Social Isolation Day 5

Today was better than yesterday, in the world of social isolation.

I lingered in bed while Jeremiah made breakfast with the kids, trying to wait long enough that the kitchen would be cleaned up when I emerged.  Jeremiah even brought me a cup of tea.

It was cold and uninviting outside, but we still decided that a run would do us good, so we left the kids watching Sonic and went on a jaunt around the quarry.

The afternoon proceeded remarkably peacefully, with Milo practicing his touch-typing, Naomi doing “how to draw’s” on you-tube, Jeremiah working away at a savory stew which is now bubbling pleasantly on the stove, and me going deep into a collage to illustrate “snow day” while listening to podcasts.  It felt rather like a snow day, all in all.  


Social Isolation Day 4: Two years is a long time

“Suppression and Mitigation Strategies for Control of Covid19 in New Zealand”

It’s a paper linked to by a news source I’ve never read before, “The Spinoff,” but it caught my attention because I know one of the authors, Mike Plank, from the whitewater kayak club.  He’s a math professor at the University of Canterbury, and a member of the organization called “Centre for Complex Systems and Networks, which has been doing some epidemic modeling for the NZ government.

The math paper was my Delight of the Day…which might tell you something about how the rest of the day went.  But I was really quite impressed with the clarity of the “executive statements” (the main points) of the paper.  Mathematicians don’t sugar coat things.

Basically, without a vaccine, the way the epidemic ends is that enough of us get the infection (and the subsequent immunity to re-infection) that the transmission rate slows to less than new person getting sick from every infected person (because infected people are surrounded by mostly immune people), and the disease dies out.  An optimist might note that if the infection rate stays below 1 for any reason for long enough, the disease eventually dies out….doesn’t technically have to be herd immunity. Wash those hands!

Suppression” (meaning social distancing, quarantines, closed businesses….what we’re doing now) can only delay an epidemic, not prevent it.  When control measures are relaxed, the subsequent spike in infections is just as high and steep….just as overwhelming to the health care system.  

“Mitigation” means slowing down the epidemic so that at any given time there are enough hospital beds for all the people who need them.  It entails letting the control measures up just slightly so the infection progresses, then clamping down again, repeating that cycle again and again.  That graph, with numbers run for NZ (500 ICU beds in NZ, and a host of other assumptions around transmission rate and hospitalization rate), extended out to 2022.  Two and a half years.

There’s a gem of a quote near the end of the paper.  Paraphrased:  “The only other countries that have so far succeeded in getting transmission low enough for mitigation to work are China and South Korea, using extremely intensive measures, including electronic surveillance of their citizens.  No western democracy has yet succeeded in reducing their transmission low enough to slow down their epidemic.”

So, I’m not sure what the end game is with all our social distancing.  Two years is an awfully long time.

Social Isolation: Day 3

It’s not that I mind staying home.  Some would even say I’m a social isolate in the best of times.  I’m happy puttering around with projects and working on artsy crafty stuff, and I like our house and our garden.

The main problem with home is that there are others who call this place home too, and they’re not all as quiet as the cat.

“Zade is my best friend,” Milo declared, randomly, this afternoon.

“Oh yes….why is that?” I asked.  I was trying to be cordial.  Milo had spent most of the morning cycling through time-outs in his room, mainly for an insanely disrespectful attitude towards me sprinkled with serious unkindness to his sister, and I wasn’t feeling at my most expansive.  He has churned through friends at an alarming rate over his primary school years, and I was curious what special quality Zade possessed that made him the current favorite.

“He agrees with me,” Milo said, without a hint of irony.

I paused.  Well, somehow, that wasn’t all that surprising.  A little dictator in the making, Milo never suffers from self-doubt or lack of confidence.

My one goal for this home day was to do one of the Skillshare classes on-line, but somehow it was 5:25 p.m. and I was just sitting down to start one.  In a moment of bad temper I’d stated that I wasn’t going to make dinner, so Jeremiah was clattering around in the kitchen steaming dumplings and frying zucchini patties. 

“What do you put in the zucchini fritters?” he asked.  I paused my video. “One third cup flour, one quarter cup parmesan, some cream of tartar, some baking soda, an egg and some salt.”  I turned back to the screen.  Milo was working on his K’nex set in the living room, ducking in with updates on his progress punctuated with outbursts of frustration. “Are you wanting to leave the car at the end of the drive?” Jeremiah queried.  “Yes,” I said flatly, and rewound my video a bit.  Naomi was cheerfully prepping for her “How to Draw” you tube at the other end of the table, prattling on to herself and anyone else who might be listening.  “If you’re going to leave the car there, I hope you have taken out anything you’d mind getting stolen?” Jeremiah chided. 

“I need a set of noise-canceling headphones!” I exclaimed.  

“Oh no, Mom’s going sarcastic,” Milo chimed in, delightedly.

Unfortunately for his joke, it was the most literal statement I’d made all day.

Social isolation: Day 1

It’s been a roller coaster week.

Monday we went to work and school as normal, albeit with a low hum of menace in the atmosphere.  Monday afternoon NZ had moved to “alert level 3” on a brand new pandemic alert level metric, with the move to “alert level 4” planned for midnight Weds.

The kids’ school sent out a notice to parents that school was closed starting Tuesday, except for kids whose parents were working in “essential services.”  These parents had two more days when they could send their kids to school and make frantic arrangements for childcare during the next 4 weeks of planned nation-wide shut down.

Jeremiah found his engineering profession on that list, and I figured the veggie transplant portion of Zealandia, as part of the food system, would count as essential.  We sent the kids to school Tuesday.

