The birthday zone 
Sarah is now 16, and Rachael is 21 today! So far we've had a couple of family get-togethers (and far too much cake). I've switched the photo frame to show Rachael's pictures instead. Celebrations will continue. And Sarah has passed her theory test and has a learner's license! Now she just needs some real driving lessons...

Bronwyn was out last week for two nights at a block course, sleeping in a spare room at the college. The week before, she was down in the south island at the Baptist Leader's retreat. And she'll shortly be off to Rotorua for the Baptist Youth Leaders conference. They're now opening it up to intermediates teachers. But then I'll get the chance to escape to another youth work conference in Wellington for the trust I'm involved in, and we'll all be going to Dunedin and Invercargill on holiday in July. At the same time as the national brass band contest in Christchurch unfortunately! I did look at travel options, but it's still a 4.5 hour drive on Google maps. Fortunately we've brought in another trombone, so I'm off the hook for now. We're all hoping the Covid alert levels stay at 1!

I played my first solo at the regional contest yesterday. I played Cavatina, which has a very high note. Last time I tried it, I couldn't quite manage it, but this time it was fine. And loud. So I'm happy even if I didn't get a placing. Not sure what I'll try next year. Nobody entered the not-slow contest for two years running, so I'm tempted to give it a try.

Having made jams, jellies and far too much chutney, I still had lots of feijoas left. So I tried making feijoa wine. Thanks to Rachel for the fermenter, I now have about 9 litres of rather sweet alcoholic fruit juice. Might try a bit less sugar next time! Still, it doesn't taste too bad, and works well with the ginger beer. There's another ice cream tub of feijoa pulp in the freezer, and a tub of cherry guavas. I'll leave them for later!

We've had a fair amount of rain. That's good, because a few weeks ago one of the pipes came loose and we lost most of the tank. Apparently Sarah complained about being kept awake by the water squirting out by her window. Pity she didn't tell us! But it's now full again, and the hills are green.

Should get a film crew up this week. They wanted some rolling hills to film an advert. They're going to bring in some cows, too. Apparently, they wanted to clear out the murky water from the cattle trough and put some fresh stuff in. We suspect they'll also have to give the trough a good scrub too, otherwise it won't look any different!

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The season  
...when every feijoa tree in New Zealand decides to drop bucketfuls of the things. I went over and filled a bucket last week. You wouldn't have noticed - there must be another 10 large bucketfuls turning to compost everywhere. Last year I made some guava jelly. Guavas are the same family as feijoas, so I tried making some feijoa jelly. Two and a half jars. I also thought I'd turn my hand towards making some feijoa chutney. The recipe called for lemons, but there was apparently a shortage (they were back in the shop today though!) so I tried limes. I made 15 jars. I took one to the in-laws, and they gave me two jars of 2019 guava jelly in return, since they haven't been able to use it. So now I have a box full of jars. Feijoas have a bit of an acquired taste. So do limes. I'll have the stuff coming out of my ears for years!

Guava season coming up soon. Unfortunately I'm running low on empty jars!

I'm alone in the house. Sarah has gone to Easter Camp with the youth group, and Bronwyn and Rachael have gone to the intermediate e-Camp. Piles and piles of stuff taken down, and not sure how it's going to get home. Bronwyn went down with Rachael on Thursday, and left her there. I took Sarah to her bus in the afternoon, and another parent dropped her daughter off to spend the night and set off early Friday.

I haven't been idle. It's Sarah and Rachael's birthdays next month, so I've been sorting through photos. Church on Friday morning, and hot cross buns in the afternoon. Dug some gorse, thistle and blackberry (I'm still finding more!) Cleaned the chicken coop and helped out at a friend's house to spread some earth. Need to sort out my sermon for two weeks time. Zoom call to England tomorrow followed by church again. Might get some spare time by Monday.

Rachael passed her driving test! It's only for her restricted license, but it's a full hour. Unfortunately, the car she was planning to drive has broken down. Actually, it goes perfectly well forwards, but does nothing backwards. So she was really upset, and was going to cancel the test and try next year instead! But a very useful friend lent us her car, and she got a couple of extra lessons in it. She did make a couple of mistakes but recognised them, and did the manoeuvres fine the next two times. And passed. So now she has a license but no car. Unless she can work out a way of only going forwards. Bronwyn's brother Allan has insisted on fixing it. Knowing him, that could take a while. But I'm sure there are plenty of people who would be willing to buy a cheap car that doesn't go backwards!

