Sunday, April 19, 2020

Life In Isolation, Report #3

Only a few days left of the original 4-week lockdown! Wednesday is the end date. Tomorrow (Monday) the government will make a decision as to what happens after that. Will we stay at Level 4 for longer, or drop down to Level 3? New case numbers have declined from a high of 89 per day early in the lockdown, to a low of 8 two days ago. (It went back up a little yesterday to 13 new cases, but all 13 were directly linked to prior cases and not community spread, so that's still good news.) The past few days, the Ministry of Health ordered random sample testing at supermarkets around the country, to check if they're missing any silent community spread from asymptomatic carriers. So far all that testing has come back negative, which is the best news of all.

A glimpse of hope
NZ's lockdown is clearly working. We really might be able to eliminate the virus within the country. So do we extend the Level 4 restrictions a bit longer to try and get new cases all the way down to zero? Or loosen up a little to Level 3, in which some businesses can re-open, and trust in comprehensive testing and contact tracing to continue controlling the spread? The PM and her cabinet have waited for the last minute to make an official decision because they want to see and evaluate the very latest data--a precaution I applaud. (I have been so impressed by NZ's handling of the crisis. Let's hear it for competent, compassionate, science-based government!)

For us personally, it won't make too much of a difference to our daily lives if we go to Level 3. Schools won't open to anyone but the children of essential workers unable to arrange other childcare, so the kiddo will still be at home, needing my help with his schooling. His break finished up after Easter, which was a gray rainy day but at least we managed an egg hunt in our backyard.

Easter egg dying station

The result of our labors. After the egg hunt, I made them into deviled eggs, but accidentally put in too much mustard. Google informed me it's possible to solve a mustard problem by adding some brown sugar. This actually worked. So it's not just the kiddo who's learning things in lockdown! 
School at home is going fine, the kiddo is enjoying the lack of uniforms and long bus rides and he's learning plenty. (Thanks to our online Japanese lessons, now both he and I know how to ask politely for English tea or green tea at a Japanese teahouse. Sadly, I do not like any type of tea. I will have to find out if there's some other Japanese drink I might like instead.)

Home schooling does make it awfully hard for me to get much else done during the day. The kiddo won't be going back to school until Level 2, and God knows when that'll be, so I just have to make my peace with the new normal.

Practical maths: using decimal measurements to make gluten-free cinnamon sugar baked donuts. Except I don't have a donut pan. Google claimed we could use a muffin pan and put little balls of crumpled up baking paper in the center of each tin to make the result donut-shaped. This was a lie. They did not come out looking anything like donuts. More like weird little cake things with jagged gaps in the middle.

Still tasty, though, especially with some salted caramel ice cream covering the chasm in the middle.
If we go to Level 3, everyone's still supposed to stay home and in their "bubble" if at all possible, i.e. no socializing in person. ("No playdates?" wails the kiddo, bereft.) Restaurants will remain closed. Drive-throughs are allowed to open, but our little town doesn't have any of those. (The nearest McDonalds is an hour away in Queenstown!) Maybe we'd be able to get take-away fish & chips from the local cafe, which would actually be exciting, since it's been ages since I last ate a meal I didn't have to make.

Businesses will be allowed to open if they can sell products online with contact-less delivery, which means we could maybe order more stain for our house. (We've run out, and we still have lots and lots of staining left to go, ugh.) No motorized or open-water hobbies allowed, meaning no boating or kayaking on the lake, but we'd be allowed to go swimming or fishing from shore, and maybe hiking on a real trail, woo hoooooo! We're heading into winter now, and the weather's getting iffy, but I'll take any mountain exercise opportunities I can get. (Oh goodness I am hoping we get to Level 2 by ski season, though!) 

Woke up this morning to lovely lavender and rose light, with fresh snow on the mountains. 

Anyway, life goes on. I'm still trying for an hour of writing every day, and still saving my sanity with Revolution Yoga. But I still struggle with worries about the world's future, and anger at people who still refuse to take the virus seriously. 

