A New Zealand school choir performing Veljo Tormis

Remember two days ago I wrote about a teacher aide who said an Estonian song had been performed by a New Zealand school choir at a singing competition, and they won gold with it?

Well, we've finally tracked down the video!

Choir: Choralation (Westlake Girls' and Westlake Boys' high schools)
Competition: The Big Sing 2017
Prize: winner of A Cappella Award for the best unaccompanied work
Piece: Veljo Tormis' (an Estonian composer) "Undarmoi and Kalervoi" from Izhorian Epic (not quite in Estonian, but... oh well)

The video is available at www.facebook.com/thebigsingnz/videos/10154635887857062/

The choir gets introduced at 54:00 into the video and Veljo Tormis' piece is performed at 1:02:20.


On balance and priorities

Balance and priorities.

I've been thinking about them a lot lately.

For one, I am definitely short of time for doing everything I want to be doing - so I prioritise. Over and over and over again. Even now: I have four e-mails from good friends sitting in my inbox, waiting to be answered, but I chose to sit down and write a blog post instead. Sorry friends! It's not a good feeling, but on the other hand if I didn't write a blog I wouldn't feel good either.

The days our carpet goes between vacuums (whilst we have a very hairy dog in the house) - longer than I'd want, but, hey. Dusting - phwt! Doesn't even happen ;). I would like to fix the greenhouse, plant trees, weed the potatoes, sketch up storage plans, sand back windows... do all sorts of stuff around the house but, basically, unfortunately the lack of time makes me prioritise and at the moment, doing schoolwork so I can get trained up as a quantity surveyor takes priority over potato weeds and vacuuming, so... yeah. I sit down and do schoolwork, whether there are weeds in the back yard or not.

I am also working out things regarding our trip to Europe next year and that, unfortunately, is also a very big event of setting up priorities because, you know what?

The thing costs.

Like, a lot.

All up we are talking about $10,000 NZD for our family of four to make a round-trip to England and Estonia next year and though, on international travel scale, $10,000 is actually a pretty good deal considering that, per person, we are talking about approximately $2,500 to get from Invercargill to Europe and back again... still. $10,000 NZD is a lot of money. I think about the things we could do with $10,000 or even the amount of money we could spend on not working to make up for that difference, and it stings a little.

On another hand, the trip has to happen at some point and if we have set ourselves up to do it now, we'll do it. Our families back home are not getting any younger. My grandparents are all gone already, but for The Man who still has several grandparents around this will probably be the last time he'll see them. There are nephews I've never seen. Siblings who've never seen our kids.

It's a case of setting up priorities: deciding what's more important than other things.

And then, of course, it's the fact that New Zealand is heading into its parliamentary elections in a couple weeks' time. (Oh how I wish it was over already. Oh, oh, oh how I wish it was over already...)

It's the first time I am voting in New Zealand's parliamentary elections. Having never done it before I've spent a lot of brainpower thinking, who and why to vote for - kind of, how, when local elections were happening in Christchurch I had to decide, on what basis to select people who were running for local boards then.

Curious sidenote: on those local elections in Christchurch, I have to admit that one of the voting decisions I made was actually racial. Straight-out racial.

I don't remember what board it was exactly, something to do with health? Social services? Something along those lines. Of the approximately ten people that were running, I had to choose - again, sorry, I don't remember exactly, but it was something along the lines of - five people, one of them I chose purely because she was a Maori. Of all the others I read through their application letters, their CVs, googled their names, researched their backgrounds, but with this woman... I just voted her in.

Because as much as it was important to me to care about why the candidates were running for the local board and make an informed decision, I did not want to see a local board made up of singularly (and mostly middle-aged) white people - which it otherwise would've been. And so because there was only one candidate of any other racial profile - other than white - running for that board on that particular election, I voted her in. I wanted to make sure that there was a Maori voice represented. Credentials or not - I wanted someone of that background in, and she was the only one, so I voted her in.

Which is basically to say I made a racist decision, but heck. I can live with that.

