The big dry 
Haven't had more than a brief sprinkle since, um, mid December. There's a five week wait for our local water supplier, and many of them have stopped taking bookings. Several towns have stopped allowing tankers to fill up from their supply, so it's getting harder to find water, let alone buy it. Up north, Kaikohe has just three days of water left. Actually, that was three days ago!

Auckland is OK for now; they've got massive reservoirs in the hills, although the high temperatures have increased demand for power showers and designer swimming pools, so they've been urged to stop watering their agave plants and clandestine avocado operations.

We're in the queue for a truckload of water. We did this last year, and by the time it was our turn, it had rained substantially. We've joined the queue again just in case, but we're not likely to get anything until March. We're OK for now. Bronwyn took a big bag of washing to the laundry in town this week, and we've been using the showers in the church office. At our current rate of water usage, we could last six months. Might get a bit smelly though!

Looks like Australia has had some rain for now. We had a lot of smoke from all the forest fires, on several days in different areas of the country. There was a day in early January when the sky turned yellow. Dark yellow. I was putting in a couple of beams for the base of a treehouse, and dropped the drill key on the ground. Had to get the hunting torch out to find it. It was darker at 2pm than it was at 8pm. It was also really eerie. Apocalyptic, as Rach put it. Made you realise just how bad it was over there, well over 1000 miles away.

But now the farm is sunny and crunchy. Most of the grass is dead. Apart from the paspalum and kikuyu grass. They both do well in very dry conditions. Kikuyu comes from Kenya - I spotted some when I was over there. Kenya has had the opposite end of the Indian Ocean dipole and has had lots of rain. The April rains have come rather early. Or perhaps the November rains haven't gone yet!

The farm is OK for now. The dam is only 15 cm below full, and it's probably got enough water to last several years. Ross's dad built it, and made it a bit bigger than really necessary. The ducks are not complaining. We had a bit of a crisis recently though when the pump broke. A thick ring of cast iron had worn so much from the constant thumping that it had a big chunk taken out of it and eventually broke. Bronwyn filled up the troughs with all the containers she could find, which she filled up, put in the back of the car and drove around the farm with them. Next day, Ross brought the tank on the tractor instead.

Had to round up the sheep yesterday because some had signs of fly maggots. Me and Sarah chased them out of one paddock, and Rach guided them over to the sheds. In the car. Amazing what you can do with a rather small shopping car.

Hopefully we'll have enough water for the end of the month, when we'll have a Japanese student staying with us for a couple of weeks. She's 15, and we haven't got a lot of details, but she looks reasonably harmless!

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Christmas 
Happy New Year! As usual, we missed the Christmas posting date, but it means we’ve got a chance to review all the photos and remember what happened last year.

The previous year involved a tour of New Zealand and Kenya. Last year saw us make it to Sydney and slightly beyond, but otherwise it’s been quieter! We went to visit Tim’s friends in Sydney, who had been begging him to visit for years. We managed to squeeze in several trips around the area (saw the harbour bridge and opera house from about 12 different angles), the zoo, the local koala sanctuary, some aboriginal paintings and carvings and a day out in the Blue Mountains. None of us have ever been to Australia (outside an airport), not even Bronwyn. At the end of the trip, we visited the Chinese gardens in the heart of Sydney, and a very nice place to unwind.

We also spent another weekend in another friend’s house up north, for Bronwyn’s birthday. A little cold to go swimming and kayaking, but we had a number of family meals down on the beach, followed by a rather interesting trip home when Tim’s GPS sent him on a particularly unusual road.

Bronwyn is still in her role as the Children’s Ministry leader and as part of that, she and the girls went to e-Camp (held over Easter weekend), with the some of the intermediate youth group as well as a few children from a local school. It’s always a crazy fun time there with plenty of activities (most involving getting wet) and plenty more in the evenings. Next year, Sarah will be in the Big Youth Group. Sarah is already taller than Tim, but still enjoys being with the younger kids. This means that next year, she’d be in the full Easter Camp, which tends to be more social than crazy. Rachael has the excuse of going to eCamp as a leader – this year she was nanny for 3 children of one of the committee. She never quite joined the older youth group! Bronwyn had a problem finding drivers this year, and after hiring a minibus, they just had enough room. So she has been studying to get a class 2P license so she can drive a larger bus. (Class 2 is a truck up to 18,000kg and the P is passenger endorsed so that means she is allowed to carry passengers.) She passed the check and test to get the learner license; now she needs to get some practise in before doing a course next year. Hopefully in time for next e-Camp! Meanwhile, Bronwyn has also spent the year finishing her studies for the Diploma in Christian Studies and came out with very good marks. Graduation ceremony in April! She is going to carry on studying for her Bachelor of Applied Theology.