I remember my twenty minute driving test. It included the theory as well. Possibly harder that way, because one little mistake and you fail. Sounds like the lengthy system here is better, but there are still plenty of idiots on the road. Not all have licenses of course!

Rach has been buying plants. I suspect it's some form of therapy. She's gone for some cacti and succulents, plus a pitcher plant and a venus fly trap. The tiny cacti are on the window ledge next to Larry. Larry also used to be tiny but is now huge, and can be difficult to repot. The future will be interesting!

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Another week, another lockdown 
The days are getting shorter, the rains have returned, the grass is greener and the lockdowns are back. We were about to go into full steam with two at college and Sarah at school. Bronwyn had the timetable all worked out. But we had another week to get into the swing of things. And get up late!

They're talking of prioritising South Auckland with the virus rollout. The last two outbreaks have started there, probably because there's a lot of port and airport workers as well as low income families. It makes sense, because an outbreak there is much harder to trace.

Bronwyn's postponed graduation is in a fortnight on Saturday. The Kumeu Show has also been postponed to the same Saturday. We could have had church all together today, but there wasn't the time to plan it, so we had it in separate houses instead. It pays to be adaptable at the moment!

I tried making oven-dried tomatoes yesterday. Seems to have gone well. Good thing too; I've just picked another bowlful! Also time for the next batch of ginger beer. And the guava jelly season is coming up soon. Huge bag of potatoes under the sink. And one of our friends has swapped peaches for our eggs. We've recently bought three young hens, so we've now got a good supply of little brown eggs. Spent a long time shelling radish seeds in front of the TV. Pity that I'm the only one here who eats radishes!

We now have a new dishwasher. Within weeks, the drain hose started leaking. So we had to pull it all out again, dry up the floor, and get a friend in to fix the pipe, which had probably been eaten by yet another mouse! So having fixed the pipe, we identified the hole that the mice had come through, and stuffed an old stainless steel scouring pad mixed with putty into the hole. I then found some bits of wood and made one barricade to stop the mice getting from the hole to the sink. More steel wool and putty to fill the hole around the drain pipe, and another barricade to stop them getting from there to the dishwasher pipes. We also have a piece of drainpipe hidden outside containing two blocks of rat bait held in by nails through the pipe.

One block has been eaten already!

Haymaking season is in full swing again. Tractors are breaking down. Allen had to keep swapping batteries over in one because the alternator had stopped charging them. And another refused to work beyond crawling speed because the temperature was below minus 10 centigrade. Dodgy connector on the thermometer! And the 1968 Fordson Dexta? No problems. But the hay is pretty much all in now, and we had some friends over to bring in the bales to the shed. And Bronwyn worked hard to make her Dad a new seat for the Dexta!

Bronwyn has been working hard delivering craft supplies to mailboxes, which we can do at Level Three. She's now attempting to book people into e-Camp (the Intermediate version of Easter Camp). She had anticipated a surge in interest, so she pre-booked 30 places. She's now filled them up and needs room for another 7 plus the leaders of that group. The website won't let her book more places until she's registered the first lot. Those places include the leaders, but the website won't let her register them because they're too old. The option to register leaders appears to have disappeared. Once she's done that, she then needs to work out how they're all going to get down there!

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January 
A quiet month. I still haven't got used to it. Everything goes quiet. That's because everyone goes on holiday after Christmas. Or even during Christmas. We wait for Auckland to come home again, and then we set off. It's much quieter, and no traffic!

This year we were back at the same campsite just north of Coromandel town. Rach has been studying geology, and we spent a while looking through mineral guides and trying to identify rocks. We also went fossil hunting, but just found some tiny fossil seashells and a bit of quartz. There was also the visit to The Waterworks, which is full of water powered contraptions made from all sorts of things. And we had a trip out on a glass bottomed boat, spotting fish and exploring the sea caves.

It was a quiet week away. Well, mostly. On the way over the mountains, the car began to smell funny. Roasted brake pad, possibly. And the handbrake light was on, even when the handbrake wasn't. Bronwyn is skilled in the art of driving ancient tractors with dodgy brakes, so she took over and got us there and back using the gears. She managed to find the one mechanic on this side of the Coromandel that had a free slot, and he changed the brake fluid. It had got a bit low, apparently!

