Lock-down to-do list, day 16:

Watch ants. They have infiltrated our kitchen from the bay window overlooking the garden, and my puny attempts at blocking up chinks in the brickwork with hot glue and poisoning their scouts with bait have been futile.

Wipe kitchen counters. 17x. Repeat tonight, tomorrow, and the next day.

Regulate family member brownie consumption. About as futile as stemming the ant onslaught. Possibly crumbs and ants are correlated….

Break up Monopoly Deal fist fights.

Observe the cat. While she’s sleeping. Come to think of it, our lives right now are much like that of our pet cat, and she seems pretty content with her lot, even though she can’t decide what side of the door she wants to be on.

Turn off the kids’ wifi and invite them to play ball at the park (“I will give you neither food nor drink NOR WIFI until you go on an outing with me.”)

Glue bits of toddler-painted paper to other pieces of paper, for hours on end. Vacuum up the confetti afterwards. Tell Jeremiah that it’s art.

Trot to the Pot

More than a year ago my sister Rebecca sent me words she wrote for kids book, for Emerson, our nephew. It was to be a potty training book. A hip-hop potty training book with animal characters….seemed like plenty of scope for fun illustrations!

I thought we’d be in plenty of time for the training period, but I underestimated the time it’d take to do the illustrations. He’s 2 and a half right now, so we’re done none too soon!

Covid Lockdown Round 2

Tuesday evening we were seated at the dinner table when Jeremiah read the news announcement—There was a single unexplained community case of Covid19 Delta variant in Auckland, so at midnight, the whole country would be entering 3 days of Covid lock-down. 

The news didn’t come as a complete surprise.  NZ had a travel bubble with Australia that had closed a few weeks before because of Covid outbreaks in Oz, and Kiwis were still straggling home on repatriation flights.  The government had indicated that this time, if there was a community case, there would be a swift lock down, as to date only about 1/3 of kiwis have been able to get vaccine, and the Delta variant is so very contagious. 

I sighed, thinking about the Rogaine I wouldn’t be doing on Wednesday night and the work trip to Nelson I wouldn’t be taking….but really, lock down isn’t that bad for us.  Besides, we had plenty of flour and toilet paper already on hand, so the only preparation we really had to do was to run to the bottle store for some of our favourite Malbec….and queue up along with every other kiwi in Halswell, apparently!

Day 1 was really frustrating.  The kids were “feral,” to use the kiwi term.  Both Jeremiah and I were trying to continue working, which makes for a situation where I’m neither a good worker nor a good parent. 

Feral kids live in boxes.

But by Day 2, the troops seem to have settled down nicely, playing independently and relatively civilly.  

It was gorgeous spring weather on Thursday, and kids are learning to be more independent on food (smashed avocadoes and crackers). 
After work I took the kids out to the park with the slack line, where we practiced our head stands. 
Thursday night Milo even invited Naomi for a sleep-over in his bedroom.  Snoozing didn’t continue as peacefully as it initially appeared, but it wasn’t a complete balls-up either.
Friday I spent a good while gardening, with Naomi’s help.  Spring flowers are starting in earnest, and we trimmed bushes and planted spinach seeds. 

 

Grape fine trimmings have been made into a rustic lighting feature for the living room.

Government news announcement Friday afternoon confirmed that more cases have been found in Wellington and Auckland, with close contacts of those cases also in the South Island, so lock-down would last at least until next Tuesday.  We kissed goodbye to the planned weekend at Hanmer.

Saturday the highlight of the day was the family touch rugby game we played at the local park.  We all played a game of Ticket to Ride, successfully and without tears, which is a major family milestone.  Jeremiah got fancy with the venison curry that he cooked, and we watched “72 Most Dangerous Animals” that evening.
The Staycation continued on Sunday, with a round of Orienteering at the local Halswell Quarry park.
Orienteering in the Australian garden, with bright yellow spring wattle in opulent abundance.
Sunday morning breakfast pizza!

It’s been 16 months since we had our last Covid lock-down in Christchurch, and we seem to have slipped resignedly into our lock-down routine much more smoothly than last time.  This time I’ve not got the angst associated with being a “nonessential worker.”  I’m still nonessential, but I can continue doing my non-essential role, at least partially, from home.  And this time it feels more like a snow day to me—an unexpected and (we hope) short hiatus from regular life and commitments.  A time to be treasured rather than fought against. 

