The first, quite a restful week

At 7:20 this morning I was putting on a jacket in the hallway, ready to go for a walk with the dog. And then it struck me: 6 weeks ago, this time I would've already been cycling towards town to drop kids off at daycare, and heading to lectures thereafter.

Instead, this morning, the kids were still at the breakfast table; when I got back from the walk with the dog they were sprawled across the floor with boxes of Lego.

Change in work circumstances is definitely bringing a change in pace, and I quite like it. I think I am heading off to a passive house open day in a couple weeks' time.

Proud

Today, New Zealand passed a Zero Carbon Bill. It sets a legal requirement for the country to become "net zero carbon" by 2050.

The developing language of a 5-year-old

I give kids each a piece of 72% cocoa chocolate. Little miss 5 tastes it and exclaims: "It tastes like chives dilligrams!"

No, I don't know that that means either.

I am starting a new job. On Passive Houses!

In 4 weeks I will start working as a quantity surveyor for a passive house company.

I am beyond excited. Giddy, almost. That I have been lucky enough to score such a job straight out of school, I still quite can't wrap my head around it. On one hand, I feel like I've earned it. I've been one of the top-performing students throughout study and have a deep-seated passion / interest for passive houses. If anyone out of our graduating class deserves this opportunity, it's me.

On another hand though, I feel like something's about to go wrong, because I'm not used to having things come as, I don't know, easy - as this seems to have come. An ex-tutor asked if I'd be interested in a job - without me ever having realised they were hiring - recommended me to them; and although I wasn't quite what this company needed - they needed someone way more experienced because the job entails running large budgets on almost sole charge - the company have created a new position just so that they can fit me in and I'm, like, WHAA!?

No, seriously: WHAA!?

This feels... weird. Not necessarily wrong, but definitely weird.

I don't, normally, believe in karma. Good things don't always happen to good people, bad don't always happen to bad people. Partially, I think, I've received this job offer because of my academic achievement and work ethic - my tutor recommended me to this company.

Partially, though, I think I just got lucky.

Because, look, a lot of people play Lotto; few hit the jackpot. I don't know if the tutor who recommended me for this position were even aware that this is the single Invercargill company involved in the build of Passive Houses. Did they know that I have a deep-seated interest in this architectural concept?

I don't know - I will ask them when I meet with them next week. For the moment though, I think the answer is no. I think the fact that I happened to be recommended for pretty much the only such job available in Southland was just an outrageous, lucky coincidence. And although I don't, normally, believe in karma or in positives being "evened out" with negatives - I think some people get exceedingly lucky without deserving it, and others get horribly treated without deserving, either - at the moment I am sitting here, thinking, where's the catch? Is something horrible about to happen? Am I allowed to have all this "loveliness" happen to me, you know, for free?

Because in addition to quantity surveying and passive houses, my work will involve design support. As in, I will get to work alongside an experienced architect and create 3D renderings using ArchiCAD. (Wait, what? I will get to work both in quantity surveying AND architecture side of passive houses?! Say WHAA!?!)

When the idea got first floated during a job interview, I started laughing. After I had calmed down enough to talk like a decent human being, I explained to them that I've wanted to be an architect for a long time. In fact, I have said for several years that, in an ideal world, I would be an architect designing multi-unit residential passive houses. Quantity surveying has been a "close enough" option I've settled on for practical, realistic purposes. For them to have offered me a position of working alongside an architect without even knowing that I wanted it in the first place, it felt like random numbers on a paper had coincided with random balls being shot out of a Lotto machine. Is this what people who win Lotto feel?

So, yeah, let's just put it this way: I am very, very excited.

The problem with insulating from the inside

A couple of months ago Tikker asked me an interesting question about insulating houses. I was writing about our plans to insulate our house from the inside and she, basically, asked if that was such a good idea. That don't houses need to be insulated from the outside?

I replied very briefly. But today, for some reason, I felt I wanted to explain the theory behind insulation in a little more detail.

So here goes.

Generally (by which I mean "in cold climates") insulation is applied to the outside of buildings because it makes the entire structure of the building warmer than the surrounding air. When the structure is warmer, it doesn't get condensation on it - condensation only happens when warm air hits cold surfaces.

Think of it this way: you have two drink bottles on a table. One is filled with boiling water, the other is filled with ice. Which bottle gets condensation on it?

The answer is: cold, ice-filled bottle. As the warm air around the table hits the cold surface of the bottle, the water vapour in the air condenses onto the cold surface, creating drops of water.

The same mechanism (ie condensation) can take place inside a house structure if insulation is applied - for whatever reason - to the inside of the building, rather than outside.

It's hard to explain, but when insulation is on the inside of a wall, it, effectively, separates the rest of the structure from warm air inside a building. The exterior envelope of the structure ends up on the outside of the insulation layer - so the structure of the house becomes much colder than the interior air.

If the walls of the house are not perfectly airtight (and to be honest, most houses' walls aren't), the interior warm air can wind its way inside the building envelope - and condense there. And when it does... it's bad. Very. Very. Bad. That's how you get mould and mildew growing inside walls - through cracks and permeable materials warm air reaches the much colder elements of the building on the outside of the insulation layer (because insulation, on its own, is not airtight), and as soon as this warm air hits a cold surface, condensation happens. Most common places are where different elements of the building fabric meet: around window openings, in corners, at the junction of walls and ceilings, or walls and floors.

It is not to say that insulation should never be applied on the inside - because it does get done on the inside, and sometimes very successfully. But it's very, VERY difficult to do it well. In order to keep the interior warm air from passing through the insulation, there needs to be an airtight layer on the inside of the insulation layer, and it can have ABSOLUTELY NO GAPS IN IT.

Nada.
Ziltch.

If it is an airtight fabric such as Intello, every single joint has to be taped shut. Even things such as screw-holes and nailholes have to be thought through, because every hole in the airtightness layer creates a risk of air movement to the outside, and the resulting risk of condensation within that wall.

So that's why, if it can be helped at all, houses are always better to have insulated from the outside. It is an easier, more straightforward, less labour-intensive process which, even if someone makes a mistake whilst installing something, the problems that arise are not that bad.

If someone makes a mistake whilst installing internal insulation... Well. That can be rather, let's say, "more cumbersome". (F*cked up, I was going to say, but oh well.)

So, why are WE doing it then? Why are we wanting to install insulation on the inside?

The answer is: because our house does not have solid walls. We have a very "standard New Zealand" construction of what's known as "cavity wall". Basically, inside the walls of our house there's a gap: outside is brick, then there's 50mm gap, and then there's wood on the inside.

If we insulated our house from the outside, it... wouldn't work. We would be "heating" that gap inside the wall, basically, and from that gap the warm air would rise up into the roof structure and condense on the underside of our roof, condensing and potentially "raining" back down onto our ceiling insulation below.

And that is, basically, a very good example of why some houses get insulated from the inside. They are "retrofits", mostly - houses that are fixed up from something old, trying to fix old problems, rather than building a brand new house. It's a bit like having a second-best option: that, really, in an ideal world you'd be insulating on the outside. But sometimes you just... can't. To insulate a cavity wall from the outside requires re-engineering that wall so it becomes a "solid" wall instead (ie, a wall without a cavity) and to do that well... it kinda starts getting to a point where you need to think how much it's going to cost, versus what it would cost to just demolish the house and build anew.

So you choose a second-best option because you just have to. You don't want to - but you do it, because otherwise you'll be living with a non-insulated wall, and that's not good either.

I am thinking another day I may come back and share some ideas I have about our insulation, and how I am planning to tackle the airtightness problem. I have a couple of sketches I've made, just trying to get my head around all the corner details - that what is going to need to happen where walls meet with ceilings and floors, because we absolutely cannot leave any gaps.

But for the moment, I am going to go to sleep.

I handed in my very last assignment yesterday. I AM FINISHED!!!!

And also very tired. Good night!

LESS THAN A WEEK TO GO!!!

If all goes well, I will have all my assignments finished by Thursday.

In fact, depending on how hard the last assignment is - it is being handed out today - I may have everything finished TODAY.

