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.

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?

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.

Rejection Specialist

I’m working on becoming “Rejection Proof,” taking inspiration from the book by Jia Jiang which I read over a year ago.  Twice. 

It’s such a foreign concept for me to make the experience of being rejected into a science project, and a humorous one at that.  Especially when the “skin thickening process” is like gaining tolerance to cold water or dirty diapers—tolerance comes only after multiple unpleasant exposures. 

The job search process ebbs and flows, and my optimism changes with it.  This week, after a couple negative conversations, I’m at a low point. 

This afternoon I sighed, closed the laptop lid, and moved outdoors to soak up the rejuvenating effect of the sunshine while tidying up the garden.  I reflected that Rejection comes in a few different flavours. 

  1. The Passive Rejection.  This is the job application I submit and never hear a thing about.  The unanswered emails.  I’d also put into this category the polite rejection of “I’m just a bit busy right now, how about I get back to you when I have more time.”  That time, of course, never comes. 

Objectively, I’ve experienced Passive Rejection 33% of the time with initiating email conversations, and 42% of the time with job applications.  Individual Passive rejections aren’t too bad, probably because they’re gradual.  By the time you’ve given up hope of hearing a response, 2-4 weeks might have passed. But reflecting on them as a whole can be discouraging.

2. The Polite Rejection.  HR managers are especially adept at this, in the form of automated emails.  “Thank you for your application, but after careful consideration we regret to inform you that your application has not progressed to the next stage of our process.  Although you were not selected for this particular position, you may be a fit for other roles within our organisation. We encourage you to register your interest for future opportunities on our career site.” In my albeit limited experience, those resume-submission portals are Black Holes that consume CVs and never release them.

25% of job applications have ended in a Polite Rejection. For anyone counting percentages, the remaining 33% of applications I haven’t heard a response from, but they could still fall into either category.

3. The [rare] Rude Rejection:  I happened upon a couple doozies yesterday. 

Here’s one for the books, responding to a polite email I sent briefly explaining who I was and why I was trying to better understand the Canterbury horticulture industry by having conversations with horticulture business owners like himself: “It’s a bit sensitive having someone who has contact with [your former company] coming in here.  Why have you recently finished working for them?  What would I gain from giving you my time?”  My politely crafted response got the Passive Rejection (no answer).

In a similar vein, I phoned an organisation whose website is advertising an app for crop growers, and I asked if they had a video-tour or brief example of the software in use so I could understand how it worked.  “Who are you?” I was so taken aback by the tone that I answered quite bluntly.  “I’m Molly…”  “But where are you from?” the interrogator continued.  She was means-testing me, and though I wasn’t sure of the currency, I was aware that I was broke.  “Christchurch,” I answered, realizing as I said it that I sounded like a city slicker, and my accent gives me away as a foreigner just as hers gave her away as a POM.  It was dawning on me that not being employed by a farming company was going to be a problem, as it turned out to be.  “Ok, well thanks anyway,” I chirped, and hung up quickly before I had a chance to say something I’d regret. The most ironic part? When I looked up the software name on you-tube, there was a freely available series of tutorials….

4. The [very rare] Enthusiastically Positive Rejection:  These are regrettably scarce, unfortunately, and I count them in the rejection category because they don’t lead to a job offer.  Still, I find them quite buoying, whether or not they are sincere.  “Be assured there is a need for workers in the seed industry, particularly people like yourself with your skills and qualifications.”  Or “I’d hire you, but we’re fully staffed right now.”  Or, my favourite: “Many companies NEED you – you possess skills that are rare and highly sought after, sometimes the people don’t realise it.” 

The danger comes when I start to believe the discouraging messages, the basic flavour of which is “You’re not good enough,” “You’re not valuable,”  “We don’t want you.”  If I believe that, it’ll become a self-fulfilling prophesy.  The negative messages are so much more sticky than the positive ones.

So here are some objective numbers to calibrate the last six week’s job hunting experience, as there have been many more helpful responses than negatives.

  • Of the 49 people I emailed to ask questions, 30 gave helpful responses.  16 gave no response, and three were negative. 
  • Of the 20 conversations I’ve had by phone and in person, I can only remember three that were negative. That means 85% were helpful and positive.

Am I Rejection Proof?  Not yet.  Am I gaining Rejection Tolerance?  Getting there. 

Delight of the Day

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Peach pie! with BUTTER crust. Isn’t it gorgeous?

I stopped into a local produce stand, and there was a box of soft stone fruit seconds (awaft with fruit flies) for five bucks. I snagged it. The pie has peaches, but also apricots, nectarines, three varieties of plums.

New Zealand grocery stores don’t stock Crisco, and I’ve been disheartened with oil crusts as well as my last attempt (4 years ago!) at a butter crust. This time I followed a recipe, including the recommendation to use ice water and refrigerate the crust before rolling it out. Voila! It tasted as good as it looked.

And yes, we’ve been eating it for breakfast.