Things have been happening at church, or at least the spot of land where we intend it to be. After meeting in the community hall for a year or two, we’ve started digging, and hoping to see something useable by the end of next year. The land was bought about 18 years ago, before we arrived. It took a long time, but things have slotted into place over the last couple of years, and it’ll be great one we can have a permanent place again, that isn’t falling apart. The old building got mostly demolished and is almost ready as a childcare centre.

Had a very successful Light Party (Halloween alternative) this year. Last year they counted 200 children. This year we had at least 260. It was heaving; next year we’ll have to officially register with the police. Although they were there of course. Complete with siren. And the fire brigade. Tim made a Splat The Rat game, with a specially made mouse hole complete with skirting board and “Home Sweet Home” sign.

There have been a few other events this year. Bronwyn took Sarah to see the Chelsea sugar factory, and saw the massive piles of raw sugar getting processed and refined. Apparently there was a shipload waiting in the harbour, but they didn’t have any room for it. Sarah has been trying to help them this year with plenty of baking.

After a bit of rain, we traced a leak to a hole in the roofing iron. Bronwyn’s dad brought round some tape, and Tim went up and patched it up. We then had someone round to fix it properly, as well as paint the iron with weatherproofing. So far it hasn’t leaked, but we now have another pile of scrap iron – New Zealand farms seem to attract the stuff!

But perhaps the most memorable event was probably the visit by Lori. Bronwyn comes home and says “There’s an ostrich in 15C. I’ve got photos!” I then check the photos and decide it’s an emu. It is indeed. Strolling casually across the meadow. Looking very much at home. We put up a post on Facebook and the owner comes round with a bucket of emu food and leads it back along the road. It must have crossed several fences to get to us.

Diamondz our cat has also been introducing us to the local wildlife. He recently came in with a small furry creature, which he then lost behind a cupboard. We managed to move the cupboard and realised that it wasn’t a mouse. Or a rabbit, sparrow or indeed a rat. Or half an eel (still wriggling). It was a stoat. Squealing and snarling, and capable of leaping out of all our cardboard boxes, we eventually trapped it in a plastic dustbin (with lid) and Bronwyn and her Dad took it well away from the house and dealt with it in the morning.

But we kept the hedgehog. It was found rambling across the lawn last week, and mother didn’t seem to want it. It’s spent the last week in a cardboard box in the lounge with some cat food. Rachael is trying to think of a name. Something other than Spike…

Casey, the nutcase lamb mentioned last year went to Hollywood. OK, actually it was an animal trainer round the corner who provides animals for adverts and TV. She could leap through any fence no matter how much baling twine you wove through it, and could work her way around the paddocks no matter which one you put her in. Highly skilled; I hope she does well. This year’s lambs are much more ordinary!

Rachael got accepted to study Physics at Auckland Uni. She had to do a foundation maths course because she had missed year 13 maths, and needed to pass that in order to do the second Physics course. This went quite smoothly up until the exams, which she struggled in and didn’t pass. She retook that course for the second half of the year, and got a B, so she’s now keen to get back into the Physics next year. And more maths. Meanwhile, the uni encourages them to broaden their education with other courses, so she took Philosophy, Anthropology, Linguistics and Japanese Culture! Now that she’s retired for the year, she’s planted a garden and has a list of other projects to do over summer.

Tim’s had a lot of work on this year after taking on several jobs at once. When one job stopped, there was another one ready to take its place, so this year has been pretty full. The main job involves taking surfboard design files, processing and converting them to 3D models with sophisticated control over the design and rendering them as photo realistic images. This has involved a lot of new stuff, and some in-depth understanding of surfboards. As yet, he hasn’t put his foot on one. In another job; his manager encouraged everyone to take up cycling. This involved a fair amount of work disconnecting the bicycle from the surrounding vegetation and getting it roadworthy. But he can now make it over the nearby hill, which has until now presented a major barrier to sustainable transport. Fortunately the job is only just round the corner beyond! He’s also still treasurer for the brass band, and for the youthwork charity that the church started.