In less than a week, I will have, essentially, graduated.

IN LESS THAN A WEEK, I WILL HAVE, ESSENTIALLY, GRADUATED!!!

Oh. My. God.

It is almost over.

!!!

When I realised I had been feeding our earthworms... polypropylene.

Earlier this year I discovered that teabags were made of polypropylene. I don't know why I hadn't known before. I had assumed that they were made of biodegradable fibres, so for years I put them in the compost bin.

Now, I have years forth of teabags to sift out of our compost soil. It'll happen gradually: I pick them out as I see them, gardening, weeding.


We have gone 100% onto loose leaf tea. Peppermint we are already getting from our garden. Others we buy in large bags, partially imported, partially New Zealand grown, mixed together in Nelson - kawakawa and lemongrass, ginger, feijoa green tea, chamomile and lemongrass.

Bit by bit, less plastic. Bit by bit, changes in our consumption. Grow a garden, plant a tree.

Once an understanding grows of sustainability and the ecosystem and the pollution, it's not possible to go back, only forward. When my children eat a banana in town, I carry the peels home, "for the worms". We have "adopted" a stretch of street and pick up rubbish when we see it. Glass and aluminium cans, we carry home so we can put them in recycling bin. The school uniform "second hand shop" I have set up at our primary school, I think we've already diverted a dozen uniforms from landfill - by replacing the broken zips, they have gone to be worn by more kids, rather than into rubbish where they did not belong in the first place.

Gradually, as these changes become my new "norm", I find new things to reduce and reuse and repurpose and recycle. Wanting to take up less space in the world, not more. I volunteer at school, my husband at the toy library. He has helped them fix up old furniture to keep it going.

Bit by bit.

Russian-speaking community in Invercargill

Did you know that Invercargill has a sizable Russian community? I was saying to a friend the other day that, at the moment, I speak Russian on a weekly basis here - and not because of speaking to the same people, but because of meeting a variety of Russian-speaking people in public spaces.

Mostly, I meet them in the sauna! Local swimming pool has a small public sauna which, I find, is quite a common place to overhear someone talk in Russian or with a very Slavic-sounding English accent that, when I ask the person where they're from, turns out to be from Russia. Or maybe if not from Russia, then from Russian-speaking ex-Soviet countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Usbekistan etc.

No official count exists, but by my estimate there are about 80 Russian-speaking people in Invercargill. Some Russians I have asked have agreed, guessing it to be about 75-100. I have personally met about 35.

A group of women meets every few weeks for a Russian brunch - a weekend meal at a cafe someplace for an hour of Russian chattering. I've attended one: my brain felt absolutely "fried" afterwards! Not having talked Russian for years, it is linguistically very challenging to put thoughts forward. I can understand everything - but I can't talk back effectively. Words are garbled, or not accessible at all.

My daughter's classmate is from Russia, so I talk to his parents at school, or when they've come for a visit. My son's therapist is an Usbek. I often hear and meet Russian speakers at public events in park - just last weekend I met a homeschooling mom of 2 who's originally from Belarus - or at the library.

Several Russian women have New Zealand passports and New Zealand husbands they've met whilst working in Europe, London mostly. A number of students from Russia is studying engineering, IT and management at SIT (Southern Institute of Technology), our local polytech.

It's a touchy subject I haven't dared to dig too deeply in, but my impression is that Russians I've met here do not take kindly to the current Russian political climate. It's small, off-hand remarks. "Russia's not... well." "You're familiar with what's going on, aren't you." "I did not want to live in a place like that." "I'm a lucky one, I had money to get out. Others aren't as lucky." As much as I would like to ask people, hey, what do you think of Putin?, it's not really a good question to ask, I don't think. (Would probably sound very similar to meeting an American and enquiring if they're Republican, or support Trump.)

I enquired from one of the enrolment clerks at SIT if there had, indeed, been a rise in Russian student numbers in Invercargill. She said yes. Apparently, New Zealand has started promoting overseas tertiary education options on the Russian market, and Invercargill is considerably cheaper to study at than other New Zealand cities.  Invercargill, basically, subsidises every foreign student's tuition fees because it recognises that people who move here to study contribute a lot of money towards the local economy (accommodation, food etc), without requiring many public services because, normally, foreign students do not have access to New Zealand's publicly funded healthcare or social benefits. That, basically, even after contributing towards foreign students' tuition fees, Invercargill is still earning enough tax revenue off it to make it worthwhile.

So, to Russian students who can be - but aren't always - cash-strapped, studying in Invercargill is more affordable than elsewhere in New Zealand, and the recent marketing campaigns have brought increasing numbers of them here.

What it means to me, a trilingual European "import"? I speak English the most. I speak Russian a little. I speak Estonian the least.

I've even started to notice a marked increase in my Russian speaking ability since making these Russian acquiantances, and have heard two Russian ladies say that I seem to speak better now than I did a year ago.

Looking into the future, it'll be interesting to see if speaking Russian will become more comfortable than speaking Estonian for me. After 10 years of speaking mostly English, my Estonian syntax has started to deteriorate. I can no longer write well in Estonian and when I speak, although I can recognise that Estonian sentences are "off" - they're composed of Estonian words, but arranged in a way English words would be in English syntax - I cannot fix them. I recognise mistakes, but I no longer know how to fix them.

Sure, my Estonian is still much better than Russian at this point, but I wonder for how long if I keep up speaking Russian on a weekly basis. We'll see.

Are we buying an... electric car? :o

It is interesting how changes in one part of life can prompt changes to other parts of lives.

I am googling "buying electric vehicle nz" and trawling through listings of second-hand cars. I did not think we'd be in this position for quite a few more years: our 2006 Honda is still going strong whilst we are waiting for prices of electric vehicles to become a bit more affordable.

But now me starting work has thrown a bit of an "opportunity" - or maybe a spanner - into wheels. It is 5 km out of town. It is too far to walk, public transport is not available that way, cycling does not sound very, uhm, "doable" given that I'd need to wear quite office-y attire.

We were considering buying an electric scooter/moped I would not need a license for, but given that last few kilometres of road are a 100 km/h zone, I'm not sure what it would feel like to ride something at 45 km/h if there are trucks that would go past me at 80+ km/h.

So then I thought, okay, how about I consider getting a motorcycle license so we can buy an electric moped that goes to about 70 km/h.

And then we thought, hang on, what DO electric vehicles cost now second-hand? And a bit of googling later, turns out, used Nissan Leaf-s start from $13,000 NZD. Sure, they've done about 40-70,000 km-s already but... still. (I can even see a 2011 Nissan Leaf that's done 18,800 km for $14,000 NZD. https://www.dkmotors.co.nz/vehicle/2011-Nissan-LEAF/5580?s=1 )

So now we are seriously considering buying an electric vehicle an option. Holy heck. I have so many things to learn about this.

Thoughts? Anyone already got an EV?

Yes! A NZ nationwide supermarket chain to introduce low sensory "quiet hours"

I read this article and went, yes! Many times over, yes.

(www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/400591/countdown-to-introduce-quiet-hours-at-stores)

Countdown is a New Zealand nationwide chain of supermarkets that is implementing a weekly "quiet hour" for low sensory shopping.

I see this initiative benefiting not only people who struggle doing their shopping otherwise, but as a healthy reminder to all of us about the importance of quiet, and how noisy urban environments are in general. 

I know I much prefer doing shopping in stores that do not constantly beep!, ping! and announce advertisements over the loudspeakers. Hey, did you know that we now sell ....!? 

That Countdown is recognising its value and implementing it throughout their stores, well... I don't normally shop at Countdown but, man!, I applaud this initiative.

Stomach flu and loss of consciousness [warning: graphic content]

Yesterday I experienced what was probably the worst case of "stomach flu" I have ever had. [Warning: graphic content ahead.]

The vomiting got so severe that I started to pass out (ie, lose consciousness) after each vomit. The first time it happened, none of us knew to expect it, so my husband found me slumped over with my head inside a bucket. Next time he knew better: he stood next to me, so when I started to slump over, he held me until I came back to it.

