What a weather...

It's like a picture from climate change documentaries. For years people have been warning of a changing climate which can start bringing weather extremes.

Today, Invercargill is basking in nearly 30-degree heat after a long spell of dry weather. In Hanmer Springs, I heard, it was 36 degrees by two o'clock already. All across Southland official drought has been declared because the ground is just dry. Dry.

However, tomorrow it will start turning cloudy. By Thursday it's expected that a very heavy rain will come with a tropical cyclone, bringing lots of water in a very short time. Off scorched ground (like we have at the moment) the water will probably run off very quickly, causing flooding around rivers, so the councils are preparing for flooding. After that, however, the meteorologists are warning that no major rain can be seen for weeks.

Welcome to summer of 2018. Spectacular, absolutely spectacular!

Caterpillar genocide awaits. I think.

For a couple of days now I've noticed monarch butterflies  fluttering about our back yard. I haven't yet checked, but I guess it means they've found a swan plant growing in our yard, and are planning to lay eggs on it.

I'm... curious to see where it'll lead, because:

1) we only have one swan plant. You might want to read this funny article to see what happens when there's only one plant ;)

2) There's a healthy population of wasps living nearby. I know this because I've seen wasps fly into our back yard, check The Dog's poop (if there is any) for flies and when there are flies, wasps fight them, sting them and then carry them away alive, to feed their own young wherever their nest is. Given that wasps apparently eat monarch butterfly larvae also, then I can only assume the kind of genocide we'll witness once the larvae hatch.

3) I don't think the swan plant is nearly enough grown to feed caterpillars, so... starvation awaits, I guess, if there really are butterflies laying their eggs there now.

Either way, yeah, to use Thomas Hobbes' words: in nature the life is brutish and short, so I guess we'll just watch the swan plant as a learning lesson and... the birds will eat the dead caterpillars, I'm sure.

When people aren't allowed to water their gardens any more

The drought in the south is such that, starting Sunday, there is a city-wide ban on all outdoor uses of water. It means not just no carwashes and kids' paddling pools, but also no garden hoses - no watering of garden if the water is city mains water.

I have very mixed feelings about this.

On one hand, I understand the need for it given that Oreti river which, from what I understand, feeds Invercargill's water supply has gone down to less than 4 cubic metres of water a second. I mean it's... low. Very low. The drought is New Zealand-wide: almost all regions, this year, are having an unusually prolonged period of high temperatures and low rainfall. And we're not even in February yet!

However, on the other hand I look at my garden and think: this would be such a waste. I don't have "pretty" plants growing in the garden - all our plants are fully-functional edible plants which, eventually, end up on our plates. Resources have gone into getting the plants to grow and to let them die now would be a waste of those resources.

We are also, from what I assume, very low users of water as it is. Our kids have a bath once (or maybe twice) a week and even then it's a third-full sitting height, rather than a full bath. Our car gets a wash on average 3 times a year. We have a front-loading washing machine precisely for that reason - it uses little water. We don't have a dishwasher. We never water the lawn and we don't have garden sprinklers - plants get watered by a handheld hose and only during cool hours of the day (either early in the morning or late at night). We don't even flush toilets after every wee - generally, poops get flushed straight away and wees go three-four times between people before a full flush is made. Basically, although we live in a region that, normally, doesn't lack in rainfall, our consumption habits are such that we conserve water, similar to what people in Australia do.

And so, when the council announced a total ban on outdoor water use, I felt very conflicted about the circumstances. Our rainwater tank has only about 90 litres of water left. The Man is outside just as I am writing this, he is setting up a collection tank to divert washing machine "grey water" so we can water the garden with water that comes out of the laundry.

New Zealand doesn't, generally, have water meters. Or let's put it this way: New Zealand does have water meters, but water doesn't get metered. In Europe most people, from what I know, pay by the litre of water coming out of their taps, but in New Zealand the water is free. Whether someone fills up their swimming pool, or just a glass of water - their taxes are the same. There is no financial benefit to conserving water.

Our family conserves water because it's the right thing to do, so we're kind of philosophically inclined. We're doing it as a sort of a statement: water is an important resource, so we treat it with respect.

Which is why I feel so ambivalent about this water ban when I know that, even with my garden watering, our family is probably still below median in terms of water usage, and I don't want my plants to die. I want the tomatoes to keep fruiting, and the cucumbers, and the pumpkins. Of course we are going to use laundry "grey water" as much as we can, and rainwater as much as we have left, and empty our kids' bath water into buckets rather than letting it drain down, but I wonder if in weeks to come I am going to sneak out in the evening with a watering can and breach the ban, if it comes to that.