He’s found time to try clarinet for a few months, and then bought a saxophone (with the money from the car). Can just about do the Pink Panther, the Benny Hill theme and the instrumental from Careless Whispers. And he’s been on a campaign against every thistle, gorse and blackberry on the farm. It started with clippers and a spade, and worked up to weed spray and the lawnmower. The battle is not quite won yet, but the thistles have started hiding out of sight…

Sarah has a new hobby. Two, actually, plus the first aid work at St Johns Youth. She tried an air rifle at a school camp, and was really pleased with her accuracy. So Poppa let her try his .22, and she managed to shoot consistently within three cm at 23 metres. Poppa was impressed, so he bought her a tea towel with some Pukekos on it. Pukekos are purple swamp hens, and very adept at pulling up plants and eating other birds. So now she has a tea towel with holes in it…

Rachael decided to pay for some ice skating lessons for Sarah. Sarah had never got the hang of ice skating, and was frustrated that everyone else could do it but not her. So she’s had ten lessons so far, and can skate forwards and backwards plus a few other tricks.

That’s about all for now. Happy New Year to you all, from Tim, Bronwyn, Rachael, Sarah, Diamondz, three chickens and an unnamed hedgehog.

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An emu in the paddock 
Bronwyn phones me up. There's an ostrich in 15C! I've got a photo! She's near the house, so I take a look at the photo. Looks more like an emu. In a paddock. Our paddock.

We drive up (Bronwyn knows how to cross a rutted hillside in a little shopping car) and take a look. Yup, there's an emu. Frolicking in the long grass and abundant carrot weed of our hay paddock. I got close enough to touch it (decided not to, just in case), and took some more photos. It seems rather tame.

So Bronwyn puts a post on Facebook. "Anybody lost an emu?". Quite rapidly, one of our neighbours replies, and then turns up with a bucket of emu food, and manages to lead it back down the hill, along the road and up their place.

However, not all was well. A few days later, we hear that the emu got attacked by a dog, and had to get stitched up at the vets. Probably that's why it was in the wrong paddock - there appear to be two German Shepherds on the loose, and this isn't the first time they've attacked something. The council has been out trying to track them down.

Fortunately the emu is recovering. I suggest she needs to get a cassowary. They know how to attack a dog.

Rach got an A, an A- and a B. So that means she's managed to pass the maths, and she'll return to Physics next year. And more maths. She's also picked Earth Sciences (geology and geography). She's given herself a list of projects to do over Christmas while she wears a hole in our sofa.

Sarah has had pains in her abdomen, and spent a night in hospital. They did various blood tests and an ultrasound. They couldn't find anything abnormal, so they've decided it's probably her appendix, and she needs to be careful with what she eats for a bit. It's been going for a while now, so she's getting a bit fed up. But she survived a week on the Year 9 camp, and we have videos of her doing all the activities. They decided not to take her on the Tongariro walk, so she stayed behind with a couple of others who weren't well. Everyone else got sunburnt!

Bronwyn did really well in her college papers, and is graduating in April. She was planning to continue to train as a pastor, but won't be doing so much next year since the church has a lot on it's plate with the new building. Latest news is that we're well underway with the digging, and we've decided to proceed with phase 1 - a large circular hall with side rooms, which will be large enough to meet in and do most of the activities. Things are about to get exciting. Hopefully the bank balance won't get too depressing.

I've been occupied at work. We've had three major incidents last month - first we had a corrupted Ubuntu server. Took us all day to set up another and copy across what we could. Then another server had a database upgrade fail overnight. Several hundred websites down. Our customer managed to reverse the upgrade, and got it all going again. Then we had a serious hack on another site. Fixed that one, but the fallout is likely to continue. Just hoping that things will stay quiet for the rest of the year!

This week, we've had the Kumeu Parade, a kids "Messy Church" event, and the ladies put on a Christmas dinner tour. The brass band also had a session outside the supermarket, and next week we're playing at another carol event. Only three events for the band this Christmas, but the heat makes it feel like more!

It's been warm and humid. I've gone through quite a few hay fever tablets. Had a bit of rain a week ago, but not enough to make much difference. There's a massive storm to the south, but so far it's just brought even more hot air down from the tropics. Next week, it'll swing round, so hopefully it'll be a little cooler. Hay season is already well under way - we've had a wet spring and lots of grass. And blackberry. I'm now using a garden fork and wearing lady sized rose gloves with ancient blokes work gloves on top. The work gloves are shredded - think I'll need another pair!

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Summer, this week at least. 
Warm and humid. There's a haze in the air, and a vague smell. Probably came from Queensland.

The Light Party was absolutely cranking. Bronwyn made up 265 bags of sweets to give out to the children. We gave out the lot. Last year we estimated we had 200 children. This year at least 260! My legs hurt for two days afterwards, from picking up a tennis ball several hundred times. We had the police and fire brigade and St Johns Youth. Rach and Sarah spent the whole time painting children's faces. Next year we're going to have to register it as an official event with the police!

