Saturday, May 9, 2020

Life in Level 3

On April 28th, NZ moved down to Alert Level 3. Businesses are allowed to open, if they can maintain social distancing of employees and do contact-less delivery to customers. Schools are open only for those children whose parents must return to work and have no one else to care for them. (My son, like most of his classmates, remains at home doing remote learning.) Travel within our local region is allowed, as are "small" expansions of household bubbles to include nearby relatives. (We don't have any relatives nearby, sadly, so our bubble remains the same.)

At least we can take our very small bubble to a very big lake
Everyone's excited we now have the option of eating take-away food ("take-away" is the Kiwi term for take-out). On day 1 of Level 3, the queues in the cities for fast food drive-throughs were apparently epic. Wanaka doesn't have any drive-throughs, but plenty of local restaurants opened for contact-less take-away. We decided to make Fridays a take-away dinner night, to support local businesses and give me a night off cooking (yay!).

Sadly, our first Friday wasn't quite the success I'd hoped. At my son's request, we ordered from his favorite burger place in Wanaka...but turns out that the 20 minute drive back to Hawea is long enough for the burgers to cool down and get less appetizing. Mine was okay--it had balsamic mushrooms and feta, which I'll happily eat at any temperature. But my husband didn't like his, and my son said sadly, "This isn't as good as I remember."

Ah well! Other attempts have gone better. When I went to Wanaka for groceries, my son begged me to stop by Yohei Sushi and pick up some tuna onigiri. Onigiri is one of my son's favorite snacks ever: it's a triangle of pressed, salted rice with a ball of filling inside (tuna, in this case). Seriously, the kiddo says he likes tuna onigiri even better than ice cream. What. I mean, I like them too, but I wouldn't go that far. Anyway, onigiri travels just fine. When I brought home a big bag, the kiddo fell upon those tuna triangles like a starving wolf and declared himself in seventh heaven.

My own "seventh heaven" moment came when I checked with our local Department of Conservation and discovered that mountain trails are open for hiking in Level 3, so long as you can pass other hikers with 2m distance and you keep your hike to 3 hours or less. We promptly raced out to enjoy a family outing on the upper Timaru River track ("track" is what Kiwis call trails). Oh my goodness, it was so nice to go walking somewhere different than our local lakeshore trail. I'm still staying away from my favorite "advanced" hikes, because those trails are steep and tricky enough it'd be near impossible to pass anyone at 2m distance. But it's lovely to have the chance for proper dayhiking again.

Family hike, hooray!

The upper river track is an old 4WD road, so very easy to keep 2m away while passing. (Not that you have to pass you can see, there aren't exactly crowds.) The lower river track, in case you are wondering, goes along the creekbed and involves a lot of wading. The day was pretty chilly for getting wet in a glacial stream, so we kept to the nice dry upper track.
The best news is that daily new cases of COVID-19 have remained in the low single digits, and recently we've even had a few days with zero new cases. NZ's government has used the weeks of Level 4 & 3 lockdown well; they've enormously ramped up testing, contact tracing, and all the apparatus of public health required to stay on top of the virus.

(That last part is what the US seems to be completely neglecting, to my astonishment and deep sorrow. The purpose of a lockdown is not to stay in stasis for ages until a vaccine is ready. It's to give a country the time needed to build up their public health system to the point any viral spread can be swiftly detected and controlled. Maybe some individual US states are doing this--I hope some are!-- but at the federal level, all I see is idiots throwing up their hands and saying, "Welp, this is all just too hard. Time to give up the fight and get back to work. It's sad that over 100,000 Americans will die, but gosh, there's no way to prevent it." While they ignore all the countries like Germany and South Korea and Taiwan and Australia and New Zealand proving that there IS a way, and no, you don't have to completely destroy your economy to manage it.)

Anyway. On Monday, the government decides if NZ will take another step out of lockdown, down to Level 2. For me, Level 2 is the holy grail, because SCHOOLS RE-OPEN, hallelujah! After so many weeks of homeschooling and entertaining and providing all the kiddo's in-person social interaction, I can't even imagine what it'll be like to have weekdays to myself again.

I need that time more than ever, because I recently returned to engineering work. This year, one of my goals was to find some way I could use my engineering/aerospace skills to contribute toward addressing climate change. To my delight, the opportunity came up to do some work on a science grant using radar data to evaluate changes in Greenland glaciers. I've started the work, and I'm really excited about it, but gosh, it sure will be easier to fit into the day if the kiddo is back in school.

Physical education for the day: a bike ride along the lakeshore trail. The kiddo tells me this is not as fun as schoolyard cricket.
Ha, and it will also be easier to fit in writing, though I'm not waiting for Level 2 for that. I'm still plugging along despite the current challenges. My daily goal is 500 words or one hour, whichever comes first. That isn't much, I know. I heave a sigh when I look at other authors tweeting, "I've written 7,000 words today!" But, eyes on my own paper. Even 500 measly words a day adds up to a full book in less than a year. The trick is to keep going. (Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...)