Ages and Stages

Naomi is now 7 1/2 years old, and she fits perfectly into our new grape-vine porch swing.
With a Queenly attitude! Monarch of Castle Rock on a recent day trip during the school holidays.
We had lots of friends with us for the day at Castle Hill!
Milo is inspired by the Olympics to work on his weight lifting, and creative when it comes to making his own kit.
Milo was very excited to go skiing with his friends over the school holidays, and loves his new gear.
Jeremiah was also enjoying his new ski gear, when we went for a weekend to the hills around Lake Tekapo. He’s on back country skis, which means you only go down after you’ve walked up!

New Beginnings

At long last, I’ve started a new job. 

Actually, I started a new job over a month ago, on the 21st June, the Solstice, which seems cosmically appropriate for new beginnings.

For some reason I didn’t want to write about it before I actually started….  Neither have I had much to say about it for the last month.  I think I was secretly worried that something would fall through.  The opportunity seemed too good to be real.  I didn’t interview, and I wasn’t asked for my CV.  My cynical self wondered if my new employer hadn’t really done due diligence and I wasn’t going to be fit for the role…. But after 6 weeks I don’t think that’s the case.

I’ve starting work with Berryworld, NZ.  If you google Berryworld, you’ll come up with the UK/Dutch breeder of berry genetics, who would also be awesome to work with, but this time I’m working for a small NZ consultancy that uses the berry industry levy funds to do research and extension for NZ berry growers. 

I LOVE berry crops. They’re colourful, for one.  It’s strange how much working with a beautiful crop is a draw.  And My favorite professor is a berry specialist (Marvin Pritts, Cornell). I also liked working with the berry grower personalities back in my Cornell Extension days. I’ve just got good vibes with berries. 

Berryworld is as close to Agricultural Extension work as it gets in NZ. Here we don’t have an “extension system” paid for by tax dollars to support agricultural producers like there is in the USA, so if a commodity group wants research and advising done for them, they have to pay for it directly.  The “levy” is a self-imposed tax an industry puts on itself to fund R&D, and Berryworld does the levy-funded work for black currants, strawberries, boysenberries, and to a small extent blueberries.  That involves pest control recommendations and analysis, a wee bit of plant breeding, and heaps of working with growers.  I’m in my element. 

One of the main things I’ll be starting with is learning how to manage the “Strawberry High Health Unit” that Berryworld looks after (Ok, it does need a better name).  Strawberries are vegetatively propagated, which means there is all kinds of potential for viruses to pass from motherplant to daughter plant and accumulate over the generations, to the detriment of quality and yield.  To counter this, Berryworld keeps a stock of motherplants in a clean greenhouse, plants which are handled with great care and virus tested in multiple ways. They are the nuclear stock that the strawberry runner growers start with each year.  Two generations down the line, those daughter plants bear the fruit crop for strawberry growers in NZ.

As part of Berryworld, I’m also invited to nose into berryfruit work of all types.  Interested in pests and pest control?  There’s plenty of those to go around.  Plant breeding?  The owner of the business does a bit of that, and is happy to share.  Plant nutrition?  There’s a topic I could get into, and with the new style of berry production being under cover in soilless media, this could be where my greenhouse background could be most useful.  So there are lots of interesting avenues ahead.

It’s been a long road since December 17th, my last day at the greenhouse. One insightful friend asked me to reflect back on what I had learned during the process. 

Job searching is basically “rejection therapy” on steroids—you keep getting “No, you’re not good enough,” or “no, we don’t want you” again and again, in various guises.  I applied for 15 jobs, all of which I though I was qualified for, and none of which I got.  For most of these I didn’t even get to interview.  I’m honestly not sure I can say that it got any easier as I went along. But I did get more resilient at putting myself out there.

Number one lesson of rejection therapy: getting a “no” reflects as much about the other person as it does about you. Looking back, I think this is true, to a large extent. As an American, not from one of the two NZ agricultural universities, with a horticultural background in the world of animal agriculture, I was just an anomaly, and I didn’t fit the traditional mold in an industry which is very traditional.

