happened to our wool after it had left the farm, so we got her to write to the wool scourers down in Napier. She wrote a lot of questions, and then we waited. Then one day we got a phone call, and then a big box! There were detailed answers to all our questions, plus some photos of the bales and machinery, a woolen T-shirt, a couple of bags of wool (one raw, one washed) and a pot of raw lanolin. (The lounge smelled of sheep for quite a while.) It turns out that most of our wool probably gets mixed with coarser wool and made into carpets for Cavalier Bremworth. It gets shipped to China in highly compressed bales, each weighing about 400kg. We’ll have to pay a visit sometime when we’re next down that way (Napier, that is. China will have to wait). She’s fond of arts and crafts, and has been working with Mum to make Christmas angels out of pasta and metallic paint.

Next year, it’ll be Tim’s 50th birthday. And Nick’s of course. So he’ll be coming to visit with wife Rebekah and daughter Esther, and we’ll have a couple of trips around the country, including a train ride across the mountains and trips to see the glaciers and the volcanic hotspots. Then in April, Tim is finally Returning To Africa. He went about 25 years ago, and had always meant go back for a visit, but never quite made it. He’ll be in Kenya for a couple of weeks, teaching brass instruments and meeting up with old friends.

Hopefully we’ll be able to get this posted in time! We wish you all a very happy Christmas from a rather hot and humid New Zealand. Summer has come early. There’s a two week queue for water deliveries…

Tim, Bronwyn, Rachael and Sarah.

Plus Diamonds the cat, Marshmallow the calf, and a number of wooly monsters who enjoyed their time in our back garden and would dearly like to return given half a chance…

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All downhill from here 
We're on the slope to Christmas. It kind of starts with the Taupaki fireworks, which for many years have been held in Kumeu. It started as a fundraiser for Taupaki school, and grew into one of the biggest displays in Auckland. It's also right next to the brass band hall. Hence we've taken to rehearsing the Christmas music for an hour or so, and then going outside to watch it across the paddocks. We did try to continue rehearsing through it once, but it was tricky. The fireworks tend to mess up the rhythm a bit!

Sarah came home with a big trophy on Friday for top student in animal husbandry. This was for the diary and project she did. She also got a few certificates and ribbons, including one for a rather stellar cupcake display. We can't bear to eat it. The trophy has to go back tomorrow though, so it can be engraved and kept safe in the school cabinet.

Meanwhile, we've got two extra lambs in the paddock. Bambi and Baa were bottle fed at Ross and Janet's, and have just been weaned. Nobody's been able to explain that to them of course, so feeding time can be a bit of a mission!

Bronwyn is off in Singapore for a few days to meet up with Ross and Janet as they come back from England. Not sure if they'll get to see England again; it's getting more of an effort each time. So it could be an emotional time. But Singapore is a great place to unwind. Generally you've got no choice. It's 100% humidity most of the time!

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Keeping busy 
Imagine, if you will, an open plan office with a board table and seven large leather chairs. The CEO walks in wearing lime green shorts and a T shirt. Sitting next to him is a guy named Nuts. I think it's short for Nathaniel. He's got a shaven head around the sides with a pony tail sprouting from the top. We discuss the plans for the new website. Near the end the CEO turns to his left and says "We need to get off our bum too, Nuts".

That's the way it is, here. Haven't seen a suit and tie in years...

I've been busy last week. We've been rather short of work for a month or two, but it's beginning to come through again. Meanwhile, I've been working on an Android app that I've had in mind for several years. It's been quite fun, but certainly not easy. But it will work on just about any device with Android. Haven't looked at iPhones yet. All my iPads and iPhones are now out of date, and I can't even write my own programs for them without finding an old copy of the compiler. As for Android, no problem!

Bronwyn's been busy at church, and managed to squeeze in some relieving work as well. Currently she's trying to get Sarah's diary up to date for her agricultural project. This involves numerous photos of Anna the lamb along with a diary of activities. There'a also the research project. Don't think I've mentioned this one; she wanted to know what happens to our wool after it leaves the farm. So she wrote some questions and sent them to the wool scourers. They sent back a box full of wool samples, raw lanolin and a pack of photos. Plus a woollen T shirt. Apparently most of our wool will end up as luxury carpet, plus a range of cosmetics. We'll have to visit the place next time we're down there and say thank you!

Now that the weather has cleared, the painter has been busy again. Still a way to go though. I've been tidying up the house behind him too. Yesterday, I made a door for the access hole under the house. The chickens, and any mammal from lambs downwards have been hiding out under there. Once they're down there it's almost impossible to get them out (until dinner time of course). Hence I've been patching up all the holes as much as I can.