Meanwhile, I was walking back from the beach, when someone called my name. Didn't recognise him at first! It was a friend from church. He took me out surfcasting. This involved a 1km walk across the bay, and another bay, and oyster beds and sinking mud. In the dark. We didn't catch anything legal, but it was certainly an experience! He later tried to teach me how to throw the line myself. I nearly got the hang of it, but we lost three weights between us! Fortunately he had a metal detector, so we went out with that, found one weight plus someone else's and 70 cents. I also found a pile of bottle tops, two rusty nails and what might have been the blade from a large mower!

Bronwyn and Sarah are off to a Christian music festival for the weekend, so it's just me and Rach. Work is getting busier again, and I've also been out in the garden watering and harvesting tomatoes, blackberries and potatoes. There's plenty of potatoes this year. And the sweetcorn is looking very promising. But it's very hot and dry now, so mostly I'm just watering! As an experiment, I've also planted ginger in the little greenhouse that Bronwyn bought me...

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Kirsty, I have your duck. 
Happy New Year!

Two ducks waddled across the farm up to our house. They can't fly, and must have walked a kilometre across the paddocks. I managed to capture one duck with the help of the owner, but the other one escaped. Several times. I had some thick netting in a circle, but the duck just climbed up it. So eventually I got some bird netting and baling twine and sewed it right across. Having trapped the duck, I threw several blankets over the trap and phoned the owner (Kirsty). Between us, we managed to catch it and tape it in a box to go back to the others. Kirsty hadn't given it a name, so I suggested Houdini. She thought that was rather good. Mavis the muscovy also got taken home. Haven't seen them since. I suspect Mavis might have led them over here, since she can fly and knows all the nice ponds for a large radius!

After fixing up the dishwasher from the mouse attack, it then almost immediately got shredded by a rat. So it was another water pipe and a whole new cable. The new water pipe has stainless steel armour, and I taped it up as well in case the electric cable gets eaten and sparks on the water pipe. I then rigged up some elastic to hold the cable and pipes off the floor, stuffed some loft insulation and old metal scouring pads around every gap, and put some rat bait underneath.

However, the dishwasher still isn't working. I suspect there's something else been chewed or come loose inside but I can't see it. It's 18 years old, so it might just be time to get a new one!

Apart from that, Christmas all went smoothly. We had a family lunch at Bronwyn's parents' house, and we're still working through the leftovers. It's been unbelievably quiet since then. Everybody who can, goes off camping. Everybody who can't, stays at home and does nothing. It's not a good time to need a plumber! Rachael and Sarah have drifted into Singapore time.

We have had some fun with a certain lamb however. It knows exactly how to jump through a fence. I watched it do a very impressive Fosbury Flop yesterday, with front legs going one way and back legs going the other. It keeps coming into the garden and then calling out for its friend to come over too. Then it heads for the sweet peas. I've barricaded all the flower beds, and wound baling twine around the fence wires. So far, it hasn't come back, but I suspect it's only a matter of time. We seem to have one or two lambs every year who possess what we refer to as the Houdini gene, and can escape from anywhere.

Our camping trip isn't for another two weeks. Bronwyn has arranged a driving roster to give Rachael plenty of practice. She's booked in for her restricted license test in March. Rach has decided to drop Physics and move into Earth Science, which she finds much more interesting, and particularly because New Zealand has a lot of active geology. She's also doing Marine Studies. New Zealand is not lacking in ocean. And Geography.

We have lived in interesting times. We've been spared the worst of the lockdowns and restrictions here, but the tourist industry is suffering, and anywhere that relies on foreign workers or students. And any industry that relies on overseas people having unrestricted leisure activities. Some of this has affected me personally, and our income has been half what it should be. But we have savings, and the farm is not short of food. I might have some changes to report shortly!

We've had quite a bit more rain than we did last year, and everything is still green. Not good for the hay fever but the sheep are happy! My potatoes are doing well, I've got cauliflower growing for the first time ever, and a few other things around the garden. The vegetable garden now has a rabbit proof fence. It was chicken proof before, but the baby rabbits could still get in. I still seem to have an issue with mynahs wanting a dust bath!

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