Covid release

We’ve had a week of Covid, and now we’re released from isolation. The NZ rule is that you need to stay at home for 7 days after you started with symptoms, which means that Saturday was our release day. Naomi never did test positive, which makes us wonder if she’d already had it at some point and we didn’t realize it. The rest of us had the positive RAT tests to prove it.

It hasn’t been a horrible week. There has been a bit of extra squawking and we’re all relieved to be going back to work and school, but we survived.

Jeremiah felt the most crook of all of us, and I confess that I suspected him of having “man flu” and was low on sympathy. He remained a good sport on all the family Cluedo (Clue) games where we teased him about his brain fog. “I’m guessing Ms. Scarlet, in the Lounge, with the Dagger.” “Ms Scarlet…..Study…..what?”

I was cutting ginger the other night when I realized that I couldn’t smell it at all. I thought perhaps the scent had all leaked out…but of course I’ve just lost my sense of smell. Takes the excitement out of eating and drinking, but I guess I’m more likely than not to get it back, when my “olfactory nerve support cells” grow back after a month or two.

Dear Diary: Isolation Weekend

This week i’m in isolation because my family has covid

But I don’t have it YET! 

We went to a rocky beach and walked along.  We met a friendly man with a dog.   We were looking for rocks for Milo’s fish tank.  Once we found a couple rocks, we had lunch.  But before lunch we had a rock tower building competition.  Whoever built the tallest tower won!   

The weekend was fun but also boring. 

by Naomi


“Do you think a faint line means a positive?” 

Jeremiah sent the picture of his covid RAT test via WhatsApp, with a faint red line along side the “T.”

“You can’t be just a little pregnant,” I shot back.  Any line at the “T = test” spot means a positive.  And the kids and I are clearly a ‘close contacts,’ with all the isolation requirements that evokes.  The isolation times aren’t as long as they have been in the past, but are still quite real. 

I sat at the kitchen counter with my head in my hands, coming to grips with the next seven days.  Mainly, no work trip to Auckland next week, which I had been planning for a while and was quite looking forward to.  No hair cut tomorrow.  No orthodontist appointment for Milo on Friday.  No farewell lunch for Bronwyn.  No walk with Carrie on the weekend.  No rugby for Milo on Saturday, and no zones cross country competition either….he’ll be gutted.  NO WORK TRIP TO AUCKLAND.  I’m gutted! 

“Can I do anything to help you?”  Jeremiah was not feeling that poorly, yet.  Actually, he was rather chipper.

“No.  You can’t.  There’s nothing you can do.”  Only I could count the losses and come to grips with them.  Minor as they were in the scheme of the world, they seemed big at the moment. 

Jeremiah offered to kiss me, but I shied away.  “Come on, you’ll want to get it at the same time, or you’ll probably be in isolation longer.” 

I acknowledge the truth of what he’s saying, but I just didn’t want to visualize the biology of the transfer, the spikey little balls moving from his spit to my lips.  The spikes are always red in the news graphics…..

The next morning we broke the news to the kids, and RAT tested us all. 

Milo was a definite positive; in retrospect he probably had it before Jeremiah.  Despite testing negative in the morning, I was gratified to feel a sore throat coming on in the afternoon.  We’re all going to get it, let’s not stretch it out. 

Good things come in small packages

I was standing at the side line of the rugby pitch, reciting yet another group of boys’ names and reflecting on how much harder it has become to retain names as I’ve aged.  It’s been six years since Milo started this sport with Ripper Rugby, and I swear my memory at 34 was zippier than it is now at 40.  It’s extra tough when parents insist on giving their kids traditional names like Matt or Sam.  Give me an Aotea or a Manav and they stick, but the Tims and Georges get lost in the swarm with the Johnnys, Coopers and Bens. 

A whole group of new parents to meet as well, with the same conversation starters as always: “Which one is yours?” “Mine is Milo, the little one over there.” I’d point to the smallest striped jersey on the field, weaving and dodging energetically.  It’s fun to point out your kid when they’re performing well.

“Which one is yours?” “Mine is Milo, the little one over there.” I’d point to the smallest striped jersey on the field, weaving and dodging energetically.  It’s fun to point out your kid when they’re performing well.

I remember that first year, watching him stick out his jaw and set his sights on his target ball carrier from across the field, dig deep with his sprint, triangulate correctly and nail his target.  Milo is competitive.  Competitive, driven, focused, strategic.  Aggressive, unempathetic, relentless, determined…. you get the picture.  It’s in his DNA. Half of which is from me, I get the irony of my complaint.  Watching him on the sports field was an epiphany.  Right there in front of me I was watching the up-side of all those challenging personality traits. 

At the first game this season he was awarded Player of the Day for his relentless tackling.  “Why does Milo always get player of the day?” Naomi commented.  The coach overheard and asked, grinning “This isn’t a rare occurrence, then?”  No, it is not. 

Each year as the boys around him get bigger and bigger, I think it might be his last, that he might get sick of being flattened by kids that are literally twice his weight.  But he loves it.

It is the 6th season Milo has played rugby, and each year as the boys around him get bigger and bigger, I think it might be his last, that he might get sick of being flattened by kids that are literally twice his weight.  But he loves it. 

Other parents say he’ll probably hit a growth spurt eventually and rocket out of the 5th percentile, but I’m not so sure.  After all, someone has to occupy the 5th percentile; that’s mathematically how percentiles work.  I have occupied the 5th percentile in height for my entire life, and I’ve been imparting few tips for him to be comfortable in that space.

“It’s a lot more comfortable for small people when we ride on planes.”

“When you’re small, your height to weight ratio is favorable.  That means you can climb easier and run faster than big people.” 

“I watch you, ducking and weaving out there; being small you can fit through that maze of other players really well.”

“You know, Milo, it’s not all bad being small.  People will initially judge you based on your size, and then you have an opportunity to blow them out of the water.” 

He grins.  He likes blowing people out of the water. 

Capable Cake Maker

“Mom, I’m being responsible; I’m washing the dishes.” 

“Mom, I’m being responsible; I’m washing the dishes.”

Naomi was cleaning up from her cake baking without being asked, but wanted to at least make sure that I noticed.

Fair enough.

She had mixed that carrot cake after finding the recipe in my book and doing all the measuring and grating herself.  Bravo, you capable girl!

Naomi certainly IS competent, and independent.  Both the kids are, to be honest.  They get their own breakfasts, make their own lunches, walk to and from school, manage their personal hygiene.  They’re usually not big on clean-up, especially the voluntary type, which makes Naomi’s effort with the dishes even more impressive. 

Though sometimes I might feel that nothing gets done in the household apart from MOM doing it, OBJECTIVELY, the work load MUST have gotten less since they were babies.  No diapers to change or wash, no spoon feeding, no wiping snotty noses, no mid-night wake-ups.  That means that OBJECTIVELY, I must have more free hours in my week.  Probably I do have….not that I can figure out where they all go.

Or ELSE it could mean that my general productivity has gone down as I’ve gotten older…..which is also entirely possible. I call to mind a comment my father made some years ago, watching our active young toddlers. “There’s a reason you have babies when you’re young.”

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.