I fixed the lawnmower last week. The blades worked, but it wouldn't go forwards or backwards. There's a belt that drives the wheels. It had fallen off a pulley wheel. This was due to a spike of hardened plastic sticking out of the pulley. The pulley had probably jammed up for years, and the lining had been melted and shifted out into a spike. Then one day it decided to move again, and the spike knocked the belt off.

I tried every spanner I could locate in the farm shed. I may have missed a few; the shed is a mine of history, with all manner of assorted objects dating back to a Fordson tractor, probably around 90 years old. I tried a mole wrench. I was going to give up and work out a plan to ship the entire thing to the lawnmower shop, when I had an idea. Using the wrench, I ripped off the plastic on the pulley, smoothed it down, and put the belt back on. It worked. It's still missing half the lining, but the lawnmower moves.

Well, almost. We need more petrol. It takes 91. Our petrol can is in use by the painter with 95 to power the water blaster. Think I need to explore the farm shed again.

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Time for a cut 
Yesterday, I had my first haircut since the shave in January. Rachael finally told me I needed it. So now my hair is pretty much back to normal; just a little fluffy on top!

The lambs have left the back garden. At least we don't need to mow the grass for a while.

About 25 years ago I went to Kenya. I've always meant to go back sometime, and I've finally made plans for next April. Hopefully I'll have the money for it. I note that the malaria in Cambodia is now resistant to all known drugs, and it's only a matter of time before it hits Africa. I also note that Kenya is currently in constitutional chaos. Hopefully there won't be too much blood split. Now, where's the cheapest flight? Ah yes. Doha. Now where have I heard that name before?

The painter has done about half the house. It's now blue. It was blue before, but also covered in algae, cobwebs and large bare patches. He offered to cover up the hole at the back of the old toilet, where the drain pipe comes out. We found some spare roofing iron and loft insulation and did quite a decent job on it. I went round with a sponge and cleaned up several years worth of dust and local wildlife. So now we have a spare toilet. The girls haven't dared use it yet..

With Bronwyn's parents away, the rest of us have been sorting the farm out. A friend came over to do a bit of shearing, and Bronwyn and Allan have been out on the tractor keeping the place ticking over. We plan to sell some sheep, so we're currently sorting out the paperwork. At least it's drying out a bit. We've had quite a swampy spring!

Had the regional brass band contest today. We did a programme based on Napoleon. Loosely. Managed to fit in the 1812 overture, several other pieces plus (a small part of) the Eroica symphony, poetry, singing and as a finale, Waterloo. (The ABBA version, of course)

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Perfect lambing weather 
Losing count of the animals we've had in the back garden. We lost three (or was it five?), gave away four, and we've currently got two, plus a sheep. The sheep is determined to keep her one remaining triplet, but doesn't seem able to feed it (but does a very good job at cleaning its butt), so we've been bottle feeding it. Little Egg is now quite used to us, but has divided loyalties and still likes to stick by mum. Mum doesn't like it when we walk past, and gives an unhappy Blearggg. I'm learning the language. It's not as sophisticated as Chicken, but not far off.

The oldest lamb, Anna, has been a regular at church (on Sunday and during the week) and also at Bronwyn's old work. Sarah's planing to train her up for Ag day. So far she hates the lead, but there's still time.

Not sure where the redecorations are up to. The carpenters still have a pile of wood outside, and there's bits at the front to mend. The painters came, put up scaffolding, water blasted one wall and haven't been back. Probably because it's been rather wet, which it usually is this time of year!

Mud everywhere. Chicken coop is a quagmire; I turned the soil over to try and help the drainage. Bronwyn's thinking of shutting off part of it to let the grass grow. Haven't bothered checking the water tank for months.

Had a quiet few weeks at work, but I haven't been idle. My latest project is 3d graphics on an Android phone. Involves quite a bit of trigonometry and matrix algebra, which I'm still getting my head round. Might not get far on it; we've got another job about to start, also using 3d graphics. Something interesting for once!

Meanwhile, I've made quite a few visits to "The HQ" where our youth charity is doing job training for a variety of interesting characters. Sorting out the accounts and getting an understanding of what's going on. On Wednesday I'll be explaining Xero accounting to the church secretary. At least the church cabling is in a better state, although the internet filter keeps blocking perfectly godly sites. Not sure we need the filtering anyway; the youth group just use their mobiles instead!

Bronwyn's planning a few days holiday in September, in Singapore. We've got the Grand Tour of New Zealand planned in January, and I've promised to go Back To Africa in April, after about 25 years. Hopefully we'll have enough cash. I've planted potatoes just in case.

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