Did anybody else ever watch the 80s PBS educational drawing show called Secret City? As a kid I loved it. The host, Commander Mark, was obviously a big science fiction fan. Each episode, he'd teach you to draw something cool by working on a new bit of this huge mural with aliens and temples and spaceships and fantastical plants and creatures. The best part was that Mark had so much fun when he drew; his love for drawing and comics and art just blazed through the screen. I was looking for something arty to do with the kiddo, since art would've been one of his subjects this term, and discovered that Mark Kistler, a.k.a. Commander Mark, has been making "how to draw" TV shows and books all these decades since, and continues to teach kids to draw today via web lessons. He hasn't lost an ounce of his old enthusiasm and joy, either. During COVID-19, he's offering free webcast lessons every day at noon CST. How cool is that? Also, if you've got Amazon Prime, you can watch his Imagination Station episodes.

Reading Corner: my recent reading has mostly been various scientific papers and other technical non-fiction, as I come up to speed for my consulting project. (At bedtime, the kiddo and I are now reading Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, which he is hugely enjoying.) When I return to adult fiction, I've got two new-ish releases waiting for me on the Kindle:

The Girl and the Stars, Mark Lawrence. I've been impressed by pretty much everything I've read from Lawrence so far, thanks to his excellent prose and memorable characters. This is the start of a new series set in the same world as his previous Book of the Ancestor trilogy. (You don't have to read the prior series first, though I have.) Reviews have been great, so I'm eager to dive in. Besides, a story set on an ice world seems just the thing to read as NZ heads into winter.

Network Effect, Martha Wells. The first full length Murderbot novel! If you haven't read the preceding novellas, you are so missing out. Especially if you like stories about prickly, wary, sarcastic introverts with good hearts who slowly learn trust and build friendships, even as they outsmart clever enemies. This kind of SF is my comfort food. Perfect reading in the midst of a pandemic.


  1. Thank you for sharing your slice of life. Hope all three of you stay safe and well

  2. Hey Courtney, I'm guessing you're really happy with today's Level 2 news, along with the whole country. Sure hope we really have done enough prep and can make this work.

    Your work sounds fascinating & also important so good news all round.

    The thing about those words, though, whether 500 per day or 7000 per day, is that they have to stay in the next day. And therein lies my writing rub... :-/ The important thing though is to Keep Going. (A little like sticking to the hard yards of lockdown.)

    1. Yes, very happy, especially for the kiddo's sake. He's been so good but I know it's been very tough for him not seeing his friends, especially since he's an only child. Like you, I very much hope NZ is ready...I do think we're in fairly good state going into it. Yet I know there's an element of luck, too. All it takes is one infected person in the wrong place at the wrong time, and all of a sudden you've got a big new cluster. Thankfully I feel fairly confident that NZ gov't has successfully increased their testing & tracing capabilities to the point they can quickly leap onto any new outbreaks. Fingers firmly crossed, anyway.

      I know just what you mean about the words vanishing the next day. I'm struggling through this one chapter at the moment that I swear I have re-done like 10 times now. Each time it gets closer to what I want, so it's not like I'm just wasting time, but ugh it can be soooo slow. I would push on, but I've learned the hard way that getting character relationships/conversations right in one chapter is key to making the next work. Anyway, sending you lots of sympathy and good wishes for your own struggle.

  3. Re Level 2, I think what we have to hope is that the govt has used Levels 3 and 4 to ramp up testing and contact tracing enough so that the health system can play "whack-a-mole" to good effect. And that people will still be responsible and not be idiots, which is what makes me nervous since anything that relies on people not being idiots must count as batting on a fairly sticky wicket. O-o.

    Re the words, I often feel like Penelope of Ithaca, with the work I've done one day having to be unravelled overnight. And I hear ya re the writing and rewriting to come at 'the right words in their right order', sufficiently so at any rate to enable the story to move forward. I hit one of those 'point non plus' moments about 10 days ago and it took me about a week to retrace my steps, find the glitch, fix it and rewrite forward to the point where I could advance the story again. It is frustrating, but I am (slowly) getting better at recognizing those points before I get too far down a track that isn't going to take the book where it needs to go.

    Btw, still apropos of writing, I liked this, seen on VE Schwab's Twitter:

    “Look, some days are typing days, and some days are deleting days, and some days are thinking days, and all of those are writing days. // I am posting this because I spent 5 hours staring at the place the wall meets the ceiling trying to figure out how stories work and I have to believe it was progress.”

    I liked these tweets a lot. :)