It is such a difficult topic.

What my life is like now

There's not a lot of blogging I feel I'm doing at the moment. I'll upload a couple of photos to share the joy of places we've been to, write down brief thoughts - and that's about it.

There's a lot I'm dealing with and, time-wise, I feel I am overwhelmed.

I keep investing time in kids. Some of it is intentional, but some is just a daily grind of... chores. Making food, packing lunchboxes, buckling people into their carseats (which, at times, can be a mission with The Girlie!), shaking sand out of their clothes when returning from the beach, hanging up wet towels. Oh, the amount of laundry the summer brings! I made what I thought was a funny comment to my in-laws the other day about how tiring kids are, and got back what felt like a lecture how the kids aren't just for Christmas - they're for life. Apart from how patronising such a comment was ;), they're right.

Even a task as simple as returning toys to the toy library: when I want The Kid to have the full joy of walking through town on his ride-on digger on our way to the library, the roundtrip takes over an hour.

And in simple tasks like this, the days go, one after another.

Then, of course, there are illnesses. The Kid is due to go for our fourth round of Botox surgery and double leg casts in two weeks' time (here we go again with no showers, no swimming, protective clothing and, initially, pain relief), which means that yet again we go for pre-anaesthesia appointments. Except, we went for the first one and then, promptly, The Kid came down with a cold-like illness and a viral rash across his body. The surgery got postponed and now, today, we go for a second pre-anaesthesia appointment and hope that for our second surgery time, all will be well so we can actually do it.

I deal with our European trip details. Booked accommodation in Tartu and Tallinn (as a family of four, we no longer fit in our relatives' apartments), have to buy another set of headphones for the plane trip, yesterday searched online for packing cells for the suitcases, need to go for a doctor's appointment and check blood so I can have enough medicines for the trip. All these things are, in itself, little - but when done together, they stack up.

Time keeps stacking up.

The kids go to bed in the evening and when it's finally quiet (with The Girlie that, too, can take some time ;)), I slump down and want to just sit and do nothing. Except: there's stuff to do.

Some of the stuff I, genuinely, don't want to be doing. My school enrolment, for one, is definitely way down the likability scale! It is such an institutional mess I've found myself in... After last year's problems our department faced, I felt I couldn't trust them to manage my enrolment so I checked everything: invoices, timetables, curriculums. And oh my [insert hard language] what a mess it was. My invoices were bigger than had been advertised, there were classes on my timetable that weren't on the curriculum and other classes on the curriculum that weren't on the timetable. I had been enrolled for classes I didn't take and found different credit values depending on what printed copy of the curriculum I was looking at.

Some of it was, I genuinely believe, a departmental coverup. There was a communications class, for example, which ran for only one semester. Once I tracked its codes down, it stood for 5 unit standards and 21 credits. With my whole study being 235 credits, it was 9% of the whole study! The department head, when I asked him about it, started saying how credits are different things in different departments so, say, in physics or engineering 21 credits may equal to more work than in communications but... actually, that's bollocks. Credits, legally, need to amount to hours of work. And, not surprisingly, in the new curriculum that same class is only worth 5 credits. Going from 21 credits to 5 - yeah, guys, keep trying to tell me that it was all good work there!

Meeting with the department was an experience I was not looking forward to, because facing people over their mistakes is not something I enjoy doing. However, I came to Invercargill to finish my study. I needed to make sure that I was going to fulfill the curriculum, and so I needed to sit down with them and figure out what my year was going to look like.

Stuff like that takes time. Hours in the evening sat behind the computer and school paperwork, tracking down study code after study code.

And, of course, there is the house.

It's funny that I'll be sketching future room layouts in my notebook when those same rooms, at the moment, are though much cleaner than when we first moved in, are structurally the same. We haven't painted, put up wallpaper or any of that stuff. The work we've done is, for the most part, invisible. Demolishing chimneys and fixing the roof took days, but from outside, it doesn't look much different to how it used to be - especially if you didn't know that the chimneys used to be there. The Man has installed a roofspace fan to divert bathroom moisture out of the house. Part of the front fence is gone, because being unreinforced concrete The Man was afraid it was, one day, simply going to topple over. Seeing how easy it was to topple it, he was right. I keep digging up bindweed roots from the back yard. Sometimes I wonder if there will ever be a day when bindweed doesn't grow in the back yard. In the 30-degree days, the garden has needed watering.

It all takes time. Time.

Because of my study, several days each week I won't be able to take The Kid to school and pick him up afterwards. My classes start too early and finish too late. I have to find a person that can help me with that. Sorting out a person to take care of our dog and our house once we're away in Europe - it's done, but that, too, took time.

