Mud pies

I went to work today without yesterweeks high expectations and decided to clear up the pile of media samples that had been accumulating behind my desk for the last few months.  It’s what I do when there’s nothing better going on.  It’s tedious because we don’t USE the results for decision making; the media is used the same day it’s made, so there’s no opportunity to catch a bad batch before using it.  The samples do serve to build up a story of what the normal pH and EC ranges are; the idea is that we have to know what’s normal to understand when something’s not normal.  But it’s also tedious because by the time I hit the doldrums enough to process soil samples, I have stacked collection of sample boxes built up like a proverbial brick wall.  Uninspiring.

But sometimes boredom breeds a more creative solution, and this time I decided I’d use the zillions of samples to come up with a simpler methodology of testing, one I could hand off to the nursery that makes the soil, so perhaps those samples could stop coming to me.

“Your childhood paid off, eh? Sitting around making mud pies?” My co-worker trundled by moving a trolley from here to there with plenty of time to observe what I was up to.

And he wasn’t the first to comment about the mud pies as I stood stirring water into the stubbornly dry media. Usually the comments are around cups of coffee because the pH measuring usually involves rows of white plastic cups, but this new method did away with the cups and filter papers, hence the mud pie analogies.

“Yup,” I advised my co-worker.  “Tell your kids to go into science so they never have to stop playing in the mud.”

Drama Queen

The Drama Queen.
She had actually recovered from her funk by this time, but aren’t those clouds perfect?  The heavens ought to revolve around a six-year-old’s desires when she’s wearing a furry pink sweater, right?  We had sent our secret weapon (Milo) in to break the stalemate with the promise of an extra piece of cake if he succeeded in getting her to move from where her feet were rooted, offended that her heartless parents had declined to boost her into her chosen climbing tree during our walk in Victoria Park. And he did succeed, as he often does when she’s decided to dig her heels in against her unsympathetic parents.

He might not look like a convincing secret weapon, but he can wheedle and cajole, bribe and sweet-talk his way into his sister’s heart, when she feels the rest of the world is against her. Kudos, Milo!

The Coffee Shuffle

Titled “The Coffee Shuffle,” I picked this picture up in a store in Washington State probably 12 years ago. I love how uninhibitedly ecstatic these women are over something as simple as a hot cup of coffee. 

Now this week we’ve moved to Level 3, and for many of us socially isolated life hasn’t changed much, but there is one major development.  Restaurants and cafes are open for takeaways. Let’s all dance the coffee shuffle!

Breaking Isolation

NZ moved to “Level 3” in the brand new alert systems on Monday at Midnight.  That means that socially our lives are basically unchanged, still “enjoying the sanctity” of our family unit bubbles, but more businesses can be open.  In fact, any business that can be innovative enough to carry on without people contacting each other can open up….unfortunately that still means hair dressers are closed, and there’s a run on home hair dye kits at the grocery store.

There have been a lot more cars on the road as many industries start up again, and I added to the traffic as I made my way to work at Zealandia on Tuesday morning.  There was not actually a gorgeous sunrise that morning, but I felt there should have been to mark the momentous “back to work” moment.

I don’t know what fairy tale I was hoping for, but subconsciously must have thought it’d be better than when I left.  Maybe I thought there’d be more purpose and direction, because by now the business would be pared down to only the essential components.  Maybe I thought my great expertise had been missed over the last month and upon return there’d be a list of important tasks to get stuck into.

Instead I got my temperature zapped by a contactless thermometer, signed a piece of paper saying I would follow the Critical Covid19 Policy, then sat at my desk, thumbing through the to-do list from a month ago, long term projects that no one cares about.

Of course, my supervisor is also the general manager, and he’s had a wee bit on his plate of late.  Our sales were down 80% compared to April last year and I could see him through his office window holed up with the CFO pouring over spreadsheets.  I imagine that my little salary sitting in the corner wondering what she should be doing is small peanuts compared to the bigger picture of 270 employees, many of whom were also idle over the last month.

But as ridiculous as it is, I felt deflated.

I had a walk around the nursery.  Insects have calmed down for the year and diseases seem well in hand.  I went out to check on the crop outside.  It was a lovely sun-drenched day.  I went back inside to my dark desk and reviewed the pesticide pricing for our spray database.  I wondered what my kids were up to.  I filed emails in the proper folders.  I had my solitary afternoon tea.  My boss stopped by for a couple minutes between phone calls in the mid afternoon, and asked if I could put together a list of current R&D projects, to review the next Monday.  Next Monday!

