The three full weeks

My mum left on a plane this morning. Through a day and a half of travelling, through Singapore and Frankfurt, she'll get back home to Estonia - Wednesday sometime. Tomorrow we'll wake up and continue our life where connections are made through e-mail and Skype, and me and The Man will have to learn to cook food and wash dishes again.

It's been great having her here. Together we've explored Christchurch...

... gone up the gondola...

... visited my previous home up Gebbies Pass...

... ridden the miniature trains in Halswell...

... hung out home...

We have driven to Wanaka for a week-long holiday...

... and whilst in Wanaka we have hiked some of our much-liked - but child-accessible - trails...

... carried around sleeping babies...

... walked up Mt Iron on early mornings...

... tasted wine...

... visited the airport and its transport and toy museum...

... spent time with friends...

... among them a couple we used to share a house with that were getting married at Criffel Station woolshed...

Talking of marriages: do you remember this tree?

It doesn't look like much, but five years ago me and The Man got married under it ;)

And do you remember the dog on our wedding pictures, an adorable mutt called Rocket? Well, Rocket is a big boy now! And so is our own boy, The Kid =)

He spent much of the week rollicking around near the lake, as many of Wanaka's kids do...

On the way back me and The Man half-jokingly discussed moving back to Wanaka and the prospects we'd face there, but... for the moment, we're not going anywhere.

Because first we need to re-learn to cook food and wash dishes again, now that my mom's gone =)

Mom, it was great having you here with us!

Growing food in bugless ground

Six years ago when I arrived in New Zealand as a backpacker, for a while I worked near Kaikoura on a farm planting, taking care of and harvesting vegetables.

Two very important moments stand out for me from that time.

One was when I was weeding salad for what must've been a third or a fourth day in a row. I was well familiar with the repetitive motion of scraping ground and pulling out weeds for I grew up with grandparents who had a lush garden where I, as a child, was also expected to pitch in.

But something felt very weird as I was doing it in Kaikoura. I didn't know what it was, but it felt... off somehow.

Until one day it hit me: I hadn't seen a worm or a bug for days. That farm had miles and miles of vegetable beds and yet I hadn't seen a single worm wiggling through that soil.

And that's when I really understood what all those talks about pesticides were about.

For years I had heard stories about modern farming which relies heavily on herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers, but it wasn't until my own hands were in that ground that I thought, do we really want to grow our food in a ground where a groundworm is incapable of living in?

The other moment was when we were planting salad seedlings on a tractor that was putting herbicide in the ground ahead of the seedlings.

The herbicide machine broke one day and instead of pushing pellets of poison in the ground, it was sprinkling it on top of ground. Fine dust of it was swirling around the tractor.

Within minutes, I felt sick. I thought I would vomit, but I held myself together long enough to be offered a position of an "afterwalker" who walked behind the tractor pushing in seedlings that hadn't properly set in.

I stood back until I was about a hundred metres away from the tractor and away from that poisonous dust, and stayed that way for the rest of that day. The next day the machine was fixed.

I later asked our farmer, how is it that we put such poison in the ground alongside plants people will eat within three months' time?, and he said that the poison is designed to break down within 7-8 weeks.

But still... It was then that I started to look at the fruit and vegetable isle in the supermarket much, much differently.

Good try, honey

The Man to The Kid, (after a long, long day of travelling): "Hey, would you like to play a game called sleepy lion with daddy?"

The Kid: "Huh?"

The Man: "Yeah, sleepy lion, it's a great game!"

The Kid: "Huh?"

The Man: "It goes like this: everybody lays down on the floor, still, and the first person to move is the loser."

The Kid sits onto the floor, roaring, and proceeds to chase The Man.

I, meanwhile, stand in the doorway and have a little giggle.

Good try, honey ;)

On becoming different

I know I am wearing myself dry and thin, and that it'll take me several weeks to regain full health and energy again, but at the same time, I know that my mother is here for only a few weeks and even in the best case scenario it'll be several years before we see again, before she sees my children again. Worst case scenario, never - it's kind of that back-of-the-head thought when parents get to that 60+ age when, sometimes, things just happen.

I know that it is taking a toll on everyone, the way our days are so different, the way we run around town, go swimming, visit parks, shops - my mother loves shopping - but because it is only for a few weeks, I do it.

I am tired. The Kid is grizzly. Days are a but of a... mess at the moment, but...

She's here. She gets to hold my daughter and walk with my son. We get to argue - just like we did when I lived in Estonia and went to uni - and then we get to make up again, until we start arguing again.

Having her here has made me realise just how much my worldview has changed over the past ten years. It's like I speak a different language. Technically, we speak the same - Estonian - but we understand what we say differently, and I recognise in it bits that are specifically... Estonian. Nordic. Post-Soviet.


And in it I am starting to see that, God!, I'm not really that much Estonian any more. I am still from Estonia, but I am not like it much any more, and it makes me feel... rootless, unsettled somehow, because I am not sure I am New Zealandish either, but in that unsettled-ness it is also giving me a sense of freedom for I am living where I have chosen to be living and... and...

It's hard to write. What I want to say is so nuanced that I am not sure even I know exactly what it is that I want to be saying, but the bottom line is, I am different. I've become different, and it is both sad and gratifying to see.

On being nice

The Man works alongside a labourer who comes from a... (thinking how to phrase it politely) ...uhm, troubled background. Most of his family you probably wouldn't ever meet in a library and everyone seems to both owe money to someone and also be owed money to.