Neither of us knew what was causing it. My best guess is that chest spasming was so violent that I was not able to inhale oxygen between each heave; or maybe the blood was temporarily blocked from reaching my head at adequate levels. (A friend suggested today that vomiting probably triggered a vagal nerve response, I think it's called "vasovagal syncope".)

Either way, by the time it was all over at about 3 am, we were both very tired.

What an evening!

Similarities to Penny and Leonard from The Big Bang Theory

Me: "Maybe next date night we could go to the movies and see some crazy sci-fi action movie."

My husband: "You wouldn't like it."

Me: "I could treat it like a cultural experience. I didn't much enjoy giving birth either, but it was worth it in the end."

Questions and answers: how me and my husband's relationship has changed over time

Question: how has your relationship with your husband changed over time?

(Original question in Estonian: "Kuidas sinu suhe su abikaasaga ajas muutunud on?")

I was thinking the other day that having children is like pulling a bike trailer in high gear all the time.

Because ideally, gears should get switched: low gear when stopped at traffic lights, then gradually switching gears up as speed increases. But having kids is like leaving gears at 3-7 (ie top gear on my 21-speed bike) and towing 60 kg from standstill. Occasionally, uphill.

Aside from it being a good metaphor for life in general (almost everything becomes harder once kids are involved, and it's not only hard to start things, but also to stop), it is a good metaphor for describing how my relationship with my husband has changed in that time.

Take last night, for example. One of our kids came down with viral gastroenteritis shortly after going to bed (ie vomit everywhere), so we've had a very long evening and a rather sleepless night supporting the kiddo and sorting out the mess. There is still a pile of laundry waiting to be washed.

We dealt with it like a well-oiled team. To be fair, with kids being the age they are, we have had a lot of these "midde of night" illness scenarios, so we're... uhm, "well-practiced". But being as tired as we were, by the time things were dealt with, I don't think we even said as much as "Good night!" to each other. My husband went to bed ("collapsed" is probably a better word to describe it), I stayed on the sofa with our vomiting child (hello Pinterest at 2 am!) and that was that.

It's an extreme example of course, but in some ways we've become coworkers more than we are lovers, or even friends. Kids have needed to be dealt with, rain or shine. Even something as "straightforward" as finding the time and energy to have sex is like a task in scheduling - and then a hearing test when having to keep an eye out for people randomly walking in to ask for toast or whatever.

Just the other day we put the kids in front of a cartoon on a Saturday morning, disappeared back into the bedroom, and then I thought, "Hey, is that why I've heard so many kids say that they get to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings? Are Saturdays, like, NATIONAL SEX MORNINGS???" :D

No, but kidding aside: one of the reasons I look forward to my graduation this year is because I think me and my husband have a fair amount of socialising to "catch up" on. There will not be as many evenings and weekends I spend in front of a computer doing schoolwork, so hopefully there will be more time and energy to spend with each other, and learn about each other again.

From what I've heard, our situation is not uncommon. Two close friends have been studying from around kids and family life and their experiences closely mirror ours. With one of them, it ended up quite a laugh as we tried to compare who had gone a longer stretch "sex free" whilst breastfeeding an infant, taking care of a toddler and studying part-time simultaneously. Apparently, we had followed a very similar timeline :D

Or another friend: the wife and husband ended up seeing a marriage councellor a while back. After a bit of psychological "digging" it turned out that the husband was resentful of not being able to pursue his hobbies the way they had done before kids. The councellor asked, "But did you really think you'd be able to go in the office and play video games?" The husband said, "Well... yeah." It's not that he didn't mean well - it's just that it's hard to imagine the impact kids can have on a life... before you've had them; and then once you've had them, it's hard to do anything other than to just suck it up and find a way forward.

So how has the relationship changed? It's become more work, and less fun. Having said that: we both have grown immense respect for each other in terms of our parenting and resilience, so whilst some aspect of our life are worse off, others have benefited. There aren't really easy ways to go about it though. Well, maybe some people find it easy maintaining a pre-kids relationship even after kids come along, but I don't think there are many of those kinds of people. Most of us, I think, just kind of "muddle along".

I know I do.

PS. I think I've answered all the questions that landed under my blog a few weeks back, so if there are no more, I'll wrap it up for this year. And if you have any more questions, ask them quickly before I officially call it finished in my head :).
Talking to a climate change denier is like talking to a Trump supporter.

Questions and answers: what would I do if my man and children disappeared for a day?

Question: I'll ask a theoretical question just for the sake of it: if your man and children disappeared for a day and you were left alone and could do anything you wanted, how would you spend that day?

(Original question in Estonian: "Ma küsin siis niisama fantaasiküsimuse: kui su mees ja lapsed haihtuksid üheks päevaks minema ja sa oleksid täiesti üksi ja võiksid teha ükskõik, mida sa tahad, siis kuidas sa selle päeva veedaksid?")

Oh. Oh! That's, actually, a really hard question to answer. I've been considering it awhile and I'm still no closer to a good reply, I feel. But I'll try.

For one, a day feels like a Very Short Time :). The dreams I carry around in my head are, mostly, of massive projects - at least they feel massive to me, at this point - so if you had asked me about my plans if my man and children disappeared for a week, or a month, or a year, or even forever, it would've been a much easier question to answer. In fact, I could answer them now.

If they were gone for a week, I would hitchhike to Te Anau or Wanaka or somewhere near the Alpine Range that runs the length of the South Island, and go tramping. Maybe walk the Dusky track, or walk across the Cascade saddle, or go off-trail near the Routeburn track to explore the rocky tarns there. I would bring my camera with me, and would try not to get into hairy river crossings :D

If they were gone for a month, I would book a "relocation vehicle" through Transfercar (or something similar), drive it up North somewhere, dump it off and start walking the Te Araroa trail (it's a trail system that connects almost the entire length of the New Zealand main islands) back towards Invercargill.

If they were gone for a year, I would probably spend a month doing what I just described above - and then throw my weight behind a job I am starting soon to learn as much as possible, and as deeply as possible, about building houses. Because... I haven't shared it here yet, but I've been offered a job. An awesome, awesome job.

And if they were gone forever, I would move to North Island - Wellington, Auckland or Palmerston North - and put myself through a full architecture degree. 5 years. Live in a student dorm, ride a bus, have all my things fit into a single closet.

So... now that the easy part of the answer is done :), let's try the hard part. What would I do if they were gone for just a day? (And just as a technicality, but it's also really relevant: I am assuming that my dog, too, has disappeared for a day, yes? Because otherwise that would make for very different circumstances :D)

If they were gone for a day, I would spend the morning sleeping. Or maybe not sleeping, because after years of waking around 6 am, my body probably would not let me sleep past 7 am... but I would at least spend the morning in bed. Just lay in bed, soaking up the silence, and read a book. Make tea, boil a couple of eggs, get back in bed. Take the bicycle out in the afternoon, cruise around Invercargill - providing the weather is good, of course! Haha. And in the evening, if any events were on in town, I'd go to town and attend some public lectures. Maybe Forest & Bird have some interesting presentations, or visiting lecturers are talking at SIT.

And then I would enjoy a quiet night... until the normal mayhem started back up again in the morning, at around 6:05 am ;)

Alders and strawberries

When leaves fell last autumn, I raked them up and used them as mulch around strawberries and currants. It worked really well.

The downside is though, I now have what feels like 300 alder tree seedlings coming up amongst strawberry plants.

Questions and answers: how my son is doing

Question: How's boy doing? I understand it's a sensitive and private topic, but because I've read about his development since birth, I'm interested to know how he's doing now.

(Original question in Estonian: "Kuidas poisil läheb? Ma saan aru, et see on tundlik ja eraeluline teema, aga kuna ma olen tema arengu kohta sünnist saadik lugenud, siis huvitab, kuidas tal praeguseks on?")

