OsStraya 
Google maps has issues working out where I am. I don't have GPS on the laptop, and I generally leave it switched off on the phone unless I need it. Hence it tends to follow other people's phones at random. Apparently last summer I spent a week in the wilds of Northland, and I'm often down in South Auckland. Last week it wasn't really sure, but made a wild guess:



Many thanks to our friends for opening their house for the week. We had time to catch up, and also got to see quite a bit of Sydney. I've seen the harbour bridge from about 10 different angles. We also went west to the Blue Mountains (OK, somewhat greyish in the right light), north east for a bush walk and some Aboriginal hand prints and rock carvings, and a day at the zoo.

Didn't need the zoo for some of the wildlife. No kangaroos, but every day we were greeted by the ravens. They're like crows, only with sore throats. Plus wild turkeys, white ibis and sulphur crested cockatoos. All big birds and all very interested in your lunch.

The day before we left to go to Sydney, Bronwyn noticed a little water on the floor. It hadn't been there half an hour earlier. So we pulled off the boards under the cupboard, and one of the pipes at the back had tiny teeth marks and was spraying a fine mist of water. Problem was, the cupboard was all glued together and we couldn't work out how to get to the pipe.

The plumber came out and fixed it. Didn't bother taking the kitchen apart. Went outside, pulled off the boards and fixed it from the outside instead in under an hour. Now that takes years of experience...

Finally have the fireplace going. Had the chimney swept a few weeks ago, but the top plate was very warped, and effectively all the heat was going up the chimney. So the chimney sweep ordered a new one. Unfortunately they sent the wrong one. We only got the correct one a day before we left. Not long after the plumber left! But now we've got a warm house and a dry kitchen, although we still need to fix the boards...

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April. And May as well. 
I've sold my old car!

A couple of weeks ago, Bronwyn was driving and came across an accident. A young man was inside, looking rather shaken. The car was rather mangled. So she leaps out and sees if there's anything she can do (she'd make a great paramedic if she could control the adrenaline). The father turns up, looks at the car and says "Looks like you've written it off this time". Apparently the young man had just started work a week before, and need a car to get to work. And they were now on the lookout for another cheap car.

So Bronwyn fixes up a deal, and they come round the next day. I gave them most of the details. Battery dying, new radiator plus a couple of spark plugs and leads, fixed up the rust and the engine light is due to the RPM sensor, which turned into a ball of copper fluff. Forgot to mention the reversing lights and the rear de-mister, but they were broken when I first bought it. They were happy, but it had failed the warrant due to the seatbelt fraying (I'd done my best sewing on it, but apparently that's not enough). So they agreed to get that done on Monday, handed over the cash and drove off.

As they went, I just said "look after it", at which the father said "Did you hear what he said?" and the young man mumbled something inaudible. I put the documents and the rest of the touch up paint in their letter box and haven't heard a thing since.

Might get a saxophone. A friend has a collection of virtually new instruments left by his dad, and my friend wanted them somewhere other than his loft. So I borrowed the alto sax and had a go. It's Eb, which is going to be tricky with guitars, however if you don't ram the mouthpiece all the way in, it plays in D. Which will help enormously. I'm considering giving it an outing in church this Sunday. I won't point the microphone anywhere near it just yet.

Rach says I should get an honorary physics degree once she's finished with hers. I've been helping her with the mathematics, but I've also had to learn about the physics as well in order to understand it. So we've spent two or three evenings a week going through it. Last week - heat pumps and thermal energy. This week - harmonic motion and waves. Should get to the Scroedinger equation next semester.

Sarah's concussion is not causing so many issues now, although she still gets headaches after a long day. She's slowly increasing her hours at school, which means we're having to drive over to either drop her off or bring her back. She recently took part in a competition with St Johns Youth, and the team came second. It was a rather long day though, so she didn't do a lot for a couple of days afterwards!

Bronwyn was officially on holiday last week, but still got drawn into two church meetings. She spent Sunday on the beach instead! Easter Camp went well; no hurricanes, no accidents and no coke all over the sleeping bags. Well, OK, not coke anyway. She had a number of late bookings, and had to find a minibus fast. There was one left in pretty much the whole of North Auckland so she took it. Rach and Sarah went down as well; Sarah is going to be too old to go as a child next year, and too young to go as a leader. Mummy says she has to go to the big kids easter camp for a year, and then she'll be allowed back with the little kids. And the water slide.

It's getting colder here. Haven't lit the fire yet. We have plenty of wood after the storm last year, and I've been chopping it up with a pruning saw. Bronwyn's dad has finally decided that she might be safe with a chainsaw, so he went out and bought one for her. She's only allowed to use it under supervision and extensive training. And all the protective gear. So we've now got plenty of wood, but we can't light the fire yet until it's been officially checked and swept. Blankets all round for now.

Might get a few late potatoes too. We had some old hay bales left over from the Christmas parade, and they were too old to feed out to the cows, so I carried them to the garden. Weeds cleared, couple of bags of potato fertiliser and an awful lot of hay to cover it. Seems to be working. The potatoes can grow through but not most of the weeds!