I have lists upon lists on the fridge: stuff to do, stuff to buy. On the drawertop sits my book's epilogue, waiting for the next round of editing.

Sitting down to blog this morning was a luxury. In 20 minutes I'll leave the house and head to the hospital with The Kid, to the tune of our life's rhythm at the moment.

I'm actually really looking forward to flying to Europe - to, literally, the process of flying. I know that when I sit in the plane to go from Christchurch to Auckland, then Auckland Shanghai, then Shanghai London, then London Tallinn, everything will be done. On the plane there will be nothing else to do other than sit back and relax. Watch movies, draw things with The Kid, eat, sleep.

How similar it is to me flying to New Zealand for the first time in 2009! Then, too, getting ready to leave was a lot of work. I was studying, and working, and living a life in the middle of those two. In the preparation to my New Zealand flight I was getting consistently too little sleep because I was doing consistently too many things to fit in my days otherwise. When I finally sat on the bus on the way to Riga to then fly to Germany and, from there, to New Zealand, I just exhaled. Exhaled a sigh of relief knowing that, from that moment onwards, it was all done and behind me. What lay ahead was just a year of New Zealand and, maybe, Australia and South-East Asia, just living day by day.

It didn't end up being Australia and South-East Asia, of course, because I settled in New Zealand instead and got the life I am looking at now: my two kids sitting on the sofa watching Lion King whilst I blog on the computer and feel like my life is stretched yet again.

Doing this European trip this year is a big deal for us. It's both financially and time-wise that it doesn't, actually fit well in this year - but we're doing it anyway. We'll make it work.

Kia kaha, Maria, kia kaha.

Look at him go!

Second visit to Clip'n'Climb. He went so high!

Omaui hill track

Omaui is a small coastal village near Invercargill, and it definitely has a charm! On Google Maps the place looks like this.

We headed there today, because we wanted to walk the Omaui hill track with the kids. Having never visited before, we didn't realise how high the track would climb, and so it probably ended up being the highest The Kid has walked under his own power - about 200 vertical metres over a length of about 3 kilometres. The Girlie, we carried her up some of the steeper sections when she was getting tired near the top.


Before heading up though, we tired out and "calmed down" The Dog at the beach so she wouldn't pull as much.

Then, we headed up.

The track has only just been opened, and so in sections it's still rough and the work is ongoing.

The "clatter" of cicadas was impressive! The trees were abundant in their old shells.

Nearer the top, the view became open.

A couple of family photos, a compulsory nut bar - the kids now expect them whenever we head on longer walks - and shortly, it was time to head down again.

About two hours roundtrip. The Kid did it under his own breath, The Girlie probably walked 85% on her own.

A good day to be had by all.

Those are the hills where the track heads up.

The Man loves humour

The Man had a skin biopsy taken today and decided to play a prank on the nurse. He asked our GP for a red markerpen and coloured the bandage (that the nurse had only just applied) red. A couple of minutes later the nurse returned and seeing The Man's bandage, started quickly grabbing more materials off the tray, frightened that there had been such an excessive bleed from The Man's small skin biopsy site.

The Man and our GP ended up laughing and, luckily, so did the nurse.

Even prime ministers can take maternity leave

When I first heard on the news today that New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced her pregnancy and is expecting her first child in June this year, my first reaction was, "Wait, whilst in office!?"

But within about ten seconds, that reaction had changed to, actually, that's good. That's normal. It reminded me of the concept of maternity leave, and about people's right to have space in their personal lives above and beyond their employment responsibilities.

Prime minister's job is an important one, I conceded, but after all, it is a job. It's kind of like the fact that although at the cafe at work, the grill chef almost never has a break - he stands at the grill pretty much 7 hours non-stop - it doesn't man that other people in the kitchen are required to do the same. When I said to my boss that, sorry, I need a proper break in the middle of the day, I can't work non-stop like some of the other guys are doing, his reaction was, no worries, sure, we'll make it work.

Prime minister having a maternity leave? The same.

Doctors having time off. The same. City councillors having time off. The same. Teachers having time off. The same. Electricians having time off. The same.

Everyone, regardless of their position, has the right for time off, and creating a culture where such decisions are regarded normal, is healthy. And so whilst my first reaction to prime minister giving birth was, wait, what!?, my second reaction was the one I am intending to keep.

Good on you, prime minister! I am proud of your decision both for your personal life but also for the message I think it sends across New Zealand, further reinforcing that taking time off to have a baby and then returning to work, is normal.