I short, he's doing well. I think we are all doing well :)

I've heard it said many times - mostly by people from Ministries of Social Development and Education, and various health professionals - that when children have health / developmental / behavioural issues, it's important to invest and intervene early on; that's when help is the most effective. I don't know if that's the case with us - maybe we would've been in this situation regardless of whether we were helped or not - but we are right in the middle of "dropping" various support networks we no longer need and it feels good to be here.

At the end of this month, for example, I am expecting us to be discharged from the care of a paediatrician. To be honest, we were considering it last year already, but the paediatrician recommended staying on because once discharged, it's hard to get "back in" - access to support services is much easier from under a registered paediatrician. He suggested we give it another year to make sure that we don't have any other news "things" pop up that may require access to therapies.

Nothing's popped up. On the contrary - both my child and our family as a whole are becoming increasingly independent and confident in our ability to do things independently.

You're right, it's a sensitive and private topic I am trying to approach with grace and consideration for what is, essentially, another person's story; but I think it's fair to acknowledge that we've all had a role to play - I, as a parent, have needed to grow, too. And it makes sense - children spend most of their early years with their immediate caregivers, so in the interest of my children's development I've needed to "upskill" my own approaches to parenting. At times I've felt that the support systems have targeted me as much as they've targeted my son, because in order to help him they've needed to help me be a good parent.

To my daughter, many things come easier than they do to my son, especially in terms of balance, language and mathematics. But! My son has got a heck of a work ethic, and boy! does that make a difference.

Last year the primary school my children attend gave out awards to students that have shown outstanding performance during the school year. There were awards for academic achievement, sports, music/arts etc, about ten in total. My son received an award for perseverance - probably the most fitting, and the most pride-inducing award they could've given to him. It acknowledged, basically, that whilst he has had challenges along the way, he has persevered - a skill which I treasure greatly, and which I'd like to think we incorporate into our lives as a family.

One of the teachers who taught him reading last year said to me that he is an absolutely wonderful kid to work with. She said, "He listens. You tell him once and he does it. When he makes a mistake, he goes back and tries again." I was very proud to hear her say that.

So what I am getting at is this: he is doing well. He is eight years old. He reads well (in English) and has started to show interest in learning Estonian. He adds/deducts well within 0-20, with occasional exploring in 20+ ranges. He can swim confidently 10+ metres and dives well to 1.5m depths, likes indoor rock climbing, goes on moderately strenuous walks with us and, basically, in terms of development is doing just about on par with his peers. He has made several good friends at school and their parents have become my own personal friends, which is to say - we now all hang out quite regularly :). He has a beautiful sense of humour. He is kind-hearted and gentle.

With the reading ability, especially: he is now able to pick books from the shelf and explore them, more or less on his own. Each week as we pick our new books from the library, he browses the shelves and picks what takes his fancy: comics, nature & science stories, rhymes. He reads them aloud and makes theatrical sounds to go with it: a roar of a lion, a hiss of a snake. You can hear the glee in his voice over being able to read, you can see it in his eyes. I think he takes great pleasure in being able to read not only because he now has an ability that, up until now, belonged to his parents; but because he can appreciate that he worked hard to get there.

That he has worked quite hard to get there, it only makes me appreciate even more what a cool kid he is.

Questions and answers: some "homecooked" recipes

Question: Please share good recipes.

(Original question in Estonian: Jaga palun häid retsepte)


Hmm. How about 3 simple, "everyday" sort of foods we make in our house? 

1. Hummus
2. Bread
3. Marzipan

***

Hummus

The photo makes it look like poop, but hummus is something we make every 2-3 weeks. It's versatile: can spread it on toast, add it to salads, today I even packed it in my kids' lunchboxes with a bunch of carrot sticks. Protein-rich, filling, healthy food.


First, I blend the spices with the liquids:

2 lemons (I use both grind and then juice that I've squeezed)
1 orange grind
1/3 of garlic (finely chopped)
2 tablespoones balsamic vinegar (I use the affordable kind: Modena)
1/2 cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce or 1 teaspoon of salt
spices to taste (lemon pepper, salt, ginger etc)

Then I gradually add 3 cans of chickpeas/beans (wash them first to get rid of liquids in the tin), blending them into a smooth paste. Store in fridge.

And we don't actually have a set "recipe" for hummus. Rather, we add as much olive oil as it needs to get smooth - the more olive oil, the "runnier" it becomes. And we add spices to taste: my husband makes hummus slightly differently than I do. But generally, the more lemon, olive oil and salt it has, the tastier it is.

***

Bread

Again, the photo makes it look like a turd :), but it's yummy.


In the last few months, we've moved entirely onto baking our own bread and use a Panasonic breadmaker. It means I can load all ingredients into the machine in the evening, and the family wakes to the smell of fresh bread in the morning. It is so easy! The machine came with a large recipe book, so we found our favorite ones and have now modified them slightly. Most well-loved is probably this:

5 teaspoons yeast (called "Superbake")
350 g stoneground wholemeal flour
100 g white flour
50 g rye flour
40 g buckwheat
30 g black quinoa
30 g white quinoa
1 teaspoon dried garlic granules
1 teaspoon linseed or chia seed
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon ginger
0.5 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
50 g butter
1 egg
300 ml water

Set the breadmaker on "Menu 06" which takes 5 hours.

***

Marzipan

And lastly, a quick-to-make LCHF treat.

1 cup ground almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons stevia
1 egg (raw)

Mix ingredients by hand until it becomes a gloopy mass. If it's too thick, add a bit of melted butter. If it's too runny, add almonds.

Done!

Questions and answers: house projects we have going

I will try to answer questions in the order that they arrive. Today's question is this:

Question: How far are you with the home projects? Exterior ready, other activities on the go?

(Original question in Estonian: Kus maal kodu projektiga olete? Välisilme valmis, jooksvad teemad?)


Oh boy. This question is such a wormhole I may end up writing a novel about it :D

At the moment the most on-the-go project is this: prepping a foundation for a woodshed.

I wish we could replace that fence right now, but the neighbour has done so much renovating this year they've run out of money (it's a 50/50 between two properties), so we'll need to wait another year or two until the fence can be taken down...


I've big digging up topsoil from where the shed will go and prepping holes for footings. In another 2 weeks we'll probably start looking at getting concrete, and then framing it with timber. Once finished, it will look similar to this - just without the chicken coop.

And THEN!, a game of tetris will start.

  • Move all wood away from the current woodshed.
  • Demolish existing woodshed.
  • Build a workshop/toolshed where old woodshed used to be. (Similar to this.)
  • Move tools & timber from bedroom (where it is currently stored) into toolshed.
  • Renovate the bedroom where tools used to be.
  • Move people into that bedroom.
  • Renovate another bedroom.
  • Move people into that bedroom.
  • Renovate another bedroom...
Basically, everything hangs behind a woodshed at the moment. I have pages upon pages of sketches me and my husband have gone through in planning the layout of our backyard, but whichever way we approach it, woodshed needs to go in first.


Timeline? I think woodshed will be ready for Christmas. Toolshed will probably be ready by July the next year. And then we'll start having visitors in the house. Well, space for visitors.

***

And whilst renovating the house is years away I think (realistically speaking, because... really), another interesting topic I want to share is that we've worked out HOW to renovate the bedrooms.

Our house is a 1920's brick bungalow. I don't know how much you know about New Zealand construction, but unlike most houses in Europe (which by the way does not include Britan, as they have their own thing going), standard New Zealand walls have a cavity inside them. Our house, for example: there is a layer of brick on the outside (non-loadbearing, so it doesn't hold up anything other than its own weight), then an empty space of about 50mm, and then it's 90mm timber framing which makes up the actual structure of the house. So whilst the house "looks like brick" on the outside, it's really a timber house with a brick exterior.

And at the moment, it's not a healthy house. There is no insulation inside walls. No vapour barriers.

We want to insulate the walls and lower the ceiling (ours is 3.1 m high), but you can't just slap insulation between the timber wall framing. If you did, instead of that 50mm empty space there would be an insulation "bridge" between brick and timber - moisture would start moving from brick onto timber. Not good.

(There is also a question of bracing, but I won't go into that for the moment. Instead, I want to share our solution.)