But, anyway: whenever the labourer does something for The Man, The Man thanks him. It's what The Man does: even if what the labourer is doing is part of his job description, The Man still thanks him. It's, like, if someone's being nice to you, say "Thank you" to them. Easy.

But now imagine the situation below.

The labourer comes up to The Man one morning and asks that The Man stop thanking him. Apparently, the habit's catching: the labourer has started saying "Thank you" to his flatmates, too, and his flatmates - who are, by the sounds of it, from as troubled backgrounds as the labourer himself is - have promptly told him off for doing it. They've gone, mate, why the f*ck are you saying thank you? Stop the f*ck doing it!

The Man listened to the labourer's concerns, thought for a moment, and replied, "F*ck off."


To which the labourer replied, "Well that's better!"



Good night!

Have you heard stories of New Zealand customs officers intercepting drug smugglers who disguise their drugs in candy wrappers?

Customs officers in Christchurch airport must've had a field day today. Imagine my mum - weary from 30+ hours of air travel - arriving with a suit case full of Estonian chocolate and candies, speaking almost no English and trying to explain that it is all presents.


Oh, and now imagine The Man contentedly digging into Estonian chocolate and washing it down with a glass of Old Tallinn.

Basically: family's over =).

Ventilation and housewives

I was walking down the street in our neighborhood this morning and watched many of the houses' windows being open for ventilation - some a "crack", some widely.

I know why that is.

In New Zealand, especially on the South Island, when the temperatures drop, houses get a build-up of moisture on the inside. It manifests itself in the form of "crying" windows - window panes getting covered in water on the inside - and when temperatures drop even further into freezing during winter, the panes may even end up covered in ice.

By opening windows to let in fresh air, houses get rid of excess moisture. It's how traditional New Zealand "ventilation" works. It's why - in all of the houses I have so far lived in in New Zealand, before this one, which is... 6 - I have always opened a window the first thing I have stepped in from a trip to the shop, or pool, or work, because houses without ventilation tend to get that very stale smell very, very quickly.

Fortunately, more and more of New Zealand's houses are getting passive and active ventilation systems retro-fitted, and so this daily ritual of opening windows to let some fresh air in is starting to get less and less prevalent.

Our current house is one of them - each room has an outlet of a DVS fan, and so there is fresh air constantly forced in from the outside.

(In winter mornings it will manifest itself in freezing temperatures being blown in, but since houses with more modern systems where outlets are fitted with heating elements to take off the chill are out of my financial capacity at the moment, I will take that above a house with mould, to be honest.)

But... something insightful struck me this morning as I was watching the windows cracked open for air on my street.

I had listened to Kim Hill interview Marilyn Waring about feminism on the radio and they discussed the culture of stay-at-home housewives and how women, by entering the workforce, pretty much handed the capitalism a silver plate by driving down payrates, and I suddenly went... "Hey, I think I know why New Zealand and Britain have traditionally built houses to such poor ventilation standards!"

Because both Britain and New Zealand have traditionally had housewives to take care of opening the windows during the day.

In Scandinavia, Baltics and certainly Estonia, a stay-at-home mom is an unusual occurrence. There's many factors driving such a difference, and I won't go into discussing them, but one of the end results of such a culture is that houses need ventilation built in because most of the time, there isn't anyone home during the day to "crack open" windows. The houses need to "breathe" by design, passively, or otherwise they would all be mould-ridden during winter.

In New Zealand - and Britain, where New Zealand's house design stems from - a housewife has been there to take care of that. Houses have been built without air vents because housewives have been opening windows instead.

And when I thought about that, I kind of went... "Ahem."

A culture of housewives to ventilation standards. Interesting.

Good... morning?

By 6.30 am I had walked The Dog, had breakfast, dressed both my kids, served breakfast to both my kids... Welcome to parenthood.


Self-talk at 9 pm

I was having a conversation with myself this evening. It went something like this:

"I can't see how to make the bloody ceiling span the distance! hySPAN can go 8 m over a single span but the room's a bloody 8.8..."

Children, dog and school are the three things that are keeping my swearing ability top notch at the moment.

At least there isn't a landlord to swear at any more, I pep-talk - myself - but then I continue leafing through the bloody standards and BRANZ bulletins and product specifications and I'd like to go grab someone's neck and squeeze, real hard, because...

Well, schoolwork. Grrrgh!

Minimum standard as a goal

It strikes me that... I mean, I hope I am wrong about this, but at the moment as I am learning about architecture - how to brace a building so it stands up to earthquake and wind, how to put up a roof, how to survey a site - that when people say that something has been built "to standard", what they most often mean is, something has been built to minimum standard.

New Zealand legislation lines out minimum standards for insulation, for weather-tightness, for brace, and as I am learning about those standards my school is asking me to sketch buildings that comply with those standards.

But the trouble is, I am also asked to be mindful of expenses, and materials, and waste. When New Zealand standard asks that I, say, put at least 8 anchor piles underneath a building to brace it up, I am encouraged to actually keep it at 8, if possible.

The legislation says, at least - but the building gets designed and built to.

Minimum standards of insulation.
Minimum standards of bracing.
Minimum standards of everything.

And on one side, I get it - I do endeavor to design in a way that makes good use of materials and labour so that a building doesn't end up costing more that it has to, but on another hand... I feel uncomfortable that New Zealand standard is regarded as a goal, rather than a minimum standard which it is.

And I do hope that I am wrong and that as I learn more and hopefully start working with people that build well soon, I discover that it is only an impression I am getting as a first year student of quantity surveying.

But I kind of have a feeling that I am... not.