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.

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. 

Gillespie Pass

I took a hike a couple weekends ago to Gillespie Pass. Though I mentioned the trip already, the epic scenery and ideal weather of the trip really merits its own trip report.

Gillespie Pass is at the top end of Lake Wanaka, a good six hour drive southwest from Christchurch (see red arrow). It’s a three day hike which we made into a four day-er by spending a day on a side trip to Lake Crucible, putting the tramp solidly outside the realm of a simple weekend trip.

We had originally planned this one for February 2020, when my sister Susanna was visiting. But foul weather to the south dictated that we change our destination last year, leaving Gillespie still on our to-explore list. Our original group had been winnowed down by a broken ankle and a pregnancy, so it was just Carrie and me on this adventure.

Most people do the hike from the Young valley over Gillespie and out the Wilkin, but we did it the opposite way (map days go red, orange, yellow, green).
We took a jet boat to start, replacing 4-6 hours of river valley trudging with a 45 minute whiz up the Wilkin River, and essentially allowing time in that same day to drive to the trail head. We had stayed the previous night in Tekapo, so made it to our 1:00 p.m. jet boat with ease.

Yes, we totally felt like softies stepping out onto that river bank after taking the jet boat with a crowd of seniors…but, hey, NZ domestic tourism needs our support after all. Only doing our part. Thanks Wilkin River Jets!

We continued to feel like softies strolling up this well-groomed and graded trail. There’s nothing like a west coast “trail” to make you appreciate a popular DOC track, and our last hike to Lake Morgan had been one of those. We fairly skipped along, admiring the gutters dug on the side of the path to deal with the frequent downpours, and singing “We love trails!” Carrie’s husband feels tracks are boring, compared to the raw wilderness experience of bush bashing and route finding, but…..we simply don’t agree.
Siberia Hut is very popular and requires bookings, but you can see why. Only two hours after our jet boat dropped us off we meandered into this alpine meadow with the hut deck and windows perfectly situated to take in the magnificent setting.
Not too shabby an outlook! Seems we hardly deserve it after only 2 hours of walking.
My tramping buddy has a greater affinity for cleanliness (and maybe less aversion to cold water) than I do, but I caved to peer pressure and washed in the river. The afternoon was warm and as we dried in the sun on the hut deck, we could see plumes of grass pollen being released and wafted over the meadow. Soon poor Carrie was sneezing and had to take refuge inside with an antihistamine.

By then it was only about 4:30, and it was still a warm basking sort of afternoon, too hot even for sandflies to be very pesky. I decided to sit in the long grass and see if I could discover which type was pollenating so copiously. It’s amazing what you see if you sit still. Besides discovering that it was the purple foamy grass that was shedding pollen and reacquainting myself with grass flower morphology, there was a lot of other business to admire. There was an assassin bug hugging its sandfly prey, various solitary and bumble bees hectically visiting the yellow asters, and lots of orange and black butterflies with green fuzzy thoraxes and spiral tongues chasing each other in loops. I tugged at the grass leaves and examined where they grip to the stem–the structure of that sheath and the hairs on the leaf base would tell me which species I was holding, if I could have remembered the grass key. The light purple harebells had white downy stigmas, and they didn’t seem to mind their resident thrips. Down near the river miniscule coprosma plants were heavy with orange berries, and their neighbour plants held their bare black seeds cupped in a white fleshy receptacle. Turn over a river rock and creepy crawlies scuttered away, gills quivering (maybe mayfly larvae?). The undersides of the rocks shelter perfect pebble pupa cases too, glued on strongly to make safe homes for…? Occasionally I heard a kea, but never caught glimpse of it. The cicadas were loud, and I brought an empty moult in to Carrie to show her the thread-like trachea linings, and tell her about the rest of the gorgeous miniscule world. “You’re frothing!” she commented. Yep, I was. I spent an hour and a half exploring the petite, and next time I’ll carry my 10x lens.