I also realized that there’s a significant opportunity cost of working more hours, including starting early in the morning. In the last few months I have experienced what it’s like to be NOT tired and rushed, and it’s very good. I generally have more patience and creativity with the kids when I’m not tired. It’s easier to walk through life in a thoughtful and genuine way when I’m grounded with enough sleep and enough quiet reflection time.

I’m not proud to admit it, but I still place an inordinate amount of my self worth in my career success, or lack thereof. As I’m now back at work, I find myself slipping into the old habit of trying to get that extra thing ticked on the to-do list, to feel good about my accomplishment. But what if our personal value is totally unconnected with what we accomplish? Time off work gives space to reflect on core beliefs, including core beliefs that need changing.

Heads up, Parenting Required

I don’t normally think to check the browser history, but this particular afternoon when I sat down to the laptop, there was a Google ad that made me curious what the person before me had been reading.  And Jeremiah was away on a work trip.

Milo’s internet history 8th April, 2021.   

First I laughed—my son has inherited my bad spelling, and apparently he couldn’t figure out how to spell “vagina.”  I’m sure that “virginia” was disappointing, and v-gina was probably puzzlingly devoid of the detail he wanted. 

Second, I realized that we’ve been launched into puberty, unawares.  At 10, Milo is barely taller than his 7 year old sister, but his mind must be where all 10 year olds eventually wander. 

Third, I reflected that I needed help.  Clearly Milo was curious about sex, and I’m all for supporting curiosity, but I want him to bring those questions to ME, not to Google.  He understands the basic mechanics of baby-making; we’ve been watching nature videos since he was a tyke.  Last year was the first sex ed unit at school, but his only real comment when queried about the class was to wrinkle his nose in disgust: “You guys had to do that twice!” We just nodded.  I didn’t feel ready to explain that in humans, the number one function of sex is not baby-making.

So I did what I always do when I need to decide a course of action.  I queried various groups of friends and relatives whose kids are a bit older than mine. 

First I emailed my Aunt and Uncle whose two boys are now young adults, and whose Christmas letter of many years ago had included a memorable episode about the oldest boy’s education on the subject of baby-making.  They suggested two books both by Robie Harris, the first of which is titled “It’s So Amazing,” followed by “It’s Perfectly Normal.”  They are matter-of-fact, colourfully cartoon-illustrated books with cheerful pun-loving characters.  Not available at our library, but available through Amazon. 

Second, I talked with an American friend who works with Jeremiah, and whose kids I think have “turned out” well.  The husband actually said that his wife had handled basically all of those conversations, and that he’d lend us their books.  The books that came home with Jeremiah the next day were the Robie Harris ones that I had been looking for, which was quite handy. 

I previewed them myself one evening, then presented them to Milo.  To my surprise he squirmed in embarrassment.  I thought he’d devour the books, but instead he just blushes and goes quiet.  Clearly he’s curious, but somehow he thinks he shouldn’t be. 

I decided I should normalize talking about body and body changes so I started to be chatty on the subject, inviting questions and comments.  Milo hit his balls accidentally while playing in the garden and was writhing around in pain, so I took the opportunity to talk about gonads.  It wasn’t much comfort to him to learn that his testicles aren’t even making sperm yet, in contrast to Naomi who has all the eggs she’s ever going to need already tucked away inside, waiting until puberty to finish their development.  Naomi, swinging on the ropeswing, was listening intently and piped up “But I’ve already pooped about a thousand times!”  “Pooperty” has become our standing family joke. 

In the end the only conversation that I was able to elicit was with Naomi.  For her part, she has realized that Milo feels squeamish about the subject and has taken it up as ammunition, declaring “I have a uterus!” in a loud voice whenever she feels she needs a one-up on her brother, who then turns red and disappears into his room. 

My other Great Source of Knowledge is my Tuesday night craft group ladies.  With a simple question I can survey the opinions of half a dozen women, their husbands, children, grandparents, friends, and distant connections.  The hostess has two boys, roughly 11 and 12 years old, and she told me about a series of podcasts that they listened to with each boy when they turned 10.  The format they used is to buckle father and son in the car, drive an hour south to Ashburton, then turn around and drive back.  The podcast series lasts for 2 hours, and the drive is timed to complete them all in one go.  It’s a series done by The Parenting Place called Big Weekend.