And now New Zealand parliamentary elections... man, what a Cirque du Soleil it's been this year. Sorry for such a reference, but really! The people who live here probably know what I'm talking about, and the people who don't and want to know what on earth I am talking about - sorry, but you'll have to do your own googling. Several parties have changed several positions (and leaders!) over a very short time, and from a voter's perspective it feels like quite an election to be part of. Wow.

Up until two weeks ago I thought I knew what I was voting for - Greens. Labour and Greens had a memorandum of understanding, which basically meant that by voting Greens I was voting for both Labour and Greens. (If gathered enough votes, they would form a coalition.)

But now... now... now that this whole Hoopla-lala-land is going on with Labour and Greens and several other parties, I've started to feel like I've needed to change my priorities. Remember the potato plants I referenced to earlier, full of weeds? A greenhouse that needs fixing, but hasn't?

I don't really want to equate New Zealand's political landscape to my backyard, but at the moment, it's kind of the same thing: I can't do everything at once. I need to choose what's more important, and then stick with it.

I'm no longer sure that Greens and Labour will form a coalition. I'm not even sure if they, themselves, know.

But I don't want the current government to stay on.

So I am voting Labour. I want to see them gather enough votes to stand a chance of forming a coalition, Greens or not, and forming a government. Having Labour in is more important than giving Greens a chance to be in.

Which is basically to say that it's a daily hassle of brainpower, patience boundaries and motor performance at the moment, just moving forward, getting things done, choosing one thing over another, putting one foot in front of the other and looking forward to summer when school will end and I will have time to just please myself again and days will be longer, and warmer.

I can't do everything, but I can choose between things available to me, and prioritise.

Ever heard Kiwis singing in Estonian?

A teacher aide approached me at The Kid's school this morning.

"Did you hear?" she asked excitedly, "There was a big choir competition in Auckland this weekend and the choir who won gold sang an Estonian song!"

"Estonian choir?" I looked at her, excited and confused, "Estonian choir came to a singing competition in Auckland?"

"No, not at Estonian choir," she replied, "An Estonian song! It was a New Zealand choir, but they sang an Estonian song in an Estonian language. Oh my god, it was so good!"

She told me more about it and said she'd hunt down a video for me to see. It was goosebumps-good, she said, but as of yet I haven't been able to find a video of it myself. The only thing I've hunted down is that it was The Big Sing Finale 2017, I think.

I'll keep you posted.

A New Zealand school choir singing an Estonian song in an Estonian language in a New Zealand choir competition... What are the chances.

News from today

The Dog ate The Girlie's pet woodlouse.

Two important TED talks to see

PS. By about Christmas this year refugees will start arriving in Invercargill - mostly from Pakistan, Syria, Burma and Colombia, from what I understand. A couple of families will arrive every few weeks, about a total of 100 people a year.

On September 13 a public meeting will be held at the council where resettlement programme will be discussed, and I intend on being part of that meeting. Depending on what's involved (maybe some families will be young enough that their children will land in school alongside mine?) I may become involved in the support network. If I do, I intend on being proud of helping.


A weekend away in Wanaka

I promised the kids snow this winter, but because it looked like winter's storms weren't going to be strong enough to dump it right down to the coast this year, a weekend away in Wanaka it was.

We went to a ski resort called Snow Farm, which is basically a high plateau with a "mellow" slope to it, developed into series of cross-country skiing tracks, dog sledding areas, a "fun zone" for kids to roll around in, a vehicle testing ground... maybe something else, more, but I'm not an expert on what's included :)

There were a whole plethora of dog teams this weekend, barking away and running

Afterwards, the kids were pretty... dead.

Okay, not dead, but they weren't up for much. Just cartoons on the screen, food, sleep, tired meltdowns and piling on top of their daddy whenever given a chance.

Overnight, we stayed at a farm about a 30 minute drive away in Tarras

By the time we'd met with a couple of old friends the next day, spent time at a playground and fed the eels, the kids were... done. Little one especially.