Our solution is: we are going to frame the inside of the room with additional timber. Basically, we are going to leave the current structural walls intact. We are even going to leave the horizontal boards there which are making up the wall surfaces - but we are going to frame an additional wall on the inside of that boarding, and we're going to insulate that instead.

So imagine this, starting from the outside: old brick, 50mm cavity, old 90mm timber, old 10mm boards, 140mm new timber (with insulation in-between), vapour/air barrier sheet, plywood

We'll make the new wall framing 2.4m high - considerably lower than current walls - and we're going to place a new ceiling onto that. As nothing in that structure will be load-bearing, then we won't have to disturb any ceiling joists, or bracing, nothing. We won't even need any building consents. It'll be like creating a new room inside an old room, but having it insulated and vapour-proofed, so it'll actually be healthy.

So in the future, if you had to climb into my house's roofspace, you would see a whole bunch of ceiling joists "hanging" in empty air (where the current ceiling is), and another new ceiling about 60cm lower - where we have placed a new, non-loadbearing ceiling. 

***

So the plan is, room-by-room. Our house is not a "paint the walls and it'll be pretty inside" kind of a house. We have to gut the rooms. Remove flooring, ceiling, scrim walls. Replace all electrics. Replace windows (my husband will probably build our own timber windows, out of cedar. We'll see, have to try it out to know if it'll work.) Install new walls, ceilings and floors.

Basically, we want to do it properly, so that once done, it does not have to be done again in a lifetime. 

Though to be honest, it probably will take a lifetime! Haha. I may know my future kitchen layout, but I ain't getting it anytime soon.



Because first, I have to graduate this goddamn polytech (and go back to writing assignments, not blog posts), and head into full-time work. Already had another job interview this week, and with a very exciting company. As in, VERY exciting company!

Fingers crossed.

PS. In-between that there's a whole bunch of smaller jobs like greenhouse, drainage, deck etc, but I haven't gone into it, because it reallllllly becomes a wormhole. I have an encyclopaedia of jobs that we need to do on this house.

Questions and answers: wanting to become an architect

Question: Is the subject you are studying the job you want to do or do you need to learn anything else to get a dream job?

(Original question in Estonian: Kas eriala, mida õpid, on see töö, mida teha soovid või tuleks midagi veel õppida unistuste töö saamiseks?)

Short answer is: no, quantity surveying is not my dream job. I would like to be an architect, and in order to become one, I would need to study architecture.

***

But the long answer is this.

I've actually been interested in architecture for a long time. I even considered applying for a scholarship to study architecture straight out of high school, but for several reasons I ended up studying law instead - and it quickly became obvious that I realllllllly wasn't interested in law.

Then for about 6 years I sort of "floated about", doing random jobs in random places, finishing my law degree, until in my mid-20's I recognised that... I wanted to get back to architecture. I had a reckoning that mid-20's was way too early to have given up.

By that point, I was already living in New Zealand, had one child and another on the way. Re-training to become an architect in New Zealand - in these circumstances - was too hard. For one, there was no architecture school on the South Island - architecture degrees are only taught in Auckland, Wellington and Palmerston North. It was too expensive to move: we were working hard to buy our first home, so I didn't want to move to an exorbitantly expensive city to put me through an expensive 5-year-degree. And it was simply not fair - not on my kids, not on my husband, and not on me, to do that at that time. Quantity surveying emerged as a doable, close-enough, good-enough alternative option to architecture. 

Most importantly, quantity surveying was and still is a skill shortage in New Zealand. There is a sustained, country-wide shortage of skilled construction cost managers. It gives me confidence that, once I have some work experience, I'll be able to do meaningful, well-paying work for a long time. I could've taken up study in architectural technology instead (it's a 2-year diploma which gives skills to do basic architectural drafting and is taught in most places in New Zealand) and it would've got me closer to architecture... it would've also meant entering a job market with more competition and less pay.

By the way, I keep on writing "I", but I really do mean "we" - most of these decision are made jointly with my husband. We function as a tight family unit - financially, practically - and depend on each other in most aspects of our lives. At the moment, he earns bulk of our income and I do bulk of our everyday tasks. Putting me through a study affects all of our lives, so the decision to do so has to be made jointly, too.

Because one of our short-term life goals is for me and my husband to switch roles again - something we did very happily in Wanaka, whereby I was working and he was the stay-at-home parent - then job market and potential pay is a very important aspect of choosing what to study. Quantity surveying allows us more life balance, I guess, in a sense that it gets me close enough to construction whilst allowing us the resources to do other things that are important - to renovate the house, to spend more time with kids.

Hopefully, if all goes well, I may take up architecture at a later stage in my life, when my kids are older and more independent. I am even undecided whether to take up studying architectural technology now, part-time, slowly. Because quantity surveying and architectural technology overlap so much in their content, I would only need to complete about 50% of the diploma to be qualified as an architectural technician and have the skills I need to do stuff.

But... it takes time. And after 3 years of concerted effort to get this quantity surveying diploma, me spending time at the computer in the evenings to study, Saturdays at school to get quiet time to study, we all kind of want to just... have some time off. To just be able to live for a while. Because, once kids are involved, doing just about anything becomes hard, and getting through school these last 3 years has been hard.

And we all want to have a break from hard.

A TED talk about Brexit

I wish videos like this (and information like this) were available 2 years ago.

Because it's well worth a listen

https://www.ted.com/talks/carole_cadwalladr_facebook_s_role_in_brexit_and_the_threat_to_democracy

Would you like to ask me a question?

I'll try to answer them, if I can. Ask away in the comments :)

On slavery and freedom

Earlier today Jon Krakauer shared an article which he said, "It blew my mind. Please read it. Right now."

I read it just now. And it's true: it's an immensely well-written, powerful piece.

Please read it. Now.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html

Do I have diabetes?

So, have I got diabetes?

No. Maybe.

Before anyone throws a chair at a computer screen, asking how can someone maybe have diabetes, let me explain to you how diabetes is measured and diagnosed; it will probably explain a lot of what I'm wanting to say here.

6 years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter, I had what's called "gestational diabetes" - diabetes during pregnancy. We knew this because early in the pregnancy I was sent for a glucose tolerance test where I was asked to drink a large sugary drink and for the next 2 hours my blood sugar levels were monitored to see how my body coped with carbs.

The answer was: it didn't. Not very well, anyway.

I spent the remainder of that pregnancy keeping in strict control of my diet, and towards the end of the pregnancy used a medicine called Metformin because my doctors were concerned about the fact that I wasn't able to put on weight. They could see that baby was growing, but my weight stayed the same, so technically I was losing weight.

***

About half of women who experience gestational diabetes, will go on to develop diabetes later in life. One way to think of it is, pregnancy is like a stress-test which shows body's reduced ability to produce insulin when increased load is required. As insulin-producing ability then decreases with age, women who had diabetes during pregnancy are just already "closer" to that borderline.

***

During pregnancy, the guidelines I was given from the hospital for blood sugar monitoring were this:

* less than 5 mmol/l on an empty stomach ("fasting"),
* between 6-7 mmol/l an hour after having started eating ("post-food").

I never had any trouble with fasting levels (mine were usually around 4.6) - only with post-food numbers, and gradually I learned to choose my food very well to stay within the required limits. It marked the beginning of my interest in LCHF food.

***

Another thing I need to explain here is glycated hemoglobin, also known as Hba1c.

Hba1c is, basically, a long-term blood marker which shows how high average blood sugar levels have been in the last 3 months. Unlike finger-pricking blood tests which show, exactly, how much glucose is in the blood at any given time, Hba1c  doesn't measure highs, it doesn't measure lows - it only measures the average. And in a normal, healthy person Hba1c is usually between 20-40 mmol/mol.

Now, there are actually two reasons why someone's Hba1c may be normal. It may be that 1) the person's insulin production is very strong, so even though they eat a diet of ice cream and soda drinks, their glucose level never gets high enough for long enough to be reflected back in their Hba1c levels.