The next day we shouldered just a light daypack and walked down the valley and across the river to the steep trail leading up into the forest and out to Lake Crucible. There are many wonderful things about the woods, and the feature we’re enjoying here is the lack of sandflies for morning tea break.
We came out of the beech forest into an alpine meadow with blooming mountain lacebark. I don’t remember seeing these before, but unless they were blooming one might not take note of them. They’re showy in blossom! Lake Crucible is up behind the scree wall at the bottom of the cirque (bowl shaped cliffs at the head of the valley).
Carrie, always keen, dove in for a breath-snatching swim. Perfect timing–soon after she climbed out the wind came up and made it decidedly less inviting. Just afterwards a passel of 5 cheerful young kiwi girls arrived for their dip. “Tata’s out, girls?” The answer was yes, “tatas” were released but undies kept on, and they dove shrieking in. They had carried up a plunger coffee carafe and a burner, but had forgotten the coffee, disappointingly.
We found a bewitchingly still spot on the ridge and settled down for lunch and a bask in the sun. We must have lingered for more than an hour before walking back down to Siberia Hut for our second night there.
The hut was busy that night, and the table was like a meeting of the European Union. Italy, Spain, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, France….I’m sure I’m forgetting someone. They had been in NZ when Covid19 shut the border last year, and were still here. They asked if I had ever been to Europe. “No….well, only England…and that’s not really part of European Union anymore” I admitted. “Bah, England,” they grinned. They clearly didn’t mind that the UK has divorced herself from the rest of Europe.
Next morning we set off up the valley once again, this time peeling off on the Gillespie Pass track.
We again enjoyed a very well formed track, and soon gained a view of the valley below us. The grassy bit there by the stream would be very nice for tenting, and seemed to boast fewer sandflies than the river valley below.
The low point of the pass itself is a bit lower than the track, which sidles along the right, above the cliffy bits. At the top we stopped for lunch and saw an older fit couple labouring up the last bit of their climb from the other side. Their packs were big as they were at the beginning of a 10 day journey. “I wonder what they’ve got in their packs for food for 10 days,” I pondered, as I enjoyed my own heavy hard boiled eggs. “I’m going to be nosy and find out!” That started an enjoyable conversation, and I realized that another silver lining of the job hunt is my growing ease with starting inquisitive conversations with strangers.
Here we are looking back up at the head of the Young River. You’d wonder how in the world the track would reach up there! It goes up a steep tussock and rock spur that’s out of view around the corner to the left. The bridge seems overkill on a nice day, but Carrie recounted the tragic fate of one tramper who tried to beat the weather front over the pass and got swept off the trail by a swollen side stream crossing, eventually drowning in this river. Her clothes were later found inside out and her pack straps still clipped….the river had pulled them off. The force of a river in flood is sobering.
We spent the night at Young Hut, and left by torchlight the following morning as the walk down the valley to Makarora was 5-6 hours. Some people get tired of looking at trees, but I find it quite restful and I enjoyed this bit of the hike.
And again, the trail was impeccable. Look at this fantastic bridge!
I have a somewhat ridiculous affinity to dry boots, so even though the last river crossing (Makarora, unbridged) was only a few kilometers before the hike end, I opted to wear my hut shoes and carry the boots. They may seem prissy, but they’re a great little pair of Crocs, and hefting the leather boots over my shoulder made me realize how heavy they are, even dry! Long distance hikers often go for light weight running shoes….I might have to try that next time, provided the weather is warm.
We had about 2.5 kilometers along the road to get back to Makarora village, but just when we were really getting tired of it, a kind farmer gave us a lift on his hay cart.
The cafe at Makarora does a nice coffee on their scenic veranda, just the pick-me-up we needed before driving back to Christchurch.

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.

Opportunity Costs

“What do you do for work?”

“Oh, well, I quit my job just before Christmas….”

“Good on you!” 

I’ve had half a dozen iterations of this surprising conversation with Kiwis, and it has really puzzled me.  It was the same whether they were a friend who knew me well or a complete stranger I’d just met.  In fact, looking back, I’ve yet to encounter a single negative reaction. 

Why would anyone be offering their congratulations for doing what I cringe to admit I’ve done—voluntarily quitting gainful employment without securing another job first.  Why does what seems like reckless irresponsibility to me sound so praiseworthy to them? 

I finally started asking, and got responses like this: 

“You didn’t like the situation you were in, so you’re making a change.”


“Rather than just putting up with a job that had become a grind, you’re working toward something better.” 

It reminds me of the Freakonomics podcast from 2011, “The Upside of Quitting,” which turned on its head that old mantra that preaches “A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins.”

Here’s the podcast synopsis:  “To help us understand quitting, we look at a couple of key economic concepts in this episode: sunk cost and opportunity cost. Sunk cost is about the past – it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else – something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could …. quit.”

To my mind, I have a “sunk cost” of nearly 8 years of prime career-building years in ornamentals, when I came to the sad realization that here in NZ, within the company I worked for, there was no growth potential in that field.  I can’t go back and remake the decision to spend 8 years there; that time is gone…..sunk in the ocean of time.

And each evening when I would wearily pull out the computer at 8:00 p.m. to try and search for other job options, I felt the “opportunity cost” of staying with my old job.  I simply had very little time and energy to work on making a change. 

So, while I don’t yet have new employment, let me celebrate the time reclaimed during January and February.

This was the first January where I wasn’t juggling childcare and work, and it was amazing.  The kids and I had three golden weeks after we got back from our north island holiday when we slept in, cooked waffles for breakfast, went to the skate park/pool/beach, saw friends….and generally enjoyed one another’s casual company. 

Now the kids have been back at school for almost three weeks, and I have been doing a deep dive into career networking, while also enjoying the best of summer.

I can’t for the life of me get a genuine smile when I ask for a nice photo, but when I request silliness…..
We took a family trip to kayak and camp at Murchison (that’s Naomi rocking the rope swing)
I spent five days tramping at Gillespies Pass with my friend Carrie
I’ve enjoyed several Friday bike rides through the adventure park with the ladies…apparently Friday is a popular day for moms to take off from work, there were about a dozen of us congregated at the top of Kennedy’s Bush last Friday.
And most recently we had an overnight camping trip at Godley Heads in Christchurch

Plus (and this bit isn’t as photogenic) I’ve been spending several hours each day on the job search front.

These experiences, in a nutshell, are the opportunity cost of working at my last job. 

Now, I know that doesn’t count the whole cost. Some of those things I might have squeezed in while working, like the Murchison kayak trip. I’m also currently not earning any income, which isn’t sustainable….and now that the kids are back at school, I’m not even saving the cost of holiday programs. Jeremiah is being wonderfully patient with this leisurely phase of life (thanks, hun).

Still, I’ve noticed another big advantage of reclaiming the energy I used to spend at work. I’ve got a lot more patience to deal with the kids. I don’t actually have that many more hours to spend with them now that they’re in school, but when we do have time together, I’ve felt more playful, which averts a lot of conflict. And I’ve felt more creative and compassionate at resolving conflict when it does happen. I’ve discovered that there’s an opportunity cost (in the form of mental energy) to employment that I never appreciated.

So while I hope to soon be working in a challenging new field, I will still take a moment to appreciate the silver lining of this career pause.