For the most of the drive home, they slept.

Random bits and bobs

My daughter has a new way of showing defiance.

When she doesn't like what we told her / asked her to do / told her off for, she goes in the kitchen and rolls herself into a kitchen rug.

Don't ask. I don't know, is the answer, anyway.


We have an old habit with grocery shopping that we only really buy things when they're on 'special', ie on sale.

If we can help it, anyway.

The shopping list on the fridge will at any given time look something like this:

ginger IOS
beetroot IOS
milk powder
tea IOS
coffee IOS

IOS means "if on special", ie we-don't-necessarily-need-it-now-but-buy-it-if-it's-on-sale. That way, it costs us less over time to buy things such as tin tomatoes, vinegar, coffee - long-lasting staple ingredients.

It means that, sometimes, if many things are on special at the same time, stock-up cupboard looks like this:

Uhm... yeah.


I have written before about Invercargill's "Nordic" approach to alcohol taxation; how very much like Sweden, Finland, Norway etc Invercargill council regulates and taxes alcohol consumption in a way that keeps channelling funds into community development.

As of this week, we have stepped into yet another role of being on the receiving end of that community funding.

ILT or in simple terms, "that alcohol trust", funds each Invercargill's school's swimming programme. At no cost to the parents each child gets a set of swimming lessons during school hours each year - as part of school sports curriculum.

For us it means that for the next month, three times each week a bus picks up The Kid's class from school, brings them to the swimming pool, teachers work with their swimming skills in different groups, and then bus takes them back to school.

Our family, we go swimming every week anyway. Next year we may even start The Kid in proper swimming lessons.

However, I know that our family is lucky. We have the financial means, and the time, and the health to do that.

Not everyone has that.

And I am so pleased, so pleased!, that this little council in the bottom of the world recognises that, and finds a way to support swimming skills throughout primary schools regardless of parents' social or employment or financial or whatever status.

One day, when New Zealand also realises that it makes sense to feed kids in school, I am going to be really, really proud.

I was under an impression that tongues heal quick, no?

With an indesputably ingrained elegance of someone who has epilepsy, can I just please have it noted that in the future, if there's an option to choose between losing control of my bladder and chewing up my tongue during a seizure - can I please just lose my bladder and be done with it?

Because, man, tongue takes AGES to heal! Seriously.

I thought tongues heal quick. And reasonably easily.

Instead, it's a pain. Both pain, as in, aching - but also pain, as in, pain-in-the-bum-to-have-to-have-it. With the bladder, at least it's just change the bedding, chuck sheets through the washing machine, done.

This... this is taking days.

Glitter-paint. Oh joy, the joy of glitter-paint.

In the past, I'd heard other parents refer to glitter-paint as if it was the evil of the world, but I never understood why.

Now I know.

It's not the fact that glitter-paint ends up on kids' clothes and hands and furniture. All paint does. We can handle it.

It's the fact that when it dries, THE GLITTER FALLS OFF.

Jesus christ. We have glitter throughout the house. I mean, seriously, throughout the house.

The Girlie made a couple of crowns at preschool with glitter-paint and paper, and brought the crowns home. Kids played contentedly, pretending to be kings and queens.

As they played, dried glitter gradually fell off their crowns and populated our living environment, getting lodged in carpet fibres, clothes sleeves, bottoms of their slippers. From there as we went about our lives, glitter slowly travelled further until now I can find it on the inside of our car, inside underwear I pick out of the drawer in the morning, on dishes.

The other day, I made an omelette and found a piece of glitter inside the omelette.

It'll be months until our carpets don't sparkle at certain angles of daylight and there aren't pieces of it in the fridge, however I am sure The Girlie will find new things to bring home.

After all, to her, sparkle is the joy of the world, and so is glitter. Everything pink, with flowers, and glitter - SHE'S IN.

Two different reactions

A couple of days ago I went clothes-shopping to stock up on basics for the whole family: t-shirts, pants, shoes etc.