I decided that staying home doing school with the kids would be more purposeful than going in to the nursery for the remainder of the week.

Social Isolation Day 31: (over)Confidence

“I want to make crepes,” Milo declared Saturday morning.

I really had no good reason to say no; it was Saturday morning, we’re still in lock down, and the fact that I don’t like cleaning up cooked breakfasts or the smell of hot grease lingering on the air seemed pretty thin.  “Ok, you can make crepes,” I consented, “as long as you also do the clean-up.”

He had already looked up the recipe on the tablet, and started to call out the ingredients.  “Mom, can you help me?”

“I can help you cook them; you can make the batter yourself.”

“But I want to do the cooking.”

Somehow I found myself standing at the counter taking ingredient orders from my nine year old son.  Actually, I know how that happened–I’m a conflict avoider.

“1 cup of flour, you got that, Mom?”

“Right, now what?”

“Make a depression in the flour, then mix in two eggs.”

“Really?  I’ve never seen a pancake recipe like this; I’m not sure this is going to work,” I commented, as the mass clumped solidly together, stiffer than playdough.

“That’s what it says.  Now, gradually add 11 slash 2 cups of milk.”

“11 cups?  Do you mean 1 and a half cups?”  I glanced at the screen to confirm and poured in a dollop of milk.  The play dough ball got slimy and lumpy, but not smooth.  I pulled out the whisk and applied some serious elbow grease to the globby mass.  “I’m not so sure this recipe will come out well, Milo,” I worried again.

“It will.  It says ‘Delish’.”

He dismissed my concerns with a blithe calmness, fully confident that his plan would work.  After all, the recipe said “Delish,” and he was directing the operations personally.  What could go wrong?

Confidence.  Whether founded or unfounded, it’ll serve him well in this world in which we live.   For the record, the crepe batter did eventually smooth out.



Social Isolation Day 30: Home School and TGIF

The structure of having school is good for the kids, and I’m thankful for it.

I’ve been quite impressed with the skill of Naomi’s teachers, in particular.  They’ve set themselves up with an app called Class Dojo (a dojo is a friendly monster).  Promptly each morning the app delivers three or four lessons that consist of a video instruction by the teacher explaining an activity, clear instructions that a 7 year old can follow to do the activity relatively independently, and clear instructions on what to send back to the teacher.  Yesterday morning her teacher started by reading a book about a donkey who would only eat grass and as a consequence turned green all over.  Then she appeared in the video with a green wig and a green shirt, and said the same thing had happened to her, and she needed the kids’ help to turn her hair back to her normal color.  For their writing activity could they please list out 10 blondy-brown foods, including some healthy food as well as some treats, that they would recommend to her.  The kids were to read her their list as a video recording.  Later that day she shared some of the items the class had recommended, and commented on which ones she liked (no thank you to mustard!), and said the cure had worked.  Brilliant!

I’ve vaguely been aware based on what some other parents have commented that Naomi’s teachers are really top notch, but I don’t interact with them much, not doing the morning drop off and picking the kids up outside the school grounds.  It’s been a real privilege to see them in action.

In this math activity, Naomi measured various parts of her bear, herself, and her mother, listing them in a chart for comparison.

Jeremiah has set Milo up with a simple little computer (most of his school work is on an online platform), and he views it through the TV screen. Bathrobe is the normal attire–it usually goes to plain old undies as the day warms up.

Still, I’m glad it’s Friday.  These days I start the day with no real plans besides facilitating breakfast, wiping the counter, getting the kids started on home school lessons, feeding morning tea, wiping the counter again, more school, lunch and obligatory counter clearing, then perhaps more school….kind of a blur punctuated by lots of screeching.  I’m always surprised when 2:00 hits and I haven’t done any of the non-essential things I could enjoy doing at home.

I’d like play guitar (ok, develop calluses on my finger tips, really), do an on-line drawing classes, re-write my resume, or dust the cobwebs from the corners.  On the cobweb subject, I watched a spider pulling the silk from her spinnerets and dexterously wrapping a buzzing fly….so I’m in no hurry to get rid of the cobwebs.

On the weekend, I’ll start with that drawing lesson, to make sure it fits in.

Social Isolation Day 29: Parents recovered

It’s been nine days since we started worrying about my parents’ health, and I’m pleased to report that they are back to full health.  They were actually feeling much better after a few days, and Dad was ready to go back to work last Thursday, because he was out of sick leave.  Oh America, with your perversely unhelpful incentive structure! He was talked into staying home until Monday, at least, and Mom did as well.

