11 Dec. 2013

Naomi’s Christmas time-saving idea this year is that she gets me to tell you about the children. I suppose it will save HER time (depending on how often I need to be reminded), and then it will also save YOU time (as the letter will certainly be shorter). Can’t argue with the logic, so here goes:

Bonnie hardly seems any different than a year ago. Of course I have not seen her for 11 months which might have something to do with it. She has been away on a gap-year course called Headspace. The course involved some studies, some paid work and a 10-week mission in Thailand. She has had a whale of a time and has most certainly changed. She is now 19. She has ridden an elephant. Possibly more surprising is that she has taken part in some dramas, and worn skirts. And the most surprising to me is she apparently now paints her toenails occasionally. She will be home for Christmas which we are all looking forward to.

Quinn turned 15 this year and is taller. He hopes he is taller than Bonnie and we will know for sure soon. He never seems to go to sleep, so I’m not sure when the growing has been happening. He is still very much into craft work which he sells at the monthly market in Winton, but his busking is still the more profitable enterprise. He was recently loaned an accordion, and he now has a harmonica holder so he can blow a tune while playing his ukulele (or while mowing the lawn or doing the dishes etc.). He has also started on electronics and enjoys scavenging broken stuff for parts. He got quite a kick (literally) from the capacitor in a digital camera he took apart recently

Lily is now 12 and has stepped up really well, forming a tag team with Quinn taking over some responsibilities vacated by Bonnie. They both handle a lot more cooking, hen management and babysitting although neither one is keen on beekeeping yet. One responsibility that Lily has really embraced is ensuring that I play cards with her and Quinn as often as I can manage. Lily’s sense of humour has matured and she has started making some quite witty comments – I often hear her in hysterics over some joke that she is sharing with Quinn. A Goon Show CD that we bought recently with Quinn in mind has been very well received by Lily too.

Elliot at 10 is mostly the same. He continues to have large chunks of time disappear on him without being able to recall what he was doing. He continues to be a visionary – dreaming big without too much concern for practicalities. For example: - he loves computer games and often asks me how much it would cost for him to buy his own laptop (assuming he could convince me, there would still be Naomi forming an insurmountable obstacle, and his weekly computer-time limits rendering the whole exercise pointless) - he loves his gemstone collection, so he often thinks about buying a diamond. Elliot enjoys listening to the Goons too, but spent most of the first time saying “Huh? What?” He always prefers the familiar to the new and would never choose to watch a new movie if there was a possibility of one that he had seen before. He still loves babies, and is a very sensitive and caring older brother to Abel, protecting him from a boisterous Toby when necessary, and sometimes when not.

Sacha thinks a lot about horses. She has a lamb called Sparkles and responsibility for some hens which have occasionally been pets, but we have not managed to satisfy her desire for pets of all descriptions. She is 8 and after long periods of resistance she has finally embraced bicycle riding. She still hates to be left behind when her Mother is out, but is quite happy to go away leaving her Mother behind, whether going to the market with Quinn and Lily, or scheming for a sleepover at a friend’s place. Sacha always needs to know everything that is happening – unlike Elliot whom we once drove halfway to Dunedin before he realised we were not going to Invercargill.

Toby is three, and still delightful – although not all the time. His best day this year was probably the day I put a stool beside the trampoline so that he can climb up and down any time – very excited. He is well into one of those phases where children attempt to bend parents to their will and has an advantage as we are possibly more tired than ever before, however I think we are still winning. His name for Quinn has progressed from “Din” to “Kin”, but I think Lily will always be Zizzy.

Abel is a few days away from being one year old. He is a confident stair-climber, furniture-clinger and wall-hugger, but several weeks away from walking I think. He is the most sociable baby we have had since Bonnie, always ready with a smile and wave for anyone. He makes a range of vocal sounds which are mostly meaningless to all but the most imaginative listener, but it is pretty easy to tell the difference between happy and NOT happy.

My other baby is the solar panel array that we installed in the paddock in front of the house. I have been interested in alternative generation for most of my life, but my financial training and Scottish heritage has kept me from trying it until it had at least a chance of paying back. I know some of you will be quite interested in this, so I will include a few technical details – feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs:

We have a 3 kW grid-tied installation. Grid-tied means we still pay a supply charge, we still get power from the network when we need it, and we sell our excess power back to the network. It means we don’t need to buy a lot of batteries or limit our power use. The installation cost us about $15k ($8k panels, $3k inverter and other materials, $4k tradesmen and consents). It has been in operation for 5 months since July and has generated about 1,600 kWh in that time.

The value of the electricity generated depends on whether we use it or sell it. It is much better to use our own electricity it as it is generated (as much as possible) since the price to buy electricity is higher than the price we get for selling it. However we still have to buy a lot of electricity because sometimes we need power when it is dark, and also the house is wired with 3 phase power plus the water heater, making 4 meters. The solar inverter can only supply one of those meters. We export more than half of what we generate and will probably save about $400 this year on power bills and get paid another $400 for our power exported. A total return of $800 – just over 5% net of tax. My mood is more tied to the sunshine than ever. We had an awesome stretch at the start of December – over 110 kWh in just 5 days.

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