At work I spent the day understanding the government rules of how to change our work habits to avoid spreading virus, and crafting messages to our site managers and staff, and making up doorknob sterilizing solution.  When I went to pick them up at 3:00 the school campus was deserted, no school crossing, no kids on the playgrounds.  I found the kids in their classrooms and discovered that out of a school body of 700 children, ours were two of the 18 students who had attended that day.  Mommy guilt.  

I went to work on Wednesday hoping to learn what I’d be doing for the next four weeks.  Would I be essential enough to keep working?

Wednesday the kids stayed home, and Jeremiah worked at home from a desk he’s set up in our bedroom.  Working from home with our two live-wire kids isn’t easy, and he wasn’t smiling when I returned.  

Apparently I’m not essential.  On my way out the door at 3:00 my boss said thanks, but I could stay home the next day….and every day, unless the growing team started dropping and they need someone to water plants.

I parked the car in the driveway. My Chilean salsa music going full blast for the whole neighborhood to enjoy, every light was on in the house, and the kids’ bathroom door was locked. I knocked and out strutted a giggling drag queen (well, probably drag princess) amid waves of perfumed hair gel.  His sister was there too, trying to figure out how to keep her tube dress up with no boobs. “Do you have a pair of high heels I can use, Mommy?” he queried. “Yes darling, I’m sure I do, and give me a minute to change into my dress ups too….” After all, the world’s gone crazy.

Optimistic that rubbish collection would count as an essential service, I teetered out to the end of the drive in high heels, dragging the bins.  Our neighbor happened to be on his way past, and he stopped for a socially-distanced (2m away) chat.  Milo sashayed down the driveway at that moment, blue eyelids fluttering.

“Day one of social isolation, eh?” Campbell observed, with a smirk.


Delight of the Day: NZ government mandate

Really, I’m not even joking.  Look at this NZ government website:

Do you see the 1st item on the list of “Ways we’re uniting against Covid19”? Yes, take another look. It’s the national government encouraging kindness, and defining it as “helping to support friends, neighbors, and family, especially the elderly and vulnerable.”

That’s not to say the mandate is followed by everyone, of course.  We’ve got toilet paper hoarders amongst us too.

But still, it’s delightful to live in a country where, from the highest offices, kindness is a national mandate.

Delight of the day: cold water, warm sun

I never have any pictures of whitewater kayaking, given the fragility of my phone camera in water.  So just imagine….it’s a low-cloud-chill-8-degree-morning at Pukaki, the glacial blue lake near Mt Cook.  I’ve just driven through the cloud, as it’s spilling in thick slow motion over the mountains near Burke’s pass, and a few rain drops were spitting.  Below the dam that holds the massive glacier lake back to make hydropower it’s spilling at 45 cmecs, a scheduled release for the whitewater clubs.  But because of the somber news around Covid19 and the country’s alert status, there’s almost no one there.

I’m feeling a bit nervous as I look at the group–they’re all better paddlers than me, and I don’t know this river.  But I’ve been wanting to paddle it for ages, and, after all, the reason I’ve stuck with white water kayaking is to practice persisting with something I find scary.

“The first rapid is the most major one,” my friend had warned me.  “The line is between the two big rocks, moving river left.”  I watched the other paddlers disappear one by one over the brink, their helmets bobbing as the waves bounced them about.  My turn….and I slipped between the rocks without a hitch, it was all completely fine.  “Is that it?” I queried, eddying out and pointing back.  “Then I think I can paddle this river.”

An hour into the paddle one of the old timers, a cheerful ex army guy nicknamed Sarg, began firing rapid instructions at me.  “Use a left hand low brace, convert to a bow sweep, then….enter the eddy high, rail left….. reach over and brace into the green water….”  His instruction was so rapid and detailed, it took all my concentration to follow.  But he used to coach the NZ slalom kayak team, if I could solidify the torrent of instruction with a bit of conscious practice, I knew it would be worthwhile.

Sure enough, I was rewarded with Delight of the Day: the quick swooshing turn out of the rushing water and into a tight eddy, the sensation of getting the timing just right.

The next day was Sunday, and it was the most picturesquely beautiful weather one could imagine–low 20s, sunny, almost no wind….very rare for Christchurch.  We went as a family to Taylor’s Mistake, a lovely little beach past Sumner on the Banks Peninsula. It was Isaiah’s last day in NZ before he had to run the gauntlet of the virus-laden air ports back to Trump’s America.

After our walk we stopped at an icecream truck, buying scoops of vanilla to add to our thermos iced espresso and berry swirl cones for the kids.  The last sweet sip of vanilla laden coffee is my Delight for that Day.

And that stellar weekend was savored none too soon.  Monday NZ abruptly launched into “level 3 alert” for the Covid19 pandemic, with the jump to level 4 planned for Weds night.  No more ice cream trucks, restaurants, or stores beyond food and pharmacy.  No more school for the kids for at least the next 4 weeks, and no play dates with friends.  We’re in lock down.  Though I expect if a certain mother loses her cool and strangles a certain beastly 9 year old boy, the police will still turn up.

Delight of the day: unexpected fragrance

This poor honeysuckle got absolutely hammered by aphids this spring.  It supported a whole ecosystem of aphid predators including lacewing and syrphid fly larvae, but got stunted and munted in the process, and it’s only been recovering with new growth recently, in time for the first frost of the autumn.  This is the only flower I’ve seen all year, and I instinctively stuck my nose down to investigate, not expecting anything based on the tattered appearance.  But looks are deceiving, as they say, and it’s unexpected fragrance invited a deeper inhale.

Our language is pretty poor in fragrance descriptors, but it if we had a word meaning “tantalizing blush” or “come hither and linger,” it’d be about right. Alluring, complicated.  Probably smells even better to a bug.  It’s the Delight of the Day.