When The Girlie saw the amount of new clothes hanging in the wardrobe she declared that, next time, she wants to come shopping with mommy.

When The Kid did, he thought about it and said, "Mom, I think that enough shopping now."

Yeah, that pretty much sums them up.


It's hard to do schoolwork through tears: can't see the numbers well and teardrops smudge the writing on the paper.

So, so tired.

3-year-old logic

The Girlie (3): "MOM! I gotta clean the table, there spit on it!" Looks at me, expectantly, then spits on the table again demonstratively, "See? There spit on it! I gotta clean it."

Well, I guess it upside is that at least she cleans it herself...

I didn't know she'd eat that

With kids and dogs in the house, it's a reality of life that some things will be broken.

...having said that, I did not realise that if I planted currants, The Dog would promptly go eat all the buds off the stalks, leaving just bare sticks poking out of the ground.

Taking time off to rest

When The Kid started school last term he was only going 4 days a week - we had Wednesdays off.

It's not really a typical approach here. In fact, at this stage I don't know of any other child/family who's done that.

But we did and, looking back, I'm glad we did.

Starting school is a big thing. It's a big change, and it's tiring. In May when The Kid started school, he still had daytime naps several times a week, so having Wednesdays off school allowed us to have daytime naps midweek and spend a morning at the gymnastics club, a welcome 'bridge' of normality into what is otherwise a very sharp change into a different environment of schooling.

And I didn't really 'ask' the school for Wednesdays off; it was more that I 'told' them that we were having Wednesdays off, and said I hoped it wasn't going to be a problem.

They didn't think it was a problem. They were awesome about it. They didn't question it at all.

And as we then cruised through the entire term doing 4 days a week, resting on Wednesdays, feeling good about it, still feeling reasonably happy on Friday afternoons when inevitably children at school start melting down in the tiredness of it - one of the teachers told me, privately, that actually it'd be good for some other children to do the exact same thing.

It was good to hear that.

It is new term now and The Kid is going 5 days a week, Monday to Friday. He is still pretty... uhm, let's say tired, come Friday. (Parents of other 5-6 year olds, you probably know what I mean, yeah?) But I think being tired on Friday now is very different from what it would've been if he had started school doing 5 days a week right from the beginning.


Which means that this morning me and The Man stood in front of the calendar in our kitchen and discussed what our approach is going to be starting next week.

The Kid's school is starting swimming classes, three days a week. 3 days a week for a month they are going to load a bunch of 5-6 year olds into a bus, take them to the swimming pool, then bus them back to school for the afternoon and I can only imagine what those 5-6 year olds are going to look like on Fridays for the next month.

Me and The Man are going to ask our conductive education teacher for a month's sabbatical. Because we feel we just need to drop something out of our calendar whilst this swimming craziness/awesomeness is happening, in order for The Kid to survive sane.

Just sayin'

Trump reminds me of those medieval kings who claimed they didn't fart.

Interesting read

Another interesting article from Jon Krakauer, www.nytimes.com/2017/08/03/opinion/weakening-college-sex-assault-policies.html

That just backfired

A couple of days ago The Girlie dropped a glass bowl on the kitchen floor. It shattered into many pieces. The Girlie stood there, looked at it, and then said, "Girls can't hold bowls. Bowls too hard for girls."

Both me and The Man looked at each other, thinking, where did that come from?!

When I started sweeping the kitchen floor, The Man held The Girlie in his arms and started talking to her, explaining that we all drop things sometimes. He has dropped bowls, The Kid has, mommy has. It's okay - we try not to, but when it happens, we just clean the floor up and use another dish if there's one.

He then tried explaining to her that both girls and boys can hold bowls.

Except, it... backfired a little bit :P

You see, he started explaining to her that we all do all sorts of household jobs sometimes. He asked her, "Who washes dishes in the kitchen?"

"Mommy," she answered.

"And who else washes dishes?" The Man asked.

The Girlie looked at him, thinking. "No-one," she said, confidently.