It's impressive how The Kid reads

The Kid is in well into the journey of learning to read. He recognises letters and knows about 40 words by sight. He can also guess first letters of words he's not familiar with. I'll say to him, for example, "Broccoli," and he'll then sound it out to figure out what the first letter is. "Broccoli. Beh, beh, beh... B! It starts with B!"

I have also discovered that he can recognise letters both in reverse and also when they're upside down.

For example: today he was holding a paper upside down in his hand. So the letters would have looked like this:

Nevertheless he was systematically reading out the letters and telling me if he recognised any words.

Another time, we were sitting inside a cafe called The Batch and on their window they had a large print of their logo. However, looking at it from inside the cafe, the letters were not only in reverse, but also tilted on their side. Like this:

When The Kid noticed the letters, he promptly started sounding them out. The. B. A. T. C. H.

I guess at the moment, his brain recognises the letters by their shape, and because he (increasingly occasionally) still writes letters the wrong way around, then when he sees them in reverse, he is still able to figure them out because to him, it's the main shape of them that counts.

Being a parent, it's a wonder to see though.

How many spiders are too many spiders?

It was like a scene of domestic horror last night.

The Man was already asleep. I came in the bedroom and was getting ready to go to bed, too. In the light of a bedside lamp I saw a little spider running across a folded blanket. I squashed it. Then, next to it, I saw another little spider. I squashed that one, too.

About a foot away I noticed about three more little spiders. I squashed them, and got a very uneasy feeling. I started to look around the area. Within a minute, The Man was awake because I was slapping the wall behind the folded blanket and going, "Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, sh*t!"

Because that's the horror part: I saw and killed OVER THIRTY OF THEM. A spider must have made a nest somewhere in our bedroom - AND I STILL DON'T KNOW WHERE! - and now those freshly-hatched little spiders were scattering across the wall and behind the bed and behind furniture. I was slapping them dead and cursing, and this morning as my family were eating breakfast in the living room, I was furiously vacuuming the bedroom: the backs of curtains, behind furniture, along shoe moulding, tops of doors.

If The Girlie had been there, she would've thought it great because she likes bugs - including spiders! - but me, I'm not so convinced.

The idea of there being a fresh hats of baby spiders crawling about a metre away from where I was sleeping on the bed...


PS. Invercargill is headed for an all-time heat record today.

Who are the animals on the man's backpack?

A friend asked me a question which I thought others may be interested in, too. It's about a photo I had on the blog several weeks ago:

The friend asked, what are the animals attached to the young man's backpack? And why are they there?

The answer is, the animals are possums.

They are native to Australia, but in the 19th century some were brought over to New Zealand in an attempt to establish a fur industry. Because they lacked predators in New Zealand, what actually happened was... they thrived to a point where in the 20th century their numbers were estimated at about 60 million. They are considered a major pest and Department of Conservation has an extensive programme aimed at bringing the numbers down. At the moment they're at about 30 million, I think.

Because their fur can be used by the clothing industry (when mixed with merino wool it makes for superior fibre), possum fur goes for over $100 a kilo.

The young man in the photo was one of the guides at Fox glacier where I interned in 2009. The guiding company 'serviced' some traps along the route to the glacier (they would set them last thing at night and check first thing in the morning) and when he found possums in the traps, he would take them home, pluck the fur and when he'd gather up enough fur, he'd sell it.

So that's what the photo is about: two dead possums attached to his backpack as he is walking home from the glacier.

Talking of which: in May when I visit Estonia, my book about Alaska will be re-published with a small addition about New Zealand in the back of it. An epilogue, if you may.

In it I explain some of it. For example:

"The people in New Zealand were, I started to realise, vastly different to one another. On top of the racial and cultural diversity which was to be expected because of how endemic it was to most Western societies, New Zealand had an added variety-factor: its terrain. On Fox glacier there were still men who earned bulk of their living trapping animals in the mountain ranges of the national parks and selling fur to clothing fibre manufacturers. Further down the coast there was a family with two kids living a two day walk from the nearest road, and surrounded by mountainous bush. Martins Bay holiday cottages were even further, a four day walk out of the roading network. In a lot of Western countries, such distances of remoteness were simply not possible, geographically speaking."

A beach day

On a 31-degree day, the plan was agreed to by all: we would head for the beach at 8 in the morning. By noon, we would be back home for a nap and miss most of the heat.

Apparently, most other people were doing it the other way around: the beach was getting crowded from 11 am onwards and just as we were packing our stuff, others were setting up.