Because they’re in America there aren’t enough Covid19 tests available for your average mortal, so we can’t confirm if they had the real deal or not.  Probably they did; they do live in NYC after all.  NOT Harlem, my Mom hastened to correct me–Washington Heights.

Mom is once again looking after Emerson, my nephew. Looks like he’s full of beans! And looks like their apartment is well heated.

Dad missed Emerson a lot while he was staying home sick, and was very glad to be reunited–Emerson was too, he just wasn’t ready to be put to bed that night.

It’s interesting for me to ponder the differences between the pandemic in the USA and in NZ.  I have this innate distrust of Socialism; I’m sure it was from grade school history class.  I imagine our arch-enemy the Soviet Union, also Chile, Cuba….you know, the baddies with dictators and propagandized citizens.

I remember vividly the moment when I realized that NZ was a socialist state.  Maybe not officially, according to wikipedia but in the attitude that says “I’m part of the society; the society is important; we should take care of the weaker members of society…..  That realization came on a car ride back from Akaroa (I can see the bend near Kaituna valley in my mind’s eye) when we were listening to a podcast, something to do with guns.  Perhaps it was after the Mosque shooting last year, when swiftly and apparently without resistance the Parliament passed new gun control laws, logical kinds of laws that have failed to pass in America time and time again.  And I realized that NZ attitude was completely different to that of Americans, and that NZ citizens seemed to actually TRUST their government, by and large, and of course Americans don’t.  The longer I live in NZ, I realize that it’s really a socialist state, and during a pandemic that certainly seems to have its up sides.

I’ve been tremendously impressed at the leadership skills shown by the NZ government.  I’ve only listened to a few of the daily updates, but EVERY DAY at 1:00 there is an update, aired to all real-time on you-tube, where the Minister of Health reviews the new Covid19 numbers for the day and the Prime Minister and sometimes other officials give updates, then take tough questions from the press.  I listened to the announcement that the PM and ministers would take a 20% pay cut, in solidarity with the businesses and citizens who are struggling.  I’ve heard consistent, calm messaging about being kind to neighbors and staying in your bubble.  I’ve heard respectful correcting of misinformation and an open-minded willingness to follow up on problems.  The models and data that are used for decision making are made available quickly to the public; it feels open and democratic.  Very quickly and early in the shut-down the government announced wage subsidies that incentivize employers to keep on their employees, as well as make it more likely that employees will obey the stay-at-home rule–in fact, I just saw my second stay-at-home pay check come through, seemlessly, and I think I still have a job to go back to.  Not sure how long we’re going to be paying for this, but the likelihood is that we all pay for it fairly evenly, because the tax system is more evenly applied than in the US.

I don’t know, call me a socialist, but I’m impressed.

Social Isolation Day 28: Halswell Quarry Habituals

Milo peeked into my bedroom this morning and climbed into my bed, and unusual move for him.  Thankfully his nature called a few seconds later and I had a chance to scuttle out to my closet and get some proper clothes on before diving back into bed, ready for his return from the potty.

“Why are you snuggling into my bed this morning, Mr. Milo?” I asked, as I ran my hand over his cropped hair.

“Staying away from mean Daddy,” he pouted.

Milo and Jeremiah have had just about enough of sharing the same space, and tolerances have been fraying for the last few days.  Oddly, the more Milo fights with Jeremiah, the more cooperative he is towards me.  Go figure.  I guess he figures he needs one parental ally, and can’t bite both hands that feed him, at least simultaneously.

“Cooperative” is all relative when it comes to Milo, but this afternoon he didn’t even put up a fuss when I announced that I was abandoning the garden (and along with it the territorial squawking of the kids), and we were all going to troop around the quarry.  AND that we were biking there, not driving.

We’ve become habituals at Halswell Quarry these days, walking the same path again and again. It’s a good thing, actually, especially for kids. I remember doing that with my grandparents at a little nature reserve called Five Rivers, and they had tons of patience to stop dozens of times along the path. Naomi always wants to climb up this tree.

And Milo tries to climb into the hedge. For some reason he decided to wear his bike helmet on the walk.

Social Isolation Day 27

Delight of the Day: a vase of flowers. I don’t normally pick flowers for inside because I don’t spend a lot of time in the house, they soon fade, and then I have to throw away flowers which seems so cruel. But one day I accidentally broke off one of those gaudy pink blossoms (Nerine) and figured I might as well put it in a vase.  It lasted three long weeks and I enjoyed it multiple times a day.  When put the flowers the corner of the bathroom mirror I get 4 for the price of 1!