When I read accounts from doctors in COVID-swamped ERs (like this one, and this one), I often wish our news wasn't so sanitized. I know they're not filming much in affected hospitals because of privacy and safety reasons. Yet I feel like all of us who are healthy should witness the truth of the lives lost. We don't see the patients gasping desperately for air, dying of viral-damaged lungs and hearts and kidneys, so it's easy to dismiss the deaths as dry statistics. A comment I saw on twitter really struck me: imagine if we had a zombie outbreak, but we never get to see the zombies, only healthy people talking about them. That's what it's like now. We see the global death toll steadily rising, but we don't see the dying. Only doctors and nurses do, and it's shattering them. Also killing them, even as many are asked to work without proper protective equipment. Calling them heroes does nothing to make up for that.

So yeah, when it's a cloudy freezing miserable day and we're all stuck in the house together getting snappish and mopey, I read r/medicine and r/residency and r/nursing to get a stark reminder of the reasons for the rules. If staying in Level 4 longer ensures NZ's doctors and nurses never have to fight such battles, I am all for it.

Reading report: I finished Weave the Lightning, which lived up to my hopes. The magic system is quite intricate and complex, which I enjoyed but (fair warning!) might put off some readers. I took Russian all through high school and university, so I enjoyed the Russia-inspired feel of the secondary world, and the circus setting gave me fond memories of HBO's Carnivale. As will surprise nobody who's read my own books, I particularly enjoyed the two main characters' gradual transition from suspicion/animosity to tentative respect/friendship and eventually to a deeper relationship. I often feel like YA novels rush the character relationships, but Weave the Lightning does not, hooray. The story does end on a fairly cliffhangery note, but of course I don't mind that either--I look forward to seeing what happens in the next book.

I haven't yet decided what to read next. At bedtime, the kiddo and I are together reading one of my long-time favorites, Patricia McKillip's Cygnet duology. We're on the 2nd book now, The Cygnet and the Firebird, which I love best of the two, and it's so cool that the kiddo is loving it also. Oooh, this part of parenthood is the best. Wish I could go back to my younger stressed-out, sleep-deprived self during the difficult screaming baby days, and assure her that everything will be okay, the kiddo will be fine and the coming joys will more than make up for the exhaustion and tears. Alas for my lack of a time machine. Instead I shall soak up every instant of joy I can, to save against future challenges.     

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Life in Isolation, Report #2

We're now in week 2 of lockdown. In another few days, we should be able to see if the restrictions are making a strong difference in viral transmission. It's already been heartening to see that even with greatly increased testing, numbers of new cases are rising linearly rather than exponentially. 36,209 tests have been run to date; NZ is currently at 1039 cases, with only 1 death so far.

The low death rate is likely because the majority of NZ's cases are linked to overseas travel, and travelers tend to be younger and healthier. If the virus makes it into a more vulnerable demographic, the death rate can go up quite fast. If we're very lucky, the lockdown will have been put into effect early enough to prevent that from happening. But all we can do is wait and see. Every day at 1pm the Ministry of Health holds a live press conference discussing new cases. I don't watch every single day, but if I'm near a computer at 1pm, I do rush to go see. (Holding my breath, hoping for low numbers).

It's not always easy to adjust to life in level 4. This past week, the weather was absolutely gorgeous--warm, sunny, and calm. My son told me about a million times how much he wished we could swim in the lake. (We can't; no swimming or watersports allowed.) I gazed longingly at the local peaks, thinking of how perfect the weather is for hiking them. (Tramping isn't allowed either.) My husband likewise heaved many a sigh, grumbling that it's just not fair for the wind to stop NOW, why couldn't it be like this back when we were allowed to go boating?

Tantalizing autumn weather--look at that, not a cloud in the sky, nor any wind to blow you off the ridges!
He can't go swimming, but at least he can still skip stones
I realize we're still very fortunate, though. We know families with spouses stuck in different countries; and others who were halfway through moving, who're now living in campervans or sheds. We're doing just fine, we're in our own home, we're all healthy, and at least we can still walk and bike for exercise. And since my son's school moved their 2-week fall break forward, he's spared from schoolwork for the time being. (Right when my homeschool routine was working so well! Oh well, I'll put it back into practice soon enough. The school break ends on April 15th, and then it's back to work.)