I love a good podcast, and these ones are really well done.  Part one has topics ranging from self esteem to forgiveness, while part two has topics about sex and body changes, each one a discussion between the two cheerful and surprisingly wise hosts that last 5-10 minutes, followed by one question for the adult and one for the kid.  I feel like taking notes, they’re that good.  Milo and I can sit and draw at the kitchen table while we listen to them, and I can tell he’s listening though he’s not very talkative.  The main limiting factor is I don’t have much time with just Milo (not Naomi), so we aren’t all the way through them yet. 

So now, we’re officially launched into “pooperty,” a new phase of life for parents and kids alike.  Milo has changed our names on the Netflix login to Poo 1- Poo 4, because……well, because poo is so terribly amusing for pre-teens. “Pooperty,” after all, seems a surprisingly accurate name for the phase of life we’re now entering.

Naming ideas please!

No, no new babies on the way here.

I’m in need of a business name under which I can do a wee bit of horticultural consulting. A greenhouse business saw my CV on Seek and contacted me to see if I could help them with a bit of technical stuff, and I’ve decided to try a foray into the consulting world.

As an American, of course my first concern is about liability. We’re so paranoid about this, compared to the “she’ll be right” attitude the Kiwis adopt. To keep liability in bounds I need to set up a proper business, with a name and a tax ID. The mechanics are actually quite easy in NZ, but the naming I’m finding very difficult. So I’m turning to crowd sourcing. I’d love to hear your ideas, good, bad or otherwise.

Here are the parameters:

The name needs to be broad enough that I can work in various sectors, from greenhouse, vegetables, and berries to soils and field crops.

It also needs to be broad enough to take in not only diagnostics and pest control, but also horticultural practices like fertilizing, pruning, water management, etc.

I want use a collaborative approach to problem solving–observe and listen well, understand the business and people well, and make recommendations that are a good fit for them. Pragmatic, practical solutions.

I don’t want my personal name in the business name.

I wish I could come up with an English word that means the same as the Greek “phronesis,” ‘a type of wisdom that’s relevant to practical action.’ But naming a NZ business a Greek name sounds a bit….pretentious.

Here are a couple ideas I’ve come up with; I’d welcome your reactions and ideas for others.

  • PlantAble
  • Plantly Speaking (pun on Practically Speaking)
  • Plant Talk
  • Others?

Education for Life

Milo’s year 6 class is learning a practical life skill: managing personal finances.

The classroom economy works like this: Each student automatically gets $150 “classroom bucks” at the beginning of the week (nice classroom society, eh?).  They can earn $100-150 more by doing classroom jobs.  Good behavior at various points during the day is worth $1 per incident.  Good behaviors include tidying up, being “sensible” during silent reading time “showing 5” (all 5 senses at attention) when sitting on the mat, and demonstrating good values (care, resilience, respect, honesty).  Like I said, it’s the idealized classroom microcosm; I have yet to see good behavior lead to monetary reward in the real world.  Wifi, internet, furniture rental, and electricity are overhead expenses, costing $85/week.

Excess classroom bucks are mainly used to purchase free time or screen time, valuable commodities among the year 5/6 block.

They have even been doing job interviews for the various jobs in the classroom, some of which are worth more classroom bucks than others.  Putting chairs up and taken down, charging computers, cleaning out the cubbies…  There’s a CEO for each classroom service business, who get paid more for, in Milo’s words, “doing the exact same thing.”  If there’s an extra organisational component to the CEO job, the lowly worker Milo is unaware of it. 

He thinks he’s too cool these days to smile for a photo.

We were in the car the other day when Milo commented “I think Jack might get the job instead of me, but that’s not fair.”  I was aware that he was talking about his classroom economy, but I needed a bit more explanation.  He continued, “His friends are the ones doing the hiring, and he exaggerated on his job application.” 

I hesitated for a moment.  “That doesn’t feel very fair, does it?  You’d like to think that the best qualified applicant would get the job….but let me tell you something (here I adopted the deep measured baritone my own father used with me all those decades ago): The World is NOT Fair!”  