But there may also be another reason. Even a person with a 2) compromised insulin-production (ie, diabetic) can have normal levels of Hba1c because blood glucose levels go up in reaction to eating carbs. If a person doesn't it enough carbs, then their glucose levels will never get high enough to be reflected back in their Hba1c levels.

So, basically, if you sent a person for a glucose tolerance test (like is customary in pregnancy), then they may totally fail the test - and you'd be inclined to say that they are "diabetic". However, that same person may have an entirely normal Hba1c level because if they 1) modify their diet and 2) do exercise, then although their body doesn't produce a lot of insulin, it doesn't matter because their diet doesn't require a lot of insulin.

And in New Zealand, at least, diagnosis of diabetes is made not in response to glucose tolerance tests, but according to Hba1c levels. As long as person glucose levels are kept normal, it doesn't matter what their body would do if they drank a large glass of sugar water - there is no need to label them "diabetic" if their diet is not causing them to have high blood sugars. That is also why some people may be heard saying that "they've reversed their diabetes" - meaning, they've changed their diet and lifestyle so that their Hba1c levels drop back into normal range.

***

5 years ago, a couple of months after having given birth, I performed a couple of 'random' blood tests to get an idea on how my body was functioning post-pregnancy. I learned that if I ate what's considered 'normal' food in our society, something that is high in carbs (pasta, pie, potatoes etc), my post-food glucose levels would go above 8 mmol/l, sometimes even 9 mmol/l. My doctor at the time explained to me that it is not a problem as long as: 1) Hba1c levels remain normal and 2) fasting glucose remains low.

They explained to me that, basically, increase in fasting numbers is the first real sign of trouble in the insulin-production, and as long as mine remain at less than 5 mmol/l, all should be well, providing I eat a healthy diet - something reasonably low in carbs.

And THAT, long story short, is where I discovered the first signs of trouble two weeks ago. I pricked my finger in the morning, right after getting out of bed, and discovered that after 14 hours of not eating, my blood glucose was...

...6.7 mmol/l.

I think the exact words that went through my head were this: "Shit. Here we go"

***

Because, look, THIS IS NOT YET DIABETES and I know that. I know that! In fact, someone with actual diabetes might look at this number and think, "Oh, come on Maria, mine is 13." Whatever.

But the point is: ever since having gestational diabetes, I have lived in the knowledge that one day I will, probably, develop diabetes. It fits my medical history, and my family's medical history. And although I feel equipped to deal with it - though I wish it may never come - keeping an eye on it NOW gives me a chance to take care of my health before any potential damage from high glucose levels is made.

I have watched for years as my Hba1c levels have crept up, despite my relatively conservative consumption of carbs. 31 mmol/mol, 33, 35. The latest blood marker on my Hba1c level was 37 - just 3 digits short of the considered "normal range". I have not descended into panic over these numbers - rather, I have acknowledged them as the quiet progression of age and disability, and have offered them the respect they deserve.

Which still doesn't mean that I was prepared to see 6.7 mmol/l on a glucose monitor one morning.

That number - before any food has been consumed, in fact, more than 12 hours since last food had been consumed - has nothing to do with my self-control. It is a number I cannot affect. That number is a reflection of my hormones kicking in in the morning, getting my body ready for raising from bed, my metabolism converting energy stored in my tissues into blood glucose - and my pancreas not being able to deal even with that.

It is not diabetes (I think some countries draw the line at 7 mmol/l on empty stomach) - but it is a first real warning sign of the gradual degradation in my insulin production.

***

So, do I have diabetes? No. Maybe. If someone sent me for a glucose tolerance test - the way diabetes was diagnosed in the old times - then it's anyone's guess whether I would fail it. I think I probably would.

But I don't. At the moment it only matters what my actual blood sugar levels are doing - not what they would in the face of a fictional glass of sugary water - so for the moment, I don't.

And I intend to keep it that way. For a long, long time, if I can help it.

I'm okay

To measure oneself not by the numbers on a doctor's computer screen - not by the images of a brain on a radiologist's printout, not by the orthotic braces supporting an ankle, not by hearing aides attached to the side of a head, not by the amount of pills swallowed before bed - but by what the body is capable of.

I've known for years that one day I was likely going to see these numbers on a glucose meter, but nevertheless I have a process of grieving to go through. To re-learn to measure my health not by the markers on blood test results, but what my body is capable of, and the places it'll take me. Regardless of what I need to get there.

I'm okay. Sad, pissed off and tired, but okay.

 

Goddammit

Goddammit.


Goddammit.
Goddammit.
Goddammit.

"Where'd you hear THAT from?"

Great. I have a human-induced climate change denier at my workplace. A religious one at that. Seems to be, at least in part, a denier because of the religion.

Fun times.

The Distinct Burden of Being A Climate Scientist

Please read this article.

It’s the End of the World as They Know It - The distinct burden of being a climate scientist
https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2019/07/weight-of-the-world-climate-change-scientist-grief/

When plumbing and drainage videos make people laugh

Most of my classmates are 20+, 25+ years old. Some are even 30+ years old.

Which makes it especially comical when a 19-old-boy, has come to polytech directly out of high school I think, starts giggling loudly when we watch a plumbing and drainage installation video.

Apparently, he still can't keep a straight face when sentences "let's lubricate this end" and a word "penetration" are used in a construction context.

;)

What's quantity surveying like? According to my tutor, it feels like this:



And in case it's not clear, according to my tutor, quantity surveying feels like that bear cub in the video feels: climbing up a too-steep slope, over and over and over again, until finally... it's done.

Assignments and Instagram accounts

I wish I had a camera to show you the setting: an otherwise empty computer lab - aside from me and my stuff spread across two desks - Coldplay's "Everglow" blaring on the speakers, tangy smell of an apple I've just eaten, architectural plans and pens everywhere.

I am working on my next school assignment. This time, it's a large manufacturing facility next to an airport runway. I am tasked with choosing a good 'building envelope' for it, given that it has to block out a lot of noise from the planes, keep the building cool in summer and warm in winter, be easy to maintain etc. I am trawling through websites of Xflam, Volcore, Pyrotek, tracking down acoustics engineering values, R-values, trying to figure out if I can 'sandwich' a noise barrier between two insulating panels (would it even work?).

If you are interested in seeing (some of) the stuff I do at school, please head over to my Instagram account at https://www.instagram.com/allthingsqs/ . It's not everything, but it'll probably give you an idea of what quantity surveying is.

And here is 'Everglow'.

School holidays are almost over

It takes about 2 weeks to get used to spending time with kids all the time. Ironically, school holidays are only 2 weeks long, so by the time I get the hang of it, they head back to school.

And so do I.

Five more months, Maria, five more. And then it'll be over.

PS. Don't quote me on this yet, but I am considering... continuing studying next year. :/ Not quantity surveying any more, but on the architectural technology side, and not full-time, just part-time, one 4-hour class a week. I want to learn to draft well by hand and SIT has a very good tutor teaching it at the moment. And then semester after that, maybe, to learn to use Revit well.

Ehh...

*says the girl who already has 2 Bachelor's degrees and 1 half-done Master's, and is about to graduate with a diploma. Not sure if it qualifies as 'addicted to learning' but here we go. :/*

Syllables and 5-year-olds

Have you ever had a 5-year-old tell you, syllable by a pointed syllable, "The. Rule. Is. I. Don't. Like. Cau-li-flow-er. It's ten - ten syllables!"?

Well, at least she knows syllables, I guess...

Does a rabbit cost more than an internet cable?

A friend bought a (domesticated) pet rabbit. You know, like, a house-trained kind - the sort that poops in a litterbox (like a cat) and that can be snuggled with in front of a TV in the evening. A cute thing!

That same friend also learned that, apparently, even domesticated pet rabbits chew through internet cables if given a chance. Even if those internet cables are nailed into bottom of skirting-boards :)


Other words my kids mis-pronounce

Instead of "animals" they say "aminals".

Instead of "hospital" they say "hostipal".

Antibiotics!

OMG! It has worked! It has worked!!!