Such a hard life. I mean, somebody's got to eat all the grapes from our greenhouse grapevine.
Breaking out the tried and true alternatives to screen time.
We did put the excellent weather to some good use. For ages now we've been working on staining our house. A very slow project, since it's hard work and involves a lot of ropes and ladders for the upper sections, and honestly when the weather is good we are all too quick to go hiking or biking or boating instead.

Ha, but not now. With no more excuses left, we've been tackling the sun-facing north wall of our home. (Even after almost 3 years living in the southern hemisphere, it still throws me on occasion that the north face has all the sun exposure, while the south face is shadowed and cold.) The north wall has a hell of a lot of pine weatherboard to stain, and the panels have been, well, weathered pretty badly by the ferocious sun. (There's not much ozone layer above NZ.) As my sore arms can attest, this means it takes huge amounts of stain to cover and seal the wood, urgh. The worst part is that when I finally get a section done and want to celebrate, I realize I'll have to do it alllllll over again for the second coat.

The North Face. May look a lot less impressive than Everest's, but man, if we ever finish getting multiple coats of stain onto all that wood, I will feel almost as much accomplishment as if I'd climbed some Himalayan peak.

This morning's work. 
Our fruit trees have been going to town, which is great but also a little bit sad because we can't share the fruit with neighbors and friends. (No food sharing allowed in lockdown!) I refuse to let the bounty go to waste, though. As I'm still new to everything about gardening, I spent ages slicing and freezing our lovely red peaches before I happened to stumble across a webpage that informed me stonefruit can be frozen whole. My God, why didn't anyone tell me? Soooo much easier to just wash 'em, dry 'em, and dump them in a freezer bag.

This is only the smallest selection of our vast number of peaches. They look grayish because they are "black boy" peaches, which are purple-gray on the exterior, bright red on the interior. I think "red peach" is a better name, so that's what I call 'em. 
Ready for freezing. The intense red is the natural color. The flavor is different than normal peaches, a lot more tart when fresh, but mellows into this rich, complex, super deliciousness when cooked. I don't like cooked peaches ordinarily, but I love these.
All the Kiwis do tons of canning and jam-making and preserving, but my husband can't eat sugary jams/preserves, my son doesn't like them, and it feels like a daunting amount of work, anyway. For now, I'm sticking to freezing and baking.

I made gluten-free red peach muffins! Very tasty. Sadly it turned out the kiddo does not like any type of cooked peach, even in muffins. Oh darn, guess I have to eat them all, to spare my husband from sugar.
If you're wondering how writing is going, well, I'm writing where and when I can. Much like the house staining, progress is slow, but even slow progress adds up in the end, I hope. It is definitely nice to have the mental escape from worrying over the virus and the long-term global consequences thereof. Writing requires so much concentration for me that it leaves no room for anything else. That is a blessing in stressful times, no question. May we all find such relief.

Speaking of absorbing escapes, I finished Sangu Mandanna's A House of Rage and Sorrow, and I'm delighted to say the further adventures and difficulties of her characters kept me just as entertained as A Spark of White Fire. This one is a darker book but no less engaging. I stayed up late after putting the kiddo to bed so I could devour it all in one go. I think the third novel comes out later this year; I've already got it pre-ordered.

In the meantime, I'm excited to dive into Weave the Lightning, by Corry L. Lee. Storm magic and a Russian-inspired world sound like exactly my jam. This is her debut novel, it has just released, and oh gosh, my heart goes out to her and every other author debuting in pandemic times. Getting the word out about your brand new book was hard enough before, but now? Eeeeek. Maybe it's not huge in the scheme of things, but all of the things we miss and lose due to this virus still matter. So hey, if you're looking for entertainment in your isolation, be sure and check out recent releases, especially debuts. They'll need extra help not to sink below the readership radar.