Wednesday, January 1, 2020

State of the Schafer: 2019 in Review (Picture Edition)

Happy New Year, everyone. We just got back from spending Christmas with family in Sydney, Australia, where thanks to the worst bushfire season in living memory, the sky mostly looked like this:

My little cell phone camera doesn't do the eerie colors justice. The sky was orange, the sun crimson.
We were lucky during our visit. Our arrival before Christmas coincided with a cool front that pushed smoke away from Sydney and allowed firefighters in the Blue Mountains the chance for vital defensive work. But the day we left, on New Years Eve, conditions worsened again as high winds fanned the flames. Homes are burning, people have died, thousands are stuck without power or safe exit routes--and the only thing capable of stopping the fires for good is heavy rain, which forecasters say likely won't arrive until February.

But Australia has always had fires in summer, some people protest. Yes, they have. But thanks to the changing climate, this year's fire season is far longer, hotter, and drier than in years past. Nor are controlled burns the solution--as this well-researched article explains, the situation is complicated. Plus, during extreme heat and wind, the amount of available fuel makes only a small difference to a fire's intensity; the primary driver is weather.

Even 2000km away in New Zealand, we're feeling the effects. I woke up this morning to a sky so yellowy-orange I thought for a second we were still back in Sydney. Nope. It's just Australian smoke pouring across the Tasman Sea to blanket us.

View from our house this morning. Again, the camera doesn't do the color justice.
Nor is this the only sign of changing climate we've faced here in NZ. While Australia is predicted to get hotter and drier, NZ's South Island is predicted to get warmer and wetter. We had a taste of what that might be like this spring, with epic amounts of rain leading to flooding that destroyed bridges and roads and briefly cut off the entire lower half of the South Island from the rest of the country. We're okay here in Hawea, where the town is on a hill well above lake level, but Wanaka isn't so lucky. 

Flooding in Wanaka in early December
At least the government in New Zealand is trying hard to anticipate climate impacts and address them, as well as reduce the country's emissions, with all political parties coming together to vote for the Zero Carbon bill despite disagreements. 

The most depressing part about the Australian fires is that this terrible season isn't a surprise; scientists have been sounding alarm bells for years. But the Australian government, like the current US government, has prioritized short term economic gain over everything else. Even now, the prime minister insists he won't change policies. The New South Wales government has at least agreed to compensate volunteer firefighters for their loss of earnings while fighting fires in dangerous conditions for weeks on end with no finish yet in sight. Hopefully other regions of Australia will follow that lead.

On a larger scale, I guess paying the cost is all we can do, if governments continue refusing to address the root cause. But governments are put in power by people, and I hope with all my heart that in 2020 more people will understand the stakes we face and vote accordingly. It's too late to stop the climate from changing, but it's not too late to limit the worst effects.

Perhaps it's both the blessing and the curse of humanity that we're so good at focusing on the here and now. There is always light amid the darkness, and savoring the small joys of everyday life is what keeps hope alive.

The fires and smoke didn't stop my in-laws from throwing a lovely Christmas party
Having a great lunch with my husband
With the help of my sister-in-law and one of our nieces, we solved the Wizard's Quest escape room at Escape Hunt in Sydney. 
Looking back over 2019, despite all the horrifying developments in world politics and climate, I have a lot of good memories to savor. We visited a bunch of cool places in New Zealand I hadn't seen before, like the wild southern shores:

Windswept bluff near Gemstone Beach
and the busy, beautiful city of Wellington (SFF fans and authors, you definitely want to come down here for WorldCon in August!):

Wellington is gorgeous on a sunny day
Plus we visited the cozy homes of Hobbiton in Matamata:

I would totally live here if I were a hobbit
and Rotorua's steaming geothermal field:

Don't wander off the trail

and the lovely alpine scenery near Glenorchy and Kinloch:

View from Kinloch, at the head of Lake Wakatipu
not to mention the incredible Milford Sound in Fiordland:

Mitre Peak in Milford Sound
In late September, I took my son to visit family and friends in the US, where we saw Hogwarts Castle:

My son loved all the Harry Potter stuff at Universal Orlando (and yeah, I did too)
We played in a really cool water park (Universal's Volcano Bay):

Plus took a cruise in the Caribbean with my mom and brother:

I realize I need to plant about a million trees to make up for the environmental impact of this...or better yet, contribute to the development of a planetary sunshade. I think we're unfortunately past the point at which lifestyle changes are enough to make a difference. It's technology that will have to save us.
While in the US, we visited familiar, much-beloved haunts:

Boulder, Colorado...I do miss the Flatirons!