After 7 weeks of illness (whatever the heck it was, flu, cold, upper respiratory & sinus infection, call it what you like), it is finally going away! I AM FINALLY STARTING TO FEEL LIKE A HEALTHY-ISH PERSON AGAIN!

It is such a relief. Or shall I say: it is such an amoxicillin.

I know some countries struggle with over-prescribing of antibiotics and that, cumulatively, such an approach builds on the already existing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. But in my family, and in the practice of my GP, it's luckily the other way around. We try not to take antibiotics.

However, after 7 weeks of what felt like the most strenuous, ongoing, frustrating, draining case of "common cold" which, at the end, gave me such a frontal sinus infection that I felt like my eyes were bulging out of my face (not to mention the whole row of my upper teeth which hurt every time I crossed a kerb on my bike), we finally went on a 10-day course of amoxicillin and...

Oh. My. God. This is so spectacularly, splendidly awesome that I bend down to tie my shoes and it does not hurt any more. I no longer get bleeding from my upper sinuses. And when I blow my nose, my sinuses do not equalise through my tear duct.

In the course of this illness I have also learned that, apparently, I have a deviated septum - which probably played a role in not being able clear this cold. Having never broken my nose (as far as I'm aware), I can only assume that the genetic composition got passed down from my grandad. I mean, judging by the outside appearance of the nose, anyway :)

How to pronounce spagetti

I am going to be a little sad when my kids no longer say 'pascetti' instead of 'spagetti'.

"Can we have pascetti for dinner?"

The things people will remember you by

My husband picked up Heather Armstrong's book I brought home from the library.

Me: "It's that blogger I've followed for years. We've talked about her."
Him: "Nah, doesn't ring a bell."

Then a couple of minutes later:

Him: "WAIT, IS THAT THE WOMAN WHO CAUGHT HER DAUGHTER'S POOP IN HER HANDS?!"
Me: "That's the one."
Him: "Oh yeah, now I know who you're talking about. Cool."

And by the way: the book is pretty readable. It does make me think though, holy hell, Heather, no wonder you're so high strung given the sort of stuff - amount of stuff, really - you do in your life but, hey, we all choose our own ways to live, yeah?, so you're alright. I do feel sorry for you, though, most of the time.

Can a 6-year-old walk 3,000 km?

There is a family who have recently completed the Te Araroa trail (3,000 km) in its whole length with two kids.

https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/the-longest-walk

This, too, shall pass

A friend told me that when her baby was born, her husband went into a serious bout of depression. He was unemployed. Depression had happened, on and off, before in his life; but this occasion, especially, the bottom-pit was sustained. The baby was unsettled, life felt... uprooted.

Eventually he'd gone to see their GP and said that whilst he doesn't plan suicide as such, he does wonder sometimes what it would feel like to throw himself in front of a truck. The GP organised a psychologist's appointment for that very same day and said that 'ideation' - thinking about it - is the very last step before 'planning' it. So, yeah, it was very good he'd finally come to see a GP! And whilst it really would've been better if he'd come earlier :), this was good. They could do something about it.

The friend is better now. Her husband is better. Their kids are grown.

I remembered this story when, a few months ago, I was walking to school in the morning through drizzle and darkness and thinking, man, I wish I could get a few months off somehow. I remembered that our family had bought life insurance and trauma insurance for the next 15 years. (Trauma insurance, in a nutshell, is like a halfway between health insurance and life insurance: if any of us get diagnosed with some serious, debilitating disease like cancer or stroke or whatever, then we get a payout of about 2 times our annual income which would, in theory, help us cope with the situation whilst we need to take time off work to care for the kids and the ill one.)

I was walking and thinking, what if I got diagnosed with something that's serious enough to warrant a payout, but not immediately debilitating? Basically, something that would give me an excuse to say, sorry, guys, but I need to go off and live for myself for a little now. Maybe go backpacking for a couple of months, whilst I still have health, before having to come back and deal with treatment or whatever. It's not that I wanted to be ill - I was just trying to picture scenarios that would allow me to go away for a couple of months. (And, no, I don't plan on insurance fraud. It's not really my kind of soup to get into.)

When I caught myself picturing that scenario in my head, I thought to myself with a grin: Maria, that's not good. 

And to be fair, it probably was one of the hardest times of this year. My daughter had been ill for several weeks, getting up between 4:30-5:30 each morning with a hacking cough. She still hadn't started school, so I was driving kids to different places of childcare at 7:20 each school morning. My own school assignments had started piling up. Weather was windy and rainy, and as we don't own a clothes-drier, I was routinely hanging up washing at 6:40 am and planning my dies around when and how I'm going to get the clothes clean. My husband lost his job. A washing machine broke down. I had low iron and had just started another treatment to try to get iron levels up into normal range. Just... stuff building up.

I went for a long walk with a friend and whilst I did note that I could not think of anything to drop from my days, it did feel good to just accept that I was in a bit of a trouble for the moment.

***

Within a few weeks, things were better. My iron levels were higher, the treatment was working. Washing machine was repaired. My husband had started another job. The autumn winds retreated. My daughter started school, making morning dropoff into a single act of taking kids to daycare, in a bicycle trailer no less! Some days I would not even touch the car.

And this is how it always goes. 'This, too, shall pass.' Whatever the occasion, whether it's a tough autumn, or a 3-year quantity surveying study, or walking up a hill towards Gillespie pass, or a baby who does not sleep - eventually, it will, always, pass.

***

Photo from yesterday:

About to go drop toys off at the toy library. 'Horacio' the horse didn't fit in the storage pocket, so he'll have to hang out like that. Sorta works like a bike flag, IMO. By the way: yes, the kids still fit in the trailer. Both. It's a bit tight, like sardines, but they fit. (If anything, it kinda keeps them from annoying each other physically, because once they're in, they can't move much in there :).)

The life of a student

There comes a point in the evening when I am (attempting) to proof-read my assignment and I cannot decide, when I've written "Maintaining faces" in an underpinning section, is "faces" the correct spelling?

Or is that how "faeces" (=poop) is spelled?

Faces. Faeces. I look at the words, unable to decide, and then realise:

Maria, go home. You are tired, that's what you are. At a point where you cannot decide how to spell "faces", it's time to go home.

So I go home.


Smell of fresh bread in the morning

We bought a breadmaker. Aside from waking up to the smell of fresh bread in the morning, there is now this: when the bread comes out of the machine with the spinning blade still attached to the bottom, my husband calls out, "It's a boy!" When the bread has a hole in the bottom (left by the spinning blade that's detached), he calls, "It's a girl!"

Yes, honey, I can see that fresh bread is making quite an impact of your life ;)

Butter

Ha! My 8-year-old has figured out the good stuff :).

8: "Can I have a marmite toast, please?"
Me: "Okay."
8: "Just a little bit of marmite. Lots of butter!"
Me (grinning): "Okay."

Angry

I stood up from the computer last night and muttered, "Fuckin' money."

I then stopped in the middle of the room and said to my husband, "Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world. United States is..." I trailed into an exasperated sigh.

14 million. 14 FUCKIN' MILLION!!!

Yemen's population is 29 million people and about 14 million are on the brink of death - due to starvation. Almost 100,000 (!!!) children under the age of 5 have already starved to death.

I don't care why a country goes to war, because the moment you start intentionally bombing water networks (oh, hello Saudi-coalition airstrikes!) to wreck as much havoc on civilians as possible (5,000 cholera cases every day!), you have nothing to do with governance, diplomacy or international relations.

What you are instead is conscience-lacking, sociopath, hypocritical evilness pickled into a monstrocity jar. I don't care if your ceiling is made of gold and your clothes come from Armani. You are evil.

Peace out.

PS. Why do I read up on world events? Honestly, I don't know. It's easier not to.

However, I'm also at a point in my life where I feel that, actually, ease is not a valid argument for obstaining. The same way that not voting is not being 'apolitical' - what it is, is letting other people make the decisions instead.