At that point, I burst out laughing. The Man grinned, looked at me and said, "Well, that just backfired..."


Thoughts on politics: is it okay to ask a woman about her baby plans

It's the news story of New Zealand at the moment that the Labour party's leader, a woman, keeps getting asked what her baby plans are. The election is in September.

I've got a thought or two on this.

Some people are making a point that such a question matters. If she becomes the Prime Minister and then decides to have a baby, it's going to impact the country's governance. It's an important to ask her that question, they say, because it affects us all. It's okay to ask.

I disagree.

At the moment, if a company is recruiting for staff and it turns out that an applicant is planning to very shortly become a mother and take maternity leave, it impacts the prospects of the company and it certainly impacts that applicant's chances of becoming an employee.

Some people even go as far as to say, why should a company bear the burden of not knowing what people's family plans are and then having to look for new, temporary employees whilst people take parental leave?

Sure, okay, I get that. When people leave to take parental leave, it costs companies money.

But why should women bear the burden?

If it were legal to ask that question during a job interview, and a woman kept being rejected from a job after job after job because she answered honestly that, yes, she would like to become a mother, thanks - then it would be the woman taking that burden. And that burden's not pretty, because being jobless and on welfare is not pretty, especially given the poor quality of housing stock and a lack of state housing.

The reason it's not okay to ask that question is NOT because it doesn't affect companies and governments - of course it does - but because asking that question puts undue and unfair pressure on people who happen to have wombs inside their abdomens, and ovaries.

When New Zealand becomes a place where a woman has decent chances regardless of what her family plans are, it will become okay to ask her that question.

Until then - no, it's not okay to ask.

Nick Tyler for president!

One of the very best interviews/podcasts of all time, I think, is when Kim Hill interviewed Nick Tyler a few years back on Radio New Zealand National.

The whole 52 minutes of it is just... rife with things to learn. Well, I have, anyway. Nick is a natural-born storyteller and with his, what looks like, limitless curiosity towards the world he has amassed a fascinating collection of stories which link up to basically say, life's interesting. Not always good, or easy, but it's interesting, and it gleams with hope towards the future.

I have listened to that interview several times now, and have no intention of deleting the file off my computer.

Today I found that Nick Tyler talked about 'What makes an engineer?' at a University College London event and starting at a 23-minute mark I found his words thought-provoking and very inspiring.

He basically talked about the fact that if you ask an 11-year-old what they want to do with the world, they beam with ideas. Bringing water to Africa, building things, fixing things.

When you ask an 18-year-old, the answer is, I want to pass A-levels. (=exams) Whatever.

And then when engineering departments only enrol students who achieve high marks in mathematics, chemistry and physics, they are excluding a whole bunch of very high achieving, inspiring students whose interests may lay more towards the arts. Where their passion lay.

As a chair of the engineering department at University College London, Nick Tyler removed the requirement for mathematics, chemistry and physics as the 'enrolling' subjects. Instead, he started enrolling students who had high marks, but not necessarily in mathematics, chemistry and physics.

Or like he says, think of it as enrolling someone who has high marks in photography, French and swimming ;)

And the thing is, it went brilliantly.

Kind of like a lot of the stories about the Finnish education system go, the students are able to achieve high levels of understanding because they do less. Or, to put it more precisely, rather than having to study things they are not really interested in, students study things they have passion for, and therefore they are able to do it well. Better.

University College London started enrolling students who did not necessarily do A-levels in math, chemistry and physics into engineering courses, and found that they got very high achieving applicants out of it, and later, students.

The whole... attitude of Nick Tyler, how he can have such a balanced view of the world, and they way he understands very complex, interlinking problems of the world and how the problems affect each other (the way public transportation affects health outcomes, or how home insulation could save money spent in hospitals etc) and the fact that he says, right at the end of that interview with Kim Hill, that:

the human race is going to survive 
by community, not by individualism.

(It's at 48:05 into the interview.)