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Another day, another byte 
I've managed to dig out the old bicycle from the tangle of jasmine and got it working again. It was part of an office competition. There was a campaign to get people riding bicycles, and since we already had two keen cyclists, we decided the team might be in with a chance. Got second place in our division, largely because we got extra points for encouraging everyone to ride. And I finally made it to the top of the hill. I used to do a lot of cycling, but gave up when I came here because there's a big hill on every road out of here. But after several weeks getting slowly further, I finally made it to the top. Now I'm trying to keep it up by doing that once a day. Feel noticeably fitter now; it certainly helps after spending the day slaving over a hot laptop.

Got out my Dad's old clarinet too. Started playing it just after Christmas, and now I can play in six sharps. I'm focussing on sharps because it's a Bb instrument and I have to add two sharps to everything. Plus the guitars LOVE sharps. I should be fine, just so long as I don't have to play in flats.

The internet has been poor lately. We do have a copper line, but it kept breaking down every time it rained, and in the days when we had a standard phone, it was very good at picking up the radio. Then it was out for six weeks. The whole valley. So we managed to get a connection with Vodafone using a mobile modem. It's pointed at the cellphone tower in town, which is about 5 miles away.

It was good for a while, but then times changed. The town got congested, and we got crowded out. Some days we couldn't get anything at all. Other times, a packet eventually returned, grubby and trampled, over a minute late. Dad did his best to bring home a little bandwidth from town, but it was never enough to go round, and we had to sit hunched around the old satellite TV because it was the only thing still working. Some days, Sarah would go barefoot down to the village; on a good day you could pick up a few kilobytes down by the stream. But mostly, we had to satisfy ourselves with Rachael's pigeons. Old Mrs Simpson said we had it easy, and in her day they had to send email by smoke signals and the old Maori telegraph. Maybe one day they'll finally cut their way through the bush and run the fibre down the hill. We mustn't lose hope...

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A small country 
Two events showed the true nature of New Zealand recently. The first was when a certain group of tourists decided to do everything in their power not to fit in. Now, round here, you can get away with dumping rubbish. You can also get away with being a bit obnoxious. And petty thefts, well it happens all the time. But not all together. I'm not sure how they expected to stay under the radar. We only have one national daily newspaper, and they quickly made it to the front page. Every day. They stood out a mile. People were spotting them and tracking their position. Hobbiton went on alert as they drove nearby. I'm told that the same happened when the Rainbow Warrior was sunk. Two Frenchmen behaving oddly? Got to be them. Phone the Herald. You just can't hide round here without a bush survival kit.
And the other event of course was last week. The whole country reacted by pulling together. For a bunch of people they've never met, but an event that challenged to the core of everything we stand for. New Zealand knows how to welcome you. I can't describe the feeling of seeing a bunch of young men giving the haka 110% right in front of you, and knowing that they're doing it in your honour. And they truly are genuine about it. So our pastor decided to organise a prayer night yesterday. All welcome. Really. It was an emotional event. We had all the pastors bring a prayer, and then a representative from a muslim college in Auckland said a few words. He thanked us all, and said it was their duty to visit each of these meetings and then bring the message down to Christchurch. He got a round of applause. There was a bit of a queue to hug him afterwards.

Rach is now settled into university, doing Physics with a smattering of Philosophy and Ethics. She missed out on maths last year, so I'm teaching her the basics of calculus. I'm trying to wean her off her list of formulas, and get her to understand how they were created. She's doing well so far...


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Been a while... 
After a very wet Christmas, it stopped raining. We got hardly any rain for six weeks. Most of the grass is dead. Except for the Kikuyu. Apparently that came from Kenya and was brought in because it can cope with extreme dry. (It also does very nicely in extreme wet, and grows underground... everywhere!) But we've just had some rain for once. Hopefully that'll keep the sheep alive for a bit longer. At least we have lots of hay from the rain last year!

Rachael has made it into university. It took a while for them to sort out all the credits, and she also did a couple of assignments over summer in order to catch up. She's doing BSc Physics, and picked Anthropology and Ethics as additional options. It's been quite an effort getting this far, so hopefully she'll still have the will to take on the course material and cope with the year. She'll have to do calculus because she missed it last year. Someone's lent her an enormous book!

Currently at 4 cars. Bronwyn's, Rachael's, and my old one, plus a newer one I bought to replace the old one. The old one seems to drive fine after overheating last year, so I'm cleaning it up and I fixed the rust myself. And found the right paint for it! Now (after scraping another lot of swallow droppings off it) we just need to sell it.

Window frames all painted, plus the back door. I also shaved down many of the windows because they were sticking. There's still a few areas that got missed last year, and one of the kitchen windows is only held in by a few tiny nails. And a lot of rotten wood.

Sarah is back at school, and it's been odd only taking one to the school bus. But she had another bump on the head, which has brought back her concussion, so she's had to be very careful, and she's missed a few days off school. She's grown a lot since this time last year. She's taller than me now!

Didn't get to have a holiday this summer, although we've had a day out at a regional park, and Rachael had a number of friends around to camp out on the paddock. She wanted to let them watch the stars away from the city lights. Sounds like it all went well, and kudos to Rach for bringing home six boys at once. Don't think she's ever brought one home before!

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