Discomfort urges me to make changes to my own way of living. Yes, seeing photos of toddlers who are on the brink of death (and will likely never have good health again due to these stresses) leaves me traumatised, just as seeing seagulls whose guts are so full of plastic that they, literally, cannot eat - but it also means that I am more likely to not be complicit.

PPS. I look at the human evolution and it reminds me of a beech mast year. A plethora of seeds fall on the ground, pest population peaks at incredible numbers and then - collapse. Boom!

This is not sustainable.

Svalbard

Some places will forever stay with me. Svalbard is one of them.


This week I learned that Kaisa Rebane, an Estonian blogger I've followed for a while, has landed in Svalbard to start working as a sled dog guide & handler. I just about squealed when I read that. "OMG! What kennel?! Who with?!" I wrote to her and she replied back, not quite the same team I worked with, but close. She's down in the valley, I used to drive past the kennel she works at now.

I went to bed, buzzing with the energy of feeling excited for her, remembering the life changing moments I had there, wanting... back. Not, as in, wanting to go there now, with kids and family in tow (though how gorgeous would that be!), but wanting, just for a time, to be that 23-year-old again; with an open mind and a panging heart, looking for a place to be.

I returned from Svalbard, straight into the practical realities of finishing a law degree in Estonia, but... it never left me. What I learned there never left me.

No-one will ever know what it felt like, exactly, when I spent those quiet nights at a church up on that hill, and what it felt like when Troels said to me, "I think you'd really like it in New Zealand," (that's what started it all). How alive I felt the morning when the blizzard ripped a stack of dog harnesses from my hand, and I realised I had forgotten my gun at home. My first ever frostbite. The way my heart pounded when the snowmobile started crashing through the river ice and I muttered into my facemask over the scream of the engines to just do what Hans had told me: push the gas pedal. PUSH THE GAS PEDAL!!! If you stop on the river, the snowmobile will crash through the ice; you need to drive until the tracks are on the solid ice again. Man, it was such a wonderful place to be a 23-year-old! I tear up thinking about it, grateful to the bottom of my bones of having been welcomed in and just to have spent a winter there. Of having breathed there, and watched the Northern Lights up above the kennels.

What a wonderful experience it is to now watch someone else's life there, but how saddeningly beautiful it is, too. In a way that makes the eyes well up.

*sigh*









Life in tidbits

Why is it that after months of looking for work, the week I sign a contract with one company, two other opportunities pop up? #notimpressed

Having said that: it feels good to get paid.

***

19 June 2019 - first frost of the year.

***

After 6 weeks coughing which, at times, got almost debilitating, I finally seem to be on the mend. It's not over yet - but at least I have the energy to bike again. In the morning, I strap the kids into our Chariot trailer and pull them along to a YMCA program. Then, I bike off into my own morning class.

At 7:20 am it's not even light yet, but here we go: me on a bike, kids laughing with glee in the trailer as we ride alongside main street, high-vis clothes on, lights on. Ice on the street.

It's kind of nuts. In a good, but very tiresome way.

***

I friend I haven't seen in a while is looking to do a PhD in Germany or UK. Meanwhile, I am thinking: come on, find something in Dunedin, New Zealand instead! Because how cool would that be!

It's good to have new friends, but I miss the old ones.

***

I start looking into the measurement assignment and then realise the irony: I am doing it to the tune of Bruno Mars' "today I don't feel like doing anything" :D


***

The school I am studying at just got accredited to extend a 2-year diploma program into a 3-year degree program. Am I going into a third year?

HELL NO. I'm done. In November, I am out. I've had enough of this.

Overheard at the dinner table

Mister 8 to his sister: "When I turn 9, I'll be older than you."
Miss 5 in reply: "When you turn 100, you'll be dead."

How mountains, oceans and starry nights make for better people

Jo Marchant wrote an article for New Scientist on why mountains, starry skies and oceans make for kinder, nicer people.

Okay, I'm making a bit of a leap here. She didn't actually write that mountains, starry skies and oceans SPECIFICALLY make for nicer people. However, she did write about the feeling of awe and explained what it does, neurologically, in a person's brain.

The article is behind a paywall, so in case you haven't got a New Scientist subscription, I'll sum it up here.

In 2003 two University of California, Berkeley researchers named Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt started studying the feeling of 'awe' and came up with a definition of what it is. "They described awe as the feeling we get when confronted with something vast, that transcends our frame of reference and that we struggle to understand. It's an emotion that combines amazement with an edge of fear. Wonder, by contrast, is more intellectual - a cognitive state in which you are trying to understand the mysterious."

Basically, awe is something that is likely to give you goosebumps (second only to feeling of cold) and make you go, "Whoa, this is AMAZING." A bit like standing on a ridge in the mountains and struggling to grasp how vast the space is. Looking up at a starry sky at night and not being able to get your head around the fact that each star is, basically, like another huge Sun somewhere in space. Feeling the bow of a ship crash over a huge ridge of water on the Southern Ocean and thinking, sh*t, I am so small compared to all of this. That's what awe is. (Wonder, on the other hand, is likely to make you go, "Oh, wow, I wonder how that's possible?")

As Keltner and Haidt studied people who were made to experience awe, they noticed something peculiar: people who experienced awe (as opposed to just happiness or pride etc) changed their behaviour and perceived themselves smaller. They were more likely to help a person who stumbled in front of them. They were more ethical, generous and felt more connected to other people. They signed their names smaller, they drew themselves smaller. The experience of feeling awe diminished their sense of self-importance, but did not change their self-esteem.

Basically: they felt just as good about themselves as before, but they wanted to help others more.

Then, in 2017, another researcher (Michiel van Elk from University of Amsterdam) presented a study of functional MRI scans of people who had experienced awe. His findings struck a chord with what Keltner and Haidt had said before him, because the differences could be seen even on an MRI scan. "Awe quiets activity in the default mode network, which includes parts of the frontal lobes and cortex, and is thought to relate to the sense of self. 'Awe produces vanishing self,' says Keltner. 'The voice in your head, self-interest, self-consciousness, disappears. Here's an emotion that knocks out really important part of our identity.' As a result, he says, we feel more connected to bigger collectives and groups."

Meanwhile, a team from Arizona State University found that awe calms the fight-or-flight response. "Experiencing awe made people feel as if they had more time - and made them more willing to give up their time to help others.

The article goes on to discuss that humans are not the only primates to experience awe - chimps show signs of awe, such as goosebumps, during thunderstorms. The feeling of awe carries an evolutionary neurological function - but we don't, necessarily, utilise it nowadays.

Jo Marchant talks to people who say that teenagers are reporting an increasing sense of disconnect, and that the rise of hatred in the US (and elsewhere) may be connected to the lack of awe. People are spending their days gazing at their smartphones. If we are no longer getting to experience awe, then we are - neurologically - set up to be less humble, less charitable. Education, with its focus on test results rather than exploration is taking awe away from our kids. That has far-reaching consequences not just for education itself, but for the entire human race.

***

To me, the article is not mind-blowing per se, but it does confirm what I've thought all along: that children need to learn both that they, themselves, are important and that the world around them is important.

And to help them learn that, I need to bring them to places that will make them go, WHOA! THIS IS SO WICKED!

Svalbard 2008

New Zealand 2010

School, work, kids, life, health etc

I am so, so tired.

November. Maria, I tell myself, just hang on until November.

This is hard. There is, of course, another option - that rather than being hard, I am just a wuss instead. But, actually, I don't think that's the case. It's hard.

I am keeping abreast with the assignments coming out of school, intent on not ever falling behind, always the first to hand stuff back in. I've been ill for a month. My daughter has been ill for a month. My son has just come out of 2 months of plaster-casts. I've started a job - after 3 months of being an intern, the company have decided that they want to keep me on. My husband lost his job. Twice. And then when a washing machine breaks down (why does it always break down at the most inconvenient times? Or is it that any time feels hard/inconvenient for a washing machine to break?) then life just, promptly, becomes a major pain in the hole.

There is so much going on, no wonder I feel overwhelmed at times.

November - I need to hang on until November when 1) I graduate, 2) start full-time work and 3) my husband stops his work.

F*ck this is hard.