Mentally I added the “Princess Bride extension:” ….and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something! 

I continued my sermon: “In real life, having friends in a company does help you get a job, and apparently everyone exaggerates their skills on applications.”  I sat glumly for a moment, wondering what inspired pearl of wisdom I could impart to my son. 

Nothing came to mind.  I just shook my head, reflecting on my own frustrating job search. “It’s worth maintaining good relationships, isn’t it?” 

A week or two later Milo returned to the classroom economy.  “I’m the only one doing the chair putting-down in the mornings, because I’ve done the whole job by the time the others show up.” 

“Oh yeah? Do the others still getting paid for the job?” I queried.  It’s not easy to fire employees in New Zealand, and I wondered how the classroom economy would treat shirkers. 

“Yeah, they get paid less, but they’re still paid, because they still do the afternoon chair picking-up.” 

Turns out Milo gets $150/week in recognition of him doing the morning job on his own plus joining in the afternoon shift, and the other team members get $100/week for doing just the afternoon shift.  At the moment Milo seems content to get only $50 for the morning job, which would normally cost a CEO several hundreds of dollars in labour.  I’m curious what will happen in the classroom economy if Milo decides to be less industrious. I did not suggest this, as tempting as it was.

I’ve been trying to instate a household economy, with admittedly less success than the school’s. They earn a pompom to put in a join “account” jar whenever they do a job without having to be asked (brush teeth, empty dishwasher, take out compost, etc). In this economy, when the pompom jar is full, we go out for a family treat. Naomi is the motivated one. Despite the reward being a cafe treat which they are both clearly excited to enjoy, Naomi earns 90% of the pompoms in the jar. Not sure if this means that she’s highly food motivated, or more agreeable…..probably both.

Kiwi Education

I’ve had children at Halswell School for 5 years now, but I’ve only recently attended an all-school assembly.  Yet another silver lining to unemployment. 

Naomi had specifically invited me to this assembly because her block, Otawhito, was hosting.  I arrived a couple minutes early and watched as the kids streamed through the doors and were arranged by their teachers sitting in orderly lines on the gym floor, marvelling again at the teachers’ command of their students….if I was in charge there’d be chaos and I’d be hoarse. 

A handful of seven-year-old students were arranged on a bench at the front with yellow cue-cards and a microphone, ready to orchestrate the assembly in front of hundreds of their peers and a collection of parents.  The first child asked for quiet and proclaimed the welcome in stilted words, reading from her note card.  The year 2/3 class sang a song for the group, which they had been practicing over the preceding few weeks.  The theme was kindness.  “Kindness, kindness, oh whenever you try this, you will make the world a better place…” 

The main even of the assembly is the giving of performance certificates for selected students in each grade level.  Each child was called out by their teacher, along with one sentence describing the behavior that merited the special recognition.

“Andrew, for being such a good friend, welcoming and including the new students into our studio”

“Zoe, for persisting in Maths even when its challenging”

“Naomi for being an excellent communicator in her reading group” 

The skills the teachers were rewarding weren’t academic achievements.  Instead, they were the personal qualities that will see kids through life—kindness, persistence, teamwork and communication.  The students with their cue cards were also practicing an important life skill—public speaking and the self-assurance it takes to present in front of a group.

It’s interesting to think about.  As an adult in the jobs market, these are the same skills that I need to demonstrate in an interview (along with technical experience related to my field, of course). Baring kindness….I suppose I haven’t run across any “behavioral competency” questions that ask about kindness yet.  As an educator in the university system recently told me, we don’t actually know heaps about what information will be important for kids to know in their future jobs, let alone what knowledge will be generated after they leave the classroom.  We’re mainly preparing them with skills to keep learning. 

At any rate, I’m grateful that the kids’ school emphasizes, practices, and rewards qualities like persistence, communication, and teamwork, along with kindness. 

Autumn/Spring delight

We’ve just passed the equinox, that egalitarian day where everyone on earth enjoys 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of night. For us in the southern hemisphere, that means we’re heading into Autumn, while most of the world’s population is thinking about spring. Still, we have one corner of our garden that looks “springy” with our fall crocuses. I’m delighted by their brilliant yellow cheerfulness, as well as their resilience to grow through the fading osteospermums.