Rach has finished exams. She seems to have survived better than six months ago, so we're hoping she's got the maths sorted and can move on with Physics again. Otherwise, she's become a bit of an expert in Japanese Culture.

Might come in handy next year. We're on the list to have a Japanese student to stay for 10 days. Bronwyn has been slowly clearing out the end bedroom.

Sarah is now officially Back To Normal with her concussion, and is thus doing PE again, minus any contact sports. They're doing some training for a hike up Tongariro in the summer. Sarah isn't used to the exercise!

And Rach has paid for Sarah to do some ice skating lessons. Sarah wanted to learn, but never quite let go of the wall in the past. I took them out for the lesson yesterday. Sarah can now skate on her own! Hardly a smooth style, but she knows how to stay upright.

Thistle season seems to be calming down. Blackberry is still in full swing. The shears have seized up, but a pruning saw works quite well at digging under the roots!

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Guns and Thistles 
It's been rather busy at work; it seems like everything has gone full speed ahead. So I've been working six days a week trying to make progress. But today is Sunday...

Ross has let Sarah have a go at a .22 rifle. Turns out she's a pretty good shot. We put some cardboard at about 23 metres, and she was consistently within a couple of inches. She shot so many in one spot that the holes have joined up into one big one. This Sunday, Ross presented her with a tea towel. It has three pukekos on it.

For the uninitiated, a pukeko is a purple swamp hen. Take a coot, make it twice as big and add long legs. Plus a liking for pulling up plants and pecking lambs and other baby birds. It's quite popular with the tourists, but not the farmers.

So Sarah spent some time firing at a tea towel. I'm pretty sure she got all three. Meanwhile, I've been practising on Rachael's compound bow, which hasn't seen an arrow for several years. The first time taught me that I'd have issues shooting a moose at 23 metres if it stood sideways. But I'm getting better. Not as accurate as Sarah, but mostly within a couple of feet. One arrow went straight through Sarah's big hole on the cardboard!

I'm slowly working my way around the farm. I'm learning the different species of thistle. Scotch thistles are huge, but easy to spot and don't usually grow back. It's the little ones that keep popping up. I'm keeping note of their locations so I can pass that way when I'm nearby. I've also learnt all the locations of gorse and blackberry within half a kilometre. It's getting a bit warm to be hacking weeds, so I'm doing it in the late evening, armed with spade and shears, plus a pruning saw strapped from my belt...

It's out Light Party at the end of the month; our Halloween alternative. Bronwyn has been trying to get the church organised. I've been given the task of doing Splat The Rat. Last year, I had a drainpipe and a ball. This year, I decided to make a mouse hole in some MDF, with a frame behind it. The party theme is spots and stripes, so if I get a moment, I'll add some skirting board, striped wallpaper and a little "Home Sweet Home" sign above the hole.

Bronwyn's birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and last week we took up the offer of another weekend at a friend's holiday house up near Leigh. It was a bit cold for getting wet, but we had fish and chips by the beach, and a very relaxing weekend. Sarah got up at lunchtime, and was bouncing off the ceiling when we were heading to bed.

Took a peculiar route home. The GPS told me to go north, presumably since we were already some way along that road for lunch. Except that it was a rather long and winding road on gravel through the hills. But we made it, and only reached home four minutes later than Bronwyn, who took the motorway!

Sarah is back at school tomorrow after the holidays. She's been working on a couple of speeches, one for school and one for St Johns Youth. She's been researching the history of the St Johns organisation. I didn't realise it goes back to the dark ages!

Rach is at uni, but catching up on Maths and leaving Physics for next year. Instead, she's doing Linguistics and Japanese Culture. It's been easier lately - she's hardly asked me anything at all this term. Not that I'd be able to help with Japanese Culture...

Haven't played trombone for a few weeks. Last weekend was my spot to play at church, but I was away. Our conductor Mark has also recently retired, and we haven't yet met the new one. Had a great farewell barbecue for Mark, and our last regional contest with him went well. We didn't win, but it sounded great on the video. I knew I wouldn't have much time to breathe during my solo, so I took several deep breaths before. Unfortunately that left me rather light headed. I remember floating away while my arm swung the slide. Fortunately I had it memorised, and it was meant to be jazz, so it apparently turned out rather well!

The weather is warm. The grass is long. The lambs have been shut out in the paddock. Although they have been a lot easier to deal with than last year - they've kept the weeds down nicely and haven't learnt how to break into the front garden. Yet.

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