Riverton's Taramea Bay is beautiful. It's a shallow and sandy, and provides a lovely safe water for kids to wander into. I haven't got photos of it, but we had wetsuits on and were goofing around with boogie-boards (it's a kind of a small surfboard you lay on with your tummy).

For lunch, we had baby carrots pulled from the garden bed, cherry tomatoes from the greenhouse, and sandwiches. Yum!

And because we had the tent up, it provided us with much-needed shade when everyone was getting tired and hungry.

A lovely, lovely morning!

Thinking about weather and balances

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the weather forecast for the next 4 days:

Yes, that's right: Invercargill will be 30C for two days in a row.

When I saw that, I thought, OMG, if Invercargill is going to be 30, what's Wanaka going to be? 34? What about Christchurch? I started to look through other towns' weather forecasts and... it dawned on me, that for the next few days, Invercargill is going to be the hottest place in New Zealand.

Because here, look: Wanaka.




It doesn't happen often, and when it does, it usually happens around October that Invercargill gets the warmest winds of the whole of New Zealand, but this summer has been so spectacularly screwed up in the sense that... I mean, December averages were about, what, 3 degrees warmer than usual?

Urbanites are, of course, enjoying the sunny weather and praising the opportunities to spend time at the beach, but farmers meanwhile are going f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck. Plants need rain to grow, and this summer has not been delivering.

It reminded me of an interesting interview I listened to whilst painting the gable end. I spent several days with headphones on listening to interviews and podcasts ;)

The interview was Kim Hill talking to Johan Rockström from Swedish Stockholm Resilience Centre (www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday/audio/201849560/johan-rockstrom-planetary-boundaries) and they discussed what Johan calls "planetary boundaries".

Basically, as he was explaining, the world is in a kind of a homeostasis. You know how the human body, in a very similar way, manages to maintain a very stable state although there are, literally, thousands of hormones, chemicals and such that are in a constant change? Consider the food we eat: carbs raise the blood glucose levels, but insulin straight away kicks in to protect the system from sugar overload. Women's progesterone and oestrogen are always in motion, but the body maintains a relatively stable internal environment because whenever something changes, something else balances it out because the body, it tries to self-regulate in order to maintain an equilibrium.

Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote about it in The New Yorker magazine this week.

"Consider temperature: the normal human body maintains an extraordinarily narrow range—somewhere between ninety-seven and ninety-nine degrees—despite enormous, often unpredictable variations in the environment. I boarded my Air India flight on a chilly autumn day in New York and was hurtled in an aluminum tube into unseasonably warm Delhi, but my core temperature, had I measured it, would have changed not one degree. And emperor penguins put human thermoregulation to shame. As the ambient temperature is lowered by a staggering hundred and ten degrees, from seventy above zero to forty below, a penguin chick’s core temperature changes by only a couple of degrees.

The level of sodium in your blood is tightly regulated between 135 and 145 milliequivalents per litre—a number controlled by exquisite sensors in the brain coupled with an equally accurate mechanism that retains or dispenses salt and water in the kidneys. "Constancy in an open system, such as our bodies represent, requires mechanisms that act to maintain this constancy," Cannon wrote. "Homeostasis does not occur by chance, but is the result of organized self-government.""

The earth is maintaining a somewhat of a similar environment. There is relatively stable weather, water is getting distributed around, air is suitable for a lot of animal species - it's a golden age for life to thrive on this planet. Half of our emissions are taken up in oceans and forests at the moment, as if the earth is buffering, Johan Rockström argues, and it's remarkable proof that the planet does everything it can, applying all its biochemical processes, in order to remain stable.

But that, he also argues, is not an infinite state. At one point there is going to be a time when the "overload" will no longer be able to be buffered, and the earth stability is going to topple, hurtling the planet towards a new age where the balance of life-sustaining processes is no longer going to be able to sustain so much of the current world. There is not going to be enough clean water, enough clean air, enough good weather to grow food.

So with a team of other scientists, they've worked out what "planetary boundaries" are keeping the world in its current state. How much nitrogen can there be in the atmosphere before the tipping point of the Earth? How much phosphorus? Carbon dioxide concentration in the air? Etc

The interview is WELL WORTH A LISTEN.

It infuriates me that for a whole lot of people in the US, I'm not going to name names because it's pretty obvious who I am referring to, such an information is... not even that they don't know about it, I'm not even sure if they would understand it even if they heard it.

But I just need to breathe in, breathe out, and continue doing my part. Analysing my own life, taking into account my own spending habits, seeing where I can make a difference.

Because sustainability, it's what keeps the life, as we know it, going. Both inside our bodies, but also on our planet.