Wandering the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park
Delicate Arch at sunset
And also enjoyed some new adventures:

The kiddo on a long rappel on the Rock of Ages route near Moab
Our guide helps him negotiate a downclimb in the slot section

Back in New Zealand, we spent plenty of days enjoying Lake Hawea, just steps from our front door.

Lake Hawea's beach is rocky rather than sandy, but the rocks sure are pretty
I never get tired of the view from the lakeshore walking track

The very best way to see the lake
 Although the ski season came very late this year (more reason to hate climate change, arrrgh), I still enjoyed some great ski days.

So did my son, who's good enough now to ski the infamous Motatapu Chutes with panache.

Celebrating a successful ski of a very steep chute
He also took up trampolining, and competed for the very first time, which is pretty darn cool. He's excited to progress further in 2020.

I, meanwhile, returned to figure skating--a lot more cautiously than I'd like, thanks to my aging back, but I've been delighted to find I can still jump and spin. I'm training for my first competition in over ten years, eeek! (The NZ Masters Games in Dunedin in February of 2020.)

Blurry pic, I know, but hey. It's hard taking pictures in a dimly lit rink.
But Courtney, what about writing? you may ask, assuming anybody's still reading this extremely long post. Where's your next book? 

All I can say is that I'm still working on it. Or rather, working on them, plural. I've still got The White Serpent novella and short stories in the works--Tales from Ninavel, I'm thinking I'll call the collection as a whole. Plus, I'm still plugging along on my new fantasy adventure, The Dreaming Sea

I'm bummed that I didn't publish anything in 2019, but I also don't want to put out anything less than the best I can write. I ran into a couple roadblocks toward the end of the year, on both projects, and realized that I need to correct course, which means revising and rewriting. But I've got a path forward, and I mean to use it. I may not be a fast writer, but I get there in the end. I definitely will attend WorldCon/CoNZealand in Wellington in August, so readers and fellow SFF fans, I hope to see you there. 

What else is ahead for me in 2020? Oh, I've got a few goals:


Really, that's the biggest one. But okay, I've got a few more plans and dreams:

2) Compete in Adult Gold figure skating at NZ Nationals, assuming my back holds out
3) Complete a coding project I've been working on: a fantasy book recommendation algorithm that uses book content/theme/style rather than sales information to produce results 
4) Formally open a consulting company here in NZ for my algorithm work
5) Find ways to contribute to climate change solutions
6) Keep exploring NZ's amazing landscapes with my son and husband

So, yeah. Busy year ahead. But exciting, too. Best wishes to all of you in 2020--let's hope this year becomes the start of a better future for everyone.


  1. It's great to see an update from you, and as usual, with gorgeous photos!

    I'm looking forward to WorldCon. :-)

    1. Thanks, Kendall, and hooray for you coming to WorldCon! Will this be your first time in NZ, or have you visited before?

  2. We had a short visit when Worldcon was in Melbourne, Australia. We stopped in Wellington first and went to their national SF con, but we only did a little sightseeing around/near Wellington (which was nice, but very limited). So we're looking forward to seeing more of NZ while we're there!

    I should mention we saw the cutest animal on the planet at the Wellington Zoo - the red panda! :-D We had a cool close encounter behind-the-scenes where we got to feed . . . well, okay, sorta feed them. More like "hold a plate of treats so they can approach us cautiously and partake of the delights." ;-) Thus cementing them as CUTEST ANIMAL EVER for us.