And I listen to him talk and I think, if I could, just, 'multiply' Nick Tyler so that one of him could stay teaching at University College London, but then the other version of him could become the prime minister of New Zealand, and yet another president of the United States (OH MY GOD, WOULD YOU IMAGINE WHAT THAT WOULD BE LIKE!!!)

I have such an affinity towards interesting, curious people. I fancy myself as such, too, but that's kind of beside the point.

To go off-topic onto another interesting person I sometimes think about, I still wonder what has happened to a young man that I used to talk to in a Christchurch petrol station. He was manning the pumps in the late evenings, I think he worked 19:00-23:00 on four evenings a week, and I had such wonderful little conversations with him as I used to fill my car on Tuesday evenings on the way back from craft night.

That young man was studying engineering at Canterbury University, doing a Master's degree in... something to do with electronics, and he was set to start an internship with a large motor company in the US. He was going to help them design electric cars and components to them - but whilst he was working at a petrol station in a little Christchurch suburb, he was my Tuesday evening conversation partner.

I miss him. I miss the fact that I don't know his e-mail, or his phone number, so I can no longer get in touch with him and ask, how are you doing? Because I assume he's living somewhere in the States now, doing his electric cars engineering. No longer having to earn minimum wage at a petrol station to supplement his studies :).

And I have a very hopeful view towards the world when I talk to people like that. It fills me with even more curiosity and courage to be part of the change, even if at the moment it means that during the week I write out assignments on how many cubic metres of concrete can go into someone's foundation and on a Saturday, I wash dishes at a cafe.

Because life's good.

Mine certainly is.

Edited to add: it reminded me how, when we were enrolling The Kid in primary school, I said to the teachers that, look, the most important thing to me in The Kid's first year of schooling, is that he enjoys it here.

Not how many numbers he learns, or letters, or where he sits on the chart of medians. (Jesus, don't even get me started on medians... I said to them, actually, that just putting it out there, I do not want to hear the word median, okay?, and fortunately they passionately agreed with me). The most defining impact the first school year has is setting the attitude towards schooling, and so most of all I want The Kid to have fun in school.

And that's exactly what they're doing, fortunately. I have absolutely no qualms about this school, at all, because their culture towards learning matches mine, and I think they're doing brilliantly. The Kid is thriving, writing ever more words, doing ever more stuff with numbers, telling people about giraffes eating leaves off tall trees, and asking questions about the earth and what it's made of. He goes to school with joy, and meets me at the end of the day with busy bustle-ness, telling me about things he's done that day.

A couple of weeks ago when a new instructor/therapist, not sure what his position is called exactly, joined our Conductive Education unit, I had a talk with him on a similar topic. We discussed our goals moving forward and I said to him that, look, the most important thing in us coming here every week is that The Kid has fun here. That, sure, we do important motor development stuff and whatever, but in the end, we continue coming here because it works, and it's fun.

And that the moment it becomes a chore rather than fun, we are going to struggle continuing our weekly routine of attending. In small increments reasons are going to mount why not come this week, and then maybe another, and another, and so beyond all the important developmental goals we are working towards, we need to keep remembering that attending the sessions has to be fun.

He didn't... let's say, entirely agree with me. He had a bit of what I see as an old attitude towards therapy, which is, we do things that are important, and sometimes those things are hard.

And, I get that. I also push my kids to do things that are important, and that are hard. I think my kids are gradually learning the attitude of 'I can do hard things'. The Kid certainly is - he has an attention span and depth of focus beyond what I think is usual for 6-year-olds, and his teachers are continuing to say to me that they are very impressed with the dedication he is able to put towards tasks at hand.

But the thing is, for us, fun is part of it. Our whole family is very much built around the idea of letting every person have joy, and then trying to balance our wants/needs in a way that allows everyone space to live their life in a way that brings them joy.

We weave fun right throughout our children's activities because we know that, in the end, fun is what's going to keep them there.

I think the Conductive Education instructor/therapist is starting to come 'round to the idea, too.

And I tend to